Freedom and Virtue in John Milton's Comus and Areopagitica

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Freedom and Virtue in John Milton's Comus and Areopagitica The martyred author of Utopia, Sir Thomas More-executed for treason against the king-is credited with the final words, "If I must live in a world in which I cannot act within my conscience, I do not wish to live!" Generations later, the fiery patriotism and explicit candor of Patrick Henry led him to utter the renowned "Give me Liberty or give me death!" Along the same lines of these two men, John Milton's "Areopagitica" argues that the essence of life is freedom to choose how one lives it. In another of Milton's works, the masque play Comus, the Elder Brother's statements concerning virtue establish some of the foundations for his argument in the work he wrote "in order to deliver the press from the restraints with which it was encumbered" (716). The root of Milton's assertions lies in his complete hope in the prevailing of virtue. In these two works, confidence in virtue and in the ability of good men to practice it is crucial. The first part of the Elder Brother's statement is, in fact, a comment on confidence, in response to his brother's question concerning the unfavorable odds stacked against the Lady, their sister. He says, "Yes, and keep [confidence] still,/ Lean on it safely . . . against the threats/ Of malice or of sorcery, or that power/ Which erring men call Chance" (584-588). The Elder Brother's remarks show that he believes in the triumph of the Spirit against all odds, including the Fates and Fortune. As he states, "this I hold firm;/ Virtue may be assail'd but never hurt,/ Surpris'd by unjust force but not enthrall'd," because it is founded upon the "will and arm of Heav'n" (588-600). Milton's argument in the "Areopagitica" holds true to these ideas also, that we must have confidence in virtue and its ability to triumph over all trials and temptations because-if it is truly of God-it will stand predominant over all evils. In outlining his argument, Milton reminds his audience over and over of the duty they have to trust in the virtue of their fellow men; just as God allowed Adam to have the choice to err, so must the state give men the right to choose, to try their own ideas of virtue. The Spirit describes: Great Comus . . . whose pleasing poison

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