Internet Shakespeare Editions

Author: John Lyly
Editor: James D. Mardock
Not Peer Reviewed

Euphues and His England (A Selection)


John Lyly was an Elizabethan courtier and poet, best known for his pair of novels, Euphues, The Anatomy of Wit (1578) and its sequel Euphues and his England. These popular and influential novels are notable for their elaborately mannered rhetorical style, which came to be known as "Euphuism," and was imitated by writers of the 1580s and 90s, including Shakespeare: the exchange between Richard III and Lady Anne, for example, echoes the balanced antitheses of Lyly's prose, and both Holofernes and Polonius provide parodic examples of its excesses. Euphuism is characterized by excessive wordiness, or periphrasis, and especially by obsessively balanced, often antithetical phrases of the same length, linked by alliteration and joined into a baroque network in successive sentences.

The passage that forms the climax of the excerpt below, on the commonwealth of bees, seems to have provided a direct source for Canterbury's speech in 1.2 (TLN 330-67). Although the analogy of beehives to orderly human government dates back to Virgil and Pliny, the style of the archbishop's speech indicates his debt to Lyly as much as does its content: lines like "some like magistrates correct at home; / Others like merchants venture trade abroad" (TLN 338-39) are pure Euphuism. The larger narrative is excerpted for its striking thematic similarity to Henry V. Like Shakespeare's play, it poses the question of what monarchs are like, inviting speculation by commoners -- like that engaged in by Bates and Williams with the disguised Henry -- while also suggesting that such speculation is itself transgressive. The passage, like the play, repeatedly uses Alexander the great as a touchstone for evaluating monarchy, and more pertinently to the particular scene, this passage engages extensively in animal fables like that of the eagle England and the weasel Scot (TLN 315-19), compares kings to lions (TLN 271) and to dazzling suns (TLN 428-30), and uses images and words that seem to be echoed by Shakespeare's scene: both draw a metaphor from archery -- compare "[Fidus] glanced from the mark Euphues shot at, and hit at last the white which Philautus set up" to "As many arrows loosèd several ways / Come to one mark" (TLN 354-55) -- and the rather uncommon word consent / concent is linked by both Lyly and Shakespeare to the harmony of an orderly kingdom, whether of bees or of men (TLN 327).

This excerpt is modernized from the Bodleian Library copy of Euphues and his England, accessed through Early English Books online. For a fully annotated and collated edition, see Leah Scragg's edition for the Revels Plays Companion Library (Manchester University Press, 2002), 185-95.