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ORIGIN OF COMUS.
In Fletcher's Faithful Shepherdess, an Arcadian comedy, recently published,a Milton found many touches of pastoral and superstitious imagery, congenial with his own conceptions. Many of these, yet with the highest improvements, he has transferred in Comus, together with the general cast and colouring of the piece. He catched also from the lyric rhymes of Fletcher, that “ Dorique delicacy," with which Sir Henry Wotton was so much delighted in the songs of Milton's drama. Fletcher's comedy was coldly received the first night of its performance: but it had ample revenge in this conspicuous and indisputable mark of Milton's approbation. It was afterwards represented as a mask at court, before the king and queen on twelf-night, in 1633. I know not, indeed, if this was any recommendation to Milton, who, in the Paradise Lost, speaks contemptuously of these interludes, which had been among the chief diversions of an elegant and liberal monarch. B. iy. 767.
a The third edition of Fletcher's play was published in 1633. The first quarto was published during his life-time;. . the second is dated 1629, four years after his decease. See Colman's Beaumont and Fletcher, vol. iii. pp. 113. 145. The Faithful Shepherdess is mentioned in Davies's Scourge of Folly, 1611. See Warton's Note on Comus, v. 934. DR. TODD.
...... Court-amours, # Mix'd dance, and wanton Mask, or midnight ball, &c.' And in his Ready and easy way to establish a free Commonwealth, written 1660, on the Inconveniencies and Dangers of re-admitting Kingship, and with a view to counteract the noxious Humour of returning to Bondage, he says, “ a king “ must be adored as a demi-god, with a dissolute “ and haughty court about him, of vast expence “and luxury, Masks and Revels, to the debauch“ing our prime gentry, both male and female, “not in their paștimes only,” &c. Pr.W. i. 590. I believe the whole compliment was paid to the genius of Fletcher. But in the mean time it should be remembered, that Milton had not yet ·contracted an aversion to courts and court-amusements; and that in. L'Allegro, Masks are among
his pleasures. Nor could he now disapprove of a species of entertainment to which, as a writer, he
b Masks, but without any display of dramatic wit or character, may be traced back to the early part of Henry the Eighth's reign, in which they were often performed by the king and his courtiers. Hollingshed and Hall, speaking of the first entertainment of this kind, relate, that “ the « king with eleven others were disguised after the manner « of Italie, called a Maske, a thing not seen afore in Eng“ lande.” Mr. Warton is of opinion, that these Maskings most probably came to the English, if from Italie, through the Medium of France, Hist. Eng. Poetry, 2d ed. vol. i. 239, note. Their chief aim at this period seems to have been, to surprise, by the ridiculous and exaggerated oddity of the visors, and by the singularity and splendour of the dresses which the maskers wore. Every thing was out of nature and propriety. Ibid. vol. iji. 157. They seem to fall under that description of a Masquerade (“ to denote which “ no better word could hardly be invented, than ropgeso“ dopoa") which is given in the singular title to a copy of Greek Elegiac Verses, printed at Petersburgh, in the year 1780, and addressed to Prince Potemkin:
Επιγραμμα επι της παμφαες και χαρμόσυνα ΓΟΡΓΕΙΟΦΟΡΙΑΣ, της κοινοτερως ΜΑΣΚΑΡΑΔΟΣ καλυμενης, ην κ. τ. λ.
Thus englished, A Poem, on the splendid and delight- ful Festivity, where they wear Gorgonian Visors, more com
monly called a Masquerade, which Prince Potemkin celebrated, &c. Harris's Phil. Inquiries, Appendix, p. 567
was giving encouragement. The royal masks, however, did not, like Comus, always abound
The Mask was also frequently attended with an exhibition of some gorgeous machinery, resembling the wonders of a modern pantomime. See Hist. Eng. Poetry, vol. iii. 157. Masks were probably distinguished by no other characteristics, till the reign of Elizabeth, when they assumed a dramatic form. The virtues and vices personified were admitted into them, and they exhibited a species of allegory not dissimilar to that which existed in those popular dramas, the old Moralities. “ Even after the people had been “ accustomed to tragedies and comedies, Moralities still “ kept their ground: one of them, intitled The New Cus“ tom, was printed so late as 1573 : at length they assumed “ the name of Masques, and, with some classical improve“ments, became in the two following reigns the favourite «6 entertainments of the court.” On the Orig. of the Eng. Stage in Percy's Reliques of Ancient Poetry, vol. i. 140, ed. 1794. They were also the usual performances at princely nuptials, at the entertainment of foreign nobility, and at various public ceremonies, particularly at festivals by the societies of the Inns of Court. Many of Ben Jonson's Masques were presented on Twelfth-night, it being a cus tom to have plays at court in the Christmas holy-days, and especially on that festival. The title of Shakspeare's Comedy, Twelfth Night, it is supposed, might have been owing to its first exhibition ai this season. See Malone's Shakspeare, ed. 1790, vol. i. p. i. 380 ; and Steevens's, cd. 1793, vol. i. 608. Many elegancies of poetic imagery