[Milton-L] Comus and Rep. Akin

Michael Gillum mgillum at unca.edu
Tue Aug 28 15:59:15 EDT 2012

Thanks Brendan, interesting as always.

Let me return to the simple-minded question of whether the text is guilty
of hyper-Akinism, or the claim that virtuous women can't be raped.

The second brother fears that the Lady will be raped, but the elder brother
claims that her chastity is its own defense.. The Lady seems to agree with
the EB that the power of chastity to preserve itself is something from
within herself. On the other hand, the Spirit, apparently a more
authoritative voice than the EB, feels that she is in grave danger,
approaching the "deadly snare" (478). Brendan thinks the Lady's confidence
is misplaced, and I think he is right.

How does she escape being raped? Various answers are possible.

1. Luck and a little help from her friends.

2a. Virtue, which the Lady claims is unassailable. The EB likewise claims
that chastity is "complete steel" and that "Virtue could see to do what
Virtue would / By her own radiant light." There are possible ironies in
these claims about the sufficiency of virtue. The phrase "complete steel"
reminds of "the whole armor of God," which is external to the natural
person. The reference to virtue's own light reminds of RCK's false claim of
sufficiency in FQ 1.1.199 and the need to add faith unto his force. Also,
if we read in a realist mode, expecting natural causation, obviously there
is no reason to expect that chastity will protect virgin girls from rapists.

2b. Reading in a different way, under #spenserian and #psychomachia we
might claim that she is not raped because, in an allegory developing the
Lady's stoic philosophizing, the action dramatizes the idea that a
well-tempered mind cannot be affected by external events. We might claim
the text is not really talking about physical and external things like
rape, but about mental states, so virtue as such is fully able to preserve
itself. A feature of the text that reinforces this view is the emphasis on
words and thoughts. Comus attacks her chastity with words, not actions
(799), and seeks her assent by offering the cup. She fights back with
words, and her words frighten him (819).  Her conviction discombobulates
Comus and cools his ardor. He says he senses, and fears, a divine power
behind her words. Comus does not give up, though, but resumes tempting with
the cup. There is no clear suggestion that he will assault her
physically. However,
readers have not tended to see the Lady as a thin allegorical figure, Lady
= Chastity, but as a more solid fictional person with a body. Perhaps the
text fails to define her fictional ontology consistently. And we face a
misfit between the neatness of this allegory and the indications in the
text that the Lady's virtue does not fully protect her in a bodily sense.
She is paralyzed, and her powerful rhetoric has been silenced. She is
soiled by the substance in the chair.

3. Divine Providence via supernatural agencies: the guardian angel, the
moly, and Sabrina. The natural agents (virtue, boys with swords) are not
adequate. That this particular virgin is protected in this case doesn't
imply that virtuous women can't be raped.


PS, Brendan: birdlime is a good specific ID for the "gums." When I wrote on
this topic (*MQ* 44 (Spring 2010), I was unaware that birdlime would
qualify as a gum in the period sense, but being an extract of holly bark,
it does seem to qualify. Milton's contemporaries would probably have
thought of birdlime. The substance has qualities beyond ordinary birdlime,

On Mon, Aug 27, 2012 at 3:47 PM, Brendan Prawdzik <brendanprawdzik at gmail.com
> wrote:

> See, I just *knew* that someone would ask me to explain myself.  (The
> twitter experiment has failed to achieve its goal.)  Thank you for the
> inducement, Michael.
> On Thursday I taught my first *real* session of the Milton seminar.  We
> looked at "On Shakespeare," among some other early pieces.  I was
> astonished, initially, that my students were already deft at picking up on
> the crafty doubleness of that poem.  (My syllabus scrim nudged them just a
> bit in this direction.)  One student even pointed out that Milton seemed to
> be up to something a bit more intimately crafty in choosing "unvalued,"
> since its appearance in *Hamlet* *-- *where in means "worthless" -- was
> among the earliest usages.  But why should I have been astonished?  Why
> shouldn't we expect undergraduates to demand more from our "great" poets
> than conventional performances and praisings of conventional virtue?  Why
> should we ever expect Milton to be as simple, as dogmatic, as so many of us
> seem to wish him to be?
> Let's go to that awesome quote from* Areopagitica* that I sensed at the
> heart of Hawthorne's *Young Goodman Brown*.  It's a quote that's appeared
> in some excellent scholarship on the *Maske*.  We all know it:
>> Good and evil we know in the field of this World grow up together almost
>> inseparably; and the knowledge of good is so involved and interwoven with
>> the knowledge of evil, and in so many cunning resemblances hardly to be
>> discerned that those confused seeds which were impos'd on Psyche as an
>> incessant labour to cull out, and sort asunder, were not more intermixt.
>> ... What wisdom can there be to choose, what continence to forbear without
>> the knowledge of evil? He that can apprehend and consider vice with all her
>> baits and seeming pleasures, and yet abstain, and yet distinguish, and yet
>> prefer that which is truly better, he is the true wayfaring Christian. I
>> cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised & unbreathed,
>> that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race,
>> where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat.
>> Assuredly we bring not innocence into the world, we bring impurity much
>> rather: that which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary.
> The quote can be used to support, in part, two readings: 1) The Lady
> demonstrates her virtue by sallying into the darkness, confronting her
> adversary, and defeating him through an appeal to transcendent virtue (that
> miraculously makes it impossible for her to be raped); or 2) The Lady
> exercises a well-intended but still naively conventional sense of virtue,
> colored by a Platonism as hollow as the airy shell of a disembodied and
> ineffectual Echo, which in the event leaves her mysteriously ensared,
> unfree to *enact* her virtue (this unfreedom emblematized in the form a
> silent woman chained to a chair).  I do believe that there's gentle
> admonishment implied in the Lady's appeal to transcendent, disembodied
> virtue; in her extraordinary and revealing misreading of Paul's Faith,
> Hope, and Charity; in her misrecognition not only of Comus but of the
> festive rustic culture that she thinks his Measure represents; and yes, in
> her insistence that Comus could do her no harm.  I do believe that he *
> does* touch the freedom of her mind, though, because his magic has
> precisely the power to make things seem other than they are.  By the time
> that he's done with her, or, more accurately, by the time that Attendant
> Spirit and Bros arrive on the scene to save her from the threshold of rape,
> she has come to misregonize her own chastity, her own virtue.  And in this
> sense Comus has done discursively precisely what he does magically.  It's
> very much in the spirit of Spenserian pscyhomachia: a journey towards
> understanding more deeply and richly the virtue that one represents.  It's
> also therefore a great instrument of education -- at least, Milton would
> have thought it to be; whether the Egertons "got" it, that's perhaps a
> different question.  For my take on what Sabrina has to do with the deeper
> education of our Lady, well, you'll have to wait for my article forthcoming
> in *Studies in Philology*, Fall 2013.  That article is "Look on Me:
> Theater, Gender, and Poetic-Identity Formation in Milton's *Maske*."
> It's the cruel logic of birdlime not only to entrap, but to entrap more
> through fugitive energy.   (For the record, the "Gumms of glutenous heate"
> *is *a reference to birdlime, whether erotically charged or not, as lime
> was a gumm, was glutenous, and was heated before applied.)
> Comus is a real bodily threat.  Marjorie Evans or Lady Castlehaven might
> speak to this.  Thank goodness for heaven, and attendant spirits, and for
> good educators (music teachers) and vigilant brothers.  But that's really
> not the essential point.  The point is to push beyond a shallow virtue that
> is futigitive and disembodied.  The virtue of *Areopagitica* is all about
> the wayfaring Christian *in the field of this world*.  (I know, that
> document comes a decade later, but still ... i see Milton working his way
> there in the *Mask*.)  He's also clever enough to make his patron's
> daughter seem elect above the reset, even if he's using the opportunity to
> labor toward a more viable moral philosophy befitting the poet who would
> write *Paradise Lost.*
>  **
> Best,
> Brendan
> Assistant Professor
> Christian Brothers University
> On Sun, Aug 26, 2012 at 9:04 AM, Michael Gillum <mgillum at unca.edu> wrote:
>> Brendan,
>> lolz 4u, and a stimulating answer, as I would have expected from you.
>> (Congratulations on getting a job, too.)
>> But please explain the "dichotomizingfauxvirtuensares" part, which I
>> don't get.
>> Michael
>> On Sat, Aug 25, 2012 at 4:38 PM, Brendan Prawdzik <
>> brendanprawdzik at gmail.com> wrote:
>>> For the sake of digital humanities we'll do this twitter style.
>>> @MichaelGillum I don't think he meant that at all.  #spenserian
>>> #psychomachia #dichotomizingfauxvirtuensares  #areopagitica
>>> brendanprawdzik
>>> On Sat, Aug 25, 2012 at 3:05 PM, Michael Gillum <mgillum at unca.edu>wrote:
>>>> Not only can a virtuous woman not be impregnated by a rapist, she can't
>>>> even be raped! What do you suppose Milton meant by that?
>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>> Milton-L mailing list
>>>> Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu
>>>> Manage your list membership and access list archives at
>>>> http://lists.richmond.edu/mailman/listinfo/milton-l
>>>> Milton-L web site: http://johnmilton.org/
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> Milton-L mailing list
>>> Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu
>>> Manage your list membership and access list archives at
>>> http://lists.richmond.edu/mailman/listinfo/milton-l
>>> Milton-L web site: http://johnmilton.org/
>> _______________________________________________
>> Milton-L mailing list
>> Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu
>> Manage your list membership and access list archives at
>> http://lists.richmond.edu/mailman/listinfo/milton-l
>> Milton-L web site: http://johnmilton.org/
> _______________________________________________
> Milton-L mailing list
> Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu
> Manage your list membership and access list archives at
> http://lists.richmond.edu/mailman/listinfo/milton-l
> Milton-L web site: http://johnmilton.org/
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.richmond.edu/pipermail/milton-l/attachments/20120828/d41c93eb/attachment.html>

More information about the Milton-L mailing list