Much more important is the comedy of Lyly. Examples of direct borrowing have often been cited, but so thin and pale do Lyly's figures look beside the greater master's creations that we are apt to sweep aside the evidence of this debt as fundamentally unimportant. Shakespeare had, however, clearly made a careful study of Lyly's work, and we must allow for the probability that he saw at least as much in it as we do. Now, Lyly's plays are essentially masques; that is to say, they are representations of actual incidents of the time at which they were performed, translated by the language of allegory and symbolism into a more radiant plane of existence. Read More about Drama The characters, for example, in Endymion are not fully worked out—merely designated—because the audience knew that Endymion was Leicester, and Cynthia Elizabeth, and so on. It was not the business of the poet to create, but to flood the given facts with a golden light of poetry which should show the entire fairer connections. The masque is, in fact, the direct antithesis of satire. Now, the great comedy of all other literatures belongs to the satirical family—it exaggerates whatever is ugly in human nature in order to make it ridiculous—and Ben Jonson's comedy shows that without Lyly and Shakespeare English comedy would probably have followed the same lines. The scene of Shakespeare's comedy is laid in a golden world, and the suggestion of that ethereal atmosphere comes from Lyly. Lyly failed because he does not at the bottom of his heart believe in his golden world; Shakespeare's task was to give it truth. For example, we may feel that the creation of Viola's twin to satisfy Olivia is a little improbable/ but it is at least better than Lyly's device of actually transforming a girl into a man to remedy a similar mistake of “Fancy." Still, it is from Lyly that we must start to understand Shakespeare’s comedy at its heart, and The Tempest, designed as it seems to be, in its present form, as a more or less personal statement, shows everywhere memories of Lyly's work.
2. The Cambridge History of English Literature