Womankind is clearly defined in reference to its compatibility with the minds and wills of men in the Miltonian universe. In Milton's Comus and The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, it is for the man to determine such compatibility of minds. Their inferior position is based upon the many temperamental defects of women, while Milton views women as extensions of the man. Having accepted the idea of male superiority, Milton did not view the woman as a slave. Rather, she was a companion to Man.
In Milton's time, 17th century England was seized by a philosophical and theological conflict of the classes brought on by the advent of Puritan doctrine and the rise of an educated middle class (Stone, 344). The utilitarianism of the Puritan working class contrasted with the ritualism and seeming idolatrous decadence of the Noblesse Oblige's Papists. God spoke directly with the middle-class - as opposed to through emissaries in the form of priests and the Pope under James I (Then (as now), the aristocratic class of Royals were rocked with scandal). Such directness enticed Milton.
Fresh from the collective guilt of the female sex that had characterized the Middle Ages, women in the 17th century began to find crack in a previously entrenched primo-genitural and patriarchal hierarchy that would bring about greater parity with men. While still a staunch chauvinist, Milton at least recognized and later began to consider the role of women as partners in marriage. With changes in the marriage institution, female empowerment was inevitable.
Milton's works (most particularly Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained) reflect this empowerment, while a backlash of fear is evident. Even in the decadently permissive court of King James I, concern was voiced that the women were becoming too masculine. The playwright Middleton observed, "'Tis an Amazonian time; you shall have women shortly tread their husbands" (Stone, 300).
Comus is papist m...