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Theatre / Endymion

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Most high and happy princess,
we must tell you a tale of the Man in the Moon,
which if it seem ridiculous for the method,
or superfluous for the matter, or for the means incredible,
for three faults we can make but one excuse:
it is a tale of the Man in the Moon.


It was forbidden in old time to dispute of chimaera,
because it was a fiction. We hope in our times
none will apply pastimes, because they are fancies;
for there liveth none under the sun
that knows what to make of the Man in the Moon.
We present neither comedy, nor tragedy,
nor story, nor anything, but ...
that whosoever heareth may say this:
'Why, here is a tale of the Man in the Moon'.
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Endymion is a play by novelist and dramatist John Lyly (1554-1606) that tells the story of a man who fell in love with the moon. Endymion serves the goddess Cynthia, the personification of the moon, and falls head over heels in love with her. His friend Eumenides thinks Endymion's gone off the deep end. But when Endymion's vengeful ex Tellus conspires to put Endymion into an enchanted sleep, Eumenides goes on a quest to save his friend.

There's also a subplot about a group of pages who make fun of the braggart knight Sir Tophas. In the end, all is well and Endymion is restored, given favor by Cynthia, but not her love.

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Endymion provides examples of:

  • Allegory: Cynthia is without a doubt a stand-in for Queen Elizabeth I. Who everyone else is has been the subject of fierce debate for centuries. Endymion representing Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester and Tellus representing Mary, Queen of Scots is a popular theory that has survived for a long time, but is far from universally accepted. The reasoning being that Lyly's position at court was tenuous at best (since his employer was Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, who was often on thin ice), so to write about Elizabeth's personal life, even allegorically, was dangerous. Hence the flattery of Elizabeth as the moon goddess Cynthia is the only allegorical aspect to achieve consensus.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Averted. The play definitely starts this way, with Tellus' jealousy for Endymion driving the action, and Corsites in turn falling in love with her. Endymion may not end up with Cynthia, but everyone else gets paired off happily.
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  • Age Lift: In the classical myth, Endymion was a boy. Here he's a young man who ends up falling asleep for forty years. He's restored to his youth in the end.
  • Baleful Polymorph: Dipsas' assistant Bagoa is turned into a tree for betraying the witch to Cynthia. She gets better.
  • Beta Couple: Eumenedies and Semele, Tellus and Corsites, Dipsas and Geron, and finally Sir Tophas and Bagoa, although Sir Tophas is ambivalent.
    Tophas: Turn her to a true love or false, so she be a wench I care not.
  • Blasphemous Boast: Eumenides considers Endymion's profession of love to Cynthia to be this.
  • Bros Before Hoes: Eumenides finds a magic fountain that will give him the answer to any question asked of it when filled with the tears of a true lover. Eumenides contemplates asking it about his own love, Semele, and has a lengthy debate with himself over whether to do it, or to ask how to cure Endymion, which was his mission in the first place. Endymion wins out.
  • Cat Fight: Flavilla and Scintilla, the girls who the pages hope to impress, get into one, to the amusement of the pages.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Endymion comes across this way in his love for Cynthia from Eumenides' point of view, while Sir Tophas comes across this way to just about everyone.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: As the moon goddess, it's impossible for Cynthia to reciprocate Endymion's feelings. However she bestows her favor upon him and allows him to continue loving her.
  • Dream Sequence: We not only see Endymion's dreams while he's under the spell, he recounts them in detail at the end.
  • The Fair Folk: Corsites is pinched black and blue by fairies when he tries to move Endymion. Shakespeare likely drew from these fairies when writing A Midsummer Night's Dream.
  • Gilded Cage: Tellus is imprisoned in a tower for crossing Cynthia, but her jailer Corsites is head over heels for her, so he gives her just about every liberty she can want, except to actually leave.
  • The Man in the Moon: The play draws on this imagery during the prologue.
  • Manipulative Bitch: Tellus charms Corsites into trying to move Endymion from his resting place, promising him her love if he does so, knowing full well he cannot hope to achieve this.
  • Meaningful Name: All over the place:
    • Eumenides is derived from "eumenes," Greek for "savior".
    • "Tellus" of course is Latin for "Earth."
    • "Tophas" is an alternative spelling of “tophus,” a kind of soft, porous, volcanic rock
    • "Dipsas" is the name of a serpent whose bite causes unquenchable thirst.
    • "Geron" is Greek for "old."
    • "Floscula" is possibly derived from "floscule," the Latin for "little flower."
    • "Scintilla" is Latin for "spark."
    • Pythagoras appears as a scholar who Cynthia asks to examine Endymion.
  • Miles Gloriosus: Sir Tophas might be a perfect example. He almost certainly influenced Don Armado.
  • MST3K Mantra: In-universe. The prologue defends the whimsical story to come by stating it is just a "tale of the Man in the Moon."
  • Those Two Guys: Samias and Dares, Endymion and Eumenides' pages, who provide the comic underplot in their fun at Tophas' expense. Their would-be girlfriends Floscula and Scintilla also come to mind.
    • Pythagoras and Gyptes also function as generally indistinguishable scholars summoned by Cynthia.
  • Time Skip: The play apparently has one, but treats it very weirdly. Endymion is said to have been asleep for forty years by the time he's woken up (possibly having taken twenty years for Eumenides to find the fountain, and another twenty to return to Cynthia's court), but nobody aside from him seems to age.
  • Weddings for Everyone: Cynthia neatly pairs off every major character except herself and Endymion.
  • Woman Scorned: Tellus until the end.

A man walking abroad, the wind and sun strove for
sovereignty: the one with his blast, the other with his
beams. The wind blew hard; the man wrapped his
garment about him harder. It blustered more strongly; he
then girt it fast to him. 'I cannot prevail', said the wind. The
sun, casting her crystal beams, began to warm the man; he
unloosed his gown. Yet it shined brighter; he then put it off.
'I yield', said the wind, 'for if thou continue shining, he will
also put off his coat'.
Dread sovereign, the malicious that seek to overthrow us
with threats do but stiffen our thoughts and make them
sturdier in storms. But if Your Highness vouchsafe with
your favorable beams to glance upon us, we shall not only
stoop, but with all humility lay both our hands and hearts
at Your Majesty's feet.
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