Milton’s writing is incisive and controversial in its time. Milton provides his readers with a moral framework that spans the soul and the political. Milton’s works and a similar understanding can be used to refine one’s view of human nature and the forces of government that enable or hinder it. Milton has serious concerns about the latter notion, that governments can limit their citizens’ activities. Milton, who was very vocal in his political views, fought to protect the idea of freedom. He believed that the right to choose and speak freely is an essential part of human life. Milton wrote Areopagitica to protest against the restrictions of liberty when the British government passed the Licensing Order of the 1643. (Kerrigan 923). The government, empowered by its order, could monitor and control all books. Milton’s work implores parliament to repeal the law and thereby restore British rights. Milton claims, “the right to know and express freely according conscience …””. The work’s overt goal is to provide freedom of publishing for all writers, irrespective of their content. But Milton’s argument is not limited to books. It is about freedom of choice. Books and the restrictive laws which surround their distribution are only a microcosmic representation of his larger argument. “Not absolutely dead things,” they say, but they still have enough life to be active, just as was the soul that produced them …”. Milton’s Reader, when considering this definition, should treat books the same as humans. They must understand that restricting the book is restricting the individual. If you keep this in mind, it is possible to apply the same principle to Milton’s other works. One example would be Comus: A masque Presented at Ludlow Castle 1634, which has Lady Alice confronting vice and choosing virtue. Alice, Milton’s “warfaring Christian,” is characterized by her self-control. She embodies the Miltonian principles of liberty.
Milton was a religious man, and he believed that both existed. Milton was a devout Christian who believed both were real. Milton went as far as saying that good and evil “grow almost inseparably”. Milton’s realist perspective sets him apart his political adversaries, who regulate literature based on the assumption that evil must be expelled from society. Milton insists that evil and good are codependent. This forces an individual to make a decision between the two. Milton believes, outside of their intrinsic connection, that both forces are practical, and that each is a means to identify the other. Milton explains that, as well as being connected, they also have a practical use. This is perhaps the fate that Adam met when he learned good and evil. That is, he came to know good through evil. Milton, in order to support his claim that evil must be present in order to know good, goes back to the Bible, more specifically the Book of Genesis. Here, Eve, under the influence of Satan, eats a forbidden apple. She releases evil, which ultimately leads to original guilt. He is attempting to clarify evil’s origin and prove that both good & evil have always existed. Milton’s readers are not only meant to understand the literal implications, but also that goodness, without evil, is just a vague word with no moral significance. It is only by actively avoiding evil that one can be considered truly good. By limiting certain books, the Parliament denies individuals their freedom and their choice. They are preventing them from experiencing true goodness. Milton wrote Areopagitica to fight against this deprivation, to correct Parliament’s mistake and to free freedom from its chains.
Milton’s freedom is the freedom to choose. The virtue that drives this choice should be understood after contemplating Milton’s choice. Milton combines liberty and virtue to create a fictional individual who is able to “apprehend vice and all its lures and apparent pleasures” and still “abstain and distinguish and yet prefer what is truly better …” (939)”. Milton personifies vice with a feminine pronoun. It is given a seductive and human-like form, which it uses to tempt people. A personification of this kind is misogynistic in that it associates women with moral corruption. Milton’s “warfaring Christian,” must be confronted with the vice she represents and rejected. Milton is perhaps limited by his political intentions in not exploring this Christian figure fully in his Invocation to Parliament. This Christian figure can however be found in Milton’s other work that was performed 10 years before Areopagitica. Comus was commissioned for the Early of Bridgewater by his daughter Lady Alice. Her two younger brothers are also featured in the work: the 11-year-old and the 9-year-old. (Kerrigan, 61-62). Milton, in an effort to anger these children, isolated together in the forest, chooses Comus. Traditionally associated with Greek gods who bring chaos and confusion, Comus here is a wily witch whose’many baits and guileful spells /…inveigle them and invite their unway feeling/Of all those that walk by without weeping. Comus, an agent of corruption who deceives innocent bystanders and tempts them with vice, is Milton’s choice to create a hostile environment for these children.
Milton describes him as more than just corrupt. “A charming-rod is held in one’s hand and a glass of wine in the other. A rout follows, headed by various wild beasts …”. In this version, Comus is seen as casual and smooth. He leads his followers who, after having passed “unweeting along the way”, are then infected with sorcery and degraded. Comus, however, targets Lady Alice as the mask’s target. Her chastity is what foils Comus’ depravity. In Areopagitica we learn that Comus is a depraved man, and his obsession with Alice comes from this evil. Comus can “feel a different pace” when he is on chaste ground, because of the linkage between good and evil. Comus, who is evil, can sense the presence and power of the Lady, a virgin. Comus, seduced by Lady’s pureness, sets out to find her. He eventually finds her all alone after her siblings have separated her. Comus, master of deceptions, convinces her that he is a local shepherd who can help her reunited with her brothers. She accepts it, naive and unaware, but is then taken to the palace of Comus and paralyzed. But his magic seems to only affect her body. Her soul is left unaffected. Milton’s dichotomy of body and soul is important because it allows her virtue to be untouched by the enchantment.
Comus doesn’t seem to possess the magic needed to influence his Lady. So he gives her a drink with which she will be transformed into his inhuman follower: “And now, first look at this cordial Julep,/That flames & dances inside his crystal bounds/With spirits & fragrant syrups mixed.” Milton’s masque does not show the drink in action, but its symbolic purpose is to suggest sexual temptation and undermine the Lady of chastity. Comus views this act as an example of self-inflicted violence. The Lady, unmoved by the offer, abstains. By using hyperbole she expresses her absolute conviction. She says that she wouldn’t drink the beverage if it was owned by Juno, an ancient Roman goddess. The Lady uses diction related to food and nutrition in order to relate goodness with sustenance. This almost implies that the source of her nourishment is not food but virtue.
Finally, she implies that an outside force is responsible for her ability to resist temptation. She gains strength and meaning, both of them preventing her from being corrupted, by this force. A magical spirit with wisdom helps the Lady’s brother to defeat Comus. The Lady is still paralyzed by the magic, even after Comus has fallen. The spirit sings Sabrina’s soul to free the Lady. Sabrina’s virginity is a symbol of purity, which she embodies in her purpose to “ensnar” chastity …”. Due to this, the Lady is saved by her virginity, which proves that she is worthy of being saved. Chastity is therefore understood to be both a form of vulnerability and self-defense. This is because it attracted Comus as well as enabled salvation. She embodies Milton’s “warfaring Christian” who, like her, abstains from vices in order to affirm virtue. Although magically paralyzed from her physical freedom, she retains her mental freedom and fights Comus with the good in her heart. Milton argues in Areopagitica for the need to confront vices and choose what is better. Comus shows the same thing. The Lady in Comus not only faces vice, but she abstains from doing so and defeats it. Milton lauds her Christian morality.