John Lyly

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Lyly or Lilly, John

(both: lĭl`ē), 1554?–1606, English dramatist and prose writer. An accomplished courtier, he also served as a member of Parliament from 1589 to 1601. His Euphues, published in two parts (The Anatomy of Wit, 1578, and Euphues and His England, 1580), was an early example of the novel of manners and was one of the most influential works of its time. In it Lyly tried to establish an ideal of perfected prose style, which was actually convoluted and artificial (see euphuismeuphuism
, in English literature, a highly elaborate and artificial style that derived from the Euphues (1578) of John Lyly and that flourished in England in the 1580s.
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). His early plays, the most notable being Campaspe (1584) and Endimion (1591), followed Euphues in their elaborate style, but his later work, specifically Mother Bombie (1594), employed the realistic, robust manner of Roman comedy. His Woman in the Moon (1594?) was a a successful experiment in blank verse. Shakespeare and other Elizabethan playwrights were indebted to him for his innovation of prose as the vehicle for comic dialogue and for his development of the romantic comedy.


See his complete works edited by R. W. Bond (new ed. 1967); studies by G. K. Hunter (1962 and 1968) and P. Saccio (1970).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Lyly, John


Born in 1553 or 1554, in the county of Kent; died Nov. 27, 1606, in London. English writer. Son of a notary.

Lyly studied at Oxford and Cambridge. In his novels Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit (1579) and Euphues and His England (1580), Lyly created a literary style rich in rhetorical elements, tropes, and forms taken from ancient mythology or from Pliny’s Natural History. While the euphuistic style influenced Lyly’s contemporaries, including Shakespeare, its mannerism soon made it the object of parody. In such plays as Alexander and Campaspe (1584), Sapho and Phao (1584), and Galatea (1588; published anonymously in 1592), Lyly used motifs from Italian pastorales, transforming farcical clowns into servants, sailors, and woodsmen. Lyly was a direct predecessor of Shakespeare in high comedy.


The Complete Works, vols. 1–3. Edited by R. W. Bond. Oxford, 1902. In Russian translation: [“Iz ‘Evfuesa.’ “] Khrestomatiia po zapadno-evropeiskoi literature: Epokha Vozrozhdeniia. Moscow, 1947. Page 476.


Anikst, A. A. “Angliiskii teatr.” In Istoriia zapadno-evropeiskogo teatra, vol. 1. Moscow, 1956. Page 406.
Hunter, G. R. John Lyly: The Humanist as Courtier. Cambridge, Mass., 1962.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.