The Spanish Tragedy – Act Two, Scenes 4-6: “This place was made for pleasure not for death”

Scene Four: Horatio and Bel-Imperia rendezvous at Hieronimo’s bower. Pedringano advises Lorenzo and Baltazar. They murder Horatio and carry off Bel-Imperia.    

Horatio and Bel-Imperia meet in Hieronimo’s bower, accompanied by Pedringano. They praise the night for giving them cover so “pleasures may be done” (3), and once more the bower’s perceived safety is mentioned (“…let us to the bower, / And there in safety pass a pleasant hour” (4-5). Despite this, Bel-Imperia tells Horatio “my heart foretells me some mischance” (15) and sets Pedringano as watchman.

Bel-Imperia deems Pedringano “as trusty as my second self” (9), but the servant quickly reveals in an aside that he will “deserve more gold / By fetching Don Lorenzo to this match” (12-13). He exits, unbeknownst to the couple, who are too engrossed in each other to notice and trust him to stand guard. As they become more at ease their words intertwine and are shared, suggesting growing intimacy and mouths touching mouths. At one point, Bel-Imperia repeats and reorders her own words, resulting in a rhythmic, leisurely flow showing her contentment (“And in thy love and counsel drown my fear: / I fear no more, love now is all my thoughts” [21-22, italics mine]).

“Pleasure” is mentioned repeatedly in the couple’s dialogue (all italics mine): “And that in darkness pleasures may be done, / …And there in safety pass a pleasant hour” (3, 5); “And heavens have shut up day to pleasure us” (17), “And Luna hides herself to pleasure us” (19); “…for pleasure asketh ease” (23). Use of the word situates Hieronimo’s bower as a place where Bel-Imperia and Horatio feel secluded and comfortable enough to open their hearts to each other, as well as enjoy each other physically. We hear this in their couplets, which end in easy, simple rhymes:
HORATIO: The more thou sit’st within these leafy bowers,
The more will Flora deck it with her flowers.
BEL-IMPERIA: Ay, but if Flora spy Horatio here,
Her jealous eye will think I sit too near .  (24-27)
Their dialogue is luxurious and sensual, filled with flirtation and physical attraction. The mention of Flora, goddess of flowers and spring, leads to the inclusion of Cupid, Venus, and Mars:
HORATIO: If Cupid sing, then Venus is not far:
Ay, thou art Venus or some fairer star.
BEL-IMPERIA: If I be Venus, thou must needs be Mars,
And where Mars reigneth there must needs be wars.  (32-35)
From here, the lovers’ exchange shifts to that of a metaphorical battle: “Then thus begin our wars: put forth thy hand / That it may combat with my ruder hand” (36-37). There is a similar line in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, likely written around five years after ST (“And touching hers, make blessed my rude hand” [1.5.51]).

The naming of the mythological lovers Venus, goddess of love, and Mars, god of war, reiterates the theme of love as war. Bel-Imperia and Horatio seem to role play the mythological lovers, parrying with words of battle (“But first my looks shall combat against thine” [39]; “Then ward thyself: I dart this kiss at thee” [40]; “Thus I retort the dart thou threw’st at me” [41]). Rhadamanth’s earlier refusal to mix warriors and lovers (1.1.46) hangs over the scene; this, as well as the references to Greek gods and goddesses, lends an epic feel to the lovers’ rendezvous.

As their passion increases, the couple’s words become more sensual (“My twining arms shall yoke and make thee yield” [2.4.43]), culminating in references to dying, often used in the early modern period to refer to sex or orgasm. “O stay a while, and I will die with thee: / So shalt thou yield, and yet have conquered me” (48-49), says Horatio. It is unclear if the pair is in the act of consummating their relationship. If they are, the bower can be described as representative of a portal or threshold between friendship and physical love (discussed in my earlier blog post).

Immediately following the couple’s words of surrender, Lorenzo, Baltazar, Serberine (Baltazar’s man), and a disguised Pedringano appear at the bower. Lorenzo tells Baltazar, “…away with her! Take [Bel-Imperia] aside” (51), literally giving his sister to her spurned suitor. He then sneers at Horatio, “O sir, forbear: your valor is already tried” (52). The rhyming of “aside”/ “tried” and the reference to Horatio’s valor links the two triangles in the plot: the love triangle of Baltazar, Horatio, and Bel-Imperia and the war triangle of Lorenzo, Baltazar, and Horatio. Once more, the blending of love and war drives the plot.

Lorenzo orders Pedringano and Serberine to “Quickly – dispatch, my masters!” (53). There is no rhyme or other literary device; his orders are brutal and peremptory. The stage directions state “They hang [Horatio] in the arbor” (SD 53) and “…stab him” (SD 55), the penetration of Horatio’s body mirroring the penetration of sexual intercourse implied not ten lines before. The men’s actions also make a mockery of Horatio’s earlier “The more will Flora deck it with her flowers” (25) — the place of pleasure is now decked with death. Once again, the bower represents a portal between one existential state and another.

Bel-Imperia begs for Horatio to be spared, calling on both Lorenzo and Baltazar: “O save him, brother! Save him, Baltazar! I loved Horatio, but he loved not me” (57-58). Baltazar’s reply, “But Baltazar loves Bel-Imperia” (59), is chilling in its simplicity. There is no feeling of remorse or responsibility, only entitlement to Bel-Imperia’s person. She cries for help, calling “Murder! murder! Help, Hieronimo, help!” (62). Her brother’s response as they abduct her, “Come, stop her mouth! away with her!” (63), is equally cold. “I will stop your mouth” (5.4.97) is a phrase used in Shakespeare’s later Much Ado About Nothing (1598-99) when Benedick finally kisses Beatrice. The idea of Baltazar forcibly kissing Bel-Imperia as he drags her away adds to the violence of the scene and suggests rape, as well as the rending of the bower as a place of love and pleasure.

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Scene Five: Hieronimo is awakened by Bel-Imperia’s cries. He rushes out to find Horatio dead and hanging in the bower.

Hieronimo hears cries coming from his bower and hurries out to investigate. He sees “A man hanged up and all the murderers gone, / And in my bower, to lay the guilt on me: / This place was made for pleasure not for death” (10-12). He does not immediately recognize Horatio as the victim, but then begins to keen and lament his son’s murder, crying, “O heavens, why made you night to cover sin?” (24). His cry recalls Horatio’s words to Bel-Imperia, “that in darkness pleasures may be done” (2.4.3), spoken in the last scene.

Hieronimo’s passionate grief is underscored by his use of rhyme. His pain is made clear through rhyming couplets such as “sin”/”been,” “devour”/”bower”, “misdone”/”begun,” “wert”/”desert,” and “joy”/”boy” (2.5.24-33). The rhymes are simple, creating a structure of sorts as he struggles to process the chaos surrounding him. His wife Isabella joins him in the bower and rhymes “Horatio” with “woe” when she realizes her son has been murdered: “What world of grief—my son Horatio! / O where’s the author of this endless woe?” (38-39, italics mine). The couple’s shared agony is apparent through their shared words; Hieronimo responds “To know the author were some ease of grief, / For in revenge my heart would find relief” (40-41, italics mine).

Isabella moves from disbelief to emotional anguish, crying, “O gush out tears, fountains and floods of tears, / Blow sighs and raise an everlasting storm!” (43-44). Shakespeare uses like words in King Lear (c.1608), written years after Spanish Tragedy. Lear, mad and raging at the skies, encourages the winds to mirror his passionate anger (“Blow winds and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow! / You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout / Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!” [3.2.1-3]). The use of tempests and storms as a device to express overwhelming, violent passion is found throughout early modern drama. Life is often described as a sea journey, and the weather encountered a metaphor for the good and bad times experienced along the way.

Hieronimo and Isabella morn over Horatio’s body, continuing to speak in couplets as they express their shared grief. At one point, Hieronimo extends the image of the flowering bower to his son’s corpse, saying “Sweet lovely rose, ill plucked before thy time” (46). He vows revenge, telling Isabella,
Seest thou this handkerchief besmeared with blood?
It shall not from me until I take revenge.
Seest thou those wounds that yet are bleeding fresh?
I’ll not entomb them till I have revenged…  (51-54, italics mine)
The anaphora indicates Hieronimo’s resolve. He is steadfast, and by doubling down on “seest thou” and “not…[un]till I” emphatically dedicates himself to seeking justice for his murdered son. If the handkerchief he takes from Horatio’s body is the one Horatio took from Andrea’s body (1.4.42), given to Andrea by Bel-Imperia and worn by Horatio at her behest (1.4.48), the cloth essentially binds Bel-Imperia and Hieronimo in a pact of vengeance against Andrea’s killer, Baltazar, as well as the mastermind of Horatio’s murder, Lorenzo.

Isabella declares, “The heavens are just, murder cannot be hid: / Time is the author both of truth and right, / And time will bring this treachery to light” (2.5.57-59). Her repetition and rhyme indicate a strong belief in the essential goodness of the universe, highlighting the play’s exploration of justice. In Isabella’s mind, since the heavens cannot countenance evil, all will be revealed. Hieronimo, however, is more circumspect:
Meanwhile, good Isabella, cease thy plaints,
Or at the least dissemble them a while;
So shall we sooner find the practice out,
And learn by whom all this was brought about. (60-63).
Hieronimo knows he cannot rely on the heavens to discover Horatio’s murderer. He “sets his breast unto his sword” (SD 67), and in 14 lines of Latin, vows revenge. This action with his sword, and the Latin verse, gesture again to a Greek epic as well as mark out Hieronimo as a tragic figure.

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Scene Six: Andrea complains to Revenge that what he has seen has only increased his pain.

Andrea and Revenge have been on stage throughout, watching the action. Andrea is affected by what he has seen and complains to Revenge, using repetition, rhyme and anaphora to express his frustration:
Brought’st thou me hither to increase my pain?
I looked that Baltazar should have been slain,
But ‘tis my friend Horatio that is slain;
And they abuse fair Bel-Imperia
On whom I doted more than all the world
Because she loved me more than all the world.  (1-6, italics mine)
Andrea’s expression of dissatisfaction incorporates the passionate syntax of all the characters we have seen thus far: Baltazar’s anaphora (2.1.19-28); Bel-Imperia and Horatio’s repetition and sharing of words (2.2.25-28); and Hieronimo and Isabella’s rhyming couplets (2.5.36-41). Andrea similarly channels and embodies confusion, love, and grief, unsure as to why he is privy to these events and how they advance vengeance for his death. Revenge replies with a promise that he will be satisfied, stating “Thou talk’st of harvest when the corn is green: / …The sickle comes not till the corn be ripe” (2.6.7,9). A certain type of death is implied through Revenge’s reference to the sickle, tool of both the agricultural and metaphorical reaper. The image is of a swift, sweeping motion, cutting through adversaries and clearing the way for justice and renewal.

The Spanish Tragedy – Act Two, Scenes 1-3: “Her favor must be won by his remove”

Scene One: Lorenzo tells Baltazar he will deal with Bel-Imperia, as he knows how to wear down her resolve. From Pedringano, one of her serving men, Lorenzo learns that Bel-Imperia loves Horatio. Lorenzo and Baltazar begin to devise a plan to remove this obstacle.

Act Two Scene One begins with Lorenzo attempting to assuage Baltazar’s hurt feelings. He tells him all steadfast creatures and solid things can eventually  be worn down (“In time the savage bull sustains the yoke,” “In time small wedges cleave the hardest oak” [3, 5]) and that Bel-Imperia is no exception. Baltazar, however, is not convinced. He protests, “No, she is wilder and more hard withal, / Then beast, or bird, or tree, or stony wall” (9-10), but then true to form changes course, saying, “It is my fault, not she that merits blame” (12). Again, Baltazar’s lack of confidence and wavering are on display. He goes on to denigrate his appearance, letter writing skills, and gifts, stating they are so lacking that Bel-Imperia is right to reject him (13-18).

During this exchange, both Baltazar and Lorenzo show their agitation and state of mind through literary devices, most notably the use of rhyme. Lorenzo has only four instances (“coy”/”joy” [1, 2], “disdain”/“pain” [7, 8], “me”/”see” [37, 38] and “about”/”out” [39, 40]), which suggests a certain calm and decisiveness. Baltazar’s word choice, however, belies an anxious frenzy. Nearly every line is a rhyming couplet, and he uses anaphora in successive alternating lines:
Yet might she love me for my valiancy–
Ay, but that’s slandered by captivity.
Yet might she love me to content her sire–
Ay, but her reason masters his desire.
Yet might she love me as her brother’s friend–
Ay, but her hopes aim at some other end.
Yet might she love me to uprear her state–
Ay, but perhaps she hopes some nobler mate.
Yet might she love me as her beauty’s thrall–
Ay, but I fear she cannot love me at all.   (19-28)
The prince’s pattern of speech reveals his unsettled mind and lack of confidence. His lines turn on each other through the anaphora that both links and drives them apart; rhyme suggests a desire for stability and closure. The contrast between Baltazar and Lorenzo (and, for that matter, Bel-Imperia) is unmistakably clear.

Lorenzo counsels Baltazar to “leave these ecstasies” (29) and reassures him that any obstacles to Bel-Imperia’s love will be “be known and then removed” (32). He hints of a plan if Baltazar will be complicit (“I have already found a stratagem / …My lord, for once you shall be ruled by me: / Hinder me not whate’er you hear or see. / By force or fair means will I cast about” [35, 37-39]). In this exchange, Lorenzo employs rhyme, but it is not as easy or nicely coupled as in Baltazar’s lines 19-28. Where the prince matched the likes of “friend”/”end,” “state”/”mate,” and “thrall”/”all,” Lorenzo’s pairs are more forced: “loved”/”removed” (31, 32), “stratagem”/”theme” (35, 36), suggesting a determined, crafty mind. A shared homophone serves to indicate growing agreement:
Lorenzo: What if my sister love some other knight?
Baltazar: My summer’s day will turn to winter’s night.  (33-34, italics mine)
Even Baltazar’s implied harmony with Lorenzo depends on contrast (summer/winter), keeping the focus on his uncertainty.

Lorenzo calls for Bel-Imperia’s servant, Pedringano, and presses him for information. Lorenzo reminds Pedringano that when Andrea and Bel-Imperia’s liaison was discovered, he protected him (“…I did shield thee from my father’s wrath / For thy conveyance in Andrea’s love” [46-47]). He offers Pedrigano money and friendship for the name of Bel-Imperia’s current lover, and when the servant demurs, threatens him with death. Pedringano begs his life, so again, Lorenzo vows to “guerdon thee,” (72), “shield thee,” (73), and “conceal what’er proceeds from thee” (74). Taking Lorenzo at his word, Pedringano reveals that Horatio is Bel-Imperia’s lover. He is then dismissed with instructions to watch and advise Lorenzo of the couple’s next meeting.

Baltazar, in usual fashion, tells Lorenzo that his plan to spy on the pair is “Both well and ill: it makes me glad and sad–” (111). Rhymes and anaphora fill the following twenty or so lines as Baltazar laments learning of Bel-Imperia and Horatio’s love. He expresses happiness that he “know[s] on whom to be reveng’d” (114) but fears he will lose her if he acts. He calls Horatio his “destined plague” (118); not only did he capture Baltazar in battle, he has (in essence) captured Baltazar’s intended wife. The prince concludes Horatio has “ta’en my body by his force, / And now by sleight would captivate my soul” (130-131) and pledges that he will, therefore, “tempt the destinies, / And either lose my life, or win my love” (132-133). Lorenzo replies, “Do you but follow me and gain your love: / Her favor must be won by his remove” (135-136). In other words, Horatio must die so Baltazar can possess Bel-Imperia.

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Scene Two: Horatio and Bel-Imperia meet. Pedringano directs Baltazar and Lorenzo to a concealed location where they can observe their rendezvous.

Horatio’s opening line (“Now madam, since by favor of your love” [2.2.1, italics mine]) pulls from Lorenzo’s 2.1 closing (“Do you but follow me and gain your love: / Her favor must be won by his remove” [135-136, italics mine]). These shared words link the machinations of Lorenzo and Baltazar to Horatio and Bel-Imperia’s newly declared affection. As couple meets and proclaims their love, Pedringano conducts Lorenzo and Baltazar to a hiding place “above” (2.2.6 SD) where they can see and hear the exchange.

Once more repetition is key, this time in contrasting Baltazar and Lorenzo’s reactions. The men use similar words, but their context is not the same:
Baltazar [above]: O sleep, mine eyes, see not my love profaned;
Be deaf my ears, hear not my discontent;
Die heart, another joys what thou deserv’st.
Lorenzo: [above] Watch still mine eyes, to see this love disjoined;
Hear still mine ears, to hear them both lament;
Live heart, to joy at fond Horatio’s fall.  (18-23)
The difference is stark. Baltazar is prepared to give up, close his eyes, and perish at the sight of Bel-Imperia with another man. Lorenzo, however, feels heightened anger and violent rage. The one instance of rhyme, “discontent” / “lament,” links the two disparate responses, serving as a reminder that the two men are in league to destroy the lovers’ happiness.

In the next lines, the lovers themselves are linked through the sharing of a word. More intimate than a rhyme, in this case the passing of a word from one mouth to another gestures to growing connection and warmth:
Horatio: The less I speak, the more I meditate.
Bel-Imperia: But whereon dost thou chiefly meditate?  (25-26)
Hidden above, Lorenzo and Baltazar copy this act of spoken intimacy, repeating words and phrases used by the lovers — but shading them with malice:
Horatio: On dangers past, and pleasures to ensue.
Baltazar [above]: On pleasures past, and dangers to ensue.
Bel-Imperia: What dangers, and what pleasures dost thou mean?
Horatio: Dangers of war, and pleasures of our love.
Lorenzo [above]: Dangers of death, but pleasures none at all.  (27-31)
The four characters’ lines interact and mesh. The structure of the dialogue, along with the location of the men above, virtually surrounds the lovers with menace and growing danger — yet they remain unaware of the threat.

The scene also makes Bel-Imperia’s agency and strong will unmistakably clear. She speaks more than twice as often as Horatio, 32 lines to his 14, and it is she who drives the relationship. She re-introduces the idea of love as war (“Let dangers go, thy war shall be with me… / Give me a kiss, I’ll countercheck thy kiss: / Be this our warring peace, or peaceful war” [32, 37-38]), further indication of her strength and determination. The trope also brings to mind Rhadamanth’s warning, quoted by Andrea at the start of the play: “it were not well, / With loving souls to place a martialist” (1.1.45-46).

Horatio tells Bel-Imperia to “appoint the field / Where trial of this war shall first be made” (2.2.39-40), and she suggests his father Hieronimo’s bower. This is where they “first…vowed a mutual amity,” and while “the court were dangerous, that place were safe” (42-43); they acknowledge their trysts must be kept secret. The scene closes with a pair of rhyming couplets, but not from Horatio and Bel-Imperia. Horatio’s “Return we now into your father’s sight: / Dangerous suspicion waits on our delight” (54-55) matches with Lorenzo’s “Ay, danger mixed with jealious despite / Shall send thy soul into eternal night” (56-57), spoken from his place of concealment. Lorenzo’s rhyming of Horatio’s “delight” with “despite” and “sight” with “night” is an additional gesture to the lovers’ peril.

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Scene Three: The King, the Duke, and the Ambassador to Portugal draw up the contract that will unite Bel-Imperia and Baltazar in marriage. The Ambassador prepares to return to his country to obtain the consent of the Viceroy.

Bel-Imperia and Horatio’s rendezvous is followed in this scene by the finalizing of a marriage contract between Bel-Imperia and Baltazar. The Duke of Castile (Bel-Imperia’s father) states “Although she coy it as becomes her kind… / …she will stoop in time” (3,5; italics mine). His remark echoes Lorenzo’s earlier attempt to placate Baltazar (“My lord, though Bel-Imperia seem thus coy, / …In time all haggard hawks will stoop to lure” [2.1.1, 4; italics mine]). The Duke also maintains that Bel-Imperia will love Baltazar or “forgo my love” (2.3.8), which pleases the King. Once more, value and commerce are the focus; the king’s offer of a “large and liberal” (13) dowry to sweeten the contract ushers in words such as “gift” (17), “tribute” (19), “reward” (35), “price” (37), and “estate” (46). Bel-Imperia is merely a rich token to cement a political alliance.

The marriage agreement is drawn up and ratified, but the King once more admonishes the Duke about Bel-Imperia’s strong personality (“Now, brother, you must take some little pains / To win fair Bel-Imperia from her will” [41-42]). The scene closes with the King stressing that the marriage is of the utmost importance:
“If she neglect [Baltazar] and forgo his love,
She both will wrong her own estate and ours….
Endeavour you to win your daughter’s thought–
If she give back, all this will come to naught”  (45-46, 49-50).

All in all, the men’s concern seems to be more about exerting control over a strong-willed female than about forging an alliance with a previously defeated political rival. Failing to curb her agency is not an option.

The Spanish Tragedy – Act One, Scenes 3-5: “They reck no laws that meditate revenge”

Scene Three: In the Portuguese Court, the Viceroy of Portugal mourns his son, Prince Baltazar, who he believes was killed in battle. Villuppo, a nobleman, sees an opportunity for gain and crafts a tale to implicate Alexandro, another nobleman, in the prince’s supposed death.

Scene Two ended with plans to feast Baltazar in the Spanish Court, but the opening of 1.3 is in stark contrast, focusing instead on the Viceroy of Portugal’s grief over his son’s supposed death in battle. Early on, the Viceroy flings himself to the ground (1.3.9 SD), lamenting his perceived loss. He then bemoans the fickleness of fortune and lack of redress for his pain (“What help can be expected at her hands, / Whose foot is standing on a rolling stone… / Why wail I, then, where’s hope of no redress?” [28-29, 31]). His grief over the supposed death, along with his lament that fortune is blind to his suffering and deaf to his cries (“And could she hear, yet is she willful mad” [25]), places him as a prologue to the grief and frustration Hieronimo will show after the actual death of his son Horatio. Where the Viceroy rails against fate, however, Hieronimo’s rage will be directed against the hierarchical powers he believes interfere with justice for his son.

Words pertaining to wealth, as well as the use of Latin, continue. References to wealth from 1.2 are picked up in the first lines of 1.3 as the Viceroy asks if “tribute payment” has been sent to Spain (1.3.3). Latin quotes are part of the Viceroy’s lament (15-17), adding pathos. Spoken as he grovels on the ground, they heighten the Viceroy’s bereft state. Later in the scene, when Villuppo decides to spin his tale, the focus returns to value and wealth through words such as “ransom,” (49), “fortune” (54), “guerdon” (55), “gold” (80), and “reward” (92).

In much of 1.3, the Viceroy’s character is reminiscent of the grieving King Alonso in Shakespeare’s much later The Tempest (c.1611). King Alonso, also inconsolable over the perceived loss of his son, responds to Francisco’s “Sir, he may live” with “No, no, he’s gone” (2.1.114, 123). Similarly, in The Spanish Tragedy, Alexandro tells the Viceroy, “No doubt, my liege, but still the prince survives” (1.3.43). The Viceroy, however, is convinced otherwise: “…they have slain him for his father’s fault” (46). When Alexandro disputes this as “a breach to common law of arms” (47), the Viceroy responds, “They reck no laws that meditate revenge” (48). This line, in essence, encapsulates the entire play.

In a short subplot, the nobleman Villuppo sees in the Viceroy’s determined grief an opportunity for gain. He devises a backstory for Baltazar’s supposed death that lays the blame squarely on Alexandro. The Viceroy is eager to believe the tale, and Alexandro is taken away under custody. Alone on the stage, Villuppo gloats that he “Deceived [him], betrayed mine enemy, / And hope for guerdon of my villainy” (94-95). In the coming scenes, these lines will loom over the action, prescient and apt.

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Scene Four: Horatio tells Bel-Imperia the story of Andrea’s death; she decides Horatio will take Andrea’s place as her lover. Lorenzo arrives with Baltazar and presents him to
Bel-Imperia as a suitor, something she rejects immediately. The king puts on a celebratory feast with the Ambassador to Portugal in attendance. At the banquet, Hieronimo presents an entertainment much praised by the king.

The “envious forged tale” (1.3.93) wrought by Villuppo at the close of 1.3 is followed by one of truth and affection in the opening of 1.4. Bel-Imperia enters with Horatio and implores him to tell her the circumstances of Andrea’s death, “Who living was my garland’s sweetest flower” (1.4.4). This brings to mind a bower of blooming plants and gestures to the coming action in Hieronimo’s arbor. As before, Andrea’s story is recounted in the style of a Greek epic. Horatio states that “wrathful Nemesis, that wicked power, / Env[ied]…Andrea’s praise and worth” (16-17), suggesting that Andrea’s prowess in battle was such that even the gods were jealous and sought to end his life. Bel-Imperia learns that after Andrea was killed by Baltazar, Horatio carried his body to his tent, wept over him, and took a scarf from Andrea’s arm as a token, intending to “wear it in remembrance of [his] friend” (43). That scarf, Bel-Imperia tells Horatio, was her gift to Andrea as he left for battle and she urges Horatio “now wear thou it both for him and me” (47). They swear friendship and service to each other, and Horatio leaves Bel-Imperia to her thoughts.

Alone, Bel-Imperia muses “But how can love find harbor in my breast, / Till I revenge the death of my beloved?” (64-65). This, of course, echoes Revenge’s promise to Andrea, “…thou shalt see the author of thy death, / Don Baltazar… / Deprived of life by Bel-Imperia” (1.1.87-89). She decides that “second love shall further my revenge” (1.4.66); because Horatio was Andrea’s friend, and Baltazar Andrea’s killer, she will take Horatio as her lover. These few lines are intense and important. They reveal not only the workings of Bel-Imperia’s mind, but also show her to be a strong, intelligent, strategic woman. She feels she is the one who must avenge Andrea’s death and is ready to meet the challenge. In most early modern plays, the character taking revenge is a son or other male family member. Kyd, however, gives this role to Bel-Imperia, along with a strength and fortitude reminiscent of Greek heroines such as Dido and Electra. In this way, Bel-Imperia, like Andrea, is linked to epic poetry — albeit in a more subtle manner. Kyd also takes this opportunity to weaponize love, situating it as a tool of revenge.

Lorenzo and Baltazar approach Bel-Imperia, who greets them both with disdain. Baltazar attempts to flatter her, which falls flat and makes things worse. Notice the sharing of words between characters:

Bel Imperia: Your prison then belike is your conceit.
Balthazar: Ay, by conceit my freedom is enthralled.
Bel-Imperia: Then with conceit enlarge yourself again.
Baltazar: What if conceit have laid my heart to gage? (82-85, italics mine)

Kyd uses this device throughout the play to show connections of varying sorts (love, agreement, tension, opposition) between characters. Here, twisting the meaning of conceit (wit/desire/imagination/whim [Neill 20, nn.82-85]) reflects Bel-Imperia’s attempts to free herself from an undesirable suitor. She uses the word first; he picks up on it to protest his attachment to her; she contorts the meaning and flings it back at him; he then uses it to elicit pity. The sharing of words continues:

Bel-Imperia: A heartless man and live? A miracle!
Baltazar: Ay, lady, love can work such miracles. (88-89, italics mine)

Bel-Imperia: What boots complaint, when there’s no remedy?
Baltazar: Yes, to your gracious self must I complain,
In whose fair answer lies my remedy… (92-94, italics mine)

Each time, Baltazar seizes on a word used by Bel-Imperia (miracle, complaint, remedy), and turns it to flatter her or elicit pity.

Eventually, Bel-Imperia has had enough of the parrying and turns to leave. Seeing Horatio approaching, “she…lets fall her glove, which Horatio…takes up” (99 SD). In Baltazar’s previous exchange with Bel-Imperia, he claimed to “have laid [his] heart to gage” (85) for her love. By Bel-Imperia’s dropping a glove in front of Horatio, she throws down her own gage, challenging Horatio to be her lover and igniting the play’s love triangle (Bel-Imperia, Baltazar, and Horatio). “Throwing down your gage” or gauntlet) was a challenge to fight, usually to right a perceived insult to honor or station – in other words, to avenge a wrong. In Shakespeare’s 1597 play Richard II, Bolingbroke and Mowbray challenge each other by throwing down their gage, or glove (1.1.69, 146). Later in that same play, nearly every character on stage throws down a glove or gauntlet, creating a shortage (“Some honest Christian trust me with a gage, / That Norfolk lies” 4.1.83-84). Bel-Imperia’s action at first seems off-hand or unimportant, but it is a pivotal point in the play and a blow to both her brother and the prince. Kyd’s use of this simple gesture is masterful, suggesting Baltazar’s words are useless (“laid my heart to gage”) and contrasting Horatio as a man of action (“Signor Horatio stooped in happy time” [102]).

Lorenzo, Baltazar, and Horatio are called to a banquet that boasts a masque of sorts, or an entertainment, devised by Hieronimo. Masques were like plays but were more of a state or political event, and usually praised the king, his Court, or his reign in general. The banquet and masque in 1.4 do triple duty: display the wealth and bounty of the king and Spanish Court, demonstrate their fair treatment of their high-ranking prisoner Baltazar, and celebrate Spain’s victory over Portugal. Hieronimo’s masque is important in that it gestures to his play-within-a-play in the final scene. By showing Hieronimo in charge of presenting and narrating the banquet’s entertainment, his future offer of a self-written play as a diversion for the Court is not unexpected or out of place.

*

Scene Five: Andrea expresses impatience at the scenes of love and revelry he has seen.

This very short scene (9 lines) allows Andrea to vent his frustration. “Come we for this from depth of underground / To see… / Nothing but league, and love, and banqueting!” (1.5.1,4). Revenge calms him by promising the pleasures he has witnessed will be changed to “hate,” “despair,” and “misery” (7, 8, 9).

The scene is also a framing device. Act One began with Andrea and Revenge, and they close it. This is an example of how Kyd neatly layers the scenes and storylines of the play, nesting them like Russian dolls. As the action unfolds, these layers make what is actually a very intricate plot more accessible. Reading The Spanish Tragedy is a complement to watching it, since reading allows the chance to step back and recognize its many frames and scaffolds.

Why Live Theatre Matters (and Why I Mourn the Stratford Festival’s Season Being Postponed)

I posted this on social media yesterday, so you’ve probably seen it. If not, it’s the story of how live theatre changed my life. Please support the arts in through this terrible time. They have an importance beyond entertainment, and their value goes beyond mere ticket prices.


This is a stupidly long reaction to the Stratford Festival’s postponing their season. I had to mull over what I was feeling and why, and this is the result:

The Stratford Festival having to postpone their season broke my heart. Gutted me. Many of you probably wonder why I care so deeply for the Festival, why I’m such a champion of it over and above other venues. Well, it’s complicated, but here’s why. (Warning: this will be lengthy.)

My journey to scholar of Shakespeare/early modern drama has been convoluted. I left high school despising Shakespeare after a horrible encounter with Julius Caesar in my senior year and stayed away, certain that I would hate anything else Will had written. After a long stretch, I carefully dipped my toe into the Complete Works, more from a sense of obligation than anything else. I loved British literature and was afraid my ignorance of Shakespeare took away from my understanding of works by other British writers. I was surprised to find that I didn’t hate Shakespeare after all — in fact, I rather liked him. I enjoyed his plays as literature, but since I didn’t go to live theatre, my appreciation stopped there.

In London several years later (2008), I saw Dominic Dromgoole’s production of Lear at The Globe. My go-to description of that afternoon is “it was like scales dropped from my eyes.” Right then I understood that reading Shakespeare without seeing it is an incomplete experience. Things are going on in the plays that can’t be articulated, and if the plays aren’t seen, it’s impossible to grasp their true complexity. Unfortunately, where I live in Southwest Florida, Shakespeare on the stage is a rare commodity. I wanted to see the plays live, but it wasn’t going to happen at home.

In 2012, I took my parents to see a filmed version of the Stratford Festival’s The Tempest. They’ve gone to the Shaw Festival for decades and often make day trips to Stratford, so they had seen it live — they weren’t going to be three hours from Christopher Plummer and miss him! They loved seeing the production again, but it was my mind that was blown. I kept asking “This is what you go see?” “I don’t have to go to the UK or NYC to see this kind of thing?” As a live theatre newbie, I was amazed. I booked tickets to spend a weekend with them at Niagara on the Lake later that year, and planned my own overnight trip to Stratford to see Cymbeline and Henry V.

Reader, that 24 hours in Stratford changed my life. It took what was quickly becoming a passion for Shakespeare and made it an obsession. It made me want to take my knowledge to the next level, so within weeks of coming home, I decided to get my M.A. in English (and my PhD if life would let me).

Fast forward to December 2017… I graduated magna cum laude from FGCU with my Master’s, and my love for Shakespeare now included a love for early modern drama in general. I couldn’t possibly give up studying what I loved, so since I couldn’t give up my day job (due to house, husband, etc.) I became an independent scholar. Fast forward to today…I am set to become an adjunct instructor at FGCU this fall. If you had asked me only ten years ago if I’d be presenting at conferences, going to live theatre, and getting ready to teach my first semester at a university, I would have said you were nuts. But here we are.

The point of this ramble is that none of this would have happened without Stratford. The Festival literally changed my life, and I’m eternally grateful. It sounds sappy, but it helped me find myself, what I love, and who I want to be. On top of that, I fell in love with the town of Stratford, what it stands for, and the incredible people there. I feel at home there, like myself there, and my yearly visits (since 2012!) reconnect me to my dreams and goals. I’ve also made some amazing friends through my love of the Festival, people I feel close to and care about very much.

That, in quite a bit more than a nutshell, is why I’m so enthusiastic about Stratford. Not only does the Festival have some of the finest productions I’ve seen, it has an essence of outreach and welcome that encourages and challenges you. It’s truly a special place filled with special people. Not going this year will leave a huge hole in my heart, but you can bet I’ll be there in 2021.

The Spanish Tragedy – Act One, Scenes 1-2: “Will both abide the censure of my doom?”

Scene One: Andrea enters with Revenge and recounts the circumstances of his death and subsequent arrival in the Underworld. He tells how he stood before Pluto and Proserpine, who placed him in Revenge’s company.

Andrea enters accompanied by Revenge, which immediately situates the tale as a revenge tragedy. It also sets up one of the framing devices so important to the structure of the play: Andrea and Revenge sit on stage and observe the action throughout. The stage directions describe this scene as a “Chorus”; in Greek tragedies, the Chorus was an onstage group commenting on the action, often emphasizing the conflict or issues at hand. (A short video by the National Theatre on the concept of the Chorus and how modern directors have used it can be found here.)

Andrea explains who he was in life, and notes that his “descent — / Though not ignoble – [was] yet inferior far / To gracious fortunes of my tender youth” (5-7). This indicates Andrea was someone we might call self-made, bettering his station through his service to the Spanish Court. He also reveals that “In secret I possessed a worthy dame, / Which hight sweet Bel-Imperia by name” (10-11). In other words, his liaison with Bel-Imperia, niece to the king, was kept under wraps, perhaps due to his “inferior” birth. Their relationship indicates Bel-Imperia is a woman with a mind of her own — not one to follow orders, acquainted with her own desires, and determined to follow her heart.

What follows is a narrative of Andrea’s death in battle and subsequent trip to the Underworld. Not only is the imagery and syntax reminiscent of Virgil’s Aeneid, the tale itself recalls Aeneas’ journey in Book Six. We learn that initially Andrea was not allowed to pass into the Underworld, since his body lay unburied (like the bodies of Miseneus and Palinurus in Virgil’s epic). Only after Horatio, Andrea’s close friend, sees to the burial is he ferried across the Styx.

When Andrea arrives, the guardians of the Underworld cannot agree on where his shade should spend eternity, as he “both lived and died in love, / And for his love tried fortune of the wars, / And by war’s fortune lost both love and life” (38-40). For love, Andrea went to war; valor in battle was a way to improve his standing in the Court and become more deserving of Bel-Imperia’s hand. The guardian Aeacus argues that as a lover, Andrea should be given entry to the “fields of love” (42). He is rebuffed by another guardian, Rhadamanth, as “it were not well, / With loving souls to place a martialist” (45-46). Love and war, Rhadamanth argues, should not be mixed – a concept to keep in mind as the play progresses.

From this point, Kyd incorporates words associated with wealth and value into the dialogue. They are introduced through the guardians’ discussion of fortune in the lines above and their use continues with varying frequency throughout the play. Prisoners are ransomed, soldiers are rewarded, and wealth is promised. The words are striking when considered alongside the play’s larger exploration of revenge and justice. Are these judgments based on perceived worth or equitably decided?

Andrea continues with his tale, stating he “trod the middle path” (72) in the Underworld, journeying between “deepest hell” (64) and “the fair Elysian green” (73). This liminal state is also a reflection of his life. He previously acknowledged that he rose higher than his birth but not high enough to openly court Bel-Imperia; similarly, in death, he fits with neither the lovers nor the soldiers. He is duly sent before Pluto and Proserpine, rulers of the Underworld, and Proserpine “beg[s] that only she might give [his] doom” (79). Proserpine is another figure who “trod the middle path,” spending half each year in the upper world and the remaining half as Pluto’s queen. Consequently, it is only appropriate that she — another liminal figure — is given judgement over Andrea. She sends him away in company of Revenge and they leave through the Gates of Horn, symbolic of truth (82; Neill 7, n82). Revenge then promises Andrea that he “shal[t] see the author of thy death, / Don Baltazar, the Prince of Portingale, / Deprived of life by Bel-Imperia” (87-89). The suggestion is that love will triumph over war.

*

Scene Two: In the Spanish Court, the General tells the King of Spain the story of Spain’s recent victory over the Portuguese, including the capture of Baltazar, Prince of Portugal. Lorenzo and Horatio enter with the Prince; the manner of his capture is disputed, bringing into question who should receive what reward for the feat.

In 1.2, Andrea’s story is told again, this time by other characters. The two narratives are linked as the General responds to the king’s query regarding the fate of his men: “All well, my sovereign liege, except some few / That are deceased by fortune of the war” (2-3, italics mine). This phrase recalls Andrea’s own phrase (1.1.39) and reminds the audience of the deceased courtier watching in the wings, Revenge at his side. The scene is heavy with references to value and worth; words such as “fortune” (1.2.3, 6, 103), “pay” (8), “tribute” (90), “reward” (100), and “enriched” (109) are sprinkled throughout the dialogue. Kyd’s use of other languages is also introduced in 1.2. The Duke of Castile, echoing the king’s giving thanks for his army’s success, quotes Claudian in Latin (12-14 [Neill 8, n12-14]), as does the General during his tale of the battle (55-56 [Neill 9, n55-56]). Until Greek, Italian, and French are introduced in the final scene, Latin is Kyd’s language of choice for quotes. Its use heightens the atmosphere of the play, raising it to the level of Greek tragedy and lending pathos to the characters’ experiences of grief and death.

Like Andrea’s tale in 1.1, the General’s recounting of the battle is aligned with Virgil through word choice and syntax; this also serves to elevate Andrea in death. The General tells how Andrea turned the battle in favor of the Spanish but was then slain by Baltazar, Prince of Portugal (1.2.65-72). Baltazar will soon be presented as a suitor to Andrea’s love Bel-Imperia, so the prince’s killing of his predecessor is noteworthy. Kyd continues to spin a textual web as the General tells of Horatio, Andrea’s best friend, capturing Baltazar shortly after his killing of Andrea. All three men — Andrea, Baltazar, and Horatio – were, hope to be, or will be Bel-Imperia’s lover. This mix of love and war sets up a rivalry that leads to destruction and drives the plot.

At the end of the General’s tale, the king tells Hieronimo, Horatio’s father, of his son’s valor. Hieronimo responds, “Long may he live to serve my sovereign liege, / And soon decay unless he serve my liege” (98-99). These are interesting words. Does Hieronimo inadvertently curse his son? Is Horatio’s future relationship with Bel-Imperia disobedience to the king? The play most obviously engages with the theme of disobedience through Bel-Imperia’s agency, but it is also implied that Horatio has not been compliant with his father’s wishes. Several lines later, upon learning his son is a captor of Baltazar, Hieronimo exclaims, “…though from his tender infancy / My loving thoughts did never hope but well, / He never pleased his father’s eyes till now” (117-119). This is the only suggestion that Horatio’s past was less than dutiful and adds an interesting gloss to the lovers’ story.

Baltazar is brought on stage between Lorenzo and Horatio, who both claim him as their prisoner. Kyd uses this stage business to silently but effectively reveal the personality of the prince. Throughout the play, Baltazar is consistently on the fence, pulled between one person or situation and another; he is shown to be indecisive and a waffler. The fact that he is claimed by both men also gestures to the love triangle of Bel-Imperia, Horatio, and Baltazar — and the machinations of Lorenzo that accompany it. Once more, value and worth are front and center, as whoever is the true captor of Baltazar will be richly rewarded. The two men’s claims to Baltazar are argued in the king’s presence, and in essence, echo the rival claims to Bel-Imperia. She is, or will be, “prisoner” of Lorenzo and Horatio: Lorenzo, literally (at one point) and because she is his sister; Horatio because she has chosen to give him her heart.

Kyd creates a “war triangle” (Baltazar, Horatio, and Lorenzo) that parallels the “love triangle” of Baltazar, Bel-Imperia, and Horatio. This association is strengthened through dialogue. Both Horatio and Lorenzo claim the honor of first taking Baltazar prisoner. Lorenzo states, “This hand first took his courser by the reins” (155), to which Horatio replies, “But first my lance did put him from his horse” (156). Lorenzo, then, thought he took control of Baltazar, but Horatio knocked both men aside. This will also be seen with Bel-Imperia: Lorenzo attempts to control Bel-Imperia by promising her to Baltazar, but Horatio figuratively knocks them aside. This is alluded to in the next lines: Lorenzo says, “I seized his weapon and enjoyed it first” to which Horatio replies, “But first I forced him lay his weapons down” (156-157). The innuendo is obvious. Lorenzo presents Baltazar as a sexual partner for his sister; Horatio, however, forces Baltazar to “lay his weapon[] down.” When asked by the king to clarify who captured him, Baltazar’s response is filled with contrast and indecision:
He spake me fair, this other gave me strokes;
He promised life, this other threatened death;
He won my love, this other conquered me;
And, truth to say, I yield myself to both. (162-165)
Baltazar, therefore, is meant to be seen as an ineffectual partner for the strong-willed, decisive Bel-Imperia — and as ripe for the machinations of Lorenzo.

The king decides between the rival claimants (“Will both abide the censure of my doom? [175]). He awards Lorenzo Baltazar’s horse and weapons (the necessities of war); Horatio receives the prince’s ransom (180, 183). Baltazar is placed in Lorenzo’s custody (185), but the prince asks that Horatio be allowed to “bear [them] company… / Whom I admire and love for chivalry” (193-194, italics mine). Once more, we find that love and war are central. Baltazar’s request, though, is as much a recognition of Horatio’s valor as it is a display of his own indecision.

Thomas Kyd and The Spanish Tragedy: Introduction and Overview

Front Matter: I wrote about ST for a previous blog post, and my intentions are not to rehash that here. I will mention things noted in my earlier entry, but this will be a fresh take on what is an enjoyable and well-written play.

There’s not a lot of information on Thomas Kyd (1558-1594). He was apparently a well-known playwright during the 1580s, the decade when The Spanish Tragedy is thought to have been written. It was a smash hit at the time and was played for many years with much success. ST started the vogue for revenge plays, a genre which is exactly what it sounds like: someone gets killed or murdered, and someone else, usually a family member, works to exact revenge on the killer/murderer. It is believed the genre was based on classical Roman, likely Senacan, tragedies (see below for more on Seneca). There is some consensus that Kyd also wrote what is called the Ur-Hamlet, the Hamlet that may have inspired Shakespeare’s play of the same name. Later, Kyd was an associate of Christopher Marlowe, an association that brought him some trouble. More on Kyd, as well as the Marlowe affair, can be found here and here.

The plot of ST is intricate, and involves 1) Andrea, killed in battle, who was in love with Bel-Imperia; 2) Andrea’s best friend Horatio, who becomes Bel-Imperia’s lover and is killed by her brother Lorenzo and suitor Baltazar; 3) Horatio’s father, Hieronimo, who exacts revenge in an unusual way. There are similarities to Hamlet: feigned madness, a perceived delay in revenge, and a play-within-a-play. ST is very meta, as noted in my previous blog post. It is framed in a way that makes the play itself seem like a play-within-a-play, even before the actual play-within-a-play begins in the last act. There are also references to the process of putting on a performance in an early modern theatre. Not only do these insights add to the play’s meta-ness, they are historically interesting.      

Here are the characters:

  • BAZULTO: An elderly man who, like Hieronimo, has lost his son.
  • BALTAZAR: The Viceroy of Portugal’s son, and would-be suitor of Bel-Imperia. Believes Lorenzo to be his friend and confidante.
  • BEL-IMPERIA: The Duke of Castile’s daughter, the King of Spain’s niece, and Lorenzo’s sister. She was Andrea’s lover, and after his death, chooses his friend Horatio to take his place in her affections. She wants nothing to do with her suitor Balthazar, despite her family’s wishes. Bel-Imperia is strong, determined, and wants to make her own choices.
  • CYPRIAN, DUKE OF CASTILE: The King of Spain’s brother, and father of Bel-Imperia and Lorenzo.
  • GHOST OF ANDREA: Andrea is killed fighting against the Portuguese. In life, he was a courtier in the Spanish court, Bel-Imperia’s lover, and Horatio’s best friend. In the Underworld, he demands his death be avenged.
  • HIERONIMO, KNIGHT MARSHAL OF SPAIN: Horatio’s father and Isabella’s husband. His position at Court does him no good when he seeks justice from the king, so he takes matters into his own hands.
  • HORATIO: Hieronimo and Isabella’s son, Andrea’s best friend, and Bel-Imperia’s new lover. His death starts a domino effect.
  • ISABELLA: Hieronimo’s wife and Horatio’s mother. Goes insane after Horatio’s death.
  • KING OF SPAIN: …is the King of Spain. He is also Bel-Imperia and Lorenzo’s uncle.
  • LORENZO: The Duke of Castile’s son and the King of Spain’s nephew. Lorenzo is Bel-Imperia’s brother and seeks a controlling interest in her love life. Not a nice guy.
  • PEDRINGANO: Bel-Imperia’s servant. Thinks he’s clever but gets in over his head.
  • REVENGE: You are correct! Revenge personified.
  • SERBERINE: Baltazar’s servant. Gets caught up in the intrigue through no fault of his own.
  • VICEROY OF PORTUGAL: Baltazar’s father.

What else besides the framing and meta-ness is notable? Well, some sections read like a Greek epic. Gods are named and battles are described in a manner reminiscent of works such as Virgil’s Aeneid; the lofty imagery and syntax elevate the plot and keep it from being merely a bloody tale. Kyd’s use of languages other than English is also important. Latin is found throughout the play, contributing to its antique feel. Some of the characters quote Seneca, a Latin dramatist and tragedian who lived from ~4 BCE – 65 AD. Seneca’s tragedies were “closet dramas,” plays not meant to be performed on stage but rather read alone or with others. Although ST was not written as a closet drama, the care Kyd takes with language and words seems to gesture to the genre. Latin is also important to the play-within-the-play in the final scene, which incorporates it alongside Greek, Italian, and French. The effect is that of characters talking at each other instead of with each other, which basically encapsulates the plot: Hieronimo seeks justice, and although he speaks, no one listens. Bel-Imperia wants to choose her lover, and although she speaks, no one listens. Words are spoken, but no effort is made to understand or interpret their message.

In many places, literary structure and rhyme mirror the action on the stage. Two characters’ words might interlock — one using a word or words picked from the other’s previous line or lines — suggesting love or collaboration. At times two characters’ lines might rhyme, or end in a rhyming couplet, implying agreement or affection. At other times, a character’s (or characters’) passion or inner turmoil is reflected by a noted increase in rhyme. The importance of language is not confined to the spoken word, however; the written word is also important. Letters are sent, dropped, written in blood, or non-existent – but necessary to the plot.

Keep an eye out for framing, literal and figurative. The figurative framing starts immediately with Andrea and Revenge, who remain on stage throughout. The literal frames include a gallows and an arbor; these two are also symbolic, serving as existential portals. The final scene returns to the figurative, with Andrea and Revenge watching the Court watch a play…as we watch all of them. So many frames, so many porous boundaries! This is a play that rewards repeated reading or watching with new discoveries every time.

The Before Shakespeare blog talks a bit about The Spanish Tragedy in this entry. As far as videos, ShaLT (The Shakespeare London Theatres Project) posted this clip of Act 2 Scene 4 on YouTube, and there is a 2003 script reading starring Derek Jacobi as Hieronimo (Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five). I found only one full-length stage production online; it was done in 2015 by Carleton College. For those who feel adventurous, there are also some interesting modern summaries/mashups (like this one).

For my blog and research, I relied on the Norton Critical Edition, edited by Michael Neill (W. W. Norton & Company, 2014). Please note: the Norton includes additions to 2.5, 3,2, 3.11, 3.12, and 4.4 that I chose not to address as they were added after the 1592 text (Neill xxxix-xl). For all Shakespeare references, I used the Arden editions (the Third Series when available). The text of ST can also be found (free) on The Folger’s Early Modern English Drama (EMED) website: https://earlymodernenglishdrama.folger.edu/view/1999/ST

Let’s explore this play and see why it was such a hit with early modern audiences…

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.

*

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.

*

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.

Galatea – Act Four: “Nothing but that you love me not”

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.

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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?”

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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.

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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.

 

Galatea – Act Three: “You shall see Ramia hath also bitten on a love-leaf”

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.

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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).

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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.

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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” [32]). 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.

Galatea – Act Two: “it is no second thing to be a woman”

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.