6.0173 Query: Troublesome "Comus" Text (1/81)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Wed, 29 Jul 1992 17:00:55 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 6, No. 0173. Wednesday, 29 Jul 1992.

Date: 24 July 1992
From: Roy Flannagan <FLANNAG@OUACCVMB>
Subject: Milton Query

A query, please.
Here is a passage from the text of Milton's {Comus} that has given
annotators (me especially) some trouble:

Hail Goddesse of Nocturnal sport
Dark-vaild {Cotytto}, t' whom the secret flame
Of mid-night Torches burns; mysterious Dame
That ne're art call'd, but when the Dragon woom
Of {Stygian} darknes spets her thickest gloom,
And makes one blot of all the ayr,
Stay thy cloudy Ebon chair,
Wherin thou rid'st with {Hecat}', and befriend
Us thy vow'd Priests, till utmost end
Of all thy dues be done, and none left out,
Here is my note on "Dragon woom," so far:

The passage concerning the chair of Cotytto was heavily revised. Here
is how it appears in the Trinity Manuscript:

when the dragon womb

of Stygian darknesse spitts her thickest glo^om *and makes one blot
*and makes a blot of nature and throws a blot ^ of all ye aire
clowdie (& befreind
stay thy polisht ebon chaire
none wherin thou ridst ridst wth Hecat^
of till all thy dues bee don & nought^ left out & favour our close
revelrie jocondrie
ere the blabbing eastreane scout us thy vow'd priests till
utmost end

Compare "woom / Of darkness" with Shakespeare's "foul
womb of night" ({Henry V} 5.4.4). The association
between dragon and womb may connect night with Satan
as dragon, and Satan the dragon may give birth unnaturally to evil.
The association between Stygian darkness (i.e. from the river Styx in
Hades, read as the Christian Hell) and the dragon suggests that the
dragon issues from Hell and thus is related to the "dragon,
that old serpent" of Revelation 20.2, or Satan.
A team of dragons was supposed to pull the chariot of
Diana, the moon, across the sky, as in "Night's swift dragons
cut the clouds full fast" (Shakespeare, {Midsummer Night's
Dream} 3.2.379). Sokol finds a hidden reference in the excised
"Tilted lees" of TMS to menstruation and the melancholy
supposedly produced by it. The dragon womb is also supposed by
Sokol to darken the air with "dragon menses" (316).
Though the image of a womb (read often as "vagina" in the
seventeenth century) spitting gloom is disquieting, even coming from
Comus; "spitting" would be a peculiar image of menstruation;
and menstruation would not be something for the masque to discuss
openly before the Bridgewater family and its guests.
The excised phrase "throws a blot" suggests a perverse birthing process
rather than menstruation: night is a perverse and evil reflection
of day, and the triform goddess made up of Proserpina, Diana,
and Hecate would suggest to a seventeenth-century Christian
an unholy and unnatural blending of madness, chastity,
and evil sexuality--all opposed to the light of Christian truth.
The image of the dragon chariot, however, is not always negative:
Ceres, the mother of Proserpina, also rides in a "chariot
drawne by winged Dragons, all over the World, to teach the use of
husbandry unto mortalls" (Sandys 262).


Could the readership of Humanist add anything from Renaissance
theories of parturition to suggest how night might have a womb, how
that womb might "spit," and how the passage might be interpreted
in a way that would not offend its original audience, the Earl of
Bridgewater and his family, three of whom performed in the
masque? Sokol's article, incidentally, is in {Review of English
Studies} 1990: 309-24. The passage above contains many other
notes, including references to Cotytto, "mysterious Dame," and
Hecate, notes that have been excised because of the difficulty of
reproducing notes or marginalia in ASCII (without using SGML).

Roy Flannagan
Department of English
Ohio University
Athens, OH 45701