Tuesday, January 07, 2014


In conformity to the tradition of masks, members of the family of the honoree played roles in the performance. Lord Bridgewater's three children Alice (age 15), Lord Brackley (age 11) and Tom (age 9) played three of the principle parts: the Lady and her two brothers.

Original in Huntington Gallery
Milton's Comus
Thomas Set, Illustration 2
The tale begins when the three children venture through the woods to join their parents at the installation ceremony at which this mask was performed. The sister is separated from her brothers who are looking for food to satisfy her hunger.

Milton and Blake follow a tradition long established in poetry and fairy tales of challenges and opportunities being initiated in an unknown wood. "Forests are traditionally a place where the way is lost and the light obscured," Damon tells us in A Blake Dictionary.

Left alone the Lady becomes susceptible to anxieties which she allays by thinking of Divine protection.

A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634
John Milton
Line 205
"What might this be? A thousand fantasies

Begin to throng into my memory
Of calling shapes and beckning shadows dire,
And airy tongues, that syllable mens names
On Sands, and Shoars, and desert Wildernesses.
These thoughts may startle well, but not astound
The vertuous mind, that ever walks attended
By a strong siding champion Conscience.
O welcom pure-ey'd Faith, white-handed Hope,
Thou hov'ring Angel girt with golden wings,
And thou unblemish't form of Chastity
I see ye visibly, and now beleeve
That he, the Supreme good, t' whom all things ill
Are but as slavish officers of vengeance,
Would send a glistring Guardian if need were
To keep my life and honour unassail'd."

But Comus has discovered the Lady and proposes to make her prey to his nefarious designs.

Blake presents in his second illustration to Comus the meeting between the Lady and Comus under the observant eye of her attendant Spirit. Comus, having sensed the presence of the unprotected young woman, has transformed his visage into that of a 'harmles Villager'. Comus intends to lure the Lady to his palace and put her under his spell. The attendant Spirit performs his/her role by remaining in the background and facilitating the activities of others. Learning of Comus' plan the attendant Spirit formulates a plan too.

A bit like the situation between Comus and the Lady is this scene between Tharmas and Enion in the Four Zoas.

Four Zoas, Night IX, Page 131, (E 399)
"Chear up thy Countenance bright boy & go to Enion
Tell her that Vala waits her in the shadows of her garden

He went with timid steps & Enion like the ruddy morn 
When infant spring appears in swelling buds & opening flowers
Behind her Veil withdraws so Enion turnd her modest head

But Tharmas spoke Vala seeks thee sweet Enion in the shades
Follow the steps of Tharmas O thou brightness of the gardens
He took her hand reluctant she followd in infant doubts 

Thus in Eternal Childhood straying among Valas flocks
In infant sorrow & joy alternate Enion & Tharmas playd
Round Vala in the Gardens of Vala & by her rivers margin
They are the shadows of Tharmas & of Enion in Valas world"

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