The Healthy Body: Desire and Sustenance in John Lyly's Love's Metamorphosis
Mark Dooley
University of Teesside

Dooley, Mark. "The Healthy Body: Desire and Sustenance in John Lyly's Love's Metamorphosis ." Early Modern Literary Studies 6.2 (September, 2000): 3.1-19<URL:

  1. John Lyly's play Love's Metamorphosis is described on its title page as "A Witty and Courtly Pastoral" and was first performed around 1590 by the Children of Paul's. It is one of a series of plays by Lyly which explore the tension between erotic desire and chastity but, unlike the earlier plays which, it is argued by critics, celebrate chastity as a form of praise for the cult of virginity promoted by Elizabeth I, this play critiques virginity and promotes an active sexuality as chastity. [1] The central concern of Love's Metamorphosis is the relation between the corporeal body and its material and emotional/social requirements; a relation which structures the entire narrative of the play.

  2. Jonathan Sawday argues that "Anatomy: the very word was a modish phrase, a guarantee of a text's modernity." [2] Lyly was one of the first to link the use of this term with what he was trying to do with literature when he established the style for which he is most famous in Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit (1587). Love's Metamorphosis develops the links between the emerging medical discourse of anatomy and the use of texts to explore or anatomize particular concepts. In its exploration of the corporeal body the play insists on the integral relationship between love, food and sex for the maintenance of a healthy body and a healthy body politic. Lyly is concerned with developing the idea of an active body (both male and female) which is bound up in an economy of pleasure and which represents a new understanding of the role of the body in the formation of a social identity. This social and interactive body is then placed alongside virginity as a critique of it. In this play, Lyly effects a metamorphosis of several bodies from a closed, virginal, autoerotic and sterile state to one which is open to possibilities, fruitful, a site of pleasure and exchange; a social body, which is replicated at both levels of the plot. I do not intend here to explore in any detail the allegorical significance of Elizabeth I to this play though the decidedly individual figure of the Virgin Queen is clearly central to the critique of virginity put forward here. [3]

  3. There are two plots which make up the narrative of Love's Metamorphosis. The first is the story of Ramis, Montanus and Silvestris; three foresters who fall in love with Nisa, Celia and Niobe who are nymphs of the harvest goddess Ceres and who hate love, mock love, and thinks herself above love, respectively. The nymphs are metamorphosed by Cupid at the request of the foresters and are finally made to agree to love the men who love them. The second plot is concerned with Erisicthon and his daughter, Protea. Theirs is a story which Lyly takes directly from Ovid's Metamorphoses but, characteristically, alters it to make a significant point.

  4. Ceres's nymphs, Nisa, Celia and Niobe, all resist the temptations of the flesh to maintain their virginal state and are fully aware of the effort which is involved in this project. When hanging up her garland in honour of Ceres, Celia makes clear that her body is purely for display and links the vegetation used in the making of her tribute to her own body:

    Mine all of cypress leaves, which are broadest and beautifullest, yet beareth the least fruit; for beauty maketh the brightest show, being the slightest substance, and I am content to wither before I be worn, and to deprive myself of that which so many desire. [4]

    Celia's use of terms such as "least fruit" and "content to wither" in the representation of her body stresses barrenness and decay. Her body is to be admired from afar and is not to be, in any sense, active. She is a spectacle to be looked at and nothing more. Indeed, Niobe recognizes that she "care[s] for nothing but a glass -- that is, a flatterer" (I,ii 47) thus emphasizing Celia's narcissistic tendencies and vanitas. The myth of Narcissus would hardly have been unfamiliar to Lyly's educated audience and Celia clearly shares the mythological figure's autoerotic drives. Looking into his 'glass' Ovid's Narcissus finally recognizes the impossibility of loving oneself in any full sense:

    Alas! I am myself the boy I see. I know it: my own reflection does not deceive me. I am on fire with love for my own self...My very plenty makes me poor. How I wish I could separate myself from my body. [5]

    Celia strives to achieve a separation of her 'self' from her body as she denies her own physicality and concentrates on cultivating her beauty for its own sake. This denial of her material self results in a literal separation of her body from other bodies in the world. Her autoerotic drives are impossible to fulfill as she is only ever able to see herself as an image in a looking glass and her sterile and ultimately damaging love for her own sense of 'self' is challenged by events in the play. By contrast Ramis, one of the foresters, recognizes that he is subject to the desires of his body and to the pain which results from unrequited love:

    We have bodies, Silvestris, and human bodies, which in their own natures being much more wretched than beasts, do much more miserably than beasts pursue their own ruins. And since it will ask longer labour and study to subdue the powers of our blood to the rule of the soul, than to satisfy them with the fruition of our loves, let us be constant in the world's errors, and seek our own torments. (I.i.14-20)

  5. The role of the blood in encouraging love was well recognized in the early modern period. Hoeniger shows how, in certain discourses available to explain the function performed by blood in the early modern period, it was understood that "if the liver produces substantial red blood, it fills the body with abundant nutriment, vitality, and warmth and thus strengthens the warm desires, including the sexual drive." [6] The foresters are subject to the powers of their blood and cannot suppress their sexual desires whilst Celia is represented as cold, lacking nutriment and she is therefore "content to wither." When the nymphs continue to refuse to have anything to do with the foresters and scorn their love, Ramis again uses the image of the body to show how true love should be integrally related to the material body; it is not something which can merely be performed. He tells Nisa, "I come not to offer violence, but that which is inviolable...Lust followeth not my love as shadows do bodies, but truth is woven into my love as veins into bodies." (III.i. 4-6) The distinction that Silvestris makes between lust and love is one which the play seeks to promote. True love, it seems, has a nourishing effect; it performs a similar function to the veins which carry enriching blood around the body. The nymphs, however, reject all forms of love which causes the foresters to appeal to Cupid. Montanus says, "To thee, divine Cupid, I present not a bleeding but a bloodless heart, dried only with sorrow, and worn with faithful service." (IV.i.16-18) Montanus's bloodless heart signifies the lack of the sustenance that he feels should be the reward of his true love and, as a result of this lack, he argues that he has been made sick. Once more, Lyly's play represents contemporary understandings of the effect that such passions could have on the health of the body:

    Fear and grief and other painful passions, contracting the heart as they do, thereby bring about dangerous effects. They cause melancholy humor to invade the heart, which "extinguisheth the good spirits" and hinders the process of purifying the blood. Consequently the entire body becomes dry and cold, and without adequate heat and moisture becomes subject to diseases and "withers away." [7]

  6. Celia's refusal to love Montanus, then, threatens to turn him into the same bloodless creature that she is. In order to make themselves well again, as true lovers, the foresters must either persuade the nymphs to love them (at which they are wholly unsuccessful), gain control of their own hearts (which they have already said is almost impossible) or, perversely, gain revenge on the nymphs. After convincing Cupid that their loves are unspotted and that the only reason the nymphs will not love them is due to "Women's reasons: they would not because they would not" (IV.i.78) the foresters persuade Cupid to carry out acts of revenge upon them. He agrees to metamorphose each of them. Silvestris asks that Nisa should be

    turned to that bird that liveth only by air and dieth if she touch the earth, because it is constant: the bird of paradise, Cupid, that drawing in her bowels nothing but air, she may know her heart fed on nothing but fickleness. (IV.i.89-92)

    His revenge relies for its logic upon Nisa's own rejection of earthly concerns and with her perceived obsession with her own beauty which is seen to be sterile; she is in love with herself. In her own claims to be above the desires which drive her admirer, Nisa provides the image of the bird of paradise which was believed never to need to land or feed. For her punishment, then, she is subjected to exactly the separation from the material world which she imagines she already occupies. The punishment is designed to almost literally bring her down to earth by turning her into a bird which can never touch the earth which symbolizes the material world.

  7. The bodily metamorphoses to which the nymphs are subjected by Cupid are designed to effect a metamorphosis of the mind also. The individual nymphs are made to recognize that they must take part in a wider exchange of bodies which takes place in the sexual economy of the play and which is very clearly patriarchally organized by Cupid. The perception of the function of their bodies must be altered as function is clearly more significant here than the mere idea of the body. The body's activity is stressed above the mind's contemplation of it as a closed space in some way distinct from other bodies in the world. The nymphs, in their rejection of the foresters, are paralleled with the Siren figure who also appears "with a glass in her hand" (IV.ii.44) and who threatens the destruction of men with her beauty. The mirror image signifies a real threat to social relations in this play as the body looks only upon itself and does not make links with the bodies which surround it. It is also, not insignificantly, an image which is linked only to the female characters in the play!

  8. Lyly's editor, Bond, argues that "Both [Gallathea and Love's Metamorphosis] celebrate the triumph of love over a false sense of chastity which declines and mocks at marriage". [8] More recently, Mike Pincombe has shown how "the title Love's Metamorphosis refers not only to the transformations of the nymphs...but also to this final transmutation of a clearly leaden union between recalcitrant nymphs and libidinous foresters into a golden one of perfect accord". [9]

  9. The distinction between virginity for its own sake and chastity, which is not necessarily the same, provides the key to understanding the metamorphoses that the nymphs are forced to undergo. In Love's Metamorphosis virginity for its own sake is likened to a state of famine; it is the reflection of a self-obsessed personality, narcissistic in its pleasures, autoerotic. It is, ultimately, self consuming and is seen to be as much an intellectual and political state as it is a state of body; hence the continual contemplation of it. The famine/sustenance opposition which structures the play, then, is sexualized. Sexual famine, in the form of virginity or social isolation, leads to a lack of sustenance for the body which links food and desire in a direct relationship. A healthy body requires both food and love to sustain itself and it is this lesson which the nymphs are forced to learn. However, sexual or not, love must be 'chaste.' As Cupid asserts:

    Why, Ceres, do you think that lust followeth love? Ceres, lovers are chaste. For what is love, divine love, but the quintessence of chastity, and affections binding by heavenly motions, that cannot be undone by earthly means, and must not be controlled by any man? (II.i.122-126)

    Ceres learns, by the end of the play, that chastity is required to sustain the body politic but her last words recognize that chastity is not synonymous with virginity. As a sign of "Lyly's concern with the larger issue of the basic human need to satisfy natural appetites" [10] he has Ceres make the final link between food and love in the play:

    I to my harvest, whose corn is now come out of the blade into the ear. And let all this amorous troupe to the temple of Venus, there to consummate what Cupid hath commanded. (V.iv.171-173)

    As the corn ripens and promises another fruitful harvest, so the foresters and their nymphs go off to consummate their love and, presumably, to eventually produce a harvest of their own. The image with which we are left at the end of the play is much more of a conventional pastoral image of plenty which promises a golden age to come though, as with all golden ages, this one has yet to actually arrive.

  10. The link between food, sex and the body in Love's Metamorphosis is replicated at both levels of the plot and is further explored through the character and role of Erisicthon. Peter Stallybrass makes the point that: "it is, indeed, striking how frequently within Renaissance discourses of the body the gradient of displacement is from the 'sexual'/genital to the digestive/excretory." [11] The representation of Erisicthon follows exactly this gradient in order to effect a transformation of his body. His very first words in the play alert us to his preoccupation with sex as he asks the nymphs, who are singing and dancing in praise of Ceres, "Is the modesty of virgins turned to wantonness?" (I.ii.58-9) This is a clearly ludicrous proposition as the nymphs have already made very clear their attitude towards love. However, Erisicthon is unable to imagine the women as anything other than sexually obsessed and proceeds to accuse them. As Mike Pincombe observes in relation to these accusations:

    The nymphs are 'Impudent giglots', who, he implies, are trying to seduce him...By referring to them as 'Thessalides', Erisicthon is accusing the nymphs of being temptresses, like the witches of Thessaly - or like Medea. He is in the grips, then, of violent puritanical frenzy: innocent virgins, indeed, virgins who are remarkable for their lack of interest in love, are recreated as femmes fatales. [12]

  11. In an effort to deny that these nymphs have any power over what is clearly a very anxious masculine identity and body, Erisicthon resorts to violence in order to assert his own power. It is at this point that the link between the healthy body and the healthy body politic becomes clear as both are threatened by Erisichthon's actions. He strikes out at the tree upon which the nymphs hang their garlands and, significantly, the tree begins to "[pour] out blood" (I.ii.86). The tree is actually Fidelia, another of Ceres' nymphs, who was metamorphosed in order to escape a "savage satyr" of whom she now fears "that feeding his sensual appetite upon lust, seeketh now to quench it with blood" (I.ii.95-6). Despite the metamorphosis which her body has undergone, Fidelia figures Erisichthon's attack as a kind of rape. The virgin's body, she argues, is always under threat from the violence of men. As if to confirm the truth of her statement, when he is asked by Niobe, "canst thou hear this without grief ?" Erisicthon cuts down the tree with his axe and replies "Yea, and double your griefs with my blows" (I.ii.131-2). The significance of this exchange is that Erisicthon redoubles his phallic efforts in a violent onslaught against the body of Fidelia and in so doing effects a disruption of the body politic. As Frank Whigham has argued, "Elizabethan political and social sins once portrayed with armies and rebels and maps were often recast in terms of sexual deviation and bodily excess." [13] Erisichthon's violation of Fidelia's body signifies his separation from the social world and when he is warned of the consequences of this he is scornful. Ceres is the symbol of authority and it is significant also that she is goddess of the harvest and fecundity. In challenging her authority through his attack on her nymphs, Erisicthon separates himself not only from the order which she represents in the play but also from the sustenance which that provides; both material and political. He asserts an ability to stand alone and outside of a social existence: "there is none that Erisichthon careth for but Erisichthon. Let Ceres, the lady of your harvest, revenge what she will, nay, when she dares, and tell her this, that I am Erisichthon" (I.ii.137-40). His emphasis on Ceres as lady of your harvest, coupled with his assertion of his individuality, defines Erisicthon as distinct from the cycle of food production and consumption and from any relationship of caring or dependency. This is the crux of the play; it is exactly the relationship between food, sex and the body which it seeks to examine and emphasize as wholly necessary. Erisichthon's compulsion to extinguish life is seen not only as a violation of sexual and social order but also as a violation of his own sense of self. His body cannot exist outside of the cycle of food production and consumption or beyond social relationships which may well rely upon some form of dependence and he must be made to recognize this. Erisichthon's desire to separate himself from the material world, then, becomes figured in the play as a kind of sickness. As Jonathan Sawday has argued, the early modern period sees the emergence of a certain disciplining of the sick body which is seen as a sign of a sick body politic: "The defeat of sickness and the establishment of political order were two sides of the same coin. A state in rebellion was a body in sickness. The diseased body was an image of rebellion. These images were not merely metaphors, but statements of a self-evident truth which structured the individual's experience of illness and death." [14]

  12. Erisichthon, then, is in a state of rebellion but the way in which Ceres quells his resistance relies entirely upon the logic of his own desire to exist outside the material world. She shows him that as a man with a body he is subject to both physical and spiritual needs. His display of aggressive masculine power has no place within the system of exchange which this play promotes. As her revenge, Ceres sends Tirtena, another of her nymphs, to Famine whom she instructs to "gnaw on the bowels of Erisichthon, that his hunger may be as unquenchable as his fury." (II.i.13-14) In her discussion of Coriolanus Janet Adelman argues that the phallic aggression shown by the protagonist and his desire to be sui generis or author of himself relies on a separation of Coriolanus from Roman society and, more importantly to her argument, from his mother. Insofar as this separation occurs Coriolanus is seen to live on anger, "Anger's my meat," but as both he and Erisichthon discover, the human body requires rather more sustenance than anger can supply. [15]

  13. Ceres's revenge on Erisichthon shows exactly what the logic of barrenness, fruitlessness, isolation and lack of sustenance can lead to. The description of Famine owes a great deal to the emerging "culture of dissection," a concern with anatomy with which Lyly was clearly familiar. She can be usefully compared with what Sawday terms, "The emblem of this culture [who] was the reductive deity of division Anatomia, whose attributes were the mirror and the knife." [16] Here we are offered a picture of the interior of a body; a picture which is designed to place emphasis on its physical workings in order to better understand its requirements. It is, Sawday argues, "this very impossibility of gazing within our own bodies which makes the sight of the interior of other bodies so compelling." [17] Famine, then, is the alter ego of Ceres, the 'dark side' of the forces which subject the human body and stress its material needs:

    She lieth gaping, and swalloweth nought but air; her face pale and so lean, that as easily thou mayest through the very skin behold the bone, as in a glass thy shadow. Her hair long, black and shaggy: her eyes sunk so far into her head that she looketh out of the nape of her neck; her lips white and rough; her teeth hollow and red with rustiness; her skin so thin that thou mayest as lively make an anatomy of her body as she were cut with chirurgeons; her maw like a dry bladder; her heart swollen big with wind; and all her bowels like snakes working in her body. (II.i.18-27)

    This is a compelling image indeed! Famine lives totally alone, as Erisichthon wishes to do, as to come near her is to risk being struck with hunger. Ceres asks her nymphs, apparently innocently, "is not this revenge apt for so great an injury?" and, of course, there could be no more fitting revenge for Ceres, goddess of the harvest, whose authority has been so challenged, than to show Erisichthon what his challenge actually means. Famine is the logical end-point of Erisichthon's desires to be totally outside society and no longer reliant on Ceres's harvest. For some time his hunger seems likely to overwhelm him as he simply cannot get enough food into his body to keep him going; he occupies a liminal space on the edge of life and death, but the play works to encourage the sustaining of the body rather than its destruction and food and sex both have their part to play in this.

  14. In Ovid's Metamorphoses, which is Lyly's source for the myth of Erisichthon, he sells his daughter, Protea, in order to fund his vast appetite. Lyly follows the basic plot in his play as Protea is, indeed, sold to feed Erisichthon's gluttony. In the Ovidian version Protea is enabled to change shape by Neptune to whom she appeals as "You who robbed me of my maidenhood, and have your reward." [18] She has been raped by the sea god but remains a very minor figure in the myth and we see little of her. In Lyly's play, however, Protea is something quite different and plays a crucial part. The relationship between her and Neptune has been a sexual one and, indeed, he "conquered [her] maidenhead" but there is no hint of rape here; she has been willingly seduced. She asks Neptune to "be as ready to hear my passions as I was to believe thine" (III.ii.24). Protea's sexual liaison with Neptune is well known to her intended husband, Petulius, who simply comments, "I know, Protea, that hard iron, falling into fire, waxeth soft; and then the tender heart of a virgin, being in love, must needs melt. For what should a fair, young, and witty lady answer to the sweet enticements of love, but molle meum levibus cor est violabile telit?" (my heart is soft and easily pierced by the shaft) (V.ii.6-10).

  15. Protea's sexual experience is a radical departure for Renaissance drama and has been largely overlooked. Its crucial importance lies in the recognition in this play that the human body requires more than just material sustenance; it has spiritual requirements also which are symbolized here by a need to love. Even very recent feminist criticism has repeated uncritically the received idea that early modern culture required women to be virgins for them to establish a social identity as wives. Theodora Jankowski, discussing Lyly's Gallathea, argues that "Without this necessary premarital condition [virginity], young women cannot be married nor - more importantly - can their fathers achieve the (socially and economically) desirable alliances that result from marriage". [19] Here, however, it is entirely because Protea has had a sexual relationship with Neptune that she is able to call on him to help her to save her father's life. It is exactly the mutability of her body which enables Protea to be sold over and over again to buy food for the insatiable Erisichthon. In the sense that he sells her body in order to sustain his own there are clear suggestions of prostitution but it is made quite clear that Protea manages to evade ever having to let her 'husbands' make use of her body as she is always able to change shape and escape them. This shape-shifting gives her a real element of choice and she is able to avoid the men she does not love in order to make a love match at the end of the play with Petulius. Protea's sexualized body is recognized here as a healthy body; it is central to the message of the play and, indeed, Erisichthon will need to become more like his daughter if he is to be saved. As Mike Pincombe has argued, "[Protea] is not treated as a whore, or a fallen woman, or in any other terms than sympathetic approval. Protea is an original: there is no-one like her in the drama before Lyly." [20] Jeff Shulman also terms Protea "the first fully human heroine of the Elizabethan stage". [21] Both critics recognize that in this play sex within a loving relationship (though not necessarily marriage) is seen to be a pre-requisite of human happiness and a crucial element in the sustenance of the healthy body.

  16. The importance of Protea to Lyly's play is stressed when we compare the ultimate success of her tactics in Love's Metamorphosis with the gory conclusion of Ovid's myth where Erisichthon is not saved: "when in the violence of his malady he had consumed all that was offered and had merely aggravated his grievous sickness, the wretch began to bite and gnaw at his own limbs, and fed his body by eating it away." [22] . The image of the body consuming itself is one which was familiar to early modern theatergoers. John of Gaunt's prophecy in Richard II features the "insatiate cormorant,/Consuming means, soon preys upon itself." (II.I.38-9) and Sawday discusses the ways in which the figure of the cannibal was seen to reside "deep within us" and how emerging scientific discourses of the period "collapsed exterior and interior...into a carnifacatory process in which the body was devourer of itself." [23] This image, however, is one which runs counter to the sustaining of the body and the establishment of a healthy body politic with which this play is concerned. It is for this reason that Erisichthon is made subject to the ravages of Famine and made acutely aware of his absolute need not just for food, but for the love of his daughter and is ultimately saved through this disciplinary process. Protea becomes the mother figure who feeds and nurtures Erisichthon through his famine; he is in this sense made subject to almost every woman in the play, his worst fears come true but he has to learn to accept his place in a wider social world. It is through food, which sustains his material body, and the love of his daughter, which promises to fulfill his spiritual needs, that he achieves a healthy body once more and which establishes a healthy body politic. As Janet Adelman argues in her discussion of Coriolanus, "The metaphoric process suggests the psychological fact that is, I think, at the center of the play: the taking in of food is the primary acknowledgement of one's dependence on the world, and as such, it is the primary token of one's vulnerability." [24]

  17. Erisichthon is made to recognize his dependence on the world; his body cannot exist anywhere except within it. As Ceres tries to starve him to death Cupid intercedes through Protea to save Erisichthon. Cupid is an important figure here as he represents the non-material elements required for a healthy body politic; the bonds between people. He argues, "Thou, Ceres, dost but govern the guts of men; I the hearts. Thou seekest to starve Erisichthon with thy ministered famine, whom his daughter shall preserve by my virtue, love." (V.i.8-10). Here Cupid mocks Ceres for attending to the purely material requirements of the body in her attempt to re-establish order. In his work on medicine in the early modern period, David Hoeniger has shown how platonic and galenic understandings of the body continued to hold sway. In the platonic tradition the body was seen to be hierarchical in its organization and the appetites were "secured in the liver below the midriff, like a wild beast, so that 'it might continue to feed at its stall, but be as far as possible from the seat of deliberation, and cause the least possible noise and disturbance, so leaving the highest part of us to deliberate quietly about the welfare of each and all.'" [25] Robert Burton, in his Anatomy of Melancholy (1621), discussed the liver as "a hidden governor" along with the "Heart as King" and the Brain as "Privy Counsellor, and Chancellor". In Erisichthon's case it would seem that an imbalance has occurred and his appetites have taken over entirely "with disharmony and injustice as the inevitable consequence." [26] Cupid's critique of Ceres's revenge, then, is that she is only compounding the problem of Erisichthon's already imbalanced body and appetites by causing him to starve. Instead, she should recognize that the body requires more than just food and that the body politic relies upon harmonious social relations for its health. As Michael Bristol puts it, "The belly cannot be in charge...the lower bodily stratum continues to assert itself against the imperatives of vertical order and control." [27] With all its energies consumed by the desire for food, the body is unable to consider its wider relation to the world and the subject needs to reflect upon his/her place in the world in order to re-establish order. For Cupid, that order is reliant upon love which offers the most healthy set of relations for a subject to occupy, puts the emphasis on a 'higher' plane than the merely material and thus has a civilizing effect. As Peter Saccio has argued, "Cupid occupies the commanding position [in terms of the staging of the play]...and the action reflects his power by presenting an anatomy of love." [28]

  18. The different approaches taken by Ceres and Cupid to the resolution of Erisichthon's sickness can be accounted for by the range of discourses available to understand the "complex relations between corporeal process and dispositional inclination." [29] Eventually a compromise is reached by the two gods when it is fully understood that there are implications for the health of the body when it is sustained without love. Food is the basic pre-requisite for life but, for Lyly, loving relationships (whether sexual or not) between individuals are crucial. As Montanus tells Celia earlier in the play, "To be amiable and not to love is like a painted lady: to have colours and no life." (III.i.58-9) At the end of the play it seems that Erisichthon's 'treatment' has been successful and, not only is his own body restored to health, but the social body is once again harmonious. He promises to "learn, if it be not too late, again to love" (V.iv.175-6) and, though he accuses the foresters of being "unkind, that in all my maladies would not visit me" (176-7). he also promises that "I will not take it unkindly, since all ends in kindness" (180-1). Relationships that Erisichthon denied at the beginning of the play: as father to Protea; friend to the foresters; worshipper of the gods, have all been re-established and promise to rehabilitate the body politic. As Schoenfeldt points out, "The critical role the stomach plays in the life of the organism makes it a central medium for therapies that alter body and mind." [30] Yet it is Cupid who offers what can be seen as the central message of the play when he says "sine Cerere et Baccho friget Venus" (without Ceres and Bacchus (bread and wine), Venus (love) is cold) (V.i.46). Material sustenance of the body does not, in itself, constitute life, and love, by itself, offers little by way of nourishment. When food and love are combined a healthy body and a healthy mind result and give rise not just to sustenance but to growth and fruitfulness.

  19. Love's Metamorphosis offers a sustained examination of the material and emotional requirements that were perceived to be necessary for a healthy mind and body and thus for a healthy, well-ordered body politic in the early modern period. It is a play which recognizes the need to discipline the body both in terms of its most basic drives, represented by food, and also its social relations which must encompass some level of interdependence and, in the case of sexual relations, remain chaste. Its concerns are not unique, they are widespread in drama of the early modern period, as Frank Whigham has observed: "The combination of the alimentary focus and the fascination with deep-seated improper hungers chimes harmonically with a repeated and widely distributed emphasis in these plays on obscure interiorites, often involving sex, violence, humiliation, abjection, and death - in short, perhaps, some portmanteau of fundamental desires." [31] The corpus of knowledge which is developing through research into early modern discourses of the body is still at a relatively embryonic stage. Dramatic texts are just one of the sources which can be anatomized in the process of deepening our understanding of these discourses and some of the less canonical plays of the period, as I hope to have suggested, can offer rich pickings indeed for the hungry scholar.


I would like to thank Tracey Hill, Nick Cox and Mike Pincombe for their help and support in the writing of this chapter.

1. See Philippa Berry, Of Chastity and Power: Elizabethan Literature and the Unmarried Queen (Routledge, 1989), G.K. Hunter, John Lyly: The Humanist as Courtier (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962) and E. Caldwell, "John Lyly's Gallathea: A New Rhetoric of Love for the Virgin Queen," English Literary Renaissance17 (1987).

2. Jonathan Sawday. The Body Emblazoned: Dissection and the Human Body in Renaissance Culture (Routledge, 1995), 44.

3. For discussion of this, see Michael Pincombe, The Plays of John Lyly: Eros and Eliza (Manchester: Manchester UP, 1996).

4. John Lyly, Love's Metamorphosis, in The Complete Works of John Lyly, ed. R. Warwick Bond (Oxford: The Clarendon P, 1902), (I.ii 10-14). All references to the play are to the third volume of the 1902 standard edition though I have followed the modernized spellings provided by Carter A. Daniel in his 1988 edition of the plays.

5. Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. Mary M. Innes (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1955), 86.

6. David F. Hoeniger, Medicine and Shakespeare in the English Renaissance (Newark: U of Delaware P, 1992), 165.

7. Hoeniger, Medicine and Shakespeare, 169.

8. The Complete Works, ed. Bond, III, 294.

9. Pincombe, Plays, 150.

10. Jeff Shulman, "Ovidian Myth in Lyly's Courtship Comedies," Studies in English Literature 25 (1985), 257.

11. Peter Stallybrass, "Reading the Body and the Jacobean Theatre of Consumption: The Revenger's Tragedy," in David Scott Kastan and Peter Stallybrass, eds, Staging the Renaissance: Reinterpretations of Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama (London: Routledge, 1991), 211.

12. Pincombe, Plays, 152.

13. Frank Whigham, "Reading Social Conflict in the Alimentary Tract: More on the Body in Renaissance Drama," ELH 55 (1988), 333.

14. Sawday, Body Emblazoned, 36.

15. Janet Adelman. "'Anger's my meat': Feeding, Dependency, and Aggression in Coriolanus," in John Drakakis, ed., Shakespearean Tragedy (Harlow, Essex: Longman, 1992), 356.

16. Sawday, Body Emblazoned, 3.

17. Sawday, Body Emblazoned, 8.

18. Ovid, Metamorphoses, 201.

19. Theodora Jankowski, "'Where there can be no cause of affection': redefining virgins, their desires, and their pleasures in John Lyly's Gallathea," in Valerie Traub, Lindsay Kaplan, and Dympna Callaghan, eds, Feminist Readings of Early Modern Culture: Emerging Subjects (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996), 253.

20. Pincombe, Plays, 156.

21. Shulman, "Ovidian Myth," 265.

22. Ovid, Metamorphoses, 202.

23. Sawday, Body Emblazoned, 24.

24. Adelman, "Anger's my meat," 356.

25. Hoeniger, Medicine and Shakespeare, 131-2.

26. Hoeniger, Medicine and Shakespeare, 139.

27. Michael Bristol, "Lenten Butchery: Legitimization Crisis in Coriolanus," in Graham Holderness, Bryan Loughrey and Andrew Murphy, eds, Shakespeare: The Roman Plays (Harlow, Essex: Longman, 1996), 138.

28. Peter Saccio, The Court Comedies of John Lyly: A Study in Allegorical Dramaturgy (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1969), 163.

29. , 243.

30. , 250.

31. Whigham, "Reading Social Conflict," 341.


Works Cited

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 2000-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).