3.5.1. John Lyly, Endymion, The Man in the Moone, 1584


The highly talented, though somewhat frail John Lyly (1553-1606) studied at Magdalen College in Oxford. At the age of nineteen, he was awarded with the title of Bachelor of Arts. He had a great love for everything that was beautiful and truthful, particularly poetry, and an inborn talent for elegance and style which made it impossible for him to accept a life of mediocrity. His first bid for greatness started with a letter to Lord Burghley asking for his help. Those who wish to gain an insight into the person of John Lyly are well advised to read his letter from May 16, 1574: “Viro illustrissimo, et insignissimo Heroi Domino, Burgleo…”  

J. L. to the most illustrious and distinguished Peer, Lord Burghley, High Treasurer of England, of the Queen's Majesty's Privy Council, and his own revered patron.

In the gracious bounty shown, most noble Peer, to me your foster-son, and in your gratuitous and unlooked-for interest, effort, and extraordinary pains on my behalf, I recognize with all becoming humility your good and kindly disposition toward men devoted to learning. And since this inconceivable indulgence of yours has far surpassed, not merely my deserts, but my hopes, and has granted at large what my modesty would never have asked, I rest in deepest debt to your honour, in a degree indeed which must always be beyond my poor opportunities of repayment. And though it may seem almost the height of boldness and brazen effrontery for a rash and inexperienced youth, one who lacks the ripe judgement bestowed by advancing years, the sound character formed by chaste rule of life, the learned equipment furnished by the teaching of the arts, once more to assail and rudely importune with troublesome petitions a man of highest excellence and wisdom, a distinguished Peer, sleeplessly vigilant for the safety of the realm, the welfare of the State, the protection of all our fortunes; yet seeing that every great man's goodness is the common refuge reflecting, moreover, that a lofty soul delights to overflow in bounty where it has once been generous I approach with humble petition that excellence of yours which I have had every day in view, which I have never doubted, and of which I have experienced many a proof, imploring with outstretched hands your aid, interest, and kindness. This is the sum, the cardinal point, the grand occasion that your highness would deign to procure Her Most Gracious Majesty's mandatory letters (excuse the defect of latinity) to the authorities of Magdalen, that so under your auspices I may be quietly admitted as Fellow there. Such letters are as it were the strong foundation, you the lofty framework, to support my fortunes. Without this bulwark and buttress I collapse, I am ruined; for I can devise no remedy which may give me comfort, nor would Lyly be aught unless your Honour serve for his protecting deity, his blessed anchor, his saving constellation and pole-star shining before him. And so your Honour may command my body's service, dispose of my poor fortunes, and hold me as willing agent of your bidding. Raise up then with your wonted inconceivable kindness one toward whom your highness has ever been bounteous, and ready with help and attention, and who now casts himself suppliant-wise at your feet: I the while will lift up hands of prayer to the Supreme that Alexander's well-doing, Trajan's humanity, Nestor's years, Camillus' unshaken loftiness of soul, Solomon's wisdom, David's piety, Josiah's zeal in re-establishing the faith and in keeping it pure, may be rivalled by your own. This in the meantime I promise and vow that there shall never be wanting on my part diligence in the acquisition of learning, a grateful purpose, the effort to carry tasks through, zeal in spreading abroad your praises, conscientious performance of duty, nor faithful obedience. Farewell.

Your excellency's most obedient servant,



The great Lord Burghley decided to take the young man under his wing. After graduating, Lyly was quartered in the Savoy, where the Earl of Oxford occupied a story. Living in the neighbourhood of the fatherly Lord High Treasurer and the literary Lord Great Chamberlain inspired Lyly to quickly write a two hundred page novel in the year of 1578: Euphues. The Anatomy of Wit (London 1579). The novel was virtually devoid of a plot, substituting long winded flowery philosophical discourses concerning the aesthetic premises of the activities and the inactivity of its characters for a story line.- Euphues, a young nobleman from Athens, accompanied by Philautus and Eubulus appear on the scene and speak like English Spaniards in ancient Greece or like government officials for poetical rhetoric. Inspired by Antonio de Guevara and his Epistolas familiares, 1539-45 (= The familiar epistles, 1574) John Lyly constructed periodical contradictions in the corset of mannerly speech (“ For neither is there anything, but it hath his contraries”) and fills the same sentence structure with carefully administered fill ins (“Dear daughter, as thou hast long time lived a maiden, so now thou  must learn to be a Mother, and as I have been careful to bring thee up a virgin, so am I now desirous to make thee a wife”).

Oxford seemed to like the work and he hired the mercurial John Lyly as his literary secretary. In 1580, the sequel to The Anatomy of Wit was published under the title Euphues and his England. In his dedication “TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE MY VERY GOOD LORD AND MASTER EDWARD DE VERE, EARL OF OXFORD” Lyly, who, in spite of his youth, had enjoyed a quick rise to fame in noble circles, confessed: “I have brought into the world two children. Of the first I was delivered before my friends thought me conceived; of the second I went a whole year big, and yet when everyone thought me ready to lie down I did then quicken.”

In the Encyclopedia Britannica, 9th Edition, vol. 15, we read:

Euphues and his England is rather longer than the first part. Euphues and Philautus travel from Naples to England. They arrive at Dover, halt for the night at Fidus’s house at Canterbury, and then proceed to London, where they make acquaintance with Surius, a young English gentleman of great birth and noble blood; Psellus, an Italian nobleman reputed ‘great in magick’; Martius, an elderly Englishman; Camilla, a beautiful English girl of insignificant family; Lady Flavia and her niece Fraunces. After endless correspondence and conversation on all kinds of topics, Euphues is recalled to Athens, and from there corresponds with his friends. ‘Euphues’ Glasse for Europe’ is a flattering description of England sent to Livia at Naples. It is the most interesting portion of the book, and throws light upon one or two points of Lyly’s own biography. The author naturally seized the opportunity for paying his inevitable tribute to the queen, and pays it in his most exalted style. ‘O fortunate England that hath such a queene, ungratefull if thou praye not for hir, wicked if thou do not love hir, miserable if thou lose hir!’—and so on. The book ends with Philautus’s announcement of his marriage to Fraunces, upon which Euphues sends characteristic congratulations and retires, ‘tormented in body and grieved in mind,’ to the Mount of Silexedra, ‘where I leave him to his musing or Muses.’

Lyly was not the first to appropriate and develop the Guevaristic style. The earliest book in which it was fully adopted was A petite Pallace of Pettie his Pleasure, by George Pettie, which appeared in 1576, a production so closely akin to Euphues in tone and style that it is difficult to believe it was not by Lyly. Lyly, however, carried the style to its highest point, and made it the dominant literary fashion. His principal followers in it were Greene, Lodge and Nash, his principal opponent Sir Philip Sidney; the Arcadia in fact supplanted Euphues, and the Euphuistic taste proper may be said to have died out about 1590 after a reign of some twelve years.”

We don’t have to wade through Lyly’s entire novel in order to discover that there is little similarity between the well shaped Euphues [2] and the poet Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. But in his work The Mirrour of Mutabilitie (1579), Anthony Munday refers to the Earl as “mi formose” (my fair, my well-shaped) and there is also the possibility that Lyly’s “Mount Silexedra” contains a reference to Oxford’s Italian journey. At least we have to understand Lyly’s characterization of his gentle Euphues as a homage to the Earl. ("There dwelt in Athens a young gentleman of great patrimony, and of so comely a personage, that it was doubted whether he were more bound to Nature for the lineaments of his person, or to Fortune for the increase of his possessions. But Nature impatient of comparisons, and as it were disdaining a companion or copartner in her working, added to this comeliness of his body such a sharp capacity of mind, that not only she proved Fortune counterfeit, but was half of that opinion that she herself was only current."

During the years following the publication of Lyly’s novel, contemporaries of the two men formed the opinion that there is a secret connection between the disaffected “Euphues” and the poetic Earl who seeks the seclusion of his “solitary cell”.

- In Euphues and his England (1580) John Lyly writes: “Euphues is musing in the bottom of the Mountain Silexsedra [seat of flint]”.

- Anthony Munday called his novel Zelauto (1580): “Zelauto. The Fountain of Fame … Containing a delicate disputation, gallantly discoursed between two noble gentlemen of Italy. Given for a friendly entertainment to Euphues, at his late arrival into England.” In Zelauto Munday adopts part of the plot of Oxford’s The Jewe (1579) = The Merchant of Venice. (See 3.3.4 Munday, Zelauto.) 

- In Lyly’s comedy Endymion (written 1584), which is an allegory on the celebration of Oxford’s rehabilitation, the hero “hath chosen in a solitary cell to live only by feeding on thy [Cynthia’s] favour”.

- Robert Greene gives his novel Menaphon (1589) the sub-title; “Camillas alarum to slumbering Euphues, in his melancholy cell at Silexedra”. The figure of Melicertes (= Simonides) is based on Oxford. (See 3.5.2 Robert Greene, Menaphon.)

- Thomas Lodge entitles his romance Rosalynde (1590) which was a ‘logbook’ of Shakespeare’s AsYou Like It:  “Euphues’ golden legacy / found after his death in his Cell at Silexedra”.

- In 1591 Edmund Spenser published the beautiful lines:  

But that same gentle Spirit, from whose pen
Large streams of honey and sweet Nectar flow,
Scorning the boldness of such base-born men,
Which dare their follies forth so rashly throw,
Doth rather choose to sit in idle Cell
Than so himself to mockery to sell.

(See 3.4.3 Edmund Spenser, The Teares of the Muses.)

However, the above could also be a reference to the figure of Prospero who called himself “master of a poor full cell” (The Tempest, I/2).

Mark Anderson formulates the hypothesis (Shakespeare by Another Name, 2005, p. 554-55) that „Silexedra“ alludes to Oxford’s Fisher’s Folly, where he lived or worked between 1580 and 1588.[3]

The connection between Oxford and Lyly, his literary secretary, appear to be getting stronger in 1580 when Oxford revealed the conspirative connections to Spain which were maintained by his former friends Henry Howard und Charles Arundell (see 7.2.6 Oxford’s accusation.) It is highly likely that John Lyly was the author of the “Sweet Speech” which was read out by Oxford’s page during the tournament on 22 January 1581 in the presence of Queen Elizabeth.[4]

The Sweet Speech, January 22, 1581.

… and the Knight to his Sun Tree, where kissing the ground with humilitie, the princely tree seemed with favour to bid him welcome. But the more he gazed on the beauty, the less able he was to endure the brightness, like unto those that thinking with a steadfast eye to behold the sun brings a dark dazzling over their sight. At the last, resting under the shadow, he felt such content, as nothing could be more comfortable. The days he spent in virtuous delights, the night slipped away in golden Dreams; he was never annoyed with venomous enemies, nor disquieted with idle cogitations.

Insomuch, that finding all felicity in that shade, and all security in that Sun: he made a solemn vow, to incorporate his heart into that Tree, and engraft his thoughts upon those virtues, Swearing, that as there is but one Sun to shine over it, one root to give life unto it, one top to maintain Majesty: so there should be but one Knight, either to live or die for the defence thereof. Where-upon, he swore himself only to be the Knight of the Tree of the Sun, whose life should end before his loyaltie. Thus cloyed with content, he fell into a sweet slumber, whose smiling countenance showed him void of all care. But his eyes were scarce closed when he seemed to see dychers undermining the Tree behind him, that because suspecting the Knight to give the diggers aid, might have punished him in her way. But failing of their pretence, and seeing every blowe [5] they struck to light upon their own brains, they threatened him by violence, whom they could not match in virtue.

But he clasping the Tree, as the only Anchor of his trust, they could not so much as move him from his cause, whom they determined to martyr without choler. Whereupon, they made a challenge to win the Tree by right, and to make it good Arms. At which saying the Knight being glad to have his truth tried with his valor, for joy awakened.

And now (most virtuous and excellent Princess) seeing such tumults towards for his Tree, such an Honourable presence to judge, such worthy Knights to Joust: I cannot tell whether his perplexitie or his pleasure be the greater.


As “Knight of the Tree of the Sun” and Defender against “Callophisus” – i.e. Philip Howard, Earl of Surrey - the Earl of Oxford brake all the twelve staves.

The bond between John Lyly and his literary employer was additionally strengthened by Oxford’s fall from grace after his affair with Anne Vavasour. Francis Walsingham made the matter known when he reported it in a letter to Henry Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon on 23. March 1581.    

“On Tuesday at night, Anne Vavasour was brought to bed of a son in the maidens’ chamber. The Earl of Oxford is avowed to be the father, who hath withdrawn himselfwith intent, as it is thought, to pass the seas. The ports are laid for him, and therefore ifhe have any such determination, it is not likely that he will escape.”

The Queen was absolutely livid, she regarded Oxford’s secret love affair as a blow to her own personal honour. She gave the order that both adulterers be thrown in the Tower without hesitation. They remained in prison until 8 July 1581, after his release Oxford was placed under house arrest.  - On 12 July 1581 Sir Walsingham wrote to Lord Burghley: “Her Majesty is resolved (upon some persuasion used) not to restore the Earl of Oxford to his full liberty before he hath been dealt withal for his wife.”  In compliance with the Queen’s orders the Earl and Anne Cecil were reunited after seven years.

All the same, for the following two years he was a persona non grata at court. Not before a visit at Theobalds Castle in May 1583, Elizabeth graciously reinstated Oxford. 

John Lyly saw this as his cue to create a brilliant comedy allegorizing and celebrating the man whom he had always held in the highest regard.



It is undisputed that Lyly’s comedy was staged at court for Queen Elizabeth on February 2, 1588 (Candlemas). However, when we regard the mariner John Robert’s “Ironical Letter” which he wrote to Sir Roger Williams (1540-1595) in either March or April of 1585 (in which Roberts pokes fun at their mutual acquaintances), we see that Lyly must have written and performed Endymion before 1588.


Jack Roberts to Sir Roger Williams, March-April 1585.

Don Rogero. I have received a letter from you by John Winter, and opening of it, I thought it to be some old debt and reckoning of Jack Hannam for a breast of veal, mutton and onions at the Green Lettice, or the woeful complaint of William Martin’s soldiers for leaving them behind him[6]; or the will and testament of Father Lyster [Leicester]. …  Captain Shoute, Captain [Thomas] Churchyard, and Captain [Sylvanus] Scory have sworn solemnly either to raise the siege at Antwerp[7] or to leave good wine and a tavern so long as they live. Old [Walter] Morgan, Master [Charles] Herbert and Father Lyster are resolute- whether Sir Francis Drake and Sir Richard Greenville go forward in their voyage[8], or no, they will drink burnt sack. … Mr Thomas Somerset hath given away all that he hath to the poor people, and is a priest in little [Philip] Amadas ship in this voyage.[9] … I pray you take heed and beware of my Lord of Oxenford’s man called Lyllie, for if he sees this letter, he will put it in print, or make the boys in Paul’s play it upon a stage.[10]

How do we know that Jack Roberts was referring to Endymion when he wrote the sentence: “I pray you take heed and beware of my Lord of Oxenford’s man called Lyllie”? The reason is that in none of the preceding comedies: Campaspe, Sappho and Phao, Galathea did John Lyly poke fun at his contemporaries. Furthermore the brunt of Lyly’s humour in Endymion and the man who responded so vehemently was the rhetorician Gabriel Harvey, who was in an intense love-hate relationship with Oxford.

Gabriel Harvey, An Advertisement to Pap-hatchet, Nov. 1589.

He [Lyly] hath not played the vice-master of Paul's, and the fool-master of the Theater, for naughts.[11] Himself a mad lad as ever twanged, never troubled with any substance of wit or circumstance of honesty, sometime the fiddlestick of Oxford, now the very bauble of London[12], would fain, forsooth, have some other esteemed as all men value him. A workman is easily descried by his terms; every man speaketh according to his art. I am threatened with a bauble, and Martin [Marprelate] menaced with a comedy, a fit motion for a jester and a player, to try what may be done by employment of his faculty; baubles & comedies are parlous fellows to decipher, and discourage men (that is the point), with their witty flouts and learned jerks, enough to lash any man out of countenance. Nay, if you shake the painted scabbard at me, I have done, and all you that tender the preservation of your good names were best to please Pap-hatchet, and fee Euphues betimes[13], for fear lest he be moved, or some one of his Apes hired, to make a Play of you, and then is your credit quite undone forever and ever, such is the public reputation of their plays.[14] He must needs be discouraged who they decipher. Better anger an hundred other, than two such, that have the stage at commandment, and can furnish out vices and devils at their pleasure. Gentlemen, beware of a chafing pen, that sweateth out whole reams of paper, and whole Theaters of jests; tis aventure if he die not of the papersweat, should he chance to be never so little over-chafed.  

The first edition of Harvey’s collected works, complete with analysis and explanation was compiled by R. Warwick Bond. Bond commented in 1902:

"From a passage in Pappe with a Hatchet we know that Lyly had long cherished a grudge against Gabriel Harvey, his ‚old acquaintance‘. The scoffing allusion to Sir Tophas' verses is appropriate to Harvey's experiments in metre: his patronizing self-sufficiency, his affectation of learning (I/3: ‚All Mars and Ars‘; ‚the Latine hath saved your lives‘), his grammatical jokes (III/3, 5-19) , his flow of quotations, and Epiton's remark ' Nothing hath made my master a foole but flat scholarship‘ (V/2) , are all reflective of the pedant ; and his behaviour to two lively girls, brought in for the express purpose of rallying him (II/2), looks like a personal reminiscence. Doubtless it is vain to seek in this academic personage any analogy to Sir Tophasʼ burlesque passion for Dipsas or his marriage with Bagoa, but Sir Tophas lies so much away from the plot that this matters little." (John Lyly, Works, ed. by R. W. Bond, vol. III, p. 100)

When Sir Tophas in Lyly’s Endymion (I/3) calls: “I am Mars and Ars”, he is clearly referring to Harvey’s ‘Apostrophe’ to the Earl of Oxford in the Gratulationes Valdinenses (1578). In this address, Mars is mentioned seven times and ‘Martial ardor’ is mentioned once.

“This is my Hail; thus, thus it pleased me to say Welcome to you and the other nobles, though your splendid fame asks, great Earl, a more grandiloquent poet than I. … Go, Mars will see you in safety and Hermes attend you ... Take no thought of Peace; all the equipage of Mars comes at your bidding. ... I feel it; our whole country believes it; your blood boils in your breast, virtue dwells in your brow, Mars keeps your mouth, Minerva is in your right hand, Bellona reigns in your body, and Martial ardor, your eyes flash, your glance shoots arrows [vultus tela vibrat]: who wouldn't swear you Achilles reborn?”

Even Sir Tophas’ rhetorical style is reminiscent of that used by Harvey in his adamant appeal to Oxford to take up arms against Juan d’Austria: “Now is need of swords! Steel must be sharpened! Everywhere men talk of camps, everywhere of dire arms!”

TOPHAS: Here is spear and shield, and both necessary: the one to conquer, the other to subdue or overcome the terrible trout, which, although he be under the water, yet tying a string to the top of my spear and an engine of iron to the end of my line, I overthrow him, and then herein I put him. (Endymion, I/3)

EPITON: Are you in love?

TOPHAS: No, but love hath, as it were, milked my thoughts and drained from my heart the very substance of my accustomed courage.            (Endymion, III/3)

The comments about Sir Tophas’ sparse beard are typical for the vanity commonly associated with Gabriel Harvey. (In Nashe’s Strange Newes, 1593, Harvey was picked apart: “So it is that a good gown and a well pruned pair of mustachios, having studied sixteen year to make thirteen ill English hexameters.”)

TOPHAS: Take my sword and shield. and give me beard-brush and scissors. Bella gerant alii; tu, Pari, semper ama. [Let others wage war; you, Paris, shalt ever love.]  (Endymion, III/3)

EPITON: (Examining Tophas’ chin) There are three or four little hairs.

TOPHAS: I pray thee call it my beard. How shall I be troubled when this young spring shall grow to a great wood!   (Endymion, V/2)

Lyly also makes ‘grammatical jokes’ which are reminiscent of Harvey’s Three Proper And Witty Familiar Letters (1580) –

TOPHAS. Then I am but three quarters of a noun substantive. But alas, Epi, to tell thee the truth, I am a noun adjective.


TOPHAS: Because I cannot stand without another ...


TOPHAS. Am I all ass; is there no wit in me? - Epi, prepare them to the slaughter.

(Endymion I/3)

Sir Tophas is clearly a foolish minor character in Lyly’s Endymion. The central character is the (not so heroic) hero, Endymion. A modification of the figure of the same name in Greek mythology.[15]


Diana and Endymion by Walter Crane (1883)


“Lyly has not so much used the ancient myth as the properties of the myth. He borrowed from it the names of two of his three chief characters. He borrowed the long sleep, and Cynthia’s kiss. Endymion is the wooer of Cynthia, who, whether goddess, moon, or queen, remains cold and distant.” (Edward S. Le Comte, Endymion in England, New York 1944.)

Even though the nobler side of Endymion’s being is in love with Cynthia, the epitome of purity and perfection, he is attracted by the sensual charms of Tellus.

ENDYMION. [II.1.40] Behold my sad tears, my deep sighs, my hollow eyes, my broken sleeps, my heavy countenance. Wouldst thou have me vowed only to thy beauty and consume every minute of time in thy service? Remember my solitary life, almost these seven years.[16] Whom have I entertained but mine own thoughts and thy virtues? What company have I used but contemplation? Whom have I wondered at but thee? … I am that Endymion, sweet Cynthia, that have carried my thoughts in equal balance with my actions, being always as free from imagining ill as enterprising: that Endymion whose eyes never esteemed anything fair but thy face, whose tongue termed nothing rare but thy virtues, and whose heart imagined nothing miraculous but thy government; yea, that Endymion who, divorcing himself from the amiableness of all ladies, the bravery of all courts, the company of all men, hath chosen in a solitary cell [17] to live only by feeding on thy favor, accounting in the world, but thyself, nothing excellent, nothing immortal. Thus mayest thou see every vein, sinew, muscle, and artery of my love, in which there is no flattery nor deceit, error nor art.

Tellus, whose name comes from the goddess of fertility (to whom the Romans sacrificed a pregnant cow each year), had the feeling that she stood in the shadow of Cynthia’s regal radiance. [18] Jealously, which she could verbalize in a euphuistic manner, boils within her breast.

TELLUS: Take heed Endymion, lest like the wrestler in Olympia that, striving to lift an impossible weight, catched an incurable strain, thou by fixing thy thoughts above thy
reach fall into a disease without all recure. But I see thou art now in love with Cynthia.

ENDYMION: No Tellus, thou knowest that the stately cedar, whose top reacheth unto the clouds, never boweth his head to the shrubs that grow in the valley; nor ivy, that climbeth
up by the elm can ever get hold of the beams of the sun. Cynthia I honor in all humility, whom none ought or dare adventure to love, whose affections are immortal and virtues infinite. Suffer me, therefore, to gaze on the moon,  at whom, were it not for thyself, I would die with wondering.      (Endymion, II/1)

First and foremost Cynthia is an allegoric representation of Queen Elizabeth. In the male hero who drifts as if in a trance from Cynthia to Tellus, we recognize the poetic Earl who fell so far from grace when he fathered an illegitimate child with one of Elizabeth’s ‘Gentlewomen of the Bedchamber’. Lyly’s Tellus, apparently representative for Anne Vavasour, the woman who caused Oxford so much trouble when she bore him a son- Tellus, unmoved by Endymion’s moonstruck avowals swears to take revenge. The cunning woman engages the services of a witch called Dipsas, who puts Endymion into a deep sleep. Nonetheless, Tellus receives her due punishment.

TELLUS: Timely, madam, crooks that tree that will be a cammock [crooked stick], and young it pricks that will be a thorn; and therefore he that began without care to settle his life, it is a sign without amendment he will end it.

CYNTHIA: Presumptuous girl, I will make thy tongue an example of unrecoverable displeasure. -- Corsites, carry her to the castle in the desert, there to remain and weave.

Cynthia entrusts Captain Corsites with the task of guarding Tellus, however he falls so deeply in love with her that he is prepared to convey Endymion into some obscure cave. When he attempts to do so, fairies pinch him and he falls into a deep magical slumber. - The figure of Captain Corsites is based on Sir Henry Lee (1533-1611), Elizabeth’s Champion and Master of the Armouries, who fell in love with Anne Vavasour shortly after she had given birth to Oxford’s illegitimate child. 

CORSITES: Fair Tellus, I perceive you rise with the lark, and to yourself sing with the nightingale.

TELLUS: My lord, I have no playfellow but fancy. Being barred of all company, I must question with myself and make my thoughts my friends.

CORSITES: I would you would account my thoughts also your friends, for they be such as are only busied in wondering at your beauty and wisdom, and some such as have esteemed
your fortune too hard, and divers of that kind that offer to set you free if you will set them free...

TELLUS: Well, Corsites, I will flatter myself and believe you. What would you do to enjoy my love?

CORSITES: Set all the ladies of the castle free and make you the pleasure of my life. More I cannot do; less I will not.

TELLUS: These be great words, and fit your calling, for captains must promise things impossible. But will you do one thing for all?

CORSITES: Anything, sweet Tellus, that am ready for all. 

(Endymion, IV/1)


Anne Vavasour, who was incarcerated in the Tower of London for the same three months as Oxford, may have been the in the custody of Sir Henry Lee, who had apartments there. Certainly she later became Lee’s mistress. – In the Ditchley Entertainment in 1592 Sir Henry Lee refers to a long sleep with which the Fairy Queen had punished him for not guarding the pictures left in his care. In the play Lee (alias the enchanted Knight) failed in his duty –


Servant, quoth she [the Fairy Queen], look upward and beware
Thou lend not any Lady once an eye;
For divers Ladies hither will repair,
Presuming that they can my charms untie,
Whose miss shall bring them to unconstancy:
  And happy art thou if thou have such heed,
  As in anothers harm thine own to read.

But lo, unhappy I was overtaken,
By fortune forced, a stranger lady’s thrall,
Whom when I saw, all former care forsaken,
To find her out I lost myself and all,
Through which negelct of duty ʼgan my fall:
  It is the property of wrong consenting
  To add unto the punishment lamenting.

With this the just revengeful Fairy Queen,
As one that had conceived Anger deep,
And therefore meant to execute her teen [wrath],
Resolved to cast me in a deadly sleep,
No other – could decorum keep: [19]
  For Justice sayth, that where the eye offended,
  Upon the eye the law should be extended.[20]


As Le Comte (1944) writes, “Only Cynthia can end what Cynthia began. A final clue is provided by Cynthia’s remark when she sees the sleeper” –

CYNTHIA. Behold Endymion. Alas, poor gentleman, hast thou spent thy youth in sleep, that once vowed all to my service? Hollow eyes? Grey hairs? Wrinkled cheeks? And decayed limbs? Is it destiny or deceit that hath bought this to pass? If the first, who could prevent thy wretched stars? If the latter, I would I might know thy cruel enemy. I favored thee, Endymion, for thy honor, thy virtues, thy affections; but to bring thy thoughts within the compass of thy fortunes, I have seemed strange, that I might have thee stayed.

Cynthia forgives Endymion and awakes him with chaste kiss from his enchanted slumber.

CYNTHIA: Well, let us to Endymion. [They approach the sleeping Endymion.] I will not be so stately, good Endymion, not to stoop to do thee good; and if thy liberty consist in a kiss from me, thou shalt have it. And although my mouth hath been heretofore as untouched as my thoughts, yet now to recover thy life (though to restore thy youth it be impossible), I will do that to Endymion which yet never mortal man could boast of heretofore, nor shall ever hope for hereafter. [She kisses him.]


In his book The Arte of English Poesie (1589) George Puttenham made a cryptic yet meaningful remark pertaining to this event which conveys important information to those who are capable of understanding it.

Thus much be said in defence of the Poetsʼ honour, to the end no noble and generous mind be discomforted in the study thereof, the rather for that worthy & honorable memorial of that noble woman twice French Queen, Lady Anne of Britain, wife first to king Charles the VIII. and after to Lewes the XII. who passing one day from her lodging toward the kingʼs side, saw in a gallery Maister Allaine Chartier the kingʼs Secretary, an excellent maker or Poet, leaning on a tableʼs end a sleep, & stooped down to kiss him, saying thus in all their hearings, we may not of Princely courtesy pass by and not honour with our kiss the mouth from whence so many sweet ditties & golden poems have issued. But me thinks at these words I hear some smilingly say, I would be loath to lack living of my own till the Prince gave me a maner of new Elm for my riming. And another to say I have read that the Lady Cynthia came once down out of her sky to kiss the fair young lad Endymion as he lay asleep: & many noble Queens that have bestowed kisses upon their Princesʼ paramours, but never upon any Poets.”

(Puttenham, The Arte of Poesie, 1589)

There was indeed an occurrence in the reality of courtly life which corresponds to “Cynthia’s” stage kiss. - In July 1581 the Queen restored the Earl’s freedom and as a token of reconciliation, she made him a present of “a hat, fashioned in the Dutch style, of black taffeta with band enbrodered with a shipe [reward] of pearl and gold.” [21]

When Endymion awakes from his deep sleep, Cynthia asks him to tell her about his dreams. He then goes on to describe a nightmare which is almost identical to the dream in the “Knight of the Tree of the Sun”.


Sweet Speech (1581)

Endymion, V/1 (1584)


Where-upon, he swore himself only to be the Knight of the Tree of the Sun, whose life should end before his loyaltie.

Thus cloyed with content, he fell into a sweet slumber, whose smiling countenance showed him void of all care. But his eyes were scarce closed when he seemed to see dychers undermining the Tree behind him, that because suspecting the Knight to give the diggers aid, might have punished him in her way. But failing of their pretence, and seeing every blowe they struck to light upon their own brains, they threatened him by violence, whom they could not match in virtue.

But he clasping the Tree, as the only Anchor of his trust, they could not so much as move him from his cause, whom they determined to martyr without choler.


ENDYMION. I beheld many wolves barking at thee, Cynthia, who, having ground their teeth to bite, did with striving bleed themselves to death. There might I see Ingratitude with an hundred eyes, gazing for benefits, and with a thousand teeth gnawing on the bowels wherein she was bred. Treachery stood all clothed in white, with a smiling countenance but both her hands bathed in blood. Envy, with a pale and meager face, whose body was so lean that one might tell all her bones, and whose garment was so tattered that it was easy to number every thread, stood shooting at stars. whose darts fell down again on her own face. There might I behold drones, or beetles, I know not how to term them, creeping under the wings of a princely eagle, who, being carried into her nest, sought there to suck that vein that would have killed the eagle. I mused that things so base should attempt a fact so barbarous or durst imagine a thing so bloody.


At this point Cynthia feels that Tellus has learned her lesson; showing not even the smallest remnant of anger, she releases her from “the castle” and couples her with Corsites.

CYNTHIA: Tellus, you know Endymion is vowed to a service from which death cannot remove him. Corsites casteth still a lovely look towards you. How say you: will you have your Corsites and so receive pardon for all that is past?

TELLUS: Madam, most willingly.

CYNTHIA: But I cannot tell whether Corsites be agreed.

CORSITES: Ay madam, more happy to enjoy Tellus than the monarchy of the world.

EUMENIDES: Why, she caused you to be pinched with fairies.

CORSITES: Ay, but her fairness hath pinched my heart more deeply.

CYNTHIA: Well, enjoy thy love. But what have you wrought in the castle, Tellus?

TELLUS: Only the picture of Endymion.

CYNTHIA: Then so much of Endymion as his picture cometh to, possess and play withal.

CORSITES: Ah, my sweet Tellus, my love shall be as thy beauty is: matchless.  

(Endymion, V.4.)


Both, Nicholas J. Halpin (1843) and Josephine W. Bennett (1942) suggested that the picture of Endimion which Tellus weaves in her imprisonment might be a poetical reference to Tellus (or Anne Anne Vavasour’s) child [22]. This means that Lyly’s comedy Endymion from the year 1584 is to be understood as the solemn attestation that Elizabeth had forgiven Oxford.

G. K. Hunter (John Lyly, The Humanist as Courtier, 1962) wants to brush aside the case of Oxford:

“Mrs Bennet supposes the ‘picture of Endimion’ which Tellus weaves in her imprisonment, and which she is allowed to keep at the end of the play (V/4) is the child born to Anne Vavasour. But Oxford denied paternity, and it would have been indiscret of Lyly to suggest that the child was his. Again, the play makes nothing of Anne Vavasour’s promiscuity; Tellus loves only Endimion; she answers Corsitesʼ love with deceit, and accepts him at the end only because Cynthia commands it. The play does not, in fact, come anywhere near a competent defence of Oxford, and this must make us doubtful that the play was ever intended for this purpose.”

But G. K. Hunter makes three serious mistakes: 1) Oxford never denied paternity; the child bore his name. 2) Anne Vavasour had never been promiscuous. Her only sin was to give birth to a child of Oxford. 3) The play was not written in 1587-88.

To conclude: When John Lyly, Oxfordʼs protégé, performed Endymion on Candlemas 1588 (four years after its onset), Cynthia could impossibly suppress the remembrance to Oxford’s offence, ban and courtly resurrection.



- ENDIMION, The Man in the Moone, Playd before the Queenes Maiestie at Greenewich on Candlemas Day at night, by the Chyldren of Paules AT LONDON, Printed by I. Charlewood, for the widdowe Broome. 1591. http://www.elizabethanauthors.org/endmod1.htm

- Josephine Waters Bennett, Oxford and Endimion, Publications of the Modern Language Association (PMLA), Vol. 57, (1942), pp. 354-69. 

- Edward S. Le Comte, Endymion in England: The Literary History of a Greek Myth. New York 1944. p. 78-84

- George K. Hunter, John Lyly, The Humanist as Courtier (1962)

- John Lyly, Endymion, edited by David Bevington (1996)



[1] JOHN LYLY. Translated by R. Warwick Bond, in The Complete Works of John Lyly, ed. by R. W. Bond, Vol. I, Oxford 1902, p. 13f.

[2] the well shaped Euphues. The ideal of a thoroughly and symmetrically developed personality is implicit in the title “Euphues”, which means literally “well shaped in growing.”

[3] Mark Anderson (2005) formulates the hypothesis that „Silexedra“ alludes to Oxford’s Fisher’s Folly. According to Barnabe Riche (The Second Tome of Travailes and adventures of Don Simonides, London 1584), Mount Silexedra was a place where Euphues could “muse … on his studies.” (Riche tranlated an Italian work - Gl’Inganni [The Deceived], by Nicolo Secchi, 1562 - into English, which had served as an inspirational source for Twelfth Night.

[4] the “Sweet Speech” which was read out by Oxford’s page… in the presence of Queen Elizabeth. Published in: “Axiochus. A most excellent dialogue, written in Greeke by Plato the phylosopher… Heereto is annexed a sweet speech or oration spoken at the tryumphe at White-hall before her Maiestie, by the page to the right noble Earle of Oxenforde. At London … 1592.” - See 7.2.7 Tournament, January 1581, Sweet Speech.

[5] punished him in her way. But failing of their pretence, and seeing every blowe. For the emendations see 7.2.7 Tournament, note 8.

[6] the woeful complaint of William Martin’s soldiers for leaving them behind him. Colonel Walter Morgan wrote to the Privy Council on 31 May, 1585:

Your lordships' letter of April 24 only coming to my hands on the 30th of the present, I hope you will excuse my innocent silence… Captain Martin, at his departure, carried away almost all the money he had received one or two days before for his men. If he were only guilty of this or like offences, I should make him repair to your honours, but being charged by the General States with false coining, through false dollars and the counterfeit stamp of Brabant found in his 'mall' at Bargues . . . it is not in my power to satisfy your honours' desire. (Calendar of State Papers, Foreign, 1584-85, p. 506.)

According to the above, the soldier’s “expropriation” will have been carried out before during the months of March and April of 1585.

[7] to raise the siege at Antwerp. The Siege of Antwerp took place from July 1584 until August 1585.

[8] whether Sir Francis Drake and Sir Richard Greenville go forward in their voyage. In spring 1585, Raleigh sent another colony to Roanoke Island. The expedition, commanded by Raleigh’s cousin, Sir Richard Grenville, sailed on April 9, 1585. Included in the group of ship captains and colonists were Philip Amadas [born 1565] and Simon Ferdinando of the expedition of the previous year.

[9] Mr Thomas Somerset hath given away all that he hath to the poor people, and is a priest in little Amadas ship in this voyage. A bad joke. Thomas Somerset (1529-1586) was an English Roman Catholic layman, kept imprisoned for long periods by Elizabeth. By 22 October 1585, suspected of complicity with Mary Queen of Scots, he was in the Tower on a charge of high treason.

[10] Bodl. MS. Tanner 169, fols. 69v-70; first printed by F. P. Wilson in The Modern Language Review XV (1920, p. 81 f.

[11] He hath not played the vice-master of Paul's … for naughts. “The children of Paul's” under the patronage of the Earl of Oxford and the direction of John Lyly, enjoyed a certain success in the early 1580s. In 1584, they had to leave the Blackfriar's theatre and it is safe to assume that they rehearsed (among other places) in “The Spittle” (Clerkenwell Priory). Elizabeth used the Priory buildings to house the offices of the Master of Revels from 1578–1607.

[12] sometime the fiddlestick of Oxford, now the very bauble of London. A refined formulation which could have been understood in two different ways. Harvey had said everything that he wanted to say without giving his opponents any possibilities to attack him for it.

[13] were best to please Pap-hatchet, and fee Euphues betimes. This underlines the fact that Lyly also wrote pamphlets as well as plays and novels. 

[14] and then is your credit quite undone forever and ever, such is the public reputation of their plays. The term “their plays” refers mainly to John Lyly’s use of two pen names: Pap Hatchet and Euphues. (See note 13). Furthermore, Harvey’s “undone forever and ever” may well be a reference to Endymion’s predecessor: the first version of Love’s Labour’s Lost which was apparently written in 1583. In LLL Gabriel Harvey is mocked as the “Braggart”. The same conclusion may also be drawn from the formulation: “Better anger an hundred other, than two such, that have the stage at commandment.” (See 3.1.9 Shakespeare, Loves labors lost.)

[15] A modification of the figure of the same name in Greek mythology. Endymion, the handsome son of Zeus and the Nymph Calyce, was lying asleep in a cave on Carian Mount Latmus one still night when Selene first saw him, lay down by his side, and gently kissed his closed eyes. Afterwards, some say, he returned to the same cave and fell into a dreamless sleep. This sleep, from which he has never yet awakened, came upon him either because Zeus suspected him of an intrigue with Hera; or because Selene found that she preferred gently kissing him. In any case, he has never grown a day older, and preserves the bloom of youth on his cheeks.

[16] Remember my solitary life, almost these seven years. Is the choice of “seven years” a mere coincidence or is it reasonable to assume that this is a reference to the seven years during which Edward de Vere was estranged from his wife? 

[17] hath chosen in a solitary cell. See John Lyly (1580): “Euphues is musing in the bottom of the Mountain Silexsedra”; Robert Greene (1587): “Euphues’ counsel ... sent from Silexedra, his melancholy cell”; Robert Greene (1589): “Euphues, in his melancholy cell at Silexedra”; Thomas Lodge (1590): “Euphues golden legacy: found after his death in his Cell at Silexedra”; Edmund Spenser (1591): “But that same gentle Spirit … Doth rather choose to sit in idle Cell”. See also note 3.

[18] Tellus, whose name comes from the goddess of fertility … had the feeling that she stood in the shadow of Cynthia’s regal radiance. In ancient Roman myth, Tellus Mater is a goddess of the earth. She is associated with Ceres in rituals pertaining to agricultural fertility. She also was involved in the ceremonies attending the birth of a child.

[19]  No other – could decorum keep. See George Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie (1589), iii. xxiv: “Our soveraign Lady (keeping alwaies the decorum of a Princely person) at her first comming to the crowne” etc.

[20] Upon the eye the law should be extended. Here again we see the term “deep sleep” as a metaphor for the banishment from court that a queen may impose on one of her courtiers. - Source: John Nichols, The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth, vol. III (1823), p. 201.

[21] a hat …of black taffeta with band enbrodered with a shipe of pearl and gold. Source: Janet Arnold, Lost from her Majesties Back, no. 324, London 1980.

Hilliard’s Portrait of an ‘Unknown man clasping a hand from the cloud’ (1588) shows a courtier wearing a black jacket which indicated that he is in mourning. His hat is decorated with perls and gold. The words “Attici amoris ergo” translate to “Because of true love.”

[22] a poetical reference to Tellus’ child. See Josephine Waters Bennett, Oxford and Endimion, Publications of the Modern Language Association (PMLA), Vol. 57, (1942), pp. 354-69. – In Oberon’s Vision (1843) N. J. Halpin already stated:

Tellus, in her painful seclusion at the castle in the desert, had wrought a “picture of Endymion” and, on her marriage with Corsites, “so much of Endymion as that picture cometh to” she is allowed to “possess and play withal.” Alas ! who is not reminded by this circumstance of the imagery and the very language of the deserted Dido : —

Saltem si qua mihi de te suscepta fuisset
Ante fugam soboles ; si quis mihi parvulus aula
Luderet Aeneas, qui te tamen ore referret,
Non equidem omnino capta ac deserta viderer.

[‘At least, if there had been any offspring begotten to me from you before your departure, if there were any little Aeneas playing in the palace for me, who at least would restore you in his face, indeed I would not seem altogether captivated and deserted’.]

(Virgil, Aeneid IV. 327-330)