Margaret Oakes ~ Furman University
Comus and Satan: Familiar Faces of Vice

How are we supposed to recognize evil, especially when it comes in disguise? Both Eve and the Lady have exceptional abilities to withstand the dangers about which they overtly have been warned; although Eve's prelapsarian nature may make her more susceptible to being deceived, she has been warned to expect it. And the Lady, wise beyond her years in a postlapsarian world, knows the dangers of intemperarance and a lack of vigilance. Thus, to try to achieve their goal of the corruption of their victims, Comus and Satan approach their victims as innocent creatures of nature, using disguises based on the nature of their victims and with the nature of their particular form of vice. The Lady and Eve are initially beguiled by faces that appear part of a familiar, even domesticated, landscape. Comus appears to the Lady, his young mistress on the family estate, as a shepherd whom she believes she even recognizes: someone who is to watch over and tend the sheep rather than corrupt those in his care. Satan's sophistic nature and smooth words are embodied in the double-tongued snake, who is also seen by Eve as a member of the animal kingdom who shares her home in Eden. The fact that Satan is able to trick his victim into the first sin, and that Comus escapes to wreak more havoc on other victims, highlights Milton's emphasis on the need for both an understanding of sin and for an ever-watchful eye that looks for false faces speaking false words.