Internet Shakespeare Editions


John Lyly and the euphuistic style

Lyly's popular prose romance, Euphues, or The Anatomy of Wit, set the fashion for the decade before Shakespeare started writing. Euphues is a rather moral romance distinguished by its elaborate style.

Lyly was one of those who wanted to raise English prose to the height of sophistication of the great Latin stylists. The result is at times almost comic to us now--and soon became the subject of parody* in his own time--but it was an important development in the awareness of English writers of the power of the language they spoke.

A sample* of Lyly's elegant and elaborate style in Endymion.

Best friends

Both Lyly's prose works and his plays give many examples of the Renaissance creed that male friendship is to be considered superior to the love of a man for a woman (the woman's point of view is not considered). Euphues and Philautus vie for the love of Lucilla, realising finally that their friendship is more important; in the play Endymion Eumenides puts his love for his friend Endymion above his love for Semele (with the happy result that Endymion is restored to youth and he is given Semele as a reward).

Selected works of Lyly are on line.


  1. A subject for parody

    Lyly parodied himself in one of his Court plays, Endimion, in the character of a comical soldier in love, Sir Tophas. Sir Tophas, in turn, is a model for Shakespeare's Falstaff, who also parodies euphuism.

    Much of Love's Labour's Lost is influenced by the Court comedies of Lyly; again the elevated style is parodied, especially in the character of Don Adriano de Armado, who is another lovesick soldier.

  2. A stylish sample

    Lyly's style depends for its effect on alliteration, balanced sentences, antithesis, and exotic imagery:

    Love is a chameleon, which draweth nothing into the mouth but air, and nourisheth nothing in the body but lungs. Believe me, Eumenides, desire dies in the same moment that beauty sickens, and beauty fadeth in the same instant that it flourisheth. When adversities flow, then love ebbs; but friendship standeth stiffly in storms. Time draweth wrinkles in a fair face, but addeth fresh colors to a fast friend, which neither heat, nor cold, nor misery, nor place, nor destiny can alter or diminish. O friendship, of all things the most rare, and therefore most rare because most excellent, whose comfort in misery is always sweet, and whose counsels in prosperity are ever fortunate! Vain love, that, only coming near to friendship in name, would seem to be the same or better in nature!

    It was a common belief that the chameleon fed on air.