Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
To his friend Eumenides, Endymion declares his love for Cynthia, goddess of the Moon. Eumenides chides Endymion, reminding him of the Moon’s inconstancy, whereupon Endymion extols inconstancy and change as virtues, attributes of everything beautiful. Convinced that Endymion is bewitched, Eumenides prescribes sleep and rest for the lovesick swain, but Endymion rejects the advice and berates his friend.
In the hope of misleading his friends, Endymion has also professed love for Tellus, a goddess of the Earth. Enraged by his apparent perfidy, Tellus swears to take revenge. Because she still loves Endymion, Tellus is unwilling for him to die; therefore, she resolves to resort to magic and witchcraft in order to awaken his love for her. Her friend Floscula warns that love inspired by witchcraft will be bitter, but Tellus ignores the warning and leaves to consult Dipsas, an enchantress.
In contrast to Endymion and Tellus, Sir Tophas habitually scoffs at love and has dedicated his life to war—against blackbirds, mallards, and wrens. When mocked by Endymion’s and Eumenides’ pages, Dares and Samias, Sir Tophas swears to kill them, but he pardons them when they explain that they have been speaking in Latin. Meanwhile, Tellus has found Dipsas, whom she consults about the possibility of killing Endymion’s love for Cynthia and supplanting it by magic with love for the Earth goddess herself. Dipsas declares that since she is not a deity, she can only weaken love, never kill it. At Tellus’s request, Dipsas agrees to enchant Endymion in such a way that his protestations of love for Cynthia will be doubted. Accompanied by Floscula and Dipsas, Tellus confronts Endymion in a garden and tries to make him confess his love for Cynthia. Although he admits that he honors Cynthia above all other women, he insists that he loves Tellus.
Later, the two pages, Dares and Samias, stroll in the gardens with their own ladyloves, whom they have shown Endymion and Eumenides in the act of mooning over their own loves. As a jest, Dares and Samias ask the two women to feign love for Sir Tophas, who, as usual, is playing at warfare in the gardens. The women comply, but Sir Tophas, ignoring them, reiterates his contempt for love and his passion for war.
Still later, Dipsas comes upon Endymion asleep in a grove. Assisted by Bagoa, her servant, Dipsas casts a...
(The entire section is 972 words.)
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Bibliography (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Braunmuller, A. R., and Michael Hattaway, eds. The Cambridge Companion to English Renaissance Drama. 2d ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Although none of the essays in this collection deals specifically with Lyly, there are references to Endymion and some of his other plays listed in the index. These references help place his plays within the broader context of English Renaissance drama.
Hunter, G. K. John Lyly: The Humanist as Courtier. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962. The work against which subsequent criticism of Lyly is compared. Suggests that Lyly was motivated primarily by a desire to establish himself at Elizabeth I’s court. Concentrates on Endymion more than any other play.
Knapp, Robert S. “The Monarchy of Love in Lyly’s Endimion.” Modern Philology 73 (May, 1976): 353-367. Argues that Lyly is intentionally enigmatic, mixing a wide range of possible interpretations under the general heading of love allegory.
Lenz, Carolyn Ruth Swift. “The Allegory of Wisdom in Lyly’s Endimion.” Comparative Drama 10, no. 3 (Fall, 1976): 235-257. Analyzes the play in terms of sixteenth century religious and philosophical thought, with special reference to Neoplatonic conceptions of love.
Pincombe, Michael, ed. The Plays of John Lyly: Eros and Eliza. New York: Manchester University Press, 1996. A study of Lyly’s eight plays, including Endymion, with a separate chapter devoted to each. Focuses on the courtly aspects of his plays, the majority of which were written for court performance.
Saccio, Peter. The Court Comedies of John Lyly: A Study in Allegorical Dramaturgy. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1969. Suggests a complex dramaturgical structure involving both moral and political allegory. Includes an eighteen-page section on Endymion and many other references to the play.