Galatea – Act Five: “What is to love or the mistress of love unpossible?”

Scene One: Rafe, his brothers, and Peter the Alchemist’s boy meet in the forest and discuss how they’ve fared in their search for new masters.

The beginning of Act Five links to Phillida’s “let me call thee mistress” (4.4.18) through Rafe’s opening words, “No more masters now, but a mistress” (5.1.1). His latest master, The Astronomer, proved to be as deceptive as The Alchemist, so Rafe saw fit to leave him as well. He meets up with his brother Robin and tells him a bawdy tale about The Alchemist impregnating a “pretty wench”: “he made her of one, two” (5.1.20-21, 24). Robin has served a fortune teller, an occupation consistent with the play’s themes of deception and cozenage. Another connection to these themes is made when Peter arrives and tells Rafe and Robin their brother Dick has a master that will “teach him to make [them] both his younger brothers”; in other words, Dick’s master will “teach him to cozen [them] both” (73-74, 77). Rafe replies with a promise to meet cozenage with cozenage, saying “Nay, if he be both our cozens I will be his great grand-father, and Robin shall be his uncle” (79-80). In other words, if Dick schemes them both, Rafe will return the favor. His next line, “I am great-bellied with conceit” (81) until he sees Dick, brings the dialogue full circle, linking to both his earlier tale of the “pretty wench” and his opening wish for a mistress.

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Scene Two: Hebe, selected as the sacrificial virgin, is bound to the tree and left for the sea monster Agar, who does not arrive.

Hebe (in Greek mythology, the name of the goddess of youth) is brought out and bound to the tree. Her long monologue laments the destruction of her youth, and she says goodbye to her family and life in general. Her monologue is interesting in that contemporary theatregoers and readers surely see it as over the top and melodramatic, but there is no record from early modern performances as to whether audiences found it farcical or affecting. Hebe begins her lament with “Miserable and accursed Hebe, that being neither fair nor fortunate thou shouldst be thought most happy and beautiful!” (5.2.8-10). The words “fair” and “fortunate” point back to Tityrus’s words to Galatea in 1.1, “I would thou hadst been less fair or more fortunate” (1.1.65). Hebe also declares “Curse thy birth, thy life, thy death…having lived, to die by deceit” (5.2.10-11). Not only does this underscore Hebe’s awareness that she is not the fairest, but for the audience or reader, it doubles as a swipe at the disguised Galatea and Phillida.

Although Hebe acknowledges she is not the most beautiful, at the end of her lengthy monologue she calls on the Agar, saying “I am fair, I am a virgin” and taunts it to glut itself on her and “let [her] life end [its life]” (58, 55). The monster’s looks have not previously been described, but Hebe contrasts her “tender joints” with its “greedy jaws,” her “yellow locks” with its “black feet,” and her “fair face” with its “foul teeth” (55-57). She ends with “Come Agar, thou horrible monster; and farewell world, thou viler monster” (59-60). This reiterates the first part of her goodbye, which excoriates the sacrifice’s requirement of killing fresh, budding beauty.

The villagers wait, but the Agar does not come. “Take in this virgin, whose want of beauty hath saved her own life and destroyed all yours” (63-64) says the Augur. Hebe now turns her earlier laments on their head. She sighs that she will live in infamy since she was not accepted by the Agar, but “Destiny would not have it so; destiny could not, for it asketh the beautifullest” (73-74). It is useful to consider this remark in light of Neptune’s earlier comments that fathers with fair daughters may try, but “deceive me they cannot” (4.4.6-7). Hebe’s remark states destiny has a specific desire and (like Neptune) cannot be fooled. Tellingly, though, she does not say it is Neptune or the Agar that “asketh the beautifullest” — the demand is destiny’s, even though the sacrifice was required by Neptune. Destiny, Neptune, and the Agar are not conflated in her mind, but remain separate entities.

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Scene Three: Neptune was not pleased with Hebe as the sacrificial virgin, and vows to destroy Diana’s nymphs — and all virgins — in retribution. Venus arrives looking for Cupid and confronts Diana. Cupid is returned to Venus, and Neptune relents in his anger toward the village to please both goddesses. Tityrus and Melibeus show up and confess their deception. Galatea and Phillida join the group and find they are both girls, but declare their love remains strong. Venus approves and says one will become a boy so they can marry. Rafe and his brothers stumble onto the scene and become the entertainment for Galatea and Phillida’s wedding.

The final scene brings all the characters together and knits the three plot lines into one. It begins as Phillida muses that Hebe’s reprieve means “either the custom is pardoned, or she not thought fairest” (5.3.2-3). The custom being pardoned was not considered in the last scene, so once more Galatea and Phillida appear more insightful and circumspect than their elders and peers. Over the previous scenes, as their love has become more apparent, their lines have become noticeably more twisting and riddling. This steady change mirrors their skating around the answer to something they seemingly don’t want to know: if they are indeed both maidens. In 5.2, the meaning of the girls’ short exchange is nearly impenetrable, called “coded” and “almost impossible” by the editors of the Revel Series (98, n.6-8). Their expressions of fear (“I fear the event,” “Why should you fear?” “Then should I have no fear,” “I should also have cause to fear” [4,5,6,7]) interlock in created confusion, revealing the pair’s growing intimacy, care for one another, and desire to understand their situation.

Galatea and Phillida withdraw as Neptune comes on stage. He is upset by the deception of the villagers and vows to revenge himself on Diana’s nymphs. His phrases “destiny cannot be prevented by craft” (15) and “there shall be nothing more vile than to be a virgin” (18-19) recall Tityrus’s words “to prevent, if it be possible, thy constellation by craft” (1.1.71-72) and gesture to Hebe’s melodramatic “And what was honored in fruits and flowers as a virtue, to violate in a virgin as a vice” (5.2.24-25). The similarities in word and alliteration indicate the god’s nearness to the realm of the villagers (literally and figuratively), and, paired with the device of having Galatea and Phillida witness his rant, help define the forest as a threshold or liminal space.

While Neptune rages, Diana and her nymphs enter hoping to reverse his decision. As Diana speaks the line “Shall virtue suffer both pain and shame, which always deserveth praise and honor?” (5.3.24-26), Venus enters, searching for Cupid. She immediately picks up on Diana’s words, exclaiming “Praise and honor, Neptune” (27), which suggests how easily love/affection intertwines with chastity. Wordplay is also evident here; the phrase both mocks Diana and greets Neptune. Notably, as she speaks of Diana, Venus has the last use of “wanton” in the play (“This is she that hateth sweet delights, envieth loving desires, masketh wanton eyes…” [31-33]). “Wanton,” as pointed out previously, was first used by Phillida in 1.3 to protest her male attire (“be thought more wanton than becometh me” [1.3.20-21]). Phillida is indeed masked (her true identity is effaced by her disguise), connecting the first use of the word to the last.

As their chiding progresses, Diana insults Venus by saying, “Diana cannot chatter, Venus cannot choose” (5.3.61). In 4.2, when Cupid is forced to untie love-knots, he complains he cannot work faster because “I cannot choose. It goeth against my mind to make them loose” (31-32). For the audience or reader, in addition to contrasting Venus’ easiness with Diana’s own perceived virtue, the insult expands on Cupid’s earlier line and suggests that love, like destiny, cannot be controlled. Cupid and Venus, symbols of love and desire, cannot choose to be other than what they are. Like Hebe’s remark at the end of 5.2, the implication is that destiny is separate from and larger than the gods. They cannot escape it, and like the villagers, are subject to it.

Venus appeals to Neptune for his aid, saying, “show thyself the same Neptune that I knew thee to be when thou wast a shepherd” (5.3.66-67). Has Neptune been dallying with Venus in the forest all this time? In 2.2 Neptune told himself, “be not coy to use the shape of a shepherd to show thyself a god” (23-24). The line, of course, is for the benefit of the audience or reader; it confirms the god is aware that Melibeus and Tityrus, two shepherds, are daring to act like gods by attempting to change their daughters’ presumed destinies. There could be more to the story, apparently.

References to lines and phrases in earlier scenes continue through this final act. Neptune, trying to calm the argument between Venus and Diana, says to them “If therefore you [Diana] love your nymphs as she [Venus] doth her son [Cupid], or prefer not a private grudge before a common grief, answer what you will do” (5.3.75-78). “Prefer not a private grudge before a common grief” is nearly identical to Tityrus’ words to Melibeus: “preferring a common inconvenience before a private mischief” (4.1.44-45). Diana subsequently agrees to return Cupid to Diana, and Venus promises to keep a better eye on him. When Venus sees Cupid, she exclaims “Alas, poor boy, thy wings clipped, thy brands quenched, thy bow burnt, and thy arrows broke!” (5.3.100-101). Cupid, in effect, was sacrificed, much like the villagers’ virgin daughters.

Melibus and Tityrus enter and confess their deception to Neptune, and soon after, Galatea and Phillida emerge from the forest. They learn they are both maidens, and their love takes all by surprise. As they muse on how it could have happened, the text becomes an exploration of early modern ideas concerning gender: what it is, how it is defined, and if it matters. Both girls believed gendered attire was an adequate sign, although both were aware of its mutability — through personal experience, no less. Galatea states, “I had thought the habit agreeable with the sex” and Phillida concurs (“I had thought that in the attire of a boy there could not have lodged the body of a virgin” [127, 129-130]). Since the text is rife with characters involved in cozenage, deception and deceit, one wonders if perhaps the girls had a tacit agreement not to seek the truth.

Diana’s response to the girls’ confusion suggests she does not equate love with destiny: “Now things falling out as they do, you must leave these fond-found affections. Nature will have it so; necessity must” (132-134). The girls protest their loves undying, which Neptune calls “An idle choice, strange and foolish” (139). Venus, on the other hand, is there for love in all its forms, declaring “I like well and allow it” (143). She offers to turn one of the girls into a man so they may marry, but Diana questions her powers. Venus’ reply, “What is to love or the mistress of love unpossible?” (154) makes the case for love conquering all. This recalls Telusa and Cupid’s earlier exchange: “Diana cannot yield; she conquers affection.” “Diana shall yield; she cannot conquer destiny” (4.3.91-92). Love, the text seems to suggest, can conquer chastity, and love itself is indeed a form of destiny.

Melibeus’ and Tityrus’ jar over whose daughter should be made male, a humorous exchange on the not-so-funny topics of primogeniture (the right of the older son to inherit all) and early modern inheritance practices. If Phillida is made a man, does it mean she supplants Tityrus’ son/her younger brother? Contemporary audiences find the exchange amusing, but it held real meaning for Lyly’s audiences.

Rafe and his brothers enter during the final moments. When asked who they are, they reply “fortune tellers,” not because they can see the future, but because they can tell the stories of their search for fortune (192, 194-195). With the entrance of the brothers comes their signature twisting of words and punning, which moves the text to its conclusion. Venus asks if the brothers are “content” to sing at the girls’ wedding, and their reply turns on that word; they are happy, content, to do so as there will be excellent content in the foods served (208-210). On that bit of wordplay, the curtain falls.

It is not made clear if Venus follows through on her promise, and other questions remain: If one of the girls was made a boy, would it change how they relate to each other? Which one would Venus choose – Phillida, the bolder, or Galatea, the more circumspect? How would their families and the village respond? The change would be via a goddess’ command, so would the girls be considered sacred or liminal, or would they be incorporated into the citizenry as before? Did Neptune truly stop the virgin sacrifice and enjoy a better relationship with the village? Did the village even matter to him, or was this simply a show of power and strength? Did Rafe and his brothers ever find their fortune? These lingering questions are why Lyly’s Galatea invites multiple readings or viewings, and why it is worthy of discussion.

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Thanks for reading! Remember, please let me know ways I can improve this blog. Watch for the next analysis, Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy, posted soon…or, I should say, as soon as destiny will allow.

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earlymodernetc

Shakespeare and early modern drama. MA in English, BA in Liberal Studies. Reader, playgoer, music lover. Twitter: @16thCenturyGirl

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