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Lyly's Endymion and Midas: The Catholic Question in England David Bevington John LyIy's court comedies repeatedly celebrate the special qualities of Queen Elizabeth as ruler of a proud English people. Right from the start, A moste excellent Comedie of Alexander, Campaspe, and Diogenes, Played beefore the Queenes Maiestie on twelfe day [subsequent editions specify New Year's, i.e., 1 January 1584] at night, by Her Maiesties children, and the children of Poules1 offers a handsome compliment to Elizabeth by comparing her with the Emperor Alexander, a wise monarch who encourages artists and philosophers to express themselves freely. The portrait is not without its cautionary urging that rulers acknowledge their relative ignorance in such matters and hence their need for the insights that the independent artist or thinker can provide. But the compliment is seemingly genuine in its implicit recognition that England's ruler has a special gift for encouraging outspokenness that her Continental counterparts do not possess. In a similar vein, Sapho and Phao, Played beefore the Queenes Maiestie on Shroue-tewsday [i.e., 3 March 1584], by her Maiesties Children, and the Boyes of Paules? presents the love story of Sappho and a handsome commoner as a sympathetic study of a virgin queen who is deservedly adored by her subjects and courtiers and who returns that favor, in some cases with particular ardor, but who is wise enough to realize that she cannot engage herself emotionally to any particular member of her court without alienating the rest. The play comments obliquely on Elizabeth's various negotiations or flirtations, with the Earl of Leicester and the Duke d'Alençon in particular, but, avoiding overt identification, prefers instead to laud a queen whose devotion to virginity is a self-sacrificing move calculated to advance the best interests of her country and her own political success.3 These early plays are not specifically concerned with Reformation issues of Church and State, or of England's wary defensiveness against the Catholic powers of Europe and the Papacy. 26 David Bevington27 Nor is Gallathea, written some time after Campaspe and Sappho and Phao, so concerned. With Endymion and Midas, on the other hand, Reformation issues are fully engaged. Around the time when Endymion was produced, in late 1587 and early 1588, LyIy was involved in the complexities of religious debate. He had served Edward de Veré, seventeenth Earl of Oxford, as a kind of private secretary for some years (since 1582 if not longer), had dedicated Euphues and His England to Oxford in 1580, and had produced Campaspe and Sappho and Phao in 1584 with a combined company of juvenile actors that enjoyed Oxford's active sponsorship. Probably LyIy owed his place in Oxford's household to that aristocrat's father-in-law, Lord Burghley. Oxford had been a secret Papist since the time of his return from Italy in 1576. LyIy seems to have left Oxford's service around the time he wrote Endymion.4 LyIy himself became heavily embroiled in controversy when he was commissioned to answer "Martin Marprelate ," the anonymous Puritan satirist, in his Pappe with an Hatchet , published in late 1589. In the earlier plays, LyIy (and Oxford) had steered away from the Catholic question. Oxford's Catholicism was nominally a matter of personal choice; he had been in and out of the queen's favor, though more on personal than religious grounds (as when his being accused of seducing Anne Vavasour in 1581 led to his being rusticated and not received again by the queen until June of 1583). By the late 1580s, on the other hand, the extreme pressures resulting from the threatened Spanish Armada invasion brought the religious question into view in a way that made it hard for anyone to ignore. Oxford's Catholicism was by this time known both at home and by the Spanish enemy. This essay will explore the resonances of Oxford's Catholicism and England's anxiety about the impending Spanish Armada in late 1587 and 1588 as issues directly pertaining to Endymion, and will then pursue the ramifications of the Catholic question as it relates to Midas in late 1589 and early 1590, by which time Lyly...


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