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39 TWO Mastering Masque, Engaging Drama ARCADES AND COMUS For the examination of Milton’s evolution as a dramatist it is apt to begin with Arcades (1632?), a short (109-line), masquelike entertainment , and A Masque Presented at Ludlow Castle, first produced in 1634. It is essential to see these two pieces in relation to one another, for in Arcades Milton mastered key demands of the masque form: the work evinces his familiarity with masque conventions such as the deployment of illuminated thrones and the approach of the masquers to compliment a seated dignitary. Hence, when he was commissioned to write Comus a year or so after Arcades was mounted, it is conceivable that Milton was less interested in simply writing another masque than in trying to stretch himself artistically. To be sure, the young man was, no doubt, under fairly strict guidelines from his patrons about what to write, yet he may have seen the commission as an opportunity to essay something in a more dramatic vein. The result is a composition that, unlike court masques, offers a plot, speaking roles for the noble actors, and conflict between the masquers and the villain. Such a combination of masque and play items has led the critical tradition to debate whether Comus is a true masque. I believe it is, based 40 Milton the Dramatist on its original title and its inclusion of songs and dances. However, as I shall demonstrate, its dramatic components are considerable, and at times seem to overwhelm the masque features. I. Arcades in Performance The first stage direction of Arcades, which also appears to function as a subtitle, is “Part of an entertainment presented to the Countess Dowager of Derby at Harefield, by some noble persons of her family, who appear on the scene in pastoral habits, moving toward the seat of state with this song.” The precise reason for the tribute is not clear, though in the early 1630s, the Countess was in her seventies, a venerable and distinguished lady and the recipient of many literary accolades, including one by Spenser, who dedicated The Tears of the Muses to her. Cedric Brown, one of the most influential interpreters of Arcades, has plausibly argued that its tribute celebrates the Countess’s hospitality that she extended to the younger members of her family who had come to live with her, seeking shelter from the turmoil surrounding the trial and execution of the Earl of Castlehaven, one of her sons-in-law.1 Yet Arcades honors the visitors as well as the Dowager, so it seems that the work was commissioned as a kind of double compliment to her and her guests. Milton thus needed to create a piece that would pay homage to both parties, and did so by combining elements of entertainment and masque genres.2 His earliest draft of Arcades, set down in the Trinity manuscript, was initially titled “part of a maske” and, subsequently, “part of an entertainment.” Although entertainment structures varied, they tended to offer an official greeting to the visiting monarchs or aristocrats as they entered the main gates of the estate; an escort(s) who would refer to features of the local grounds and the main house; and, a finale in which the visitors were officially brought into the house. Entertainments were often episodic and drawn-out because the pathways up to the houses were usually long and the visitors had to be amused as they traveled up the path. Hence, dances, speeches, presentations — even, in the case of Ben Jonson’s “Entertainment at Althrope,” the shooting of live deer — were provided for the guests’ enjoyment as they proceeded.3 Yet Arcades is influenced by the masque as well. Milton never crossed out his first title “part of a maske” in the Trinity manuscript , which suggests that he kept both genres in mind while composing the work. As I shall demonstrate, Arcades offers the following composite structure: (a) an opening discovery more reminiscent of those found in court masques than in typical entertainments (1–25); (b) a welcome that is clearly modeled on those found in traditional entertainments (26–73); and (c) an invitation to approach the throne (74–109), which recalls the approach of masquers to a seat of state. In the beginning sequence, a group of nymphs and shepherds is surprised by a “sudden blaze of majesty” (2) emanating from the rural queen’s throne, which suggests that in performance the state was illuminated instantaneously, perhaps as a curtain...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780820705187
Related ISBN
9780820703879
MARC Record
OCLC
608427849
Pages
224
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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