John Lyly Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

John Lyly continues, unfortunately, to be most remembered for his early prose works, Euphues, the Anatomy of Wit (1578) and Euphues and His England (1580). These works uneasily combine the values of moralistic Humanism with the erotic subject matter and psychological potential of the Italian novella; these two elements are overlaid and indeed overwhelmed by the famous style, subsequently labeled “euphuism.” Both Lyly’s own contemporaries and scholars have also assigned Lyly the authorship of Pap with an Hatchet (1589), a turgid religious tract published anonymously in the course of the Martin Marprelate controversy.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Twentieth century readings have led to recognition of John Lyly as more than a quaint writer. Since the initial work of Jonas Barish in 1956, Lyly’s prose style has been more highly (though still variously) valued, and both Barish and, in 1962, G. K. Hunter helped to enhance appreciation of Lyly’s plays. Lyly has been served by the freeing of Elizabethan drama criticism in modern times from its earlier compulsion to consider its material in the light of William Shakespeare . Lyly can be seen now as, at his best, a highly intelligent writer of comic psychological and philosophical allegory. He is important not merely for his historical position or for his constructive skill but also for his insight—which is part of the general Renaissance insight into human personality, informed by the newly experienced classics, often expressed in a symbolic rather than a purely realistic mode.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Alwes, Derek B. “‘I Would Faine Serve’: John Lyly’s Career at Court.” Comparative Drama 34, no. 4 (Winter, 2000): 399-421. Alwes examines Lyly’s dramatic works to see how they reflect on Lyly’s career at court, especially how he portrays his relationship to Queen Elizabeth.

Fienberg, Nona. Elizabeth, Her Poets, and the Creation of the Courtly Manner: A Study of Sir John Harington, Sir Philip Sydney, and John Lyly. New York: Garland, 1988. An examination of Queen Elizabeth’s relationship with several writers, including Lyly, and of British drama and poetry during her reign. Bibliography and index.

Hueppert, Joseph W. John Lyly. Boston: Twayne, 1975. This general review of Lyly’s career contains a brief discussion of euphuism and the prose period preceding dramatic involvement. The plays are analyzed as belonging to Lyly’s early, middle, or late periods of development, and the scholarship is organized into negative and positive sections. Concludes with comments on Lyly’s critical reputation and influence.

Messora, Noemi. “Parallels Between English and Italian Courtly Plays in the Sixteenth Century: Carlo Turco and John Lyly.” Theater of the English and Italian Renaissance, edited by J. R. Mulryne and Margaret Shewring. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991. Places Lyly in an...

(The entire section is 434 words.)