Critical Evaluation

Most famous for his novel Euphues, the Anatomy of Wit (1578), John Lyly was also a prolific playwright. He was the most fashionable English writer in the 1580’s, praised as the creator of a “new English.” Certainly Endymion, the Man in the Moon made possible such later plays as William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (pr. c. 1595-1596, pb. 1600) and As You Like It (pr. c. 1599-1600, pb. 1623). Lyly’s comedies were a great advance over those of his predecessors. He possessed a unique skill in taking the Italian pastoral and Latin comedy of intrigue and adapting them to the English style by combining them with fanciful plot and mythological characters as well as characters from the lower levels of English life. The grace and charm of his witty dialogue and his analysis of love were not surpassed until Shakespeare’s later comedies.

Lyly was chief dramatist for the company of boy players attached to St. Paul’s Cathedral, the favorite entertainers of Queen Elizabeth’s court. The structure and style of Endymion would have been appreciated by their educated audience. The play is filled with references and allusions directed especially to this audience. The division of Endymion into acts and scenes is molded on Latin precedent, and the stage directions are of the classical pattern also employed by Ben Jonson: At the head of each scene are listed the characters who take part in it. The...

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