The cuts made for the first performance of Comus tend to reduce the explicit sexual content of the Lady's and Comus’ speeches. This decorum, and the “cleansing family ritual” of the masque itself, were probably designed to repair the Bridgewater family's reputation, damaged by the trial and execution, three years before, of the Earl of Castlehaven and two of his servants for sexual crimes. Testimony and reports of the trial in diaries and letters describe the rape and promiscuity of the Earl's wife (sister to the Countess of Bridgewater), homosexuality between the Earl and his servants, and the conversion of Elizabeth Audley (Alice Egerton's twelve-year-old cousin) into a “whore.” Letters of the Countess Dowager of Derby, for whom Milton wrote Arcades, reveal her distress over the scandal and her efforts to obtain pardons for her daughter and granddaughter. For the first audience, seeing Lady Alice Egerton act out her resistance to sexual temptation, Comus affirmed the Bridgewaters’ possession of the aristocratic virtues which their relatives so notoriously lacked.

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