Printer Friendly

"I would faine serve": John Lyly's Career at Court.

The most common assumption about John Lyly's court comedies has been that they embody an unproblematic celebration of Queen Elizabeth and her rule. (1) Recent critics, however, have problematized such a reading by arguing that the apparent allusions to the queen are often remarkably unflattering. (2) Nevertheless, most interpretations of the plays still rely largely on identifying (or as the Elizabethans would say, "deciphering") references to the queen, whether positive or negative, as the basis for an understanding of Lyly's "meaning." I would like to shift the focus somewhat by looking at the ways Lyly's plays reflect upon his own career at court: the ways Lyly uses his plays to represent himself and his relationship to Elizabeth and her court.

There are precedents for this approach as well, beginning in 1891 with F.G. Fleay's identification of Lyly with Diogenes in Campaspe and with Pandion in Sapho and Phao. (3) The argument is that, since Lyly was himself a scholar, a philosopher, any depiction of scholars or philosophers can be read as autobiography. The allegorical impulse that leads to identifications of the queen with the monarchs and chaste goddesses in the plays leads also to identifications of Lyly with specific characters, and Lyly is seen as trying to define the position of the "learned man" or the "artist" at court. (4) The problem with such readings, however, is precisely the same that arises from allegorical readings for allusions to the queen--they are unnecessarily limited and occasionally self contradictory. I believe that Lyly creates multiple fictional self-portraits throughout his plays--as philosopher, as artist, and as courtier but I believe that the most significant and most purposeful self-portrait is as servant. Lyly's plays do flatter Queen Elizabeth by celebrating her rule (though that celebration is often remarkably subtle and understated), but I argue that they do so primarily by advertising the many possible ways in which Lyly was willing and able to serve his queen--as panegyrist, advisor, courtier, censor, or Master of the Revels.

Those who have attempted to assess Lyly's courtly trajectory as a career tend to approach it from its end--with the justifiably famous "begging letters" in which Lyly complains about the queen's failure to reward his loyal service. (5) These are extraordinary documents, revealing both Lyly's frustration and the complex maneuverings involved in the pursuit of patronage at the court:
 Thirteen years your Highness' servant, and yet nothing; twenty friends that
 though they say they will be sure, I find them sure to be slow; a thousand
 hopes, but all nothing; a hundred promises, but yet nothing. Thus casting
 up the inventory of my friends, hopes, promises and time the summa totalis
 amounteth in all to just nothing. (6)

The problem with attempting to assess or understand Lyly's career from the perspective of his late letters to the queen (especially the 1601 letter quoted above) is that the pecuniary urgency of the letters could lead to the conclusion that Lyly saw his literary career in terms of a purely commercial exchange, that he "attempted ... to make poetry a profession" rather than as self-advertisement for alternative forms of service. (7) It is true that in the 1601 letter he acknowledges that he is in debt and asks, if all else fails, to be granted "some lands, goods, fines or forfeitures" from among the properties confiscated from the Essex conspirators, but I believe it would be a mistake to interpret this as evidence that Lyly saw his career at court as that of professional playwright. His humiliation at having to beg for direct monetary reward is revealed at the end of the letter when he ironically equates his appeal for "recompense" with "robbery."

In the last years of his life Lyly was apparently in desperate financial straits, "his years fast growing on and his insupportable charge of many children all unbestowed, besides the debt wherein he standeth." (8) In such circumstances, he was reduced to begging for any kind of support, but the career he had envisioned for himself was not simply that of a "hired pen." Fulke Greville's observation about his friend Philip Sidney--"his end was not writing even when he wrote"--was at least equally true of Lyly. (9) His writings, as impressive as they are, were not an end in themselves but a means of self-promotion in pursuit of a position at court, which is why I believe we should look more closely at the many self-reflexive gestures in the plays. (10)

In order to understand how Lyly uses his plays for purposes of self-promotion, however, it is necessary to look not at the end of his career but at the beginning--at the famous (or infamous) prose works which first brought Lyly to the attention of the court. Lyly's first work, Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit (1578), despite its subsequent popularity at court, is not a "courtly" work; it is a work with fairly serious humanist credentials, probably intended to display Lyly's ability and ambition as a university scholar. (11) In 1574 Lyly had written to William Cecil, soliciting his help in acquiring a fellowship at Oxford. Nothing came of it, but, presumably during the time Lyly was composing Euphues, he was simultaneously pursuing an M.A. by incorporation at Cambridge University (which he received in 1579); it is reasonable to assume that he was still hoping for some sort of academic career at that point and was using Euphues as an elaborate job application. (12) Such an assumption seems to be confirmed by Euphues' critique of the abuses at Athens (Oxford) which ends with an obvious gesture of self-promotion:
 Howe such abuses should or might be redressed in al Universities,
 especially in Athens, if I were of authoritie to commaunde, it should be
 seene, or of credite to perswade those that have the dealinges wyth them,
 it should soone be showne. (1:275)

As G.K. Hunter says, Euphues "reads like the pipe-dream of a disappointed don." (13)

The instant popularity of his debut work no doubt revealed to Lyly the possibility of a career outside the university, but his second work, Euphues and His England (1580), should not be read as a capitulation of his hopes for an academic career. Although Lyly's second work is much more amusing than the first one, it is not necessarily less serious. That Lyly chooses more to entertain than to preach may simply indicate that he thought it would be more effective in securing court patronage. The kind of patronage he is seeking, however, remains essentially the same. Although Euphues (who is Lyly's acknowledged authorial persona) comes to admire the court and its queen in the second work, he does not choose to remain at court. When an offer of "great preferment" finally comes for Euphues it is not at the court but in "Athens" (2:185). Although Lyly had registered his willingness to "tailor" his fictions to the tastes of his audience in his epistle to "the Ladies and Gentlewoemen of England"--"could Euphues take the measure of a womans minde, as the Tailour doth of hir bodie, bee would go as neere to fit them for a fancie, as the other doth for a fashion" (2: 10)--he was clearly not willing to settle for a career as an "amuseur de la Cour." (14)

Lyly's dedication of Euphues and His England to the Earl of Oxford led to a patronage relationship which found Lyly writing plays for "Oxford's Boys" (a children's troupe apparently drawn from the members of the Children of Paul's and the Children of the Chapel Royal). The question is whether writing plays to be performed before the queen represents a final surrender of Lyly's humanist ideals in favor of a sycophantic appeal for royal patronage. If the plays were merely vehicles for royal flattery, the answer would probably have to be in the affirmative, but the plays are more complicated than that. It is to Lyly's first play, Campaspe, that I wish to turn now.

Because most scholars come to Lyly's plays looking for "what we would expect of a dramatist writing above all to please the Queen and her court," attention tends to remain focused in Campaspe on the ways Lyly uses Alexander the Great as a flattering mirror for Elizabeth. (15) If Elizabeth recognized herself in Lyly's Alexander, she was probably pleased, perhaps especially by the ease with which Alexander masters his affections for Campaspe at the end of the play, but as flattery Lyly's play falls far short of the extravagant displays Elizabeth was accustomed to receiving. (16) An important, if understated, theme in the play is, in fact, the limitations of the monarch's power.

The play begins with the introduction of two Theban captives--Timoclea and Campaspe--who represent spoils from Alexander's victory over Thebes. When the soldier Parmenio tries to glorify Alexander as conqueror, Timoclea responds, "Alex[andre] hath overcome, not conquered," pointing out that military conquest "cannot subdue" her own "vertue" (1.43, 45, 47). To suggest that Timoclea (who never reappears in the play) is introduced merely to "quickly establish Campaspe's softer passivity by setting her off against the stalwart Timoclea," is to ignore the dramatic effect of her explicit challenge to Alexander's absolute authority, a challenge which resonates throughout the play. (17) when Alexander later confesses his passion for Campaspe to his general Hephestion, the general reminds him of the limits of his power as a wooer:
 Hep. Suppose she loves not you? affection commeth not by appointmente or
 birth; & then as good hated as enforced.

 Alex. I am a king, and will commaund.

 Hep. You may, to yeelde to luste by force; but to consent to love by feare,
 you cannot.

 Alex. Why, what is that which Alexander may not conquer as he list?

 Hep. Why, that which you say the Gods cannot resiste, Love. (2.2.98-105)

Immediately following this exchange, Alexander goes to visit the philosopher Diogenes, who has pointedly refused to appear before Alexander when summoned.
 Alex. How happened it that you woulde not come out of your tub to my

 Diog. Because it was as far from my tub to your pallace, as from your
 palace to my tub.

 Alex. Why the[n] doest thou ow no revere[n]ce to kings?

 Diog. No.

 Alex. Why so?

 Diog. Because they be no Gods.

 Alex. They be Gods of the earth.

 Diog. Yea, Gods of earth. (2.2.121-130)

I do not wish to suggest that these reminders of Alexander's lack of absolute power represent an imprudent challenge to Elizabeth's authority as monarch. If Elizabeth had been tempted to take offence, that response is discouraged by Lyly's insistence on Alexander's own magnanimity in the face of Diogenes' uncompromising honesty. Instead of being offended, Alexander recognizes Diogenes' value as an advisor: "Diogenes, whe[n] I come this way again, I will both see thee, and confer with thee" (2.2.152-153). The world of the play is not one of competition for power but rather one of cooperating, interlocking spheres of influence. Lyly's insistence on the limits of monarchical rule is not insubordination; it is a salutary reminder of the interdependence of a society founded on mutual respect. This image of interrelatedness and interdependence would have been visually emphasized in performance by the fact that the three dramatic settings--Alexander's palace, Apelles' studio, and Diogenes' "tub"--probably all remained on stage throughout the performance. (18) As Alexander circulates among the theatrical spaces on stage, he never loses his regal authority, but he also magnanimously recognizes the relative authority of Apelles and Diogenes as masters of their own spheres.

Lyly is celebrating his royal auditor not as an unapproachable cynosure but as a crucial part of a dynamic network of relationships. (19) Lyly's point seems to be that a society cannot flourish in which the monarch acts as an autocrat; in fact, the only real threat of disorder in the play arises when Alexander appears to reject Hephestion's advice about Campaspe--"No more Hephestion: in this case I wil use mine owne counsell" (2.2.112-13). But Alexander's "owne counsell" is to force his amorous attention onto Campaspe--"I am a king, and will command" (2.2.100). (20) The threat is immediately defused, however, when Alexander demonstrates his respect for Diogenes' integrity a few lines later. In Campaspe, as Peter Saccio says, "[wi e see public, abstract characters, characters whose essence is a position in the structure of the world. (21) I would argue that, in this inaugural play, one of the "positions" Lyly is most concerned to discover and define is his own.

The character of Diogenes has often been proposed as Lyly's self-portrait, and, as Bond suggests, the echoes of Euphues' criticism of "Athens" in Diogenes' criticism of the Athenians lends credence to such an identification (2:550). Any such absolute identification, however, ignores the distance Lyly has come from his anti-courtly scholar persona in Euphues. No doubt a position as a respected philosopher whose advice and counsel was sought out by the ruler would appeal to Lyly's fantasies, but he is surely unlikely to have entertained it as a realistic career goal. Although Lyly arrived at court with considerable humanist credentials, he recognized that "service" at court included a range of legitimate positions short of membership in the queen's privy council.

Another frequently proposed Lylyan self-portrait is the artist Apelles. (22) Lyly had invoked Apelles as a "model for any artist who might wish to consider a career as a royal portraitist" in the dedication to Euphues (1: 179), but such an identification in Campaspe seems unlikely, since, except for Apelles' cagey response to Alexander's request for criticism (3.4.110-112), Apelles' role in the play is less that of a courtier or court artist than simply that of a competitor with the king for the affection of Campaspe. (23) That is hardly a role Lyly would imagine for himself at court (or anywhere else). Furthermore, it is my argument that Lyly was never enthusiastic about a permanent position as a court artist.

In the prologue spoken at Blackfriars, amidst the conventional apologies for the quality of the ensuing performance, the speaker proclaims, "We have mixed mirth with counsell, and discipline with delight" and concludes, "But we hope, as Harts that cast their hornes, Snakes their skinnes, Eagles their bils, become more fresh for any other labour: so our charge being shaken of[f], we shalbe fitte for greater matters" (2:315, emphasis added). The "greater matters" may refer to subsequent plays, but that seems unlikely. The emphasis is on freeing oneself from the responsibility for one kind of "labour" in order to perform something "greater." This interpretation is supported by the prologue to the performance at court, in which the speaker concludes, "With us it is like to fare, as with these torches, which giving light to others, consume themselves: and wee shewing delight to others, shame our selves" (2:316). This statement is usually read as a conventional adoption of the humility topos, but that Lyly genuinely felt a measure of "shame" in his role as court entertainer seems to be confirmed in his 1598 letter to the queen, when, at the end of his career as playmaker, he offers "repentance that I have played the fool so long." (24)

Instead of the more familiar candidates for Lyly's self-portraits, I would like to propose another--the servant. Unlike the role of court artist, which never reappears in Lyly's plays after Campaspe, or the role of philosopher, which appears in only two others (Sapho and Phao and Endimion), the role of servant is one Lyly represents in virtually every play. (25) Most studies of Lyly's plays, however, simply ignore the servant-centered "subplots," in apparent agreement with Hunter's observation that the subplots are "separable" from the main plots. (26) when the subplots are analyzed, they are dismissed as mere comic relief or treated as either subversive or parodic. (27) The relative silence regarding the servants in Lyly's comedies may be due to an assumption that they are simply vestiges of Roman comic types, but (with the possible exception of Mother Bombie) Lyly never writes a traditional Roman comedy. We need to consider what specific purposes they serve in the comedies he does write.

The most intriguing purpose is authorial self-reflexivity. To read them as images of their author is not only to take them seriously but to see their positive contributions to the world of the plays. It is possible to read the self-reflexivity of Lyly's servants as a critique of his inferior status, but I do not believe that Lyly would have seen service as something to which he was "reduced." True public service to queen, court, and country was a role to which Lyly aspired as a trained humanist. (28) Lyly's servants are by no means fools; they are clever, willful, and perceptive. They frequently engage in what Saccio calls "choplogic," but surely that is wit rather than folly. In Campaspe the servants' lives offer a number of apparent parallels to Lyly's own life at court--they complain that they are unrewarded by their masters, fed with insubstantial images or mere words; they are often excluded from meaningful work and called upon instead (like Psyllus) merely to "grind colours" and "hold the candle" (3.2.4-5); and yet they remain loyal to their masters. Diogenes' servant Manes, who complains that his master's austerity compels him to feed only on "fine iests, sweet aire, & dogs almes" (1.2.82), contemplates running away but instead binds himself anew to his master when Diogenes threatens to dispense with him as "superfluous" (2.1.41). Manes' service is at one point contrasted with that of three boys whose father apparently wants to apprentice them to Diogenes, but whose service is rejected because their "qualities" consist only in dancing, tumbling, and singing, skills normally associated with theatrical performances (5.1).

If Manes' commitment to a philosopher who refuses to become a courtier is in any way self-reflexive, it may represent a last vestige of Lyly's hopes for an academic career. In Sapho and Phao, Lyly's next play, however, the philosopher Pandion, with whatever misgivings, has taken up residence at the court where Sapho's exemplary rule has reified philosophy's ideals:
 In universities vertues and vices are but shadowed in colours, white and
 blacke, in courtes shewed to life, good and bad. There, times paste are
 read of in old bookes, times present set downe by new devises, times to
 come coniectured at by aime, by prophesie, or chaunce: here, are times in
 perfection, not by devise, as fables, but in execution, as trueths.


Although Pandion has often been recommended as a candidate for a Lylyan self-portrait, an equally strong case might be made for Phao. (29) Phao embodies the unrewarded loyalty which I argued was the defining quality of the servants in Campaspe. As he leaves the court at the end of the play, Phao takes solace in "my loyalty unspotted, though unrewarded" (5.3.18-19). Insofar as Phao represents Lyly, it is perhaps significant that Lyly's persona once again departs from court at the end of the play.

Ironically, the biggest obstacle to an identification of Lyly with Phao is a scene in which Lyly himself seems entirely too clearly adumbrated. when Phao seeks Sybilla's advice on how to court the princess Sapho, Sybilla tells him to flatter her: "Flatter, I meane lie ... Be prodigall in prayses and promises, bewtie must have a trumpet, & pride a gifte" (2.4.60, 66-67). (30) while this may actually represent Lyly's own strategy as court encomiast, it would be an act of extraordinary foolhardiness to demystify one's practice in this way. I take this, therefore, as an apt admonition against excessive allegorical enthusiasm. As Hunter says of Sapho's intriguing dream, for instance, it could apply to "any courtier." (31)

Nevertheless, there is another candidate for Lyly's self-portrait in Sapho and Phao who offers clear parallels with Lyly and avoids the impolitic hubris of an identification with Phao (and, to a lesser extent, with Pandion). Molus, Pandion's servant, is, like Pandion, a former university scholar transplanted to the court, but, unlike Pandion, he seems more open to the possibilities of court attendance, if still uncertain about his future. Where Pandion feels "shame" at his alteration from scholar to courtier (1.2.4), the only difference Molus acknowledges between university and court is the increased discrepancy between the rewards available and those actually granted: "there of a litle I had somewhat, her[e] of a great deale nothing" (1.3.3-4). Nevertheless, he does not idealize the life of a scholar at university. In a passage that seems to echo Lyly's criticism of Oxford University in the 1579 addition of Euphues ("To my very good friends, the gentlemen scholars of Oxford"), Molus describes scholars at "Athens" as
 Cunning in nothing but making small things great by figures, pulling on
 with the sweate of our studies a great shooe upon a litle foote, burning
 out one ca[n]dle in seeking for an other, raw wordlings in matters of
 substaunce, passing wranglers about shadowes. (1.3.19-23) (32)

Criticus' immediate verdict, "Then is it time lost to be a scholler," is left unchallenged, and Molus is only concerned with how he might now learn to "scamble in the court" (3.2.3).

Given the similar scholarly backgrounds of Pandion and Molus, it is possible to read both master and man as figures for Lyly, representing the competing desires for an academic or a courtly career, but it is also possible to see in Molus Lyly's recognition of his status as a "second tier" servant of the queen through his client relationship to the more powerful courtier Oxford. Pandion remains critical of courtiership, however, while Molus sees real potential in court service: "These be the golden daies ... golden for plentie of all things, sharpnesse of wit, excellencie in knowledge, pollicy in government" (1.3.34, 38-40). The collocation of gold, wit, knowledge, and government suggest the range and legitimacy of court service, and openness to other forms of service and other sources of livelihood may have characterized Lyly's own disposition at this point in his career. That it was an issue of some moment for him appears to be confirmed by the fact that he explores it at length in his next play, Gallathea.

There are no scholars or artists in Gallathea with whom to identify Lyly, but there is the usual contingent of servants in the persons of boys looking for masters to whom to apprentice themselves. When we first meet Rafe, Robin, and Dicke, they have just survived a shipwreck in which their (unidentified) master has apparently drowned, so they turn first to the Mariner to learn his craft but are unable to master the professional jargon. They then separate to pursue their fortunes, and we follow Rafe in his search for employment. His first opportunity comes when he meets an alchemist, who tells him that if he can "take paynes" and "be secret" (two skills necessary for court service), he will "entertaine" him (2.3.104-107). Rafe enthusiastically accepts: "I followe, I runne, I flye" (2.3.128). The alchemist's previous apprentice, Peter, who had purposefully exaggerated the rewards service with the alchemist would provide for Rafe, sees this as an opportunity to escape his own profitless drudgery: "I am glad of this, for now I shall have leysure to runne away: such a bald Arte as never was! let him keepe his newe man, for he shall never see his olde againe" (2.3.130-132).

It does not take Rafe long to discover the fraudulence of the alchemist's profession, and he leaves him. He then meets an astronomer whose claims to mystical powers make Rafe uncertain whether he is a man or a god, but he immediately offers to serve him: "seeing you are, (I know not who to terme you) shall I serve you? I would faine serve" (3.3.61-62). The desire (and need) to serve a master, any master, is a central theme of the subplot of this play. When we see Peter again, he is lamenting his decision to leave his master, finding himself in the awkward and dangerous position of a "masterless man": "So I had a Maister, I would not care what became of me" (5.1.51-52). Nevertheless, Rafe quickly leaves the astronomer who "standes warming himselfe by staring on the starres" and begins a new search: "No more Maisters now, but a Mistrisse if I can light on her" (5.1.4-5, 1-2). This remark appears to be a direct acknowledgement of Lyly's own pursuit of a royal Mistress, and it raises the question of how his service to the queen is adumbrated in this play.

Consistent with his allegorical readings of the plays, Bond simply assumes that the goddess Diana represents the queen in this play because contemporary panegyric commonly employed the goddess as a type of Elizabeth. Others, however, have recognized that Diana is not a particularly attractive figure in the play and therefore suspect as a vehicle for flattery. Although he finally concludes that it is unlikely that Lyly either "wanted or intended" to "implicate Elizabeth herself in the figure of Diana," Pincombe nevertheless argues that "Lyly's pastoral exposes the cult of virginity as a tyrannical erotic regime." (33) The association of Elizabeth with Venus was much less common in royal panegyric, but it is Venus who finally offers employment for the three apprentices when she invites them to sing at the wedding, so she operates as a figure of the royal patron. (34) It is possible that Lyly was subtly advising Elizabeth on her duties as a royal patron by fashioning portraits of proper and improper patronage in the competing responses to the arrival of the apprentices--Diana's haughty dismissiveness ("what are these that so malepartlie thrust themselves into our companies? ... Let them alone, they be but peevish") and Venus's more generous welcome ("Yet they will be as good as Minstrils at the marriage, to make us all merrie" [5.3.177-186]).

When Venus asks Rafe if he is "content" to sing at the wedding, he responds, "Content? never better content! for there we shall be sure to fill our bellies with Capons rumpes, or some such daintie dishes" (5.3.196-197). Some scholars have read this as a consummation of Rafe's professional aspirations: "Rafe fulfils his quest to achieve selfhood and place in society." (35) With the promise of employment and a meal, Fienberg concludes, "Nature is satisfied; art is served." My own argument, on the other hand, leads me to point out that one wedding does not a vocation make. Like Rafe's wedding entertainment, Lyly's role of court dramatist is merely a first step in his pursuit of a meaningful position at court.

Lyly's experience with the boys' companies may have impressed on him the vulnerability of the young choristers who, as soon as their voices broke in adolescence, would be dispossessed of their temporary positions "without practical skills and without patronage." Brenda Burnett Nelson's reading of Rafe's enthusiastic anticipation of a wedding meal is followed by the rhetorical question, "And afterwards?" (36) I do not think we need to postulate an altruistic sympathy on Lyly's part for the plight of superannuated boy players, however, in order to imagine that Lyly himself was feeling increasingly insecure about the passage of time at this point in his "career." It may be more pertinent to remember that writing "poetry" (which would include plays for the court) was almost universally regarded as a "youthful" exercise, and Lyly's association with the child actors may have constituted a perpetual reminder that he had not yet achieved an "adult" occupation.

The fruitless passage of time finally redeemed by a gesture of acceptance on the part of a chaste goddess is, of course, the central image in Lyly's Endimion, his best-known play and the one that has attracted the most attention by readers looking for allegorical allusions. That Cynthia ("the myracle of Nature, of tyme, of Fortune" [1.4.36-37]) in many ways represents Elizabeth is indisputable, but efforts to identify other characters in the play with real persons have inspired some rather elaborate mental gymnastics. The prologue to the performance of the play at court expresses a hope that "none will apply pastimes, because they are fancies" (3:20), and yet Lyly seems to apply the story of Endimion to himself in his address to the queen in the epilogue:
 Dread Soveraigne, the malicious that seeke to overthrowe us with threats,
 do but stiffen our thoughts, and make them sturdier in stormes: but if your
 Highnes vouchsafe with your favourable beames to glaunce upon us, we shall
 not onlie stoope, but with all humilitie, lay both our handes and heartes
 at your Maiesties feete. (3:80)

It was, after all, Endimion who was the victim of malicious rumors and whom Cynthia released from his curse with a promise of preferment: "Endimion continue as thou hast begun, and thou shalt finde that Cynthia shyneth not on thee in vaine" (5.3.186-187). (37)

Lyly is, of course, careful not to blame Cynthia/Elizabeth for Endimion's mistreatment, projecting it instead on Tellus and the witch Dipsas. (38) Cynthia says she had only "seemed strange" to Endimion:
 I favoured thee Endimion for thy honor, thy vertues, thy affections: but to
 bring thy thoughts within the compasse of thy fortunes, I have seemed
 strange, that I might have thee staied; and nowe are thy dayes ended before
 my favour beginne? (4.3.78-82)

Lyly may be reminding Elizabeth that if she ever plans to reward him for his loyal service she needs to act quickly, but the miraculous rejuvenation of the aged Endimion also implies that all of Lyly's lost time could be redeemed if only Cynthia would "shine" on him. (39)

It seems likely that Endimion's circumstances were inspired to some degree by Lyly's own, but, once again, Lyly's self-reflexivity is operating on more than one level in this play. There is, for instance, a final reappearance of the courtly philosopher in the persons of Pythagoras and Gyptes, who, unlike Pandion in Sapho and Phao, have adopted the point of view (and the almost identical language) of the courtier Trachinus in the earlier play: "They are thrise fortunate that live in your Pallace [Gyptes tells Cynthia], where Trueth is not in colours, but life, vertues not in imagination, but execution" (4.3.48-50). At the end of the play, Cynthia invites the philosophers to remain at court, promising to reward them if they observe courtly decorum: "if you can content your selves in our Court, to fall from vaine follies of Phylosophers to such vertues as are here practised, you shall be entertained according to your deserts" (5.3.286-288). The philosophers enthusiastically accept, which Bevington construes as "the final capitulation of Lyly as an intellectual who once fretted about philosophic independence." (40)

That Lyly himself felt it as a capitulation may perhaps be inferred from his treatment of the servant subplot in this play. The subplot in Endimion is the first one that I believe fulfills the parodic role that Hunter assigns to the subplots in general. What I find particularly intriguing about it, however, is that the object of its mockery often seems to be Lyly's own enterprise of royal panegyric. The comic center of the subplot is the character of Sir Tophas, whose pursuit of love parodies and demystifies the romantic pretensions of the courtly characters. From his opening remark that love is "but some devise of the Poet to get money" (1.3.12-13) to his final careless request for any woman to warm his bed "Turne her to a true love or false, so shee be a wench I care not" (5.3.279-280)--Tophas makes a mockery of the idealism of romantic courtship. And his parodic blason of the aged witch Dipsas is a jarring element in a play celebrating a female ruler who turned fifty-five the year the play was performed at court:
 O what a fine thin hayre hath Dipsas! what a prettie low forehead! what a
 tall & statelie nose! what little hollowe eyes! what great and goodly
 lypes! In howe sweete a proportion her cheekes hang downe to her brests
 like dugges, and her pappes to her waste like bagges! (3.3.52-57)

It is perhaps inevitable that "these misogynistic representations also contaminate by their proximity the icon of Elizabeth," but it is difficult to imagine Lyly's motives for such a risky maneuver. (41) Pincombe, who does not see Tophas as a parody of Endimion, is also unwilling to "suggest that Dipsas is somehow a satire on the ageing queen." He argues instead that Lyly is "burlesquing the panegyrical creatures of his predecessors," and that he thereby "contrives to dissociate himself from the act of flattery by distancing himself from the conventional panegyrical art of his fellow-writers." (42) I think we can push this one step farther and see Lyly engaged in distancing himself from his own panegyrical art through self-mockery. Unlike Endimion, whose sleep is magically induced, Tophas' lethargy is merely self-indulgent. He "is so farre in love that he pineth in his bedde" and "would faine take a nappe of fortie or fifty yeeres" (4.2.3-4, 18). Lyly also puts in Tophas' mouth a parodic version of a locution that Lyly had previously used as a serious comment on the courtier's relationship to a monarch: "quod supra vos nihil ad vos" (1.3.38). (43)

Despite the obvious flattery of Elizabeth in Endimion, then, it is possible to read the play as the first step in a turning away from royal panegyric toward a broader public appeal in Lyly's plays. (44) Pincombe argues that "Tophas reasserts the claims of a very traditional kind of comedy in the face of the restraints on comedy imposed by the claims of Elizian panegyric" a position for which there is at least some suggestive support in the servant subplot. (45) The servants Dares and Samias become an appreciative audience for Tophas' mock-epic account of his hunting prowess, and, unlike previous servants for whom loyal service was a self-defining quality, Samias would rather enjoy Tophas' foolery than serve his master. When Dares expresses the hope that they will have the "leysure" to enjoy the "good sport hereafter," Samias replies, "Leysure! I will rather loose my Maisters service then his companie! looke howe he stroutes!" (1.3.85-86). This willingness to abandon the duties of service in pursuit of one's own interests may be a critique of unfaithful servants (unlike Lyly) or it may reflect the increasing independence on Lyly's part which is discernible in his final plays.

If Lyly's depiction of Cynthia in Endimion is his most flattering portrait of Elizabeth, it is also his last. Although two of the last three plays (Midas and The Woman in the Moon) were performed at court, they contain no recognizable allusions to the queen. (46) Even in Midas, in which Lyly celebrates the English victory over the Spanish armada and which contains material "ideally suited to Elizabethan panegyric," Lyly uncharacteristically eschews flattery of the queen by insisting on the masculine gender of the prince of Lesbos. (47) The next play, Mother Bombie, contains no royal or divine figures. And if Elizabeth recognized herself in Lyly's portrayal of Pandora in The Woman in the Moon she was not likely to have been flattered. (48) Something different is going on in Lyly's last three plays, and one of the markers of that change can be found in his treatment of the ubiquitous servants.

Except in Midas, the servants in the final plays cease to occupy a "subplot" The servants in Mother Bombie dominate the action of the play and help to engineer its outcome. The Woman in the Moon has only one servant, the comic Gunophilus, who, although he provides commentary on the action of the play as earlier servants had, has become one of the central characters of the main plot. Even more intriguing for an analysis of the self-reflexive quality of Lyly's plays is that the actions of the servants in the final plays are increasingly theatrical. In each of the final three plays, the servants create and enact dramatic fictions, but they are not, of course, panegyrists but tricksters intent on deceiving an unsophisticated audience. (49) Their fictions are not in service to their masters but for their own profit or amusement. This element is only suggested in Midas, where it is limited to a "device" in which the pages trick the barber Motto into speaking the proscribed rumor that the king has ass' ears, but there are at the same time a number of explicit allusions within the play to poetry and performance. Fienberg goes as far as to describe Midas as "the play wherein Lyly comments most self-consciously on his comic aesthetic and his courtly career" though I think that is even truer of the later plays. (50)

In Mother Bombie, the servants engineer a marriage in defiance of their masters' intentions, and they do so through complex theatrical fictions. Not only do they disguise the respective lovers in the "costumes" of exchanged apparel, but they prompt the deceived fathers to voice their approval of their children's marriage by engaging them in the fiction (4.1.60-77). And in The Woman in the Moon, Gunophilus is an even more enterprising impresario. In addition to acting as "straight man" for Pandora's manipulations of the naive shepherds, his own love of play inspires him to devise an elaborate hoax in which he persuades Stesias to hide in a "cave" (probably a trapdoor) while he and Pandora perform for his "benefit" (3.2.219-320). This consistent metatheatricality may have simultaneously called attention to Lyly's years of loyal service to the queen and insinuated that Lyly was contemplating an alternate career in the public theater. In any event, the metadramatic layering of fictions must have been a comic success, and it clearly inspired some of Shakespeare's funniest scenes.

In The Woman in the Moon, almost everyone gets into the "act." Even Stesias disguises himself as Pandora to take comic revenge on the other shepherds. And one of the most effective comic touches is a scene which mocks one shepherd's inability to engage in these sophisticated fictions. After Pandora has arranged a tryst with Learchus, her husband Stesias enters and she has to feign loyalty to him: "Go, goe, Learchus, I am Stesiasses." Learchus, bewildered, turns to her and asks, "Art thou?" So Gunophilus has to take him aside and explain that she is just "acting": "No, no, Learchus, she doth but say so" (4.1.239-241).

The Woman in the Moon is Lyly's only experiment in blank verse, and Pincombe takes this as evidence that Lyly was "trying to reinvent his drama" in this final play. (51) I believe, however, that the "reinvention" began much earlier. Although Lyly's plays are classified as "comedies" (though not by Lyly himself), the early plays are rarely funny. As Lyly said of Sapho and Phao in the prologue at Blackfriars, "Our inte[n]t was at this time to moue inward delight, not outward lightnesse, and to breede (if it might bee) soft smiling, not loude laughing" (2:371). The first of Lyly's characters to "breede ... loud laughing" was probably Sir Tophas, and the success of this character may, ironically, explain Lyly's apparent shift in material in his later plays more than any consideration of royal panegyric.

Bevington calls The Woman in the Moon "a melancholy instance of an image tarnished and a vision lost"--the "vision" presumably being the often delicate celebration of Elizabeth found in the early plays--but to focus on what The Woman in the Moon is not is to miss what has been gained. (52) Lyly's final plays are often genuinely funny--from the absurdity of Midas's ass ears to the ludicrous wooing of the two foolish children in Mother Bombie (4.2.22-92) to the almost nonstop farce of The Woman in the Moon. It is hard to imagine that these plays were not successful in performance, and Lyly may have wanted to build on that success rather than continue merely to wait for some show of royal favor. His choice of blank verse for his final play may also indicate a willingness to write for the public stage, where blank verse had become de rigueur with Marlowe's earlier triumph. Whatever the motivation for the change, there is a dramatic mastery in Lyly's last plays that presages or at least participates in the brilliance of the contemporary public stage. The static scenes and academic debates of the early plays have been replaced by ironic repartee and lively action. Lyly's servants have grown up. Those who envision Lyly pursuing a career as professional writer or "artist" see in his final works a celebration of his own art. Fienberg, for instance, claims that the pages in Midas use wit "to justify the playwright's art," and Berry says that, in the emphasis on the "Poet's dream" in the prologue to The Woman in the Moon, "the privilege of dreaming has been reclaimed by the artist." (53) Even those who recognize that Lyly was disappointed in his aspirations for a position at court encourage us to emphasize the "positive result" of Lyly's career at court. As Altman expresses it,
 if the humanist did not emerge as royal pedagogue shaping policy for an
 adoring queen, he did become a witty and perceptive poet who performed an
 important service by exercising the awareness of the Elizabethan court with
 close-packed argument and enticing spectacle. (54)

If Lyly's last plays celebrate the dramatist's art, however, they do not celebrate the artist's success as an influential voice at court. The occasional allusions to an unsophisticated or unresponsive audience are humorous and may reflect Lyly's recognition of the disadvantages of performing for a less sophisticated public audience, but they may also reveal the bitter frustration of an unwilling court jester.

Looking back on Lyly's career from our modern historical perspective (especially, as so often, through the lens of Lyly's influence on Shakespeare), it is difficult not to be impressed by his accomplishments. It is unlikely, however, that Lyly himself felt as sanguine about his career. Lyly wrote his last play around 1590. That he did not subsequently regard himself as "retired" from a career as playwright is confirmed by the poignant letters he writes to the queen years later lamenting his continued lack of advancement. Despite significant accomplishments as playwright, he saw himself as a "servant" who was never called upon to serve in any meaningful position. His judgment on the career of his last servant, therefore, may stand as the final verdict on his own career as playwright. Gunophilus, servant to the changeable Pandora and eager impresario, is condemned by "Nature" for failing to serve his mistress properly and is punished by being transformed into a hawthorn tree:
 But thou that has not servd her as I wild, Vanish into a Haythorne as thou
 standst, Neare [never] shalt thou wait won Pandora more. (5.1.271-273) (55)


(1) The most thorough presentation of this approach occurs in R. Warwick Bond's edition of The Complete Works of John Lyly (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1902), 3 vols., the notes for which are filled with identifications of flattering allusions to Elizabeth. All citations of Lyly's works will be from this edition.

(2) Michael Pincombe traces Lyly's unflattering treatment of the queen throughout the plays, seeing it as evidence of "Lyly's growing resistance to royal panegyric," The Plays of John Lyly: Eros and Eliza (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996), 79.

(3) A Biographical Chronicle of the English Drama, 1559-1642, 2 vols.(London: Reeves and Turner, 1891), 2:40.

(4) See David Bevington, Tudor Drama and Politics: A Critical Approach to Topical Meaning (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968); Nona Fienberg, Elizabeth, Her Poets, and the Creation of the Courtly Manner: A Study of Sir John Harington, Sir Philip Sidney, and John Lyly (New York and London: Garland, 1988); and Philippa Berry, Of Chastity and Power: Elizabethan Literature and the Unmarried Queen (London and New York: Routledge, 1989).

(5) The most striking example of reading Lyly's career backwards is Catherine Bates's observation that "The failure of Euphues' courtship testifies, in some degree, to what we know of Lyly's sense of rejection at the hands of Elizabeth, and of his failure to achieve the court position he aspired to"--The Rhetoric of Courtship in Elizabethan Language and Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 102. If anything in the 1578 Euphues "testifies" to Lyly's eventual frustration at court, it does so with remarkable clairvoyance.

(6) Quoted in G.K. Hunter, John Lyly: The Humanist as Courtier (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962), 86.

(7) Fienberg, Creation of the Courtly Manner, 158. See also Joan Pong Linton, "The Humanist in the Market: Gendering Exchange and Authorship in Lyly's Euphues Romances" in Framing Elizabethan Fictions, ed. Constance C. Relihan (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1996), 74; and Richard Helgerson, The Elizabethan Prodigals (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), 77.

(8) From a 1605 letter by Toby Matthew, quoted in Hunter, John Lyly, 88.

(9) The Prose Works of Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke, ed. John Gouws (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), 12.

(10) Michael Pincombe argues that "[w] hat Lyly really wanted was a `place'," but the place he imagines him wanting is that of "a nobleman's private secretary" (Eros and Eliza, 3). He concludes that Lyly's career as a dramatist came about "quite by accident," as a result of being Oxford's client. However Lyly arrived at his opportunity to present his plays before the queen, he used that opportunity to advertise his credentials as something more than a "private secretary."

(11) Anti-courtly sentiment is so strong and so consistently expressed in Lyly's first work that Theodore L. Steinberg has called it an "anti-courtesy book" ("The Anatomy of Euphues," SEL 17 [1977], 29). For an important study of Lyly's "humanism" see Arthur F. Kinney, Humanist Poetics: Thought, Rhetoric, and Fiction in Sixteenth-Century England (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1986).

(12) R.W. Maslen sees Euphues as an appeal not for academic but for court preferment, in Elizabethan Fictions: Espionage, Counter-espionage and the Duplicity of Fiction in Early Elizabethan Prose Narratives (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), 220.

(13) Hunter, John Lyly, 61.

(14) This is Albert Fevillerat's disdainful assessment of Lyly's career at court (John Lyly: Contribution a I'Histoire de la Renaissance en Angleterre [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1910; New York: Russell & Russell, 1968]).

(15) The phrase is Anne Lancashire's "John Lyly and Pastoral Entertainment" in The Elizabethan Theatre VIII, ed. G.R. Hibbard [Port Credit: P.D. Meany, 1982], 40), but it represents a general consensus.

(16) One need only compare Lyly's play with George Peele's nearly-contemporary Arraignment of Paris (printed 1584) to appreciate Lyly's reserve.

(17) Michael Shapiro, Children of the Revels: The Boy Companies of Shakespeare's Time and Their Plays (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977), 157.

(18) Peter Saccio, The Court Comedies of John Lyly: A Study in Allegorical Dramaturgy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 24-5.

(19) See Joel Altman, The Tudor Play of Mind (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), 197. I argue that one of the relationships Lyly is especially interested in exploring is his own relationship to the queen.

(20) See Pincombe, Eros and Eliza, 29; and Bevington, Tudor Drama and Politics, 174.

(21) Saccio, The Court Comedies, 38.

(22) See Pincombe, Eros and Eliza, 4 1; Berry, Of Chastity and Power, 118-2 1; Fienberg, Creation of the Courtly Manner, 169-7 1; and Altman, The Tudor Play of Mind, 197.

(23) Pincombe, Eros and Eliza, 42.

(24) Hunter, John Lyly, 86. The metaphors of the snake and the eagle reappear in the 1597 letter to Robert Cecil:
 I find it folly that on[e] foot being in the grave, I shuld have the other
 on the stage. Yf her matie in Comeseration of my estat, in remernbraunc of
 her gracious promises, will vousalf, but any hope of fauer in my declining
 yeres, I shall then [w.sup.h] the Snake cast of my skynne, & my Byll
 [w.sup.h] the Eagle, renuing my tyme, running it over, & reviving my wittes
 by spending them. (1:69)

(25) Even Love's Metamorphosis may originally have included a servant subplot which was subsequently excised. I am, of course, including in the servant category such analogues as the apprentices in Gallathea. The only other scholar to recognize the self-reflexive potential in Lyly's servants is Kent Cartwright, who observes in a note that "It is tempting to consider the pages' desire [in Gallathea] as a comic metaphor of Lyly's dream of preferment at court" ("The Confusions of Gallathea: John Lyly as Popular Dramatist" Comparative Drama 32 [1998), 235), but he does not pursue the observation.

(26) Hunter, John Lyly, 229.

(27) See Fienberg, Creation of the Courtly Manner, 16 1; Hunter, John Lyly, 23 1; and Brenda Burnett Nelson, "The Child Actors of the Renaissance and the Coterie Drama from Lyly to Marston, Jonson and Chapman," unpublished dissertation, University of Southern California, 1991, 222. See also Saccio, The Court Comedies, 54; and Mark Thornton Burnett, Masters and Servants in English Renaissance Drama and Culture (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997), 29.

(28) Fienberg, Creation of the Courtly Manner, 165. Fienberg's argument is ultimately vitiated by her determination to see Campaspe as a criticism of "society's failure to support its artists" (Creation of the Courtly Manner, 171) which causes her to identify all the servants as artist-figures, despite the fact that only one of them serves Apelles, and even he is only an apprentice artist. I believe that when Lyly thought of "service," his ultimate models were the great "civil servants" of the time--Burleigh, Walsingham, et al.

(29) See Pincombe, Eros and Eliza, 80; and T.W. Baldwin, Shakespere's Five-Act Structure (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1947), 500-01.

(30) Whether or not Lyly actually succeeded in flattering Elizabeth in his portrayal of Sapho is a matter of considerable debate. See Pincombe, Eros and Eliza, 81; and Theodora A. Jankowski, Women in Power in the Early Modern Drama (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992), 122.

(31) Hunter, John Lyly, 177.

(32) I subscribe to Hunter's view of Lyly's attack on the "unkindness" of Oxford as a reference to the university's curricular adherence to old-fashioned scholasticism, "the dry discipline of disputation" (John Lyly, 42).

(33) Pincombe, Eros and Eliza, 138, 136. Bevington also argues that Diana is an inappropriate portrait of Elizabeth, though his argument is partly flawed by a misreading of the play when he identifies Diana as one of the infatuated lovers (Tudor Drama and Politics, 185). Lancashire argues that the identification is "not inappropriate" but also not very flattering, since "Neptune and Venus are more powerful than Diana" ("John Lyly and Pastoral Entertainment," 34).

(34) For a study of alternate representations of Elizabeth, see John N. King, "Queen Elizabeth I: Representations of the Virgin Queen," Renaissance Quarterly 43 (1990), 30-74.

(35) Fienberg, Creation of the Courtly Manner, 192. Altman also argues that the three apprentices "find their vocation as choristers at Gallathea's wedding" (Tudor Play of Mind, 215, emphasis added).

(36) Nelson, "Child Actors," 82, 83.

(37) On the connection between Endimion and Lyly, see Bevington, Tudor Drama and Politics, 184; and Pincombe, Eros and Eliza, 82.

(38) Marie Axton sees Cynthia and Tellus as representing the two sides of the queen's own "inner conflict," identifying Tellus as "the mortal aspect of Cynthia." She goes on to argue that "Lyly accepts the identification of the queen's majesty as the chaste Cynthia but he reserves the right to criticise the destructive effects of her evident femininity" ("The Tudor Mask and Elizabethan Court Drama" in English Drama: Forms and Development, ed. Marie Axton and Raymond Williams [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977], 43).

(39) There is an echo of this promise of rejuvenation in Lyly's letter to Robert Cecil when he says that, despite 12 years of failed promises, if he could at least serve in Parliament that year, "I will think the greves of tymes past, but pastymes" (1:68).

(40) Bevington, Tudor Drama and Politics, 184.

(41) Berry, Of Chastity and Power, 131.

(42) Pincombe, Eros and Eliza, 105.

(43) In Sapho and Phao, Pandion is given a version of this statement when he warns Trachinus not to speculate about Sapho's illness: "Of men we learne to speake, of Gods to holde our peace" (3.1.27). The original version of the Latin sententia had also appeared in Euphues (1: 195).

(44) Cartwright argues that all of Lyly's plays participate in the theatrical values identified with the popular stage, though he specifically identifies Gallathea as a watershed work: "Gallathea shows Lyly developing a comic dynamism" ("John Lyly as Popular Dramatist," 221).

(45) Pincombe, Eros and Eliza, 104.

(46) David Bevington recommends Midas's daughter Sophronia as a flattering portrait of Elizabeth ("Lyly's Endymion and Midas: The Catholic Question in England," Comparative Drama 32 [1998], 37), but if it is an allusion to the queen it is a very indirect one.

(47) Pincombe, Eros and Eliza, 115. Pincombe sees this as evidence that "Lyly had become irreversibly disenchanted with royal panegyric, and with Eliza herself" (Eros and Eliza, 113). Bevington, however, disregards the gender discrepancy, arguing that the description of the prince "implicitly flatters Elizabeth" ("The Catholic Question," 39).

(48) Those who assume that the central female character in Lyly's plays must always figure the queen have difficulty resolving the problem of Pandora's unattractiveness. Bond acknowledges the possibility that Pandora represents "a satirical allegory of the Queen" but he "hesitate[s] to accept" it, merely observing in his notes that "Elizabeth had been called Pandora" in an earlier work (3:236, 555). Marie Axton, who argues that, in Pandora, "Lyly sends up the conventions of court flattery," believes that he could not have written this play "without the backing of a powerful patron" ("The Tudor Mask," 42). Anne Lancashire, however, suggests why Elizabeth need not have identified with Pandora ("Pastoral Entertainment," 46), and we should remember that Lyly explicitly identifies Nature as the "onely Queene" of the play in his prologue (3:241).

(49) Like Tophas' satiric praise of Dipsas, Licio's praise of his mistress in Midas is comically inept (1.2.19-87).

(50) Fienberg, Creation of the Courtly Manner, 193. Bevington also sees Midas embodying a statement of Lyly's aesthetics: "The ending of the play, with a song `to poesy's king; graphically illustrates the extent to which Lyly espouses the doctrine of art's political purpose and effectiveness" (Tudor Drama and Politics, 189).

(51) Pincombe, Eros and Eliza, 183.

(52) Bevington, Tudor Drama and Politics, 185.

(53) Fienberg, Creation of the Courtly Manner, 200; Berry, Of Chastity and Power, 133.

(54) Airman, The Tudor Play of Mind, 197.

(55) If Gunophilus represents Lyly in some ways, his transformation into a tree at the end of the play may constitute a private joke. Lyly was obviously fascinated by trees as props for his plays. A tree serves as the central prop for Gallathea, and characters are transformed into trees in Endimion, The Woman in the Moon, and Loves Metamorphosis.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2000 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:comedy plays
Author:Alwes, Derek B.
Publication:Comparative Drama
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 22, 2000
Previous Article:"Look not big, nor stamp, nor stare": Acting Up in The Taming of the Shrew and the Coventry Herod Plays.
Next Article:A Speculative Political Allegory in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Related Articles
Introduction to English Renaissance Comedy.
Playing Companies and the Drama of the 1580s: A New Direction for Elizabethan Theatre History?
English Drama Before Shakespeare.
Endymion: John Lyly and The Plays of John Lyly: 'Eros and Eliza'.
The Fey Beauty of A Midsummer Night's Dream: a Shakespearean comedy in its courtly context.
Marriage relationships in Tudor political drama.
The victim of fashion? Rereading the biography of John Lyly.
Stage Whispers.
Little Faine's racing to his track dream.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters