Further Critical Evaluation of the Work
John Lyly is remembered primarily for the prose style of his “Euphues” novels, in which the balanced construction, rhetorical questions, and multiple similes which had previously been added to English prose style were combined and intensified. This style, known as euphuistic, is used throughout CAMPASPE, as, for example, when Hephestion asks Alexander, “Will you handle the spindle with Hercules, when you should shake the spear with Achilles?”
The plot of this play is a slender one, consisting almost wholly of two events: Alexander falls in love, and Alexander resists love. It is not for stage action that one turns to CAMPASPE, but rather for lively and thoughtful dialogue, quick thrusts of cynical retorts and artfully designed orations in defense of one opinion or another.
Diogenes is the master of the curt reply, as in this example: Alexander: “How should one learn to be content?” Diogenes: “Unlearn to covet.” Hephestion, Alexander, Apelles, and Diogenes all deliver set speeches against love, for love, on Campaspe’s beauty, and on the moral ills of the Athenians.
But the spine of the play is the point of its debate. The central question is: should men live in the world or above it? Living in the world would include the food which Diogenes denies himself and his slave, as well as the woman whom Alexander covets. Living above the world, according to Lyly, would seem not only to include Diogenes’ life style, but also Alexander’s life as a full-time conqueror, and Apelles’ life as an artist.
Lyly’s taste for balanced antithesis is as evident in his contrast of Alexander and Apelles as it is in his prose style: as Alexander moves away from his recent attraction to the life of the flesh, Apelles moves toward it. Most Elizabethans would have regarded Alexander’s final decision as the best one for all concerned.