In his essay “Milton’s Ludlow Masque”, Cedric Brown makes many informative statements. But among the more fascinating claims made is his assertion of “Milton’s text us[ing] the idea of virginity… but not as a virgin land which requires the mastery of outside rule. Rather, the region itself produces its own ruling spirit” (32). There is, in other words, more to Sabrina than meets the eye.
From prior research, I know of how land is often feminized in order for masculine claims to be made upon it. It forms an odder part of patriarchy and certain religious creeds; but, when it comes to Milton’s works, I never ascribed the divinity of Sabrina to the land, much less to the idea of this chaste spirit coming to represent a chaste land which much constantly strive for Protestant morality.
Part of this, I feel, has to do with my previous focus on The Lady as a paradoxical protagonist—I lapsed on remembering that violence does not need to happen from the outside, as there is plenty of internal violence to tame the pure frontiers.
In short, I was so wrapped up in trying to see how The Lady’s purity functioned, I wholly forgot that her purity subjugates her—dominates her as an object for the male gaze, much like her contemporary in Sabrina; divinity, after all, does not mean much when it is a divinity encoded in the sin of Eve and her redemption through subjugation through Adam. In this instance, the gaze operates as Milton’s faith in the poet-as-priest, exemplified in the text by the Spirit’s educational songs, i.e., Milton’s authorial imposition, his values and beliefs superimposed into the dramatic (33). Accordingly, it will be an interesting thought experiment to see this relationship with subjugation and divine repair (in the Augustinian Platonic understanding)—protestant purity—plays out in a deeper sense, one which allows for The Lady and Sabrina to occupy that liminal space between object and person. Namely, how an object acts as a person.
I feel this is an especially problematic question to ask since, if we take Brown at his word when he claims that “Though focused on the river, [Sabrina’s] speech is an augury for virtuous and prosperous rule” (32), then we encounter morally dubious positions on Milton’s end. Can lordship, for example, be anything other than patriarchal and oppressive when it relies on a dominant woman-object as its anchor? It seems unlikely, despite however innovative it is to see a trop of Arthurian literature inverted with the female cast in the male role (see the concept of The Fisher King in numerous Arthurian texts, where if the king is ill, then the land is ill, and vice versa). Still, it would be worth exploring more in the future.