Lyly’s “Gallathea” and “Endymion”: Mathematical language and character drawing (Gill Corble)

It’s difficult without the plays in front of me, but I think I remember being taken by those speeches where a character makes a long list of matched, dichotomous items, e.g., “…neither black nor white, neither big nor small…”. That’s a very simplistic example I made up.  Such phrases are delightfully balanced and reminded me of algebraic equations, maybe simultaneous equations.
Another thing I like about Lyly is that he imbues his characters with much more personality than some of the other playwrights we have looked at.  In “Endymion”, I found myself actually caring what happened to some of them, and I’m thinking that this must mean Lyly cared too and somehow – I can’t work out how yet – humanised them.  This means that one is rather gripped by the play despite there actually being very little action or ‘business’. The characters themselves bring the play to life and render what at times is silly plotting, vivid. In “Arden of Faversham”, for example, I really couldn’t have cared less about any of them, they were all so two-dimensional, and the action, far from interesting, was ludicrous and not redeemed by ‘modern’ character painting.
I found Endymion very ‘Shakespearean’ – I realise I shouldn’t say that if Lyly came first. Again, I think because he draws characters.
So far, I find Lyly the most ‘modern’ and accessible. I found myself plotting how to direct the plays we have read! And I think that he, like Shakespeare, has the potential to be adapted to present-day stagings and filmings.

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