Article Title

Lyly's Endymion and Midas: The Catholic Question in England


David Bevington


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

John Lyly's court comedies repeatedly celebrate the special qualities of Queen Elizabeth as rul'er of a proud English people. Right from the start, A moste excellent Comedie of Alexander, Campaspe, and Diogenes, Played beefore the Queenes Maiestie on twelfe day [subsequent editions specify New Year's, i.e., 1 January 1584] at night, by Her Maiesties children, and the children of Poules1 offers a handsome compliment to Elizabeth by comparing her with the Emperor Alexander, a wise monarch who encourages artists and philosophers to express themselves freely. The portrait is not without its cautionary urging that rulers acknowledge their relative ignorance in such matters and hence their need for the insights that the independent artist or thinker can provide. But the compliment is seemingly genuine in its implicit recognition that England's ruler has a special gift for encouraging outspokenness that her Continental counterparts do not possess. In a similar vein, Sapho and Phao, Played beefore the Queenes Maiestie on Shroue-tewsday [i.e., 3 March 1584], by her Maiesties Children, and the Boyes of Paules,2 presents the love story of Sappho and a handsome commoner as a sympathetic study of a virgin queen who is deservedly adored by her subjects and courtiers and who returns that favor, in some cases with particular ardor, but who is wise enough to realize that she cannot engage herself emotionally to any particular member of her court without alienating the rest. The play comments obliquely on Elizabeth's various negotiations or flirtations, with the Earl of Leicester and the Duke d' Alencon in particular, but, avoiding overt identification, prefers instead to laud a queen whose devotion to virginity is a self-sacrificing move calculated to advance the best interests of her country and her own political success.3

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