In Comus, Milton uses the great tradition of the vir bonus dicendi peritus (“a good man skilled in speaking”) both to pay a masquing compliment to Henry Lawes and to provide central roles for all three Egerton children. He does this by restricting the possession of virtue and both moral and physical skills to the Attendant Spirit and his dramatic extension, Sabrina. The gradations of virtueless skill and unskilled virtue figure forth patterns of both image and meaning, especially when we remember the perceptions and assumptions of the first viewers and readers. As a result, we see Milton fulfilling and using the demands of the masque genre through his complex use of Lawes as both the actual teacher and the dramatic guide of the children. The long dialogue of the brothers has added thematic and dramatic cogency; and the final scene between Comus and the Lady emerges in a new perspective, in which the Lady ultimately becomes Comus’ teacher. This blend of masquing lesson, compliment, and decoration continues in the epilogue: here, the supposedly arcane references help to complete the vision of virtue and skill, and thus offer the final gesture to Lawes.

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