The Contemplative Cosmos: John Lyly's Endymion and the Shape of Early Modern Space
Studies in Philology
"The Contemplative Cosmos: John Lyly's Endymion and the Shape of Early Modern Space," Studies in Philology 113.1
Written at a time when the nature of place was reimagined, John Lyly’s Endymion draws upon Neoplatonic theories of desire to present space as a domain continually reshaped by contemplative thought. In his commentary on Plato’s Symposium, Marsilio Ficino argues that desire can traverse the cosmos in an ecstatic flight toward the Beautiful and the Good, bringing the contemplative soul closer to its object of devotion. Lyly’s play represents this negotiation of earthly and heavenly beauty in Endymion’s simultaneous attraction to Tellus and Cynthia, an attraction that locates Endymion somewhere between the earth and the moon. Lyly, in turn, maps the structure of contemplative desire—namely, its uneven distribution across lover and beloved—onto the early modern court, transforming political space into a sphere shaped by devotion. Together, Ficino and Lyly reveal the way that contemplative thought extends itself across bodies and spaces in early modern culture.