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Review: Comus, by John Kinsella, John Milton

John Kinsella's recent version of 'Comus' has seized upon and developed the anti-pastoral elements of Milton's original and places it within a contemporary setting. Commissioned by the Cambridge University Marlowe Society to celbrate Milton's 400th birthday, Kinsella's 'Comus' interacts with the original and brings out environmental and sexual subtexts. His Comus is a genetic scientist who swallows viagra and amphetamines. The Lady's chastity as in the original concerns the temperate use of nature and self-control. Temperance in the original is the virtue that ethically preserves the wood and earth. Here the Lady becomes an eco-warrior delineating and arguing against Comus's excessive tampering with and exploitation of nature. However, virtue is seen as an incomplete or pragmatic answer as the saving of wild place in the developed world is at the expense of another in the third world. Kinsella thinks globally in his revitalisation of verse drama and draws attention to the need for local action. Reading Kinsella, I hear echoes of seventeenth century evironmental concerns in our present situaion, the problems of deforestation, air pollution, draining of wetlands (a concern of the Levellers), overbuilding, toxic mining, maltreatment of outcasts, gypsies and animals, destruction of habitats and dispossesion of the poor, and the need to sing of the earth's complaints and the need for wise and ethical cultivation.