Gallathea is a play written by John Lyly, and was first recorded in 1588. With a variety of characters ranging from cunning shepherds to clueless dawdlers to vengeful gods, it contains something for everyone: there’s romance, there’s fun, there’s magic.
Two loving fathers disguise their young daughters Gallathea and Phyllida as boys and send them into the forest to avoid sacrificing them to Neptune, who, in return for not destroying the country, demands a sacrifice of the most beautiful virgin every five years. In the forest, the confused and “unhappy boy[s]” first run into one another and then into the goddess Diana and her Nymphs. The latter are on a deer hunt and decide to take the strange humans on as their hounds.
Another god has chosen the woods for his hunting ground: Cupid. Spurned by one of the Nymphs, he vows to show them the invincibility of love and himself as its agent. Soon, all three Nymphs begin to see Gallathea and Phyllida with very different eyes.
Meanwhile, three brothers and a Mariner have shipwrecked nearby. After demonstrating their utter lack of thirst for knowledge (or willingness to work hard for it), they decide to split up and try to get rich on their own before meeting again in one year. Rafe, the eldest, soon encounters an Alchemist’s apprentice and is charmed by his tales of unimaginable riches. After clever persuasion, the apprentice switches places with Rafe, who is left to work for the charlatan.
In a completely different part of the forest, the Nymphs struggle with their newfound feelings. They can “neither describe them nor bear them”, especially since following Diana means forsaking any kind of romantic love. Gallathea and Phyllida however, discover each other’s secret but love each other all the more for it and disappear in “the grove”.
Rafe, who still hasn’t made any gold with his new master, gets into an argument with him and quits his service, only to run into an Astronomer. Yet again, Rafe is completely charmed and goes off to learn all about the stars and their language.
Diana, who knows everything that is going on in her forest, is furious at her Nymphs’ behaviour. She suspects “an unknown Nymph that straggleth around” the woods. When the Nymphs capture him and he turns out to be Cupid, son of her nemesis Venus, she decides to keep him prisoner and punish him for his shenanigans.
In the village, the Augur reminds everyone, and especially the guilt-ridden fathers, of the immediate danger. Some virgin will have to be sacrificed. The fathers argue and try to blame one another, before rushing off to find a scapegoat.
After reappearing from the bushes, Gallathea and Phyllida declare their irrevocable love for one another and worry about the future of the poor substitute sacrifice. Cupid is being tortured by Diana and her Nymphs still defiantly maintains that love is the greatest thing of all. Rafe is reunited with his brother Robin, who has not been any luckier in finding fame and fortune. They decide to seek their third brother, Dick, who seems to be plotting their deaths to get the family mill to himself.
Neptune, who has been watching this whole time, is less than satisfied with the ersatz-sacrifice of Hebe, a poor girl from the village who first curses the custom, then everybody else and finally pledges herself to Diana, infinitely infuriating Neptune. He is about to destroy the forest and all its inhabitants when Diana and her now out-of-love Nymphs arrive in the nick of time. A battle seems unavoidable when the goddess Venus enters the scene in search for her son Cupid. Neptune, who cannot resist her charms, vows to “release the sacrifice of virgins” forever, in return for Cupid’s freedom. The goddesses agree, more or less grudgingly, and mother and son are reunited.
In search of their daughters, the two fathers enter the scene and are scrutinised by Neptune. Gallathea and Phyllida appear, the disguise is lifted but they maintain that they will never love anyone but each other. In varying degrees of bewilderment, the present gods and men turn to Venus, goddess of love, for advice. She suggests to turn one of the girls into a boy to ensure heteronormativity. “Whose lot it shall be” however, will only be revealed at the wedding altar. The three brothers, who reappear united, are hired on the spot as wedding singers.
Gallathea and Phyllida, now married (it is unclear in the original script which of them – or whether any of them – has been turned into a man), give a passionate speech in favour of love, which is the greatest force of all and conquers everything.
In May 2017, Gallathea, MTT’s first public production hit the stage at Bremen’s Schnürschuh Theater. In three sold-out performances, cast and crew celebrated John Lyly’s powerful message about love and identity.