The Confusions of Gallathea: John Lyly as Popular Dramatist


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

We have learned to think of John Lyly as the archetype of the failed "humanist as courtier." In that melancholy conception, the humanist endeavors to put his high ideals and intellectual skills to work for the court, only to discover that it values him solely less familiar angle, that of the humanist as "popular playwright," a perspective that reveals him as adding to the emotional power of public theater. To do so calls into question a prevailing paradigm of sixteenth-century drama: that humanist plays differ from popular ones in that the former are intellectual, arid, and aristocratic while the latter are visceral, imaginatively arousing, and plebeian, and that consequently playwrights such as Lyly failed with the public because they wrote a static "drama/elite binary, insisting - counterintuitively, I think--on two separate traditions, with the popular preferred.2 Even where critics find the traditions merging, they view the lively popular stage as accepting from the humanist line only its sense of thematics and coherence. Reappraisal of the reigning paradigm of Tudor drama might begin with recognizing a virtue in humanist plays exactly where they presumably fall short of popular ones, in the aspect of theatricality.

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