English, Department of


Date of this Version

April 1972


Published in Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 12, No. 2, Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama. (Spring, 1972), pp. 243-258. Copyright 1972 William Marsh Rice University. Used by permission.


John Lyly's Midas is structured in terms of traditional allegorizations of the Ovidian myth that represent Midas as an avaricious and ignorant tyrant. Lyly is thus concerned with a theme popular in the public theater, but he treats it in allegorical manner distinctive in its focus on theme rather than character or action. The play first portrays Midas's mistaken choice of a private end, the accumulation of wealth for its own sake and as a means of financing lechery and aggression, then suggests the difficulties this causes in the governing of his kingdom. The episode in which Midas judges the singing contest of Pan and Apollo is not unrelated; rather it contributes to the thematic development by depicting allegorically the ignorance of the divine order which caused Midas's tyranny. In the last act the repentant king submits to the divine order in a scene of Lyly's invention that underscores the allegorical theme.

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