3.5.2. Lyly, Endymion - Love's Labour's Lost


It cannot escape our notice that Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost shares a group of characters with Lyly’s Endymion (written 1584). Shakespeare’s comical figure Don Adriano de Armado (“The Braggart”) with his page Moth (“The Boy”) correspond to Lyly’s muddled knight; Sir Tophas and his page Epiton. The young girl Jacquenetta, who enchants the pretentious Spaniard, is replaced by Dipsas, in Endymion, who enchants Sir Tophas to the point that he is completely in love with her.

On closer scrutiny of these parallels (which we could almost call plagiarism) it is clear that both Shakespeare and Lyly are ridiculing their self enamoured contemporary, the scholar and rhetorician Gabriel Harvey (1545-1630) who provoked Oxford in 1580 with a mocking poem “Speculum Tuscanismi”.

We now know that the 1594 version of Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost was a revised version [1] of an older work which must have been written during the 1580s.

Although a consensus exists that there must have been an earlier version of Loves labors lost, opinion is split over the year, or years, to which it should be dated.

We should make a note of the following observations:

-    The figures that appear in the play in the French Court (Navarre, Berowne, Longavill, Dumaine) date from the the 1570s and 1580s. (Henri de Navarre would become Henri Quatre, Roi de France in 1589.) Henri de Navarre, Seigneur de Biron and the Duke of Mayenne (in French: duc de Mayenne, comte du Maine) lived together under the same roof until Henri escaped the Louvre on the 5th February 1576 – in other words, at the court of Henri III and his brother, the Duke of Alençon (in French: duc d’Alençon = ‘Monsieur’). Following the Edict of Beaulieu on the 4th May 1576, which was issued by Catherine de Medici and her son Alençon, who was welcoming of Protestants, the brothers the Duke of Guise and the Duke of Mayenne distanced themselves from Roi Henri III and assumed leadership of the Catholic League. Seigneur de Biron, who was appointed Marshall of France in 1577, fought against the Duke of Mayenne in the Battle of Arques (September 1589) and the Battle of Ivry (March 1590). - From a historical viewpoint, the friendship group including ‘Navarre’, ‘Berowne’ and ‘Dumaine’ only existed prior to 1576. In 1589, at the latest, following the murder of Henri III and the belligerent dispute between Henri IV and Mayenne, the idea of conceptualising a play in which Navarre, Berowne and Dumaine are to be seen strolling around a park in each other's company would have been completely out of the question.

-    The project for a platonic, literary Académie du Palais (which provided the model for ‘Ferdinand’ de Navarre’s arts academy) was operated between 1576-1585 by Roi Henri III. - Aside from her French way of dress, ‘The Princesse of France’ (originally ‘The Queene’) in Loves labors lost greatly resembles Queen Elizabeth. The topic of the comedy - the futile attempts of the lords of creation to woo any of the infallible ladies present - is at first an aside to Elizabeth’s “French marriage”, before then moving to centre stage. Put differently, the aristocratic comedy served as a humorous vindication of Elizabeth's not so decorous behaviour. (See 3.1. The players.)

-  Shakespeare’s “Braggart”(= Don Adriano de Armado) imitates Harvey’s martial rhetoric. In his work Gratulationes Valdinenses (1578) Harvey pretended to be enthusiastically showering praise on Oxford. Two years later Harvey’s scorn lost some of its camouflage when he attacked Oxford in his “Speculum Tuscanismi” (1580).

It is possible to date Love’s Labour’s Lost if we consider Elizabeth’s feelings. (In 1584 consideration of Elizabeth’s feeling was strongly advisable, not just for reasons of chivalry but also for the purpose of self preservation.) Up until January 1583 she considered herself to be betrothed to Duke Alençon. After the “shelving” of their engagement the Duke would have been fair game for humorous jibes. However, when he died in 1584, Elizabeth went into mourning as if she had lost a husband and this hectic, fidgety, funny little man was no longer fair game for the entertainment industry; once again he was to be treated with respectful reverence.

 That is why we can safely say that the first Love’s Labour’s Lost must have been written and premiered at some time between January 1583 and June 1584. 

(See also 3.1.9 William Shakespeare, Loves labors lost.)

Find below the most obvious of the parallels to be found in Love’s Labour’s Lost and Endymion. Unfortunately, the original version of Love’s Labour’s Lost no longer exists so we have to compare the revised version from 1594 with Lyly’s Endymion (1584).


Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost

John Lyly, Endymion





 ARMADO. I will hereupon confess I am in love. And as it is base for a soldier to love, so am I in love with a base wench. If drawing my sword against the humour of affection would deliver me from the reprobate thought of it, I would take Desire prisoner, and ransom him to any French courtier for a new-devis'd curtsy. I think scorn to sigh; methinks I should out-swear Cupid. Comfort me, boy; what great men have been in love?








BEROWNE.                              Dan Cupid;

    Regent of Love-rhymes, Lord of folded arms,

    Th' anointed sovereign of sighs and groans,

    Liege of all loiterers and malcontents



EPITON: Who is that?

TOPHAS: Dipsas.

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.[2] It worketh in my head like new wine, so as I must hoop my sconce with iron lest my head break, and so I bewray my brains; but I pray thee, first discover me in all parts, that I may be like a lover, and then will I sigh and die. Take my gun, and give me a gown. Cedant arma togae.

EPITON: [Helping Sir Tophas to disarm.] Here.

TOPHAS: Take my sword and shield. and give me beard-brush and scissors. Bella gerant alii; tu, Pari, semper ama.


[Enter Sir Tophas and Epiton.]

TOPHAS: Epi, love hath jostled my liberty from the wall and taken the upper hand of my reason.

EPITON: Let me then trip up the heels of your affection and thrust your good will into the gutter.

TOPHAS: No, Epi, love is a lord of misrule, and keepeth Christmas in my corpse.



  NATHANIEL. Videsne quis venit?

  HOLOFERNES. Video, et gaudeo.

  ARMADO. [To MOTH] Chirrah!

  HOLOFERNES. Quare 'chirrah,' not 'sirrah'?

  ARMADO. Men of peace, well encount'red.

  HOLOFERNES. Most military sir, salutation.

  MOTH. [Aside to COSTARD] They have been at a great feast of languages and stol'n the scraps.

  COSTARD. O, they have liv'd long on the alms-basket of words. I marvel thy master hath not eaten thee for a word, for thou are not so long by the head as honorificabilitudinitatibus; thou art easier swallowed than a flap-dragon.

  MOTH. Peace! the peal begins.

  ARMADO. [To HOLOFERNES] Monsieur, are you not lett'red?

  MOTH. Yes, yes; he teaches boys the hornbook. What is a, b, spelt backward with the horn on his head?

  HOLOFERNES. Ba, pueritia, with a horn added.

  MOTH. Ba, most silly sheep with a horn. You hear his learning.

  HOLOFERNES. Quis, quis, thou consonant?

  MOTH. The third of the five vowels, if You repeat them; or the fifth, if I.

  HOLOFERNES. I will repeat them: a, e, I-

  MOTH. The sheep; the other two concludes it: o, U.

  ARMADO. Now, by the salt wave of the Mediterraneum, a sweet touch, a quick venue of wit- snip, snap, quick and home. It rejoiceth my intellect. True wit!


TOPHAS: Commonly my words wound.

SAMIAS: What then do your blows?

TOPHAS: Not only wound, but also confound.




EPITON: Here sir.

TOPHAS: Unrig me. Heighho!

EPITON: What's that?

TOPHAS: An interjection, whereof some are of mourning, as eho, yah.

EPITON: I understand you not.

TOPHAS: Thou seest me


TOPHAS: Thou hearst me.


TOPHAS: Thou feelest me.


TOPHAS: And not understandst me?


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.





ARMADO. Sir, the King is a noble gentleman, and my familiar … but let that pass; for I must tell thee it will please his Grace, by the world, sometime to lean upon my poor shoulder, and with his royal finger thus dally with my excrement, with my mustachio.



TOPHAS: But Epi, I pray thee feel on my chin; something pricketh me. What dost thou feel or see?

EPITON: [Examining his chin.] There are three or four little hairs.

TOPHAS: I pray thee call it my beard.[3] How shall I be troubled when this young spring shall grow to a great wood!

EPITON: O, sir, your chin is but a quiller [young bird] yet. You will be most majestical when it is full fledge. But I marvel that you love Dipsas, that old crone.



ARMADO [for HECTOR]. Peace!

    The armipotent Mars, of lances the almighty,

    Gave Hector a gift, the heir of Ilion;

    A man so breathed that certain he would fight ye,

    From morn till night out of his pavilion.

    I am that flower-

  DUMAIN. That mint.

  LONGAVILLE. That columbine.

  ARMADO. Sweet Lord Longaville, rein thy tongue…

  [for HECTOR]  This Hector far surmounted Hannibal-

  COSTARD. The party is gone, fellow Hector, she is gone; she is two months on her way.

  ARMADO. What meanest thou?

  COSTARD. Faith, unless you play the honest Troyan, the poor wench is cast away. She's quick; the child brags in her belly already; 'tis yours.

  ARMADO. Dost thou infamonize me among potentates? Thou shalt die.



ARMADO. Fetch hither the swain; he must carry me a letter.

  MOTH. A message well sympathiz'd- a horse to be ambassador for an ass.

  ARMADO. Ha, ha, what sayest thou?

  MOTH. Marry, sir, you must send the ass upon the horse, for he is very slow-gaited. But I go.

  ARMADO. The way is but short; away.

  MOTH. As swift as lead, sir.

  ARMADO. The meaning, pretty ingenious?

    Is not lead a metal heavy, dull, and slow?

  MOTH. Minime, honest master; or rather, master, no.

  ARMADO. I say lead is slow.

  MOTH. You are too swift, sir, to say so: Is that lead slow which is fir'd from a gun?

  ARMADO. Sweet smoke of rhetoric!

    He reputes me a cannon; and the bullet, that's he; I shoot thee at the swain.

  MOTH. Thump, then, and I flee.



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. [He shows his gear and struts about, oblivious to their talk.]

SAMIAS: O wonderful war! [Aside.] Dares, didst thou ever hear such a dolt?

DARES: [Aside.] All the better. We shall have good sport hereafter if we can get leisure.

SAMIAS: [Aside.] Leisure! I will rather lose my master's service then his company. Look how he struts. [To Sir Tophas.] But what is this; call you it your sword?

TOPHAS: No, it is my scimitar, which I, by construction often studying to be compendious, call my smiter.

DARES: What -- are you also learned, sir?

TOPHAS: Learned? I am all Mars and Ars.[4]

SAMIAS: Nay, you are all mass and ass.

TOPHAS: Mock you me? You shall both suffer; yet with such weapons as you shall make choice of the weapon wherewith you shall perish. Am I all a mass or lump; is there no proportion in me? Am I all ass; is there no wit in me?  [5]-- Epi, prepare them to the slaughter.

SAMIAS: I pray sir, hear us speak. We call you 'mass', which your learning doth well understand is all 'man', for mas, maris, is a man. Then 'as', as you know, is a weight; and we for your virtues account you a weight.

TOPHAS: The Latin hath saved your lives, the which a world of silver could not have ransomed. I understand you and pardon you.


There are more parallels between the two works: The similarity between Tellus, the worldly character who darkened Cynthia’s light and Rosaline, the black-eyed beauty of whom her admirer Biron said that she shone brighter than the Princess of France - “no face is fair that is not full so black” (LLL IV/3) - in spite of the fact that she had a mocking manner about her.

The attempts at courtship that the four Frenchmen make in Love’s Labour’s Lost, whereby they lose track of exactly which girl it is that each of them are trying to win over, is just as unsuccessful as Endymion’s two timing relationships with Tellus and Cynthia in Lyly’s Endymion, The Man in the Moone. In both plays the confused, dazzled behaviour of men is compared to the women’s aloof mastery of the situation.  

Shake-speare’s comedy was probably performed at Elizabeth’s court at the beginning of 1584, Lyly’s play will have been presented to the public either at the end of 1584 or the beginning of 1585. See Jack Roberts’ ‘Ironical Letter’ to Sir Roger Williams, March-April 1585. - 3.4.1 Lyly, Endymion.) John Lyly was Oxford’s secretary for both day to day routine matters and for literary activities. It is hardly likely the genius Oxford (=Shake-speare) would have adopted a group of characters from his employee and therefore, it is safe to assume that Love’s Labour’s Lost preceded Endymion.

There is another matter which is worthy of our consideration: It is highly unlikely, for a number of reasons, that Lyly wrote the songs for his comedies. The character of the songs points to them having been written by Oxford. It is quite refreshing to think that Oxford contributed the songs to Endymion out of generosity toward his friend and employee.

“The well-known lyrics which are to be found in Lyly's plays provide an interesting problem. They are the only poems by him which have come down to us. None of them were printed in the quarto editions of the plays, and they were not published until Edward Blount brought out the first collected edition called Sixe Court Comedies in 1632- that is to say, twenty-six and twenty-eight years after the deaths of Lyly and Oxford respectively. If Lyly had written them why did he refrain from publishing them during his lifetime? They would surely have helped rather than have hindered his sales. Personally I think he did not publish them for the simple reason that they were not his to publish. They are universally admitted to be of the highest standard; and I suggest that the author was Lyly's employer, who, as Webbe said in 1586, ‘in the rare devices of poetry may challenge to himself the title of the best among the rest.’” (B. M. Ward, The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford 1550-1604, London 1928. p. 276) 



1. Here snores Tophas. Endymion III/3

DARES: Whom loveth this amorous knight?

EPITON: Dipsas.

SAMIAS: That ugly creature? Why, she is a fool, a scold, fat, without fashion, and quite without favor.

EPITON: Tush, you be simple. My master hath a good marriage.

DARES: Good? As how?

EPITON: Why, in marrying Dipsas, he shall have every day twelve dishes of meat to his dinner, though there be none but Dipsas with him. Four of flesh, four of fish, four of fruit.

SAMIAS: As how, Epi?

EPITON: For flesh, these: woodcock, goose, bittern, and rail.

DARES: Indeed, he shall not miss if Dipsas be there.

EPITON: For fish, these: crab, carp, lump and pouting.

SAMIAS: Excellent! For, of my word, she is both crabbish, lumpish and carping.

EPITON: For fruit these: fritters, medlars[6], heart-i-chokes, and lady-longings. Thus you see he shall fare like a king, though he be but a beggar.

DARES: Well, Epi, dine thou with him, for I had rather fast than see her face. But see, thy master is asleep. Let us have a song to wake this amorous knight.

EPITON: Agreed.

SAMIAS: Content.


Here snores Tophas,
That amorous ass,
Who loves Dipsas,
With face so sweet.
Nose and chin meet.

All Three:

At sight of her each fury skips
And flings into her lap their whips.


Holla, holla in his ear.


The witch sure thrust her fingers there.


Cramp him, or wring the fool by th' nose.


Or clap some burning flax to his toes.


What music's best to wake him?


Bow-wow. Let bandogs[7] shake him.


Let adders hiss in's ear.


Else earwigs wriggle there.


No, let him batten; when his tongue
Once goes, a cat is not worse strung.

All Three:

But if he ope nor mouth nor eyes,
He may in time sleep himself wise.


2. Stand! who goes there? Endymion IV/2


Stand! who goes there?

We charge you, appear

Fore our Constable here.

In the name of the Man in the Moon

To us billmen relate,

Why you stagger so late,

And how you come drunk so soon?


What are ye scabs?


The Watch.

This the Constable.


A patch.


Knock'em down unless they all stand.

If any run away,

Tis the old Watchmans play,

To reach him a bill of his hand[8].


O Gentlemen hold,

Your gowns freeze with cold,

And your rotten teeth dance in your head;


Wine, nothing shall cost ye.


Nor huge fires to roast ye.


Then soberly let us be led.


Come my brown bills[9], we'l roar

Bounce loud at tavern door,


And i'th' morning steal all to bed.


3. Pinch him, pinch him, black and blueEndymion, IV/3   (1585-88) 


Pinch him, pinch him, black and blue[10].
Saucy mortals must not view
What the Queen of Stars is doing,
Nor pry into our Fairy wooing.


Pinch him blue


And pinch him black.


Let him not lack
Sharp nails to pinch him blue and red,
Till sleep has rocked his addle-head.


For the trespass he hath done,
Spots o'er all his flesh shall run.
Kiss Endymion, kiss his eyes;
Then to our midnight hay-de-guise.



[1] a revised version. To the question of revision see Love's Labours Lost: The Cambridge Dover Wilson Shakespeare (Cambridge 1923; 2nd edition 1962), p. 111-16; p. 122.

[2] my accustomed courage. A reference to Harvey’s blustering martial rhetoric in the Gratulationes Valdinenses (1578) whereby he encouraged Oxford to go to war against Juan d’Austria: “Now is need of swords! Steel must be sharpened! Everywhere men talk of camps, everywhere of dire arms!”

[3] I pray thee call it my beard. In Strange Newes (1593) Harvey was picked apart by Thomas Nashe: “So it is that a good gown and a well pruned pair of mustachios, having studied sixteen year to make thirteen ill English hexameters.”

[4] I am all Mars and Ars. See Gabriel Harvey’s ‘Apostrophe’ to the Earl of Oxford (Gratulationes Valdinenses, 1578):

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: who wouldn't swear you Achilles reborn? Up, great Earl, you must feel that hope of courage. It befits a man to keep the horrid arms of Mars busy even in peace... And I warn you to be awake; you, with Mars and Mercury propitious, may combine the merits of the camp and city. (The Gratulationes Valdinenses of Gabriel Harvey, ed. by Thomas Hugh Jameson, 1938.) 

[5] Am I all ass; is there no wit in me?  In 1580 Gabriel Harvey wrote Three Proper And Witty Familiar Letters. Therein are concluded the mocking verses against Oxford. (See 3.1.2 Harvey, Three proper and wittie familiar letters.)


[6] medlars. medlar: (1) small brown fruit, similar to the apple but soft when ripe. (2) 'prostitute' in slang sense. – See As You Like It (III/2):

  TOUCHSTONE. Truly, the tree yields bad fruit.
  ROSALIND. I'll graff it with you, and then I shall graff it with a
    medlar. Then it will be the earliest fruit i' th' country; for
    you'll be rotten ere you be half ripe, and that's the right
    virtue of the medlar.

[7] Vgl. Shakespeare, The Tempest I/2:

ARIEL. Hark, hark! / The watch dogs bark : Bow-wow.

[8] a bill of his hand. 1. An obsolete military weapon used chiefly by constables of the watch; varying in form from a simple concave blade with a long wooden handle, to a kind of concave axe with a spike at the back and its shaft terminating in a spear-head; a halberd. - 2. A formal document containing a petition to a person in authority; a written petition. A written statement of a case; a pleading by the plaintiff.

[9] bill. weapon, long pole with axe and pike on one end (vgl. Anm. 9).

Vgl. Much Ado about Nothing III/3:

  2. WATCHMAN. We will rather sleep than talk. We know what belongs to a watch.
  DOGBERRY. Why, you speak like an ancient and most quiet watchman, for I cannot see how sleeping should offend. Only have a care that your bills be not stol'n. Well, you are to call at all the alehouses and bid those that are drunk get them to bed.
  2. WATCHMAN. How if they will not?
  DOGBERRY. Why then, let them alone till they are sober. If they make you not then the better answer, You may say they are not the men you took them for.
  2. WATCHMAN. Well, sir.

[10] Pinch him, pinch him, black and blue. Vgl. Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor (V/5):

    Fie on sinful fantasy!
    Fie on lust and luxury!
    Lust is but a bloody fire,
    Kindled with unchaste desire,
    Fed in heart, whose flames aspire,
    As thoughts do blow them, higher and higher.
    Pinch him, fairies, mutually;
    Pinch him for his villainy;
    Pinch him and burn him and turn him about,
    Till candles and star-light and moonshine be out.