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Review: Comus, by John Kinsella, John Milton

Decoding Milton's chastening masque about chastity into an exhilarating environmental dialogic poem of the twenty-first century, John Kinsella recasts Comus as an out of control genetic scientist, an unethical bio-engineer addicted to Viagra and committed to years of research and pleasure, knowing the gene that awakes / fields of rape. Comus's counterpoint and snare, the Lady, becomes an eco-warrior who pities his artificial magic and self-asserting rhetoric, sharply pinpointing that something is rotten in the state of science - the new sublime of waste / and desecration that teeters on the edge / of holocaust. The effect is a powerful rendering of Milton's sexually perverse Comus into a moving ecological play that evokes the pastoral beauty of English and Australian landscape (the green vine that winds its way / along the small hill on the wood's edge) and the atrocity of the synthetic sublime (the cycle of plasma greenery, worship / of cars and technology). As Kinsella succinctly puts it in the Afterword: the basic sexual hypocrisy of the abuse of the land.

Despite Kinsella's direct approach of Milton's cybernetic / folktale, the question at the heart of the play is much more challenging than it first seems: when war strikes at the heart of forests, how, on the perplexing / path of 'sustainability', can we find a way for a science / that co-exists with forests? The answer, if any, might be found in Sabrina's song, which Tim Cribb identifies in his brilliant introduction as a bond and continuity between the masques by Milton the republican regicide and Kinsella the vegan anarchist. Two Sabrinas synchronise to invoke an antediluvian world of beasts and changing landscape. Whilst Milton's Sabrina sings to save, Kinsella's wishes to recover, a beautifully tuned word that signals change and recuperation.