Fascinating Lyly

Arguably the most remarkable of all Lyly’s plays, Galatea has exhibited an extraordinary capacity to speak to successive generations of play-goers and critics. Though initially designed to address the concerns of a sixteenth-century monarch poised between the need to provide the throne with an heir and the advantages of an unmarried state, the play commended itself to Victorian readers, not for its delicate handling of politically sensitive subject matter, but for its successful capturing of, “that dancing firefly, the English girl.” Mid twentieth-century critics, by contrast, were dazzled by the “fugue-like” complexity of its structure and the ambivalence of its thought, while for more recent scholars its handling of same-sex relationships has firmly located it within contemporary critical concerns. Its influence on the work of Shakespeare, most notably on As You Like It and Love’s Labour’s Lost, has been explored by numerous writers, while the fact that it was written for a juvenile troupe has endowed it with a particular interest for theatre historians engaged in the kind of research in which Perry Mills and Edward’s Boys have played such a significant part.

For an audience in the spring of 2014, however, it may be the fear of catastrophic flooding hanging over the inhabitants of the play-world that resonates more strongly than any other aspect of the work – and the predicament of a group of people faced with an agonizing choice between making a personal sacrifice, or falling victim to an elemental force.

 

Leah Scragg