John Lyly  (1554-1606)

      John Lyly was born in Kent in 1554. He was brought up in Canterbury where he likely attended the King's School at the same time as Marlowe. Lyly received the A.M. degree at Magdalen College, University of Oxford, in 1575. After failed petitions for support from Lord Burghley for a fellowship, Lyly removed to London.
      He became instantly famous with the publication of the prose romance Euphues, or the Anatomy of Wit (1578) and its sequel Euphues and His England (1580). Euphues is Greek for "graceful."  Euphuism, as the elaborate prose style modelled on Lyly came to be called, was at the height of popularity in the 1580s. Euphuistic style has two features:
an especially elaborate sentence structure based on parallel figures from the ancient rhetorics and a wealth of ornament including proverbs, incidents from history and poetry, proverbs, and similes drawn from pseudoscience, from Pliny, from textbooks, or from the author's imagination.1
Lyly's style had a marked impact on contemporary writers, not the least on Shakespeare. Polonius in Hamlet, Moth in Love's Labour's Lost, and the repartees of Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing show signs of Lyly's influence.
      In 1583, Lyly married Beatrice Browne, a Yorkshire heiress. The same year he became in control of the first Blackfriars Theatre. He wrote several prose comedies for children's companies, all geared towards the courtly audience. These plays included Campaspe (1584), Sapho and Phao (early 1580s), Endymion: The Man in the Moon (1586-7), Love's Metamorphosis (1589), Midas (1589), and Mother Bombie (1589).2 Lyly's only play in verse was the comedy The Woman in the Moone (1594?).
      Lyly's contribution to the Martin Marprelate controversy, on the bishops' side, was 1589's Pap with an Hatchet. Lyly served as an MP three times, the first of which was for Hindon in Wiltshire, in 1589. Lyly spent most of the remainder of his life at his wife's home in Mexborough, Yorkshire.

  1. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 6th ed. v1.
    New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1993. 1003.
  2. The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English. Ian Ousby, Ed.
    Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1998. 577.

Selected Bibliography:

Daniel, Carter A., ed., The Plays of John Lyly (1988)
Lyly, John, The Complete Works of John Lyly, 3 vols. (1902; repr. 1992)
Wilson, John Dover, John Lyly (1905; repr. 1969).

To cite this article:

Jokinen, Anniina. "The Life of John Lyly." Luminarium.
              15 Apr 2004.  [Date you accessed this article].

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