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the family, radiant from his musical success in that masque and in its more gorgeous predecessor, the masque of The Triumph of Peace by the Four Inns of Court;—what more natural than that it should be resolved to seize the opportunity of the Earl's entry on his Welsh Presidency for a masque on a great scale that should astonish the Welsh and all the West of England? The youngsters and Lawes probably devised the thing; and, the Earl having given his consent, all was arranged. The preparations must have been begun months before the masque actually came off, probably while the family were yet in London. Lawes, of course, was to take care of the music, and was to be general manager; and the other actors and singers were to be the young people of the family. But who should write the poetry? Who but Lawes's friend, Mr. Milton, who had already in the Arcades given such satisfactory proofs of his fitness for the kind of composition that was wanted? In fact, whether to please himself, or to oblige Lawes, or to oblige the Earl of Bridgewater and his family on account of some bond of acquaintance with the family not now recoverable, Milton did undertake to write the masque. The composition of it, we must suppose, occupied him at Horton for several weeks, or even a month or two, during the early part of 1634.
On undertaking to write the masque, Milton would think of some appropriate story, to be shaped into a dramatic pastoral of the required kind, for representation on a stage in the hall of a great castle by young lords and ladies, and with songs interspersed, to be sung by some of these performers to airs by his friend Lawes. The nature and circumstances of the occasion would be vividly present to his imagination. He would think of the Earl entering on his office as President of the ancient Principality; of the Earl's retinue, with Welsh and West-of-England gentry among them; of the town and castle of Ludlow, and their neighbourhood, as conceived from descriptions, or perhaps seen by himself (who knows?) in some tour of his own into those parts; of the proximity of the place to Welsh scenery, and the connexion of the occasion with ancient British memories and legends. He would, doubtless, co-operate with Lawes, and would give or receive hints. But how the actual story of Comus occurred to Milton, the story of the young lady parted from her two brothers at night in the depths of a wild wood, found there by
Comus and his crew of evil revellers, and lured and detained by their enchantments, until the Brothers, instructed by a good Attendant Spirit in the shape of their father's faithful shepherd, Thyrsis, rush in and rescue her, how this story occurred to Milton we can but vaguely surmise. He may have derived the conception of such a plot from some of his readings, and may have seen its fitness for his purpose. A somewhat different theory is that he only dramatised a real incident. The popular tradition round about Ludlow still is that the Lady Alice Egerton and her two young brothers, Viscount Brackley and Mr. Thomas Egerton, were actually benighted in Haywood Forest, near Ludlow, as they were on their way to Ludlow from a visit to the house of their relatives, the Egertons, in Herefordshire, and that the Lady Alice was for some time lost by her brothers in the forest. Milton, the tradition adds, had heard of this incident, and constructed his Comus upon it. It is far more likely, however, that the story of the loss of Lady Alice and her brothers in Haywood Forest grew out of the Comus than that the Comus grew out of the story. The story was current more than a hundred years ago; but it consists with our knowledge of the way in which such legends arise to suppose that by that time the parting of the lady and her brothers in the masque had been translated, by prosaic gossip on the spot, into a literal incident in the lives of those for whom the masque was written.
In whatever way suggested, the masque was written with most definite attention to the purpose for which it was required. The characters to be represented were as follows :— THE ATTENDANT SPIRIT, first appearing as such, but afterwards in the dress of the shepherd THYRSIS.
COMUS, with his crew.
SABRINA, the Nymph of the Severn river: with attendant Waternymphs.
Here, if we omit the "crew of Comus" and Sabrina's "attendant water-nymphs,"-parts of mere dumb show, which may have been assigned to supernumeraries,—there were six speaking and singing parts to be filled up. How were these parts cast? As to four of the parts we have
definite information from Lawes. The part of THE LADY, which is the central part in the masque, was given to the Lady Alice Egerton; and the parts of the FIRST BROTHER and the SECOND BROTHER fell to Lady Alice's two boybrothers, Viscount Brackley and Mr. Thomas Egerton. The important part of THE ATTENDANT SPIRIT, afterwards THYRSIS, was taken by Lawes himself. This leaves but two
parts unassigned,-those of COMUS and SABRINA. The part of COMUS is important, and a good actor was needed for it ; that of SABRINA is less important, and required chiefly a good singer. There was, we may assume, among the connexions of the Bridgewater family, some handsome gentleman who did not object to act as the disreputable Riot-god, son of Bacchus and Circe, for the opportunity of luring away the sweet Lady Alice even for a little while; and among Lady Alice's sisters there were more than one fit for the part of the River-nymph.
It is a noble apart
Suppose Milton's MS. of the masque finished (the draft, in his own hand, now among the Cambridge MSS.); suppose that Lawes has copies for his own use and that of his pupils (one of those copies, perhaps, that now in the Bridgewater Library, which Todd believed to be in Lawes's hand); suppose the rehearsals over; and suppose the memorable Michaelmas-night, Sept. 29, 1634, arrived. The great Hall of Ludlow Castle is filled with guests. ment, sixty feet long and thirty wide, in which, according to tradition, the elder of the two Princes murdered in the Tower had been proclaimed King, with the title of Edward V., before commencing his fatal journey to London. It is the place of all great state-meetings of the Council of the Presidency. But on this evening it is converted into a theatre and brilliantly lighted. While the Earl and Countess and the rest of the seated audience occupy the main portion of the hall, one end of it is fitted up as a stage, with curtains, Here the performance begins. "The first scene discovers a wild wood: The Attendant Spirit descends or enters." Such is the stage-direction; the meaning of which is that, the stage having been darkened to signify that it is night, and there being paintings or other contrivances in the background to represent a wood, Lawes "descends or enters." In the printed copies, and also in the Cambridge MS. he begins with a speech; but in the Bridgewater MS. this speech
is preceded by a song of twenty lines, the opening lines of which are
"From the heavens now I fly,
And those happy climes that lie
There is no doubt that the Bridgewater MS., being the stage copy, here represents what did actually happen. Milton had intended the Masque to begin with a speech; but Lawes, thinking it better for stage-purposes to begin with a song, had taken the liberty of transferring to this point a portion of that which now stands, and which Milton intended to stand, as the final song or epilogue of the Attendant Spirit at the end of the masque. In that final song or epilogue, as we now have it, the Attendant Spirit, announcing his departure, when the play is over, says—
"To the ocean now I fly,
And those happy climes that lie
which lines, with a part of their sequel, Lawes, it will be seen, converted cleverly into a prologue, or song of arrival, by the change of " To the ocean" into "From the heavens." He doubtless thought it more effective to "descend" on the stage, singing this prologue; after which, when on the stage, he made the speech announcing the purpose for which he had descended. In that speech, after introducing himself in his character as an attendant Spirit of Good, sent down to Earth from Jove's realms on a special errand, he thus informs the audience at the outset as to the general drift of the play they are about to witness, and connects it gracefully with the actual circumstances of the Earl of Bridgewater's presence among them, and his entering on so high a British office as the Welsh Presidency—
"Neptune, besides the sway
Of every salt flood and each ebbing stream,
That, like to rich and various gems, inlay
The unadorned bosom of the deep;
By course commits to several government,
And gives them leave to wear their sapphire crowns,
Prepared by these words, and by the further explanation of the Attendant Spirit that the wood is haunted by the god Comus and his crew of revellers, who waylay travellers and tempt them with an enchanted liquor which changes the countenances of those who partake into the faces of beasts, the audience see the story developed in action before them. They see Comus and his crew appear in the wood with torches, making a riotous and unruly noise,-Comus with a charming-rod in one hand and a glass in the other, and his crew, a set of monsters, with bodies of men and women in glistering apparel, but headed like sundry sorts of wild beasts. They see the crew knit hands and dance, and the dance broken off, by the orders of Comus, at the sound of a light footstep approaching. They see the crew then disappear among the trees, leaving their master alone, who knows that the footstep is that of some benighted virgin, and who, after
throwing his " dazzling spells" (query, some blaze of blue light?) in the direction in which she is coming, also steps aside to watch. Then they see "the Lady" enter,-the sweet Lady Alice, received, of course, with rapturous applause. They hear her explain how she has lost her brothers since sunset, how it is now midnight, how the rude sounds of revelry have attracted her to the spot, and how the darkness and the silence would alarm her were it not for her trust in
a higher Power, guarding virtuous minds. As she speaks there comes a gleam through the grove; and, thinking her