Scene One: The Augur announces it is time for the virgin sacrifice. Melibeus and Tityrus each accuse the other of attempting to deceive Neptune to the detriment of the village.
In contrast to the end of Act Three, where the nymphs mock Cupid and call him “a little god” (3.4.109), the Augur begins Act Four by reminding the villagers of the danger of not honoring a god – namely, Neptune. For the safety of the village, tradition holds that Neptune must be placated and honored, but Melibeus and Tityrus each accuse the other of having a “fair daughter” they are concealing from the sacrifice. Melibeus claims his daughter is dead, and Tityrus claims the girl Melibeus saw him with is his wife. Tityrus declares, “Oh Melibeus, dissemble you may with men; deceive the gods you cannot” 4.1.38-39). Both claim having their daughter selected as the sacrifice would be an honor and duty, but keep up their ruse just the same.
This is a fairly short scene (67 lines), but “cunning” or “cunningly” are used three times in the space of 20 lines. Melibeus accuses Tityrus of deception by saying to him, “It is…a simple father that can use no cunning” (46-47), and then observes “he must halt cunningly that will deceive a cripple” (53). This is unsettling for the audience or reader since Tityrus is guilty as charged, but Melibeus’s hypocrisy is blatant. Two villagers listening to the pair find their lack of concern for the city disturbing, and as they exit, one comments, “We must sift out their cunning and let them shift for themselves” (66-67). Separating the valid from the false, as with Rafe, the Alchemist, and the Astronomer, is a recurring theme in the play.
Scene Two: As part of his punishment, Diana’s nymphs make Cupid untie love knots. He protests that what has been done cannot be undone.
The nymphs lead Cupid in as their prisoner and task him with untying love knots. As in the last scene, the dialogue deals with deception, verity, and the ability to separate the two. It also deals with the different types of love. Cupid protests, “If they be true love-knots, ‘tis unpossible to unknit them; if false, I never tied them” (4.2.23-24). Cupid identifies and explains the knots, which range from “the true love-knot of a woman’s heart, [which] therefore cannot be undone” (35-36); one that unties itself (“made of a man’s thought, which will never hang together” [38-39]); and a knot “knit by faith, and must only be unknit of death” (50-51). The “fairest and falsest” he chuckles, was knit by “a man’s tongue” (53, 57), while another is simply “a woman’s heart” (61).
His task completed, Cupid bemoans his state and muses on his mother Venus’s response to seeing him captive — whether she would rage or laugh. The nymphs tell him he must now use a needle to remove all the tales of love from Diana’s tapestries and replace them with scenes of chastity. When Cupid shrugs this off, he is told by Telusa that Diana “conquers affection” (91), to which he replies, “Diana shall yield; she cannot conquer destiny” (92). The idea of love as destiny is suggested, but remembering the preceding lines discussing the love-knots’ meanings, and the ease or difficulty of untying them, the claim gives one pause. Is only true love destiny, or are false claims of affection also fated? If true love only is destiny, is it possible without Cupid’s intercession? (There is still no indication that Cupid has had Galatea and Phillida in his sights.) Telusa accuses him of tying the knots, but Cupid does not claim ownership of any; speaking of the “true love-knots,” he merely states they are “unpossible to unknit.”
When speaking of the virgin sacrifice in 1.1, Galatea told her father “Destiny may be deferred, not prevented” (76-77). Now Cupid indicates that destiny is associated with love, something chastity cannot conquer. These statements beg the question “Is there such thing as human agency, or are attempts at control an illusion?”
Scene Three: Neptune warns that it is perilous to attempt to deceive him.
This short scene (9 lines) consists entirely of Neptune stating that he knows fathers are attempting to deceive him, and if they do not act honestly, he will repay them with cruelty: “…well they shall know that Neptune should have been entreated, not cozened” (4.3.8-9). Here, the theme of “cozening,” or deception, is applied to those who are undutiful to the gods. Neptune makes clear that cozenage among men may succeed (which calls to mind the Alchemist and Astronomer), but gods and goddesses will not be fooled. They will punish those who attempt to deceive them.
Scene Four: Galatea and Phillida discuss the coming sacrifice and acknowledge their love for each other.
Act Four Scene Four is a turning point in the relationship between Galatea and Phillida. They begin by discussing the virgin sacrifice, which quickly leads to commenting on how fair each one finds the other. Phillida tells Galatea not to love her as a brother (4.4.12-13), and Galatea responds that she will love her better than that, as she “cannot love as a brother” (14-15). Phillida’s reply, “Seeing we are both boys, and both lovers, that our affection may have some show and seem as it were love, let me call thee mistress” (16-18), again shows she is the bolder of the two. Shakespeare uses a similar destabilization of gender in his Sonnet 20: “A woman’s face with nature’s own hand painted / Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion.” The sonnets are thought to have been written in the 1590s, the decade after Galatea was entered in the Stationers’ Register.
Galatea and Phillida express their concerns that the other is so fair they would be picked for the sacrifice. When Phillida asks Galatea what she fears, Galatea answers, “Nothing but that you love me not” (38) and exits. Alone on stage, Phillida states that she will love Galatea, but is afraid Galatea is also a girl whose father has disguised her. She expresses her desperation and confusion, and closes the scene declaring, “I will after him or her, and lead a melancholy life, that look for a miserable death” (46-47). Phillida knows no remedy for her situation other than being with Galatea, regardless of gender. If Galatea is a girl, there is no future for them; if a boy, he may be untrue. Either way, Phillida sees only melancholy and misery.