Scene One: Cupid has been among Diana’s nymphs, who are all now besotted with either Galatea/Tityrus or Phillida/Melibeus. The nymphs argue over their choice of the “fair boys.”
Mirroring the close of Act Two and Phillida’s bewilderment at her feelings for Galatea, Telusa opens Act Three with a soliloquy lamenting her own feelings of love. In the first lines, she rebukes herself by musing about “thy chaste thoughts turned to wanton looks, thy conquering modesty to a captive imagination” (3.1.3-4). Love, as Telusa describes it, is strong enough to overcome chastity and modesty, replacing them with confusion, unruliness, and distraction. In other words, Telusa’s experience of being in love reveals that Diana’s insistence on chastity’s triumph over love may be mistaken.
Eurota enters as Telusa muses, and the ensuing scene is very like 4.3 in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost (written 1594-95, approximately ten years after Galatea). In both plays, one character enters and laments that they are in love. When another begins to enter, the first character hides, and the second starts their own lament. A third enters, and the second also hides. When the third begins their lament, the two hidden characters come out of hiding to chide the third for being in love. The stage business and monologues advance the plot while entertaining the audience or reader.
The nymphs’ distress at being in love mirrors Phillida’s and Galatea’s own distress at being attracted to each other. Lyly makes the realization of love a state of confusion and imbalance, where control is lost and fate (or something larger than the self), takes charge of the mind and emotions. The text, however, does not indicate that Phillida and Galatea are victims of Cupid’s arrows; his plans for sport mentioned only Diana’s nymphs. The nymphs’ and the girls’ symptoms are the same, though, gesturing toward an intertwining of love, fate, agency, and fortune.
Early modern belief was that love entered through the eyes and imprinted itself on the mind, and in Telusa’s lament, she states her eyes led her to love Phillida/Melibeus. (In 2.1.46 she calls Galatea either “wanton or a fool” – was she attracted to Phillida/Melibeus prior to Cupid’s arrows?) Eurota tells Telusa that love for Galatea/Titryus took her “By the ears” (66). When Ramia enters soon after, Eurota remarks to Telusa, “You shall see Ramia hath also bitten on a love-leaf” (72-73). Sight, sound, and taste are therefore all subject to the influence of love.
Scene Two: Galatea and Phillida begin to subtly question each other, as each is becoming suspicious that the other is also a girl.
Galatea and Phillida are both concerned that the other might be a disguised maiden, and they begin to gently and playfully ask questions to find out if this is true. Their remarks and retorts are witty and often cryptic; in response to Phillida’s complimenting Galatea on her looks and behavior, Galatea says “There is a tree in Tylos, whose nuts have shells like fire, and being cracked, the kernel is but water” (3.2.4-5). Her response suggests that the exterior does not always define the interior, but Phillida is not amused: “What a toy is it to tell me of that tree, being nothing to the purpose?” (6-7). In 3.1, Telusa made a similar allusion, stating, “Virgins’ hearts I perceive are not unlike cotton trees, whose fruit is so hard in the bud that it soundeth like steel, and being ripe, poureth forth nothing but wool” [20-22]. Both lines make the case for not judging a book by its cover, but also suggest that even the hardest heart can be cracked to reveal the softness, or liquidity, of love.
The girls’ sharp wit, male attire, and the resulting confusion of gender brings to mind Rosalind from Shakespeare’s As You Like It (1599), written about fifteen years after Galatea was entered into the Stationers’ Register. Viola in Twelfth Night (1601-1602) is a similar figure. Much like Rosalind and her admirer Phoebe, Viola is clad in boy’s clothing and loved by Olivia, who thinks Viola truly is a boy. Some of Phillida’s lines in 3.2 are echoed in Viola’s words to Oliva: Phillida tells Galatea, “For I have sworn never to love a woman” (3.2.11); compare Viola’s response to Olivia, “I have one heart, one bosom and one truth, / And that no woman has nor never none / Shall mistress be of it save I alone” (Twelfth 3.1.156-158). When Galatea asks several lines later if Phillida has a sister, Phillida replies “My father had but one daughter, and therefore I could have no sister” (3.2.42-43); compare Viola’s “I am all the daughters of my father’s house” (Twelfth 2.4.120).
As Galatea and Phillida realize they may both be girls, their words and phrases become more alike. Phillida’s aside, “What doubtful speeches be these! I fear me he is as I am, a maiden” (3.2.31-21) is followed by Galatea’s aside “What dread riseth in my mind! I fear the boy to be as I am, a maiden” (33-34). Their lines mirror and interlock through word choice and rhyme as the two grow in certainty that they are both maidens:
Galatea [aside]: “Tush, it cannot be. His voice shows the contrary.”
Phillida [aside]: “Yet I do not think it, for he would then have blushed” (35-38, italics mine)
Their conversation and asides share and trade words and phrases, rhyme, and syntax. Not only does this suggest their strong attraction to each other, it shows they are growing closer. Phillida, still the bolder of the two, ends the scene with “Come, let us into the grove, and make much of one another, that cannot tell what to think of one another” (62-63).
Scene Three: Rafe runs away from his new master the Alchemist and takes up with the Astronomer.
Rafe has figured out that the Alchemist is not all he claims to be. Act Three Scene Three, like 2.3, is full of the process of alchemy; the convoluted, complicated language helps the Alchemist to deceive, but as far as cunning and cozenage, he might have met his match in Rafe.
After leaving the Alchemist, Rafe takes up with the Astronomer. Both the Alchemist and the Astronomer are engaged in crafts that purport to advance fortune or control fate: alchemy through gain, astronomy by prediction. Where the Alchemist can make “nothing infinite” (2.3.103), the Astronomer claims “Nothing can happen which I forsee not; nothing shall” (3.3.49-50). Like the Alchemist’s words, these have a double meaning, proclaiming the Astronomer sees all, yet “nothing” shall happen. The Astronomer, like the Alchemist, speaks in a way meant to impress and bamboozle. His words turn Rafe’s head, and he becomes the Astronomer’s apprentice.
Scene Four: Diana is furious that her nymphs are all in love. She discovers Cupid in their midst and vows retribution.
Diana’s anger at her besotted nymphs puts the theme of love versus chastity front and center. She tells her nymphs to seek a stranger nymph she has seen in the forest, suspecting it is Medea, Calypso, or Cupid. In a lengthy monologue, Diana rails about love, her virgins’ lack of power to overcome their feelings of love, and demands to know if they are now “Venus’ wantons” (3.4.2). Her lines are filed with references to myth and the gods, and she condemns love while exhorting the virtues of chastity. Diana’s rant also includes several mentions of birds and feathers: “Eagles cast their evil feathers in the sun” (38), “The birds ibes” (39), “doves” (48), “owls” (49), and “The eagle’s feathers consume the feathers of all others” (51). She closes with the admonition, “Foolish girls, how willing you are to follow that which you should fly” (68-69). Birds do not have a place of note anywhere else in the play, so her references to them all build to this closing remark.
When Cupid is found and brought to Diana, she harangues him for his sport in the forest. She promises to punish him: “I will break thy bow and burn thine arrows, bind thy hands, clip thy wings, and fetter thy feet” (85-86). She also tells him “Venus’s rods are made of roses, Diana’s of briars” (89-90). This is a telling comparison of love and chastity, since both roses and briars have thorns: love and chastity, then, can both cause pain. Cupid responds by telling Diana “what I have done cannot be undone, but what you mean to do shall….Cupid shall have all” (98-100). In other words, he promises love will win the day.
At the close of the scene, Eurota tells Cupid “We will plague ye for a little god” (109), echoing the words of the unnamed nymph in 1.2 (“And so farewell, little god” ). Was this unnamed nymph Eurota? Either way, the phrase “little god” not only mocks Cupid’s powers (especially against Diana), it also plays on his usual representation as a toddler or small boy.