A history of the masque by John Milton
The following article was originally published in A Dictionary of the Drama. W. Davenport Adams. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1904.

Comus, a masque by John Milton, was published in 1637. It was written, "as an entertainment to be presented at Ludlow Castle [in 1634] on the arrival and installation there of the Earl of Bridgewater as Lord President of Wales.... The masque was to be acted by members of the family; and as there was some story of the fourteen or fifteen year old daughter Alice, who was to act in the masque, having been lost in a wood on the way to Ludlow, Milton is supposed to have planned his story from that incident. Her two actual brothers acted the brothers' parts in the masque.... The attendant spirit was acted by Milton's friend, Harry Lawes, who had been commissioned to write the music.... "Comus" originally meant a licentious dancing revel. In Hesiod's Shield of Hercules it means the promiscuous band of revellers who followed with their wilder dance and song after the trained chorus of a procession. In later times, Comus appeared as a god of festive mirth and joy.... And so he passed into a type for use of moralists; appeared, fourteen years before Milton's poem, in Ben Jonson's masque of Pleasure reconciled to Virtue, and had appeared, eleven years before that, in a Latin poem entitled Comus, by Henri du Pay, of Louvain, which Milton had read and liked, for at least one passage in it has been distinctly imitated. In Peele's Old Wives' Tale there are two brothers rescuing a lost sister from the spells of an enchanter" (Henry Morley). In 1738 Dr. Dalton adapted Comus to the stage, arranging it in three acts, "retaining nearly the whole of the original, adding or compiling the scene between the brothers and Comus' crew, and introducing a variety of songs [mainly, it would seem, selected from Milton's works] to make it pass off better on the stage" (Genest). The piece was produced at Drury Lane on March 4, with Quin as Comus, Milward and Cibber jr. as the Brothers, Mills as the First Spirit, Mrs. Cibber as the Lady, Mrs. Clive as Euphrosyne (an introduced character), and Mrs. Arne as Sabrina; Beard, too, had a singing part. Comus was revived in 1744, at Covent Garden, with Mrs. Pritchard as the Lady; in 1752, at Drury Lane, with Mossop as Comus; in 1755, at Covent Garden, with Smith as Comus and Peg Woffington as the Lady; in 1773, at Covent Garden (reduced by George Colman to two acts), with Mattocks as Comus and Miss Catley as Euphrosyne; in 1775, at Drury Lane, with Mrs. Baddeley as the Lady; in 1776, at Covent Garden, with Mrs. Barry as the Lady; in 1777, at Drury Lane, with Farren and Lamash as the Brothers, Aikin and Tenducci as the Spirits, Mrs. Robinson as the Lady, and Mrs. Baddeley as the Pastoral Nymph; in 1784, at Covent Garden, with Henderson as Comus, Bannister jr. and R. Palmer as the Brothers, Barrymore as a Spirit, Bannister as First Bacchanal, Mrs. Wrighton as Euphrosyne, Mrs. Crouch as the Pastoral Nymph, and Mrs. Siddons as the Lady; in 1803, at Covent Garden, with G.F. Cooke as Comus; in 1812, at the same theatre, with C. Kemble as Comus; in 1829, at the same theatre, with Miss Hughes as the Lady; and in 1833 at Drury Lane, under the auspices of Bunn. A notable revival was that of 1842 at Covent Garden, with John Cooper in the title part, Mdme. Vestris as Sabrina, Miss Rainforth as the Spirit, and Mrs. Walter Lacy as the Lady. "The groupings and arrangement of the tableaux," writes George Vandenhoff, "were admirable, and some of the mechanical effects were almost magical. There were forest scenes of the greatest pictorial beauty" (An Actor's Note-Book). Dryden and Purcell's King Arthur seems to have been drawn upon for this production. The masque was produced by Macready at Drury Lane in February, 1843, with himself as Comus, Anderson as the Elder Brother, Miss Faucit as the Lady, Miss Romer as Sabrina, and Miss P. Horton as the attendant Spirit. At Easter, 1866, at Drury Lane, Comus was revived with Walter Lacy as Comus, Edmund Phelps and Miss E. Falconer as the Brothers, Henri Drayton as First Bacchanal, Miss Augusta Thomson as Sabrina, Miss Poole as the attendant Spirit, and Mrs. Hermann Vezin as the Lady. A lyric by Edmund Falconer was introduced, set to music by J. Burnand. The masque was revived (with the music by Lawes) at the Botanic Gardens, London, in July, 1903.


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