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Endymion


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A: John Lyly Pf: 1588, London Pb: 1591 G: Com. in 5 acts; prose S: A fantasy court, in the mythical past C: 16m, 7f, extrasLike his mythical namesake's love for the moon, Endymion secretly loves the chaste and distant Cynthia. His friend Eumenides loves Semele, Cynthia's lady-in-waiting, whose wit and sarcasm cause her to be forced to be silent for a year. Tellus, a lady at the court, is so jealous of Endymion's love for Cynthia that she arranges for a witch to cast a spell on Endymion and make him sleep for 20 years. Eumenides is granted one wish at a magic well, and, after much soul-searching, decides in favour of his suffering friend rather than seeking the fulfilment of his love for Semele. Endymion is released from his spell by Cynthia's kiss, Eumenides wins Semele, and Semele is freed from her enforced silence – to point out that Eumenides' generous act of male friendship has resulted in losing Endymion to Cynthia. A sub-plot of low comedy involves roguish pages and nubile servant-girls, Sir Tophas extravagantly wooing a witch, and two philosophers seeking wisdom at court.

A: John Lyly Pf: 1588, London Pb: 1591 G: Com. in 5 acts; prose S: A fantasy court, in the mythical past C: 16m, 7f, extras

Lyly is perhaps now best remembered for his Euphues, the Anatomy of Wit (1578), a prose narrative, written in a highly ornate, elaborate style, which was also to distinguish his writing for the stage. No longer appealing to modern taste, a play like Endymion is still worthy of note. First, despite its mythical setting, it offers a revealing image of the romantic intrigues of the Elizabethan court. Cynthia is a flattering portrayal of Elizabeth herself, and there are obvious references to the Earl of Leicester (Endymion) and Mary Queen of Scots (Tellus). Secondly, Lyly, unlike many of his contemporaries, wrote in an elegant, almost rarefied style (the low comedy is kept well apart from the main action), which reminds one of the Italian pastoral. His influence on Shakespeare (in plays like A Midsummer Night's Dream) is regarded as decisive. Endymion was performed at court by boy actors.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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