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English Drama 1586-1642: The Age of Shakespeare
Book by G. K. Hunter; Oxford University, 1997. 136-151.

[G. K. Hunter on Nashe and Lyly]

Nashe's Summer's Last Will and Testament can be seen as a masque disabled by its own antimasque, allowed therefore to be a piece of social unreality. It is generally assumed that it was written to be played before the Archbishop of Canterbury at his palace in Croyden. References in the text strongly suggest that it was performed by boys (though Will Summers himself may well have been played by a man). 32 It seems unlikely that this text was ever performed for the public. It is a work of extraordinary literary fluency and 'golden' eloquence in speech and song. All these characteristics link Summer's Last Will and Testament to The Arraignment of Paris and set it against the adult actors' early comedies for the court, The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune and The Cobbler's Prophecy. Such distinctions should not, however, conceal the real continuities between all these plays. Summer's Last Will and Testament is predicated once again on an explicit struggle between Order and Disorder, though it ends without any positive affirmation. Order is here represented by the natural sequence of the seasons, by the analogous human and social ordering of an individual life from youth to age, together with the moral structure of potential, achievement, excess, and restriction (as in Marston Histriomastix). Against this Nashe sets his awareness that the poetic vision of order is not fulfilled in human practice. Drawing on the widely diffused Renaissance taste for rebuses, puns, and perspectives, Nashe matches Summer the season against his antitype, Will Summers, Henry VIII's celebrated jester. 33 The central point that Will

32 Will Summers calls them 'pretty boys, if they would wash their faces and were well breached an hour or two' (ll. 117-18).
33 The title as it appears in the entry in the Stationers' Register ( 28 Oct. 1600) sharpens the joke still further: 'A book called Summer's Last Will and Testament presented by Will Summers'. That is, Summer's last will by Will Summers.


Summers exists to make is that the play being performed is only a play, its order a piece of artifice imposed on the audience by a professional writer -- that is, by a person shielded through formal education from ordinary folks' experience and their spontaneous or 'extemporary' reactions (and shielded also by self-importance from the true conditions of entertainment). So he derides the author as a fool like himself -- not, however, a fool 'by nature and by art' like himself but a plain 'Idiot' (that is, one without control of his art) who is 'making himself a public laughing stock' (ll. 204). Summers will demonstrate how much has been lost by the courtly move to entertainment based on literature; he will sit on the stage 'as a chorus and flout the actors and the author at the end of every scene' (ll. 91-3). So at the end of the first episode he complains that the audience must be thirsty after 'listening to this dry sport' (l. 424) and longs for an old-fashioned play of the Prodigal Son, which would allow the actor to indulge himself in the pleasures of disorder and opting-out: 'let the prodigal child come out in his doublet and hose all greasy, his shirt hanging forth and ne'er a penny in his purse and talk what a fine thing it is to walk summerly or sit whistling under a hedge and keep hogs' (ll. 435-9). And again, hearing Winter speak of the incommodity of the arts, he congratulates himself that 'when I should have been at school construing Batte, mi fili, mi fili, mi Batte I was close under a hedge or under a barn wall playing at span-counter or jack in a box' (ll. 1465-8).

Will Summers's prose opposition to the versified masque-like celebration of order in the rest of the play aligns him in many ways with such characters as Wilson's Raph Cobbler or Simplicity (in The Three Ladies of London). But these characters clearly belong to a moralizing tradition that stretches back to Piers Plowman; they look up at the pretensions of the powerful from a common-sense but also a Christian perspective, which is allowed to be just even when it is not effective in the world. But Nashe's sophisticated irony puts his raisonneur at a much greater distance than are Wilson's, placed as he is by the self-conscious rhetoric of his role. His going-over-the-top linguistic exuberance, characteristic of Nashe, turns his complaint into fun. His praise of disorder and the spontaneous good life is without coercive edge. He bewails the loss of Christmas hospitality, but does so ironically, in a self-consciously 'medieval' folk prophecy:


Ah, Benedicite
Well is he hath no necessity
of gold, ne of sustenance;
Slow good hap comes by chance;
Flattery best fares;
Arts are but idle wares;
Fair words want giving hands;
The Lento begs that has no lands.
Fie on thee, thou scurvy knave,
That hast nought and yet goest brave:
A prison be thy death bed,
Or be hanged, all save the head.
( ll. 1738-49)

If I am right in surmising that Toy, who played Will Summers, was an adult actor accompanying a performance by boys, one can see how Summers's jokey presentation of the action as poetic unreality would fit the theatrical conditions. Summers invites the (adult) audience to share with him something like the Vice's traditional fun-loving complicity in the sins of the real world. 'We know what's what; they don't' is the basis of his claim to intimacy: 'we know meanings; they know only words.' Order, decorum, artistry, are presented as admirable ideals, and emerge as suchthe songs in Summer's Last Will and Testament are high points in Elizabethan lyricism -- but they are also matters outside the reality of daily life that adults ('like us') know about.

John Lyly is never mentioned in Summer's Last Will and Testament, but an invocation of his invisible presence gives us an easy way to bring into focus the polemical relation to current fashion that Nashe's courtly method involves. Lyly seems to be present in Nashe's play as the representative of just that hidebound and formalistic kind of drama that Will Summers (in this, Nashe's mouthpiece) disdains and disrupts. Nashe was, of course, more fired as an author by opposition than by collegiality, and by 1592 Lyly's reputation was sufficiently declined to make him easy game. But there is more than chronology or personal rivalry involved; Summer's Last Will and Testament shows us that there is a genuine opposition of literary ideals between the two authors as well as a considerable overlap. Lyly's inflexible method of writing (Euphuism) is, it is implied, incapable of personal expressiveness: he is 'one of those hieroglyphical writers that by the figures of beasts,


planets, and of stones, express the mind as we do in A, B, C (ll. 591-3). Lyly's method provides Nashe, indeed, with a springboard for his whole play, for the Prologue to Summer's Last Will and Testament, read out in mockery by Will Summers as a 'scurvy Prologue . . . made in an old vein of similitudes' (ll. 26-7), begins with a parody of the opening passage in Lyly's Blackfriars Prologue to Campaspe ( 1580x 1584). 34 Lyly's Prologue begins:

They that fear the stinging of wasps make fans of peacocks' tails, whose spots are like eyes. And Lepidus which could not sleep for the chatting of birds set up a beast whose head was like a dragon: and we which stand in awe of report are compelled to set before our owl Pallas's shield, thinking by her virtue to cover the others' deformity.

As always in Lyly, the only subtext that can be discovered in the somewhat impersonal and oracular mode of his writing lies buried in the space between the detached members of the paragraph. The Prologue is, of course, an apology; it also, however, sets up a somewhat adversary relation between the players and the audience: the players expect 'stinging', but their 'spots' or imperfections are also the 'eyes' which allow them to see what is going on in the auditorium. 'And Lepidus', as the second sentence rather mysteriously begins, found a way of dealing with the 'chatting' (which surely glances at the noise of the audience before the play begins) by setting up a dragon to frighten them; the dragon then reappears as 'Pallas's shield' (carrying the Gorgon's head), a defensive cover for her favourite animal, the owl. It is hard not to believe that there is some reference here to that living Pallas, Queen Elizabeth, who is protectress of the owlish Lyly and will defend him from stinging. Nashe begins his Prologue to Summer's Last Will and Testament with the same story about Lepidus:

At a solemn feast of the Triumviri in Rome it was seen and observed that the birds ceased to sing and sat solitary on the housetops, by reason of the sight of a painted serpent set openly to view. So fares it with us novices that here betray our imperfections; we, afraid to look on the imaginary serpent of Envy painted in men's affections, have ceased to tune any music of mirth to your ears this twelvemonth, thinking . . . it is the nature of the serpent to hiss . . .

34 Compare M. R. Best, Nashe, Lyly, and Summer's Last Will and Testament, PQ 48 ( 1969), 1-11.


The classical story serves in both cases to express the mixture of apology and aggression in the boys' relation to their audiences. But Nashe has a further point to make: the serious mode of the boys as set up by Lyly is also the object of Will Summers's scorn:

How say you my masters, do you not laugh at him for a coxcomb? Why, he hath made a Prologue longer than his play. Nay, 'tis no play neither, but a show. I'll be sworn the jig of Rowland's godson is a giant in comparison of it. What can be made of 'Summer's last will and testament'? Such another thing as Gillian of Brainford's will, where she bequeathed a score of farts amongst her friends. (ll. 73-80)

The ambiguity that Nashe's play leaves us with allows us to respond to the charm and fragility of the world the boys represent but conveys also a robust enthusiasm for the real world's teeming vulgarity and variousness, which plays acted only by boys or written by Lyly cannot hope to represent.

The poised deference and the tact that Lyly shows in his presentation of the central monarchical characters of his plays -- Alexander, Sappho, Ceres, Cynthia -- has suggested to many readers later than Nashe the latent political point that his dramatic worlds simply exclude the popular voice represented by Will Summers and show to Elizabeth a simple mirror image of her absolutism. But in fact the disenchanted voice is by no means kept silent in Lyly (or in Elizabethan England). The obvious play to cite here is indeed the one that Nashe quotes in Summer's Last Will and Testament-the Most Excellent Comedy of Alexander, Campaspe and Diogenes -- in which we see Diogenes (important enough to get his name on the original title-page) completely unimpressed by the hegemon, Alexander the Great; comic and civic harmony is achieved only because Alexander accepts Diogenes' right to highly vocal individual intransigence (as he also appreciates Apelles' professional right to understand beauty better than a king can). It must be allowed of course that this 'defence' of civil resistance is weaker in Lyly's subsequent comedies, which show a retreat from history into mythology and present the engagement of power with its limitations in terms which permit a more de haut en bas form of resolution. The opposition moves, as it were, inside the orbit of power as a merely formal expression of antithesis. Thus, in Sappho and Phao ( 1582x 1584), Sappho the royal figure and Sappho the woman betrayed by love for a humble ferryman are opposed only


in the passive and psychological terms of withdrawal and pain, not in the active terms of alternative politics. In Midas ( 1589x 1590), Midas's power and his folly are likewise opposed in terms of individual choice and error, not those of personal confrontation. Midas is forced into compromise not by a human opponent but by a god (Apollo). Elsewhere, as in Gallathea (? 1585), the opposition is active enough but is expressed entirely as existing between gods. The human characters, at a natural disadvantage, have to accept manipulations from above, which, being favourable, they are given no reason to oppose. Endymion ( 1588) presents a scene in which the mythological and the human are confusingly mixed. But the central conflict between Cynthia and Tellus (the former, representing Queen Elizabeth, the latter, any number of antithetical possibilities) is handled in an abstracted fashion appropriate to gods, and once again the human lovers have no option but to accept what is offered from above and be grateful for it.

These plays do not present political engagement between hierarchy and subversion. The principal effect made is of distance, separation, and disengagement. A resolute aestheticism justifies the fiction as a thing complete in itself, teases somewhat with suggestions of drame à clef, but resolves all the issues without reference to anything outside its own seamless self-sufficiency. The court prologue to Sappho and Phao asks the Queen to imagine that the whole action has been a dream. Similarly the (court) prologue to Endymion says: 'We present neither comedy nor tragedy nor story nor anything but that whosoever heareth may say this, "Why here is a tale of the Man in the Moon."' The play disables itself by declaring that it is only a plaything, an unreality, which is, of course, what Will Summers said about it in Nashe's play. The disabling, however, is now to be seen from an angle opposite to that of Will Summers, from above and not from below. The highly polished surface of poetic boys' theatre reflects only the decorum of the courtier, deferential but disengaged; too well balanced either to support or to subvert the world around it.

We have noticed recurrently the double pressure on playwrights from the alternative ideals of variety and unity, and we have considered the different ways in which socio-literary opposites and incompatibles were put together, so that they could meet not only the popular demand for change of focus and shift of emotion but


also that other (Humanist) demand that a single vision should control all the phenomena; for had not Horace demanded

denique sit quidvis simplex dumtaxat et unum. ( Ars poetica, l. 23)

It is one of the secrets of the great success of the Elizabethan dramatic movement that these opposites are able to coexist so fruitfully in most of the drama of the time. Thus it is no accident that the opposition that Nashe sets up between his play and Lyly's Campaspe is set between two plays so competitively close to one another -- both courtly plays, both plays for boys, both well formed, yet open in construction, both dependent on the liberating effect of song. If we compare Lyly's plays to Roman comedy or commedia erudita, we can see that he is no less wedded to variety than Nashe. After all, the most memorable expression of the principle comes in Paul's prologue to Lyly's Midas:

Gentlemen, so nice is the world that for apparel there is no fashion, for music no instrument, for diet no delicate, for plays no invention but breedeth satiety before noon and contempt before night. . . . At our exercises soldiers call for tragedies -- their object is blood; courtiers for comedies -- their subject is love; countrymen for pastorals -- shepherds are their saints. Traffic and travel hath woven the nature of all nations into ours and made this land like arras, full of device, which was broadcloth, full of workmanship. Time hath confounded our minds, our minds the matter; but all cometh to this pass: that what heretofore hath been served in several dishes for a feast is now minced in a charger for a gallimaufrey. If we present a mingle-mangle our fault is to be excused because the whole world is become an hodge-podge.

Lyly presents an enigmatic perspective which allows him both to mourn the passing of a supposed former unity (in which intention and expression bore a direct relation to one another) and at the same time to rejoice in a modern sophistication where opposites can coexist without being required to contradict one another. 35

In this we can see both the continuity as well as the opposition that attaches Lyly to Nashe, and the balancing act Lyly brings to the traditions of English comedy. Diogenes and Will Summers

35 Robert Weimann ( "History and the Issue of Authority in Representation", NLH 17 ( 1986), 449-76) argues that this Prologue shows Lyly accepting the political heterogeneity of the audience as an authorization of his work. But the imputed heterogeneity seems more like an excuse for dramaturgy that evades political choice than, in itself, a political statement.


both exist to contradict the ethos of the play and to subvert its closure by a series of ad hoc improvisations. But Will Summers belongs to the true tradition of the moral medley, in which his opposition, like that of Bohan or Simplicity or Raph Cobbler, stands outside the system and cannot be resolved (indeed Summers has to cling to the audience to protect him from the play). The comic conclusion must face down the implacable nay-sayer; and in many cases the opposition continues to resonate in the memory in something of the same way as does (to take the most famous example) Malvolio's 'I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you'.

Neoclassical comedy, on the other hand, usually creates its alternative points of view through the continuous presence of the family servants, following their own agenda. Their down-to-earth appetites (gastric and sexual) are set against the more anxious emotions of the young masters and mistresses and the long-term financial anxiety of the merchant-fathers. But there is much collusion and overlap. The servants belong to the family: they can set up parodies; but they are always parodies dancing attendance on a power structure to which they are entirely subordinate.

Lyly's plays live somewhere in between these two models. They do not (outside the anomalous Mother Bombie of 1587x 1590) offer anything like the neoclassical unity of a modern urban setting where different points of view are held together by continuous cross-intrigue. His understair world of cheeky boy servants draws on many of the characteristics of Roman slaves and Italian servants; but he seldom allows them to interfere in the main action: their struggles with the world are conducted in their own separate terms, and most often in their own separate plots. They do not subvert; but neither do they accept or join. And in the main plots Lyly's figures are too disengaged from one another, too free of social positioning, to allow the plausible exchanges of intrigue. His characters appear rather as if standing in their own space, using others only as instances of the wonderful paradox of their coexistence. Diogenes is an opposition figure; but he is also an Athenian and a theorist. He can tune his discords to the competing parts, so that the audience hear not a jarring conflict but a dangerous harmony.

Lyly's control of the heterogeneity he creates is derived in part from the constructional neatness of the neo-Terentian dramaturgy taught in schools; but even more tellingly it is secured by the


distinctive uniformity of the famous euphuistic style. Lyly does not hold his action together by showing us a social unity in the world depicted. But his style makes everyone, whether princes, pages, gods, nymphs, foresters, or students, sound much the same: self-conscious and self-controlled, dry, witty, analytic, in a mode designed 'to move inward delight, not outward lightness, and to breed (if it might be) soft smiling, not loud laughing; knowing it to the wise to be as great pleasure to hear counsel mixed with wit as to the foolish to have sport mingled with rudeness' (Blackfriars' prologue to Sappho and Phao). The argument continues here with a more specific glance at the kind of play he has chosen not to write: 'They were banished the theatre at Athens and from Rome hissed that brought parasites on the stage with apish actions or fools with uncivil habits or courtesans with immodest words.' As history this is rather odd, as anybody's quick reading of Plautus will indicate. But the polemical point is clear enough. The objection to 'sport mingled with rudeness' takes us back to Sidney once again, and Lyly may well have the Apology for Poetry in mind here, the ideal of 'soft smiling' looking like a restatement of Sidney's 'comedy . . . of delight', which he, like Lyly, opposes to the 'loud laughter' that arises from 'scurrility'. 36 Lyly is not, however, repeating Sidney's views in order to follow him into an attack on the tragicomedy of the popular stage; he seems to be aiming at competition nearer home, at the comedy of modern Terentian imitation, with which his structural methods align him but from which he clearly wishes to differentiate his version of learned comedy. Pasqualigo's Il fedele, translated (perhaps by Anthony Munday) as Fedele and Fortunio, discussed already (see pp. 114-15), and possibly brought to court about the same time as Sappho and Phao, and performed by the same troupe of Oxford's boys, gives us a good, and possibly a pertinent, example of the kind of play Lyly seems to have in mind. Pasqualigo's text gives us a cast list of old lechers, bawds, live-in lovers, pedants, braggart soldiers -- modern city people, freed from hierarchy, 'each character more repellant than the other' as the usually even-tempered F. S. Boas puts it. 37 Lyly aims to replace this with a comedy in which a courtly audience will take delight 'in things that have a conveniency to [them]selves' instead of laughing at 'things most disproportioned to [them]selves'

36 Apology, 136.
37 University Drama in the Tudor Age ( Oxford, 1914), 141.


(to borrow from the same passage in Sidney once again). One basis for this transmutation of neoclassical structure into a vision of delight is a removal of the scene of action from the city into a selfconsciously fanciful and remote region of classical myth or allegory, where a nobler version of love can be explored in freedom from the constraints of real life. The combination of the classic and the romantic in these plays is important to their control of focus: the sobriety of one acts as a brake on the free fantasy of the other. And in terms of sobriety of language Lyly and [Munday] are at one. In presenting Fedele and Fortunio to the Queen, the translator speaks of the style of a comedy

In which he used no thundering words of state But clipped his wings and kept a meaner gate. (Prologue before the Queen, ll. 5-6)

Avoidance of stridency marks the decorum which enables the author not only to escape the impropriety of 'words of state' but also to concentrate on a limited range of interconnections so that the play, being complete in itself, avoids dangerous reference to any specifics outside its own range. In his very different way we can see Lyly pursuing the same limited interconnections which, as in the contrapuntal music the children were trained in, evoked discord only as a function of harmony. Both playwrights are aiming at tightly controlled structures in which emotions are strictly patterned inside the social and conceptual framework.

Lyly's capacity to combine control and variety is evident in his first play, Campaspe; and his method changed very little from that time forward. The play is composed of a series of distinct units, each one used to convey a different response to the situation they all share -- the arrival of Alexander the Great in Athens. Apelles the painter, Diogenes the Cynic, Plato, Aristotle and other philosophers, the generals Hephestion and Clitus, Campaspe the Theban captive -- each of these has a different relation to Alexander; and yet, taken together, they make up a unified picture of the polis. The scenes are short and disjunct; each one focuses on one aspect; and then the play moves on to another grouping and another exploration. By and large, individuals are not changed by their interactions; they exist to present specific (even if complex) points of view: Alexander is powerful and magnanimous; the generals love war, fear love; Diogenes is scornful of complaisance and compromise;


Apelles is humble, but emboldened by awareness of his own worth; Campaspe is humble and tremulous. The brilliantly sharpened dialogue stays close to intellectual debate, focusing on such themes as civil versus military values, the relationship between power and independence. Love in this context is less an emotion to be expressed than a subject to be debated, or passed from voice to voice in the manner of a madrigal.

Like other court plays, Campaspe seems to have been written for 'Terentian' or 'simultaneous' staging, with specific locations set out as booths, capable of opening and revealing an interior space, the rest of the stage being unlocalized and providing room for movement between one booth and another. This obviously meshes with the play structure set out above. We see groupings or characters established in specific places which then serve to define their place in society. On one side of the stage in Campaspe is the tub of Diogenes; on the other side is the workshop of Apelles. The physical reality of these objects serves to make them the fixed points from which our imaginations clan build up the whole network of social relations. This is an anti-romantic daylight world; nothing that is started is allowed to disappear into shadow, and nothing that is individual is allowed to escape scrutiny or challenge by other members of the cast with clearly defined alternative attitudes.

This inquisitorial if not polemical relationship between characters points to an ending that satisfies by separation rather than union (thus allowing individual difference to survive). Alexander decides to leave Athens and conquer Persia; war, not love, is to be his proper métier. Athens (like Apelles and Campaspe) is pardoned and dismissed; the bourgeois comforts of the painter and his model can be allowed to continue in the diminished world that remains. This military apotheosis of Alexander at the end of the action reflects neatly the conditions of court drama. As Alexander moves beyond the Athenian imbroglio and looks down on it from above, so Lyly's Athenian play sinks down before its queenly spectator and acknowledges that her métter lies far beyond the play situation she has condescended to adorn by her presence.

The implied reference to the court context of his plays is handled by Lyly with a deft lightness of touch which politicizing critics have been anxious to load down by the discovery of specific political allegories. Alexander -- like Sappho, Ceres, and Cynthia -- is in some sense, of course, a mirroring of Queen Elizabeth. But the image


created reflects her in terms of queenly quality rather than individual behaviour. The plots Lyly uses, narrating the threats to hierarchical coherence, whether internal or external, and ending with the recovery of balance or control, can be made to refer to particular political occasions only because these tend to follow recurrent general formulae. When Lyly turns to indubitable political allegory, as in Midas (Midas is Philip II, whose possessions in the Indies turn everything to gold), the effect is in fact a loss of sharpness rather than a gain -- a loss we may seem determined to create elsewhere.

After Campaspe Lyly never again found so coherent a social milieu for his dramatized actions. At the same time, and not uncoincidentally, he chose to transform his admired rulers from male to female. In his second play ( Sappho and Phao) he concentrated attention on the idea of female heroism he derived from Ovid Heroides, where the heroic shows itself as a struggle against overmastering passion and a return to duty, rather than (as with Alexander) an escape from personal entanglement into the noble simplicity of war. Imitating the Heroides allowed Lyly to give his antithetical mode of writing a more intense inner dimension than would have been appropriate to Alexander. The rhetoric of the divided mind, where reason battles against emotion, was used by Ovid to catch the pathos of his abandoned and soliloquizing heroines (Sappho, Medea, Ariadne, Dido, and so on) in the medium of a wit which is both intensifying and distancing. Ovid's heroines are tragic figures -- reason can have little function in the violent tenor of their lives -- but Lyly's comic mode requires that the demeaning passion be resolved not by suicide but by a recuperative rationality that enforces the return of social order. His heroines are thus heroic both in the Ovidian sense (high-born, famous, mythological, powerfully emotional) and in the moral sense of being controlled, responsible, benevolent. That they have the additional advantage of reflecting the image of Queen Elizabeth cannot have been irrelevant. But the principal dramatic advantage comes from the opportunity given to represent a piquantly expressed refusal to understand what love is, an indirection in erotic conversation, entirely appropriate to children acting adult roles. Campaspe shows this in the dialogue of the 'two loving worms' Apelles and Campaspe, loving, but unwilling to admit to a love that might enrage their master, Alexander. In Sappho and Phao and Gallathea this emotional tone is made central to the whole play.


Human vulnerability and immersion in the tidal to and fro of personal relations are everywhere in Lyly brought to bear witness against the desire for constancy, in Alexander, in Sappho, in Phillida and Gallathea, in Ceres' nymphs, in Pandora; but these psychological conditions are always presented inside worlds where they can be referred to a static order ('things as they ought to be'). 38 The creation of a space to allow this can come into existence through a ruler's self-control or by the fiat of magnanimous supernatural powers who are able to transform whatever is amiss, and at the same time secure the unstinting praise and loyalty of those who have been transformed, whether the change be one of sex, as in Gallathea, or of self-perception, as in Midas, or of understanding of the world, as in Endymion. In setting up situations in which gods or godlike humans have to intervene to restore an order that the passionate tendency to self-will in human agents threatens to destroy, Lyly is following (as the previous pages will have indicated) a well-beaten track in courtly drama. Yet the manner in which he follows the track is entirely his own. In plays like The Arraignment of Paris, The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune, The Cobbler's Prophecy, the overarching apparatus of divine control appears as something like a court of last resort. The gods set up, or allow, a human experiment; and then the human actors have to try to manage as best they can with what the gods have left them. But in Lyly's plays, characteristically, the representatives of system, fate, necessity, are integrated into the diversified pattern of action. Gods and humans make up together rather than separately what Lyly's societies aspire to -- a world unified in the general aims and attitudes available to it. The plays end typically with compromise achievements rather than diktat. In Gallathea, it is true, Venus solves the love problem of Phillida and Gallathea by using her power to transform one of them (characteristically it doesn't matter which) into a man. But this is not simply a fiat from above; it facilitates only what the humans desire and ask for. In Endymion the command that Endymion's love should not express itself as other than adoration simply places the hero at his appropriate point on the scale which leads down through the less noble love of Eumenides and Semele to the mere carnality of Sir Tophas. It is the best fate

38 The delicate comedy of maidenly love inside a paternalistic order continues to fascinate audiences at least as late as the story of Natalya Petrovna in Turgenev A Month in the Country.


available to him (as to the others), given the limiting conditions both inside and outside their selves. Love's Metamorphosis ( 1588x 1590) ends with a compromise between Cupid and Ceres: the acceptance of love demanded by Cupid and the foresters must coexist with the faithfulness demanded by Ceres and the nymphs. The concordat is worked out on high, but it fulfils the necessities of the human relationships below, and so gives us a complex mixture of assent and resistance that recalls Shakespeare, in the structuring of emotions, if not in the rhetorical mode.

CERES. Well, my good nymphs, yield. Let Ceres intreat you yield.

NISA. I am content, so as Ramis, when he finds me cold in love or hard in belief, he attribute it to his own folly, in that I retain some nature of the rock he changed me into.

RAMIS. O my sweety Nisa! Be what thou wilt, and let all thy imperfections be excused by me, so thou but say thou lovest me.

NISA. I do.

RAMIS. Happy Ramis!

( v. iv. 131-9)

The Woman in the Moon ( 1590x 1595) has been thought to represent Lyly's one attempt to break out of the conventions of tightly controlled witty prose comedy for the boys to act at court (it is his one play in verse). It may be significant that this change takes us back to something more like The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune -- to a plot, that is, where an Olympian arrangement drives humans towards chaos, finally requiring a second Olympian conference to correct what has gone wrong. Yet even here Lyly shows us human capacity for free choice. At the end of the play Pandora is allowed to choose her own astral destiny and elects to live, not with Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sol, Venus, or Mercury, but with Cynthia, the Moon:

For know that change is my felicity And fickleness Pandora's proper form. ( v. i. 301-2)

As at the end of most of these plays, human need for inconclusiveness is an inevitable element inside the totalizing pattern.

Mother Bombie shows Lyly at his closest to the Roman and Italian mode of a modern urban intrigue managed by witty servants in order to secure their own pleasure and freedom. Here we


are no longer in a remote or symbolic setting but in Rochester in Kent where 'Mother Bungay . . . the great witch of Rochester' (as Reginald Scott calls her 39 ) lived as a matter of fact -- in the very region where Lyly spent his own early life. As if to compensate for this degree of realism, Mother Bombie is of Lyly's plays the most obviously artificial in construction, its symmetries delightfully exposed in every scene. Four fathers with four children (two male, two female) seek, as is usual, the most profitable possible matches. Two of the fathers are wealthy, two of only moderate estate. But the children of the wealthy fathers are idiots (though this is not known abroad), while the children of modest households are highly accomplished. Wealth and desire are thus, as usual, at odds. The four servants of the four fathers form a conspiracy to right the potential wrongs: they will fulfil the love of the accomplished children and marry off the fools to one another. But there are two more children in the play, the poor children of an old woman. Their problem, deriving from their incestuous love for one another, cannot be solved by the servants' manipulations. Here Lyly has to draw on a more mysterious power, whose local representative is the oracular Mother Bombie. Her prescience leads to the discovery that the incestuous pair are not in fact brother and sister but the heirs to the two rich fathers. So the rich children turn out to be entirely suited (they are already in love) as are the children of the two middling fathers, and the two idiots, now known to be brother and sister, can be properly looked after in the rich households where they have grown up. The servants, whose manipulations have led to symmetries beyond anticipation, are forgiven the lies they have told to achieve these ends.

Nearly every plot device in Mother Bombie can be paralleled in Roman comedy and its Renaissance imitations. What is less easily parallelled is the method by which they are accumulated and organized. Lyly is not interested, it would appear, in the element of comic panic by which cross-intrigues usually aim to hold their audience's attention nor in the sense of bitterness which the grotesque passions of Plautus' Euclio or Pyrgopolynices evoke (comedy as a Hell that can be laughed at). There is only one major intrigue. Once the four servants have promised to effect what the four fathers desire, they have almost total control of the action. The

39 The Discovery of Witchcraft ( 1584), bk. XVI, ch. iii.


fathers feel a certain unease at what is happening, but there is no counter-intrigue and none of those recurrent paroxysms of extempore invention that we meet, for example, in I suppositi. The tone of Mother Bombie is sweet and self-congratulatory. In a world so totally symmetrical, where speech, like action, moves in prose stanzas of double or triple repetition, the emphasis falls inevitably on fulfilment rather than surprise. We watch the servants move the other characters as if they were chess pieces being used to illustrate checkmate in seventeen scenes. And, as in chess, our enjoyment of the spectacle derives from our sense of the ways in which cleverness turns into inevitability. The effect is to congratulate society (represented by an audience of the powerful) on the mathematical confirmation of a basic order that can be discovered under surface anarchy.