Scene One: In the forest, Galatea, dressed as a boy, meets Phillida, who is also dressed as a boy. They are immediately smitten with each other, each thinking the other truly is a boy. They encounter Diana and her nymphs, who are hunting, and join them for a short time.
Rafe and his brothers closed Act One with lines about being “well manned,” and the opening of Act Two picks up the thread with Galatea venting her frustration at having to dress and act like a boy. This is the first of many soliloquies in the play, a device used for characters to express their thoughts and frustrations. Galatea still has concerns about her father putting her in male attire, and her remark “But why does thou blame him, or blab what thou art” (2.1.10-11) echoes a line spoken by Phillida in 1.4, “and so unwarily blab out something by blushing at everything” (22-23). The girls’ shared concerns and their obedience to their fathers pairs them for the audience, as do their similar feelings of discomfort in having to counterfeit what and who they are. As the scene unfolds, a pertinent question is “how does this play define gender?” Is it seen as state of mind, a biological state, or directed by one’s attire? In the early modern period, gender was considered mutable. It was thought too much theatre could make men feminine, for example, and there was a legend of a girl who physically become a boy after a vigorous jump (the tale of Marie Germain, recounted by Michel de Montagne).
After Galatea’s lament, Phillida enters and voices her own distress, calling her appropriated gait “untoward” (2.1.14), her new garments “unfit” (15), and taking on the appearance of the other gender “unseemly” (15). She notices Galatea, and in a series of asides the girls muse on the other to themselves or the audience (the first use of asides in the play). Through their remarks, it is made clear that each thinks the other is indeed a boy and that each senses the other’s discomfort — much to their relief (“I [Galatea] perceive that boys are in as great disliking of themselves as maids” [2.1.18-19]). Their asides also allow the audience to follow the progression of the girls’ attraction to one another.
In Act One the girls’ individual responses to their father’s commands appeared to give an idea of their personalities, but Phillida, the more submissive to her father, proves to be the bolder of the two. She first remarks that she would speak to Galatea if she was more confident, because “say what they will of a man’s wit, it is no second thing to be a woman” (2.1.28-30), but then gathers her courage: “Why stand I still? Boys should be bold” (34). Before she can approach Galatea, however, Diana’s train interrupts them. The pair are saucy and vague in their answers to Diana, with much wordplay (often a signal of physical attraction): “Saw you not the deer come this way?… / Whose deer was it, lady? / Diana’s deer. / I saw none but my own dear” (41-45). Telusa, one of the nymphs, remarks of Galatea, “This wag is wanton or a fool” (46). This is the first of her numerous uses of “wanton,” and for the audience, recalls Phillida’s earlier protest about wearing improperly gendered clothing (“…and be thought more wanton than becometh me” [1.3.20-21]). As the girls interact with Diana’s group, the dialogue makes clear the two are more and more attracted to each other. Diana orders the pair to accompany her, and Phillida is happy to comply to be with Galatea. Phillida comments in an aside that she is pleased “not for these ladies’ company, because myself am a virgin, but for that fair boy’s favor, who I think be a god” (2.1.64-66). “But for that fair boy’s favor, who I think to be a god” plays not only on Galatea’s attractiveness, but also hints at the goodwill of Cupid, god of love.
Scene Two: Cupid has disguised himself as a nymph in order to create chaos in Diana’s train. Neptune also decides to disguise himself to keep an eye on the goings-on.
Phillida’s line “But for that fair boy’s favor…” closes Scene One, and its connection to Cupid is underscored by the god’s entrance at the start of Scene Two. He, too, is disguised (as a nymph), and determines “under the shape of a silly girl [to] show the power of a mighty god” (2.2.1-2). His “shafts,” he states, “can make wavering, weak, and wanton” (5-6), a line filled with sexual innuendo and once more, the word “wanton.” He promises to make Diana’s nymphs so unsettled it will “confound their loves in their own sex” (7-8), something that appears to be happening to Galatea and Phillida, but seemingly without Cupid’s involvement. What this might suggest about love and fate is another detail to keep in mind.
In this scene, Cupid makes a direct address to the audience. This is not an aside – it differs from the lines in 2.1 that share Galatea’s and Phillida’s working through their discomfort and attraction to each other. Here, Cupid actually breaks the fourth wall, saying: “and then, ladies, if you see these dainty dames entrapped in love, say softly to yourselves, we may all love” (15-16). This is an interesting choice by Lyly, as there is no dramatic need and it could easily have been left out.
Cupid exits and Neptune enters, disguised as a shepherd. Neptune uses similar words and phrases to those of Cupid, but to different effect: Cupid speaks of “under the shape of a silly girl show[ing] the power of a mighty god” (1-2); Neptune complains of “silly shepherds go[ing] about to deceive [him] by putting on man’s attire upon women” (17-18). Cupid sneers at “Diana and all her coy nymphs” (2), and Neptune tells himself to “be not coy to use the shape of a shepherd to show thyself a god” (23-24). Four characters are now disguised, and physical attraction between some is growing. From this point on, the text reflects these developments by an increase in wordplay and a twisting and turning of phrases in nearly all the characters’ lines.
Scene Three: In his search for a new master, Rafe meets Peter, the Alchemist’s apprentice. Peter heaps praise on his master until Rafe decides to join them; relieved that he can now run away, Peter leaves.
In the forest, Rafe meets Peter, an alchemist’s boy bemoaning the intricacies and demands of his master’s craft. Peter’s rant about serving his master is similar to the comedy in Ben Jonson’s later play The Alchemist (c.1610), making use of terminology and inside jokes.
The humor in this scene is dense with allusions to alchemy, but also employs Rafe’s penchant for double-meanings and “points” jokes. Rafe expresses his desire to work for the Alchemist and “learn his cunning” (52), which suggests not only specialized knowledge but also the chicanery to pull it off. Peter, for instance, tells Rafe that the Alchemist “is able to make nothing infinite” (103), a phrase implying either multitudes of something from nothing or an inconceivable amount of nothing. This phrase is a good example of the twisting syntax in this scene and shows the ongoing importance of wordplay. The confusion all this generates makes the Alchemist sound successful and powerful, confounding and charming Rafe. In response to Rafe’s observation that the Alchemist is clothed in tatters, Rafe is told “If thou knewest the secret of this science, the cunning would make thee so proud that thou wouldst disdain the outward pomp” (122-125), which brings the focus back to cunning and cozenage. These actions are, after all, other ways to disguise and cover one’s true self. Just as the Alchemist covers his cunning as a con artist and fraud with dense, specialized language that confuses and impresses, Peter cozens Rafe into believing things impossible or unreal and convinces him that working for the Alchemist will make his fortune. This scene expands the idea of disguise and makes clear not all disguise is tangible. It also questions whether success is subjective or objective, and, like the wearing of gendered clothing, if appearance defines the individual and creates their worth.
A quick observation regarding Rafe and his brothers: at first glance, their subplot seems to have no real connection to the main storyline. It could easily be cut if time or personnel were issues for a director. A little digging, however, shows how Rafe and his brothers’ story aligns with the central plot and augments themes of disguise and fortune that are important to a rich understanding of the play.
Scene Four: Galatea bewails her love for Melibeus (Phillida).
This is a very short scene. In a soliloquy, Galatea reveals she is falling in love with Phillida, whom she knows as Melibeus. Not only are the girls in masculine attire, they have taken their father’s names to further efface their feminine identity (and, for the audience, heighten the confusion). This confounds just as completely as the alchemic terminology used in the previous scene; the play is now chock full of disguise and deception. In her complaint, Galatea states she “having put on the apparel of a boy…canst not also put on the mind” (2.4.1-3). This may hint at an answer to questions about how the play defines gender: although Galatea is dressed as a boy, her mind is still feminine. At the close of the scene, she determines to remain with Phillida/Melibeus and let Venus direct her actions. As she did in 1.1, she remains steadfast in her belief that fate is in charge and cannot be altered.
Scene Five: Phillida bewails her love for Tityrus (Galatea).
In another short scene, Phillida also has a soliloquy. She expresses her love for Galatea, known to her as Tityrus. Phillida does not leave her love to fate, however, and decides to take matters into her own hands. “Go into the woods, watch the good times, his best moods, and transgress in love a little of thy modesty” (2.5.6-8) she tells herself. She struggles with her choice, but decides she has no other option, stating “And so I go, resolute either to bewray my love or suffer shame” (12-13). This scene makes plain that although Phillida was quickly submissive to her father (1.3.26-27) and concerned with unseemliness (2.1.15), she has the agency and confidence to assert her feelings of love.