The music, in a baroque style, was composed by Henry Lawes, who also played the part of The Attendant Spirit. Generally, masques were not dramas; they could be viewed as pre-figuring the recitative of opera.
However, this masque was not performed at the court, but at the home of Lord Bridgewater: Ludlow Castle. It was commissioned to celebrate the appointment of Lord Bridgewater to the post of Lord President of Wales. References to this are clearly evident in the text, such as the Attendant Spirit's reference to the children's father's "new-entrusted sceptre" in his opening speech.
Bridgewater's own children were the principal actors in this masque. The Puritan Milton's use of the genre, however, may be seen as an attempt for him to "reclaim" masque, which were associated with the perceived debauchery of the royal court, for godly or virtuous purposes. Rather than praising an aristocrat, the famous concluding lines of the masque, recited by the Attendant Spirit, urge
Comus was influenced by a prior masque, Aurelian Townshend's Tempe Restored, which had been staged at Whitehall Palace in London in February 1632. Both Henry Lawes and Alice Egerton, the Earl's daughter who played the Lady, had performed in Townshend's masque.
Milton's title for the masque was not Comus (this was imposed later by scholars), but A Mask, Presented at Ludlow Castle. Creaser notes that it had become old-fashioned by the 1630s to use an occasional title such as this (consider other masque titles of the time: Coelum Britanicum, Tempe Restored etc). This shows that Milton wanted to specifically draw attention to his work as a masque, asking the reader to hold in their minds all that this signified, as he consciously used and twisted the conventions of the genre in order to put across his particular message. For example, his audience would have been expecting, based on other masques of this time, that the antimasque would be dispelled by virtue (usually embodied by the King and Queen). Yet in Comus the Lady's virtue is not enough to save her: she is unable to dismiss Comus on her own. Even the heroic virtue of her brothers is not enough. Comus escapes rather than actually being defeated. Many have read the intervention of Sabrina as divine assistance being sent, showing that earthly virtue is relatively weak, and certainly not worthy of the exhaultation given it in contemporary masques. Lewalski comments that the character of Sabrina was apparently not played by a noble, but by one of the actors (we can assume this because no-one is listed as playing this character in the dramatis personae), so it is actually a commoner who holds the position of most power.
The following book discusses the trial of the Earl of Castlehaven:
Grand Designs; Discover the Wealth of Wales' Design Talent - and Pick Up Some Great Early Christmas Presents While You're at It - When You Visit the Designer's Market at Chapter Arts Centre This Weekend. Here's a Sneak Preview of Who You'll See There
Oct 10, 2009; Ed & Flo This Cardiff-based T-shirt design company aims to produce garments with an emphasis on quality and uniqueness. Its mixed...