'Between You and Her No Comparison': Witches, Healers, and Elizabeth I in John Lyly's Endymion

  • Natalia Khomenko York University


Writing his play Endymion as a panegyric to Elizabeth I, John Lyly was grappling with the problem which the queen, as a woman in the position of power, presented for the natural order. Drawing on the contemporary witchcraft debate, Lyly argues that women cannot exert influence on the world around them and the so-called witches are as impotent as the rest of womankind. Cynthia, the woman healer and the representation of Elizabeth, is the one exception. Unique in her authority, she cannot serve as a model for emulation; rather, her function is to regulate the behaviour of other women in the play. However, even this powerful female ruler is confined by the requirements of her singular, idealized position and threatened with transition into the category of a witch – the category characterized not by malice but by impotence.