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John Lyly

Born: 1554
Birthplace: Kent, England
Died: 18-Nov-1606
Location of death: London, England
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, St. Bartholomew the Less Churchyard, London, England

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Playwright, Author

Nationality: England
Executive summary: Euphues

English writer, the famous author of Euphues, born in Kent in 1553 or 1554. At the age of sixteen, he became a student of Magdalen College, Oxford, where in due time he proceeded to his bachelor's and master's degrees (1573 and 1575), and from there we find him in 1574 applying to Lord Burghley "for the queen's letters to Magdalen College to admit him fellow." The fellowship, however, was not granted, and Lyly shortly after left the university. He began his literary career in 1578 by the composition of Euphues, or the Anatomy of Wit. In the same year the author was incorporated M.A. at Cambridge, and possibly saw his hopes of court advancement dashed by the appointment in July of Edmund Tylney to the office of master of the revels, a post at which, as he reminds the queen some years later, he had all along been encouraged to "aim his courses." Euphues and his England appeared in 1580, and, like the first part of the book, won immediate popularity.

For a time Lyly was the most successful and fashionable of English writers. He was hailed as the author of "a new English", as a "raffineur de l'Anglois"; and, as Edmund Blount, the editor of his plays, tells us in 1632, "that beauty in court which could not parley Euphuism was as little regarded as she which now there speaks not French." After the publication of Euphues, however, Lyly threw himself almost exclusively into play-writing. Eight plays by him were probably acted before the queen by the children of the Chapel Royal and the children of St. Paul's between the years 1584 and 1589. Their brisk lively dialogue, classical color and frequent allusions to persons and events of the day maintained that popularity with the court which Euphues had won.

In 1589 Lyly published a tract in the Martin Marprelate controversy, called Pappe with an hatchet, alias a figge for my Godsonne; Or Crack me this nut; Or a Countrie Cuffe, etc. After 1590 his works steadily declined in influence and reputation; other stars were in possession of the horizon; and so far as we know he died poor and neglected in the early part of King James I's reign. He was buried in London at St. Bartholomew the Less on 20 November 1606.

As a dramatist, Lyly's dialogue is a great advance in rapidity and resource upon anything which had gone before it; it represents an important step in English dramatic art. His nimbleness, and the wit which struggles with his pedantry, found their full development in the dialogue of Twelfth Night and Much Ado about Nothing, just as "Marlowe's mighty line" led up to and was eclipsed by the majesty and music of Shakespearian passion. Nor must it be forgotten that his classical and mythological plots were charged with interest to those courtly hearers who saw in allusions to Queen Elizabeth and Philip II of Spain. As a matter of fact his reputation and popularity as a playwright were considerable.

It was not, however, as a dramatist, but as the author of Euphues, that Lyly made most mark upon the Elizabethan world. His plays amused the court circle, but the "new English" of his novel threatened to permanently change the course of English style. The plot of Euphues is extremely simple, but the style is steeped in classical learning. The general tone of sententious moralizing may be traced to Plutarch, from whom the treatise on education, "Euphues and his Ephoebus", and the innumerable illustrations based upon a kind of pseudo natural history are largely taken from Pliny, while the mythology is that of Virgil and Ovid.

It was not the matter of Euphues, however, so much as the style which made it famous. The source of Lyly's peculiar style has been traced to the influence of Don Antonio de Guevara, whose Libro Aureo de Marco Aurelio (1529) -- a sort of historical romance based upon Plutarch and upon Marcus Aurelius's Meditations. The sententious and antithetical style of the Dial for Princes is substantially that of Euphues, though Guevara on the whole handles it better than his imitator, and has many passages of real force and dignity. The general plan of the two books is also much the same. In both the biography is merely a peg on which to hang moral disquisitions and treatises.

His principal followers in it were Robert Greene, Lodge and Thomas Nashe, his principal opponent Sir Philip Sidney; Sidney's Arcadia in fact supplanted Euphues, and the Euphuistic taste proper may be said to have died out about 1590 after a reign of some twelve years. According to Landmann, Shakespeare's Love's Labours Lost is a caricature of the Italianate and pedantic fashions of the day, not of the peculiar style of Euphues. The only certain allusion in Shakespeare to the characteristics of Lyly's famous book is to be found in Henry IV, where Falstaff, playing the part of the king, says to Prince Hal, "Harry, I do not only marvel where thou spendest thy time, but also how thou art accompanied; for, though the camomile the more it is trodden on the faster it grows, yet youth the more it is wasted the sooner it wears." Here the pompous antithesis is evidently meant to caricature the peculiar Euphuistic sentence of court parlance.

Wife: (two sons, one daughter)

    University: BA, Magdalen College, Oxford University (1573)
    University: MA, Magdalen College, Oxford University (1575)

    UK Member of Parliament 1589 Hindon
    UK Member of Parliament 1593 Aylesbury
    UK Member of Parliament 1597 Appleby
    UK Member of Parliament 1601 Aylesbury
    Risk Factors: Smoking

Author of books:
Euphues, or the Anatomy of Wit (1579)
Euphues and his England (1580)

Wrote plays:
Woman in the Moone (c. 1583)
Alexander and Campaspe (1584)
Sappho and Phao (1584)
Endymion (1591)
Midas (1592)
Gallathea (1592)
Mother Bombie (1594)
Love's Metamorphosis (1601)


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