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Review: Comus, by John Kinsella, John Milton

The original Comus masque by John Milton (included in the book) was commisioned by John, Earl of Bridgewater as a celebration of his inauguration as President of the Council of Wales. The theme of chastity is widely conjectured to have been chosen in reaction to a rape scandal involving Bridgewater's son-in-law and twelve-year-old step-niece. In it Milton draws on the Carnivalesque mythological Greek god Comus as the villain attempting to steal the chastity of a lady who is ultimately saved by her brothers, an attendant spirit in the habit of Thyrsis and Sabrina the Nymph who (in dialectical Brechtian fashion) is the antithesis to Comus.

Kinsella's masque mirrors Milton's but with a comedic edge and a new theme, environmentalism. Comus, who is the evil in all of us (p.121), has become a genetic scientist while Sabrina the Nymph has become a Protestor,/ ec0-warrior, (p.65). Despite Kinsella's insistence that he does not seek to simplistically demonise genetic scientists, but rather reveal all of our culpability, there is a preaching quality to this poetry, but beyond that there is a compelling and dramatic narrative.

Just like Milton's Comus, Kinsella's villain is a persuasive rhetorician, compare,

What of the naysayers
ranting on about the fate
of some weedy plant
or micro-organism? Get
perspective, Lady [...]


List Lady be not coy, and be not cosen'd
With that same vaunted name Virginity,
Beauty is nature's coyn, must not be hoorded,
But must be currant, [...]

The language and poetic technique differ, with Kinsella employing a slightly nGen vernacular and informality alongside more archaic language.

What remains the same is both structure and narrative. Each of these works concludes with the Spirit eulogising,

Mortals that would follow me,
Love vertue, she alone is free,
She can teach ye how to clime
Higher then the Spheary chime;
Or if Vertue feeble were,
Heav'n it self would stoop to her.


Those of you who follow me,
remember the code word: LIBERTY...
virtue doesn't mean you
can't have your cake and eat it too.