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Literary Stepping Stone from Middle Ages to Elizabethan

We only have a guess to which year, 1553 or the next, or which part of that Island England, John Lyly was born, but records of some accuracy begin with his matriculation at Magdelen College at Oxford in the spring of 1569. This was followed by a bachelor's there in 1573 and a master's in another two years. After joining the faculty at Cambridge, he became its Master of Arts in 1579. The year just before being the publication of his most famous piece, Euphues, the Anatomy of Will, which was so well received his sequel followed in 1580, Euphues and his England. This piece which though somewhat old-fashioned, still has universality, and is considered the prototype novel. The relation of Euphues and Lyly's use of euphuismistic style is no coincidence, but the strict formatted style became dated, and the object of later humorous derision. Sentences were forced into balance, and there was an obsession with Classic and Folklore references (Shakespeare still continued this tradition albeit on a reduced scale). Here is the subtitle and first paragraph of this work:


      MUSING with myself, being idle, how I might be well employed, friend Philautus, I could find nothing either more fit to continue our friendship, or of greater force to dissolve our folly, than to write a remedy fo that which many judge past cure; for love, Philautus, with the which I have been so tormented that I have lost my time, thou so troubled that thou has forgot reason, both so mangled with repulse, inveigled by deceit, and almost murdered by disdain, that I can neither remember our miseries without grief, nor redress our mishaps without groans. How wantonly, yea, and how willingly have we abused our golden time and misspent our gotten treasure! How curious were we to please our lady, how careless to displease our Lord! How devout in serving our goddess, how desperate in forgetting our God! Ah, my Philautus, if the wasting of our money might not dehort us, yet the wounding of our minds should deter us; if reason might nothing persuade us to wisdom, yet shame should provoke us to wit. If Lucilla2 read this trifle, she will straight proclaim Euphues for a traitor, and, seeing me turn my tippet, will either shut me out for a wrangler, or cast me off for a wiredrawer3 ; either convince me of malice in bewraying their sleights, or condemn me of mischief in arming young men against fleeing minions. And what then? Though Curio be as hot as a toast, yet Euphues is as cold as a clock; though he be a cock of the game, yet Euphues is content to be craven and cry creek; though Curio be old huddle, and twang "ipse, he", yet Euphues had rather shrink in the wetting than waste in the wearing. I know Curio to be steel to the back, standard-bearer in Venus' camp, sworn to the crew true to the crown, knight marshal to Cupid, and heir apparent to his kingdom. But by that time that he hath eaten but one bushel of salt with Lucilla, he shall taste ten quarters of sorrow in his love; then shall he find for every pint of honey a gallon of gall, for every dram of pleasure and ounce of pain, for every inch of mirth an ell of moan. And yet, Philautus, if there be any man in despair to obtain his purpose, or so obstinate in his opinion that, having lost his freedom by folly, would also lose his life for love, let him repair hither, and he shall reap such profit as will either quench his flames or assuage his fury; either cause him to renounce his lady as most pernicious, or redeem his liberty as most precious. Come therefore, to me, all ye lovers that have been deceived by fancy, the glass of pestilence, or deluded by women, the gate to perdition; be as earnest to seek a medecine as you were eager to run into a mischief; the earth bringeth forth as well endive to delight the people as hemlock to endanger the patient; as well the rose to distill as the nettle to sting; as well the bee to give honey as the spider to yield poison.

1Sailor's compass or guide
2Philautus' fiancee, Lucilla, fell in love with his now estranged friend Euphues; the two men became friends again when she went off and married Curio.


His years at Campbridge allowed him to write the transitional comedies like Eudimion, Sapho and Phao, Campaspe, and Gallathea. He hid his social allegorical commentary behind the Classical Pastoral style, and as a matter of fact he was an office holder at the Revel Office in 1588 until 1604. Though he was a member of Parliament from 1589 to 1601 he was severely despondent to the point of cynicism over not getting Mastership of the Revels after several tries.

This writer who died in 1606 made the new form of prose as publically and critically accepted as the popular verse of the time.

Source: From Beowulf to Thomas Hardy; Robert Shafer: Odyssey Press, NY; 1939

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