John Lyly: Endimion (1)

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The influence of the courtly love tradition, and specifically of Castiglione, can scarcely be overestimated. One typical writer who explored the ideals of courtly love was John Lyly (c.1554-1606). Lyly, who achieved considerable popularity in the decade just before Shakespeare began writing for the stage, made his name as the writer of a rather moral romance distinguished by its elaborate style: Euphues, or The Anatomy of Wit (1578). His plays, written a few years later for child actors, and for the select audience at Elizabeth's Court, retain some of the same artifice (remember Falstaff's parody of euphuistic language in Henry the Fourth Part One when he acts the part of Hal's father). Their strong point, however, is that they are witty, and elegantly constructed. Lyly builds his comedies around a central debate, rather in the fashion of The Courtier. Endimion, probably his best known play, debates the nature of love in a fashion very similar to Shakespeare in Love's Labour's Lost. There are strong echoes of Castiglione in Endimion's idealized love for Cynthia, goddess of the moon and a figure for Queen Elizabeth before whom the play was performed; and in the parallel between Sir Tophas (very much a prototype for Don Armado) and Endimion, there is an early use of the double plot structure you are familiar with in plays as diverse as Henry the Fourth Part One and King Lear.

The selections that follow provide three passages from the plays:

  1. Passage 1: The big speech on love
  2. Passage 2: Courtly love parodied
  3. Passage 3: The faithful lover
A courtier
A courtier

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This page last updated April 20, 1997. Enquiries to Michael Best,
© Michael Best, The University of Victoria, and the Open University of B.C.