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Glossary of Names, p. 53 December 5, 2007

Posted by Kim Crow in : Beard of Avon , trackback

“By the way, I’ve just finished most of the books you gave me—I’ve got Lyly, just done Euphues, Sydney, Spenser (and oh, by the way, a-DORED Catullus—)” Will, p. 53 The Beard of Avon


John Lyly (1554-1606) was playwright, raised in Canterbury and educated at Oxford. Lyly moved to London after several fellowship petitions to Lord Burleigh failed. Shortly after his arrival, he published his first plays and gained instant notoriety. By 1583, he controlled the Blackfriars Theatre. Nearly all contemporary playwrights emulated Lyly’s style and language.  Lyly also wrote many plays for children’s companies, which were popular for their allegorical and satirical material. His reputation was discredited for his prolific contribution to these companies after professional adult theatres were established as the principal source of entertainment in the 1590s. Later in life, Lyly had an active political life, and served as a Member of Parliament three times.

Lyly’s influence on Shakespeare was tremendous. Characters such as Polonius in Hamlet, Jacques in As You Like It and Moth in Love’s Labour’s Lost emulate characteristics of Lyly’s writing. Shakespeare biographer Peter Ackroyd notes that Shakespeare was “indeed a great cormorant of other writer’s words,” and cites Lyly’s influence in nearly all of Shakespeare’s comedies.


Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit (1578) and its sequel, Euphues and His England (1580) were two of Lyly’s most famous works. These prose plays were noted for their rhetorical style, which incorporated such literary devices such as alliteration, anaphora, antithesis and rhetorical questions. The style became a literary fashion known as “euphuism” and was noted by an elaborate sentence structure based on parallel figures. Ornamentation was central to the style and included incidents from history, proverbs, poetry and philosophy. Euphuism was parodied and replicated by Shakespeare. It was a contemporary fashion and most of Shakespeare’s contemporaries would have employed the modern style.

The complete text of both Euphues plays can be found here. http://www.luminarium.org/renlit/lylybib.htm


Philip Sidney was a prominent Elizabethan poet, courtier and soldier.  He quarreled with Edward de Vere and challenged him to a duel to the death.  The queen forbade the duel, which prompted Sidney to write a detailed declaration of his distaste for the Queen’s developing French marriage. He retired from court as a result of this letter. Coincidentally, Sidney’s marriage arrangement with Anne Cecil, daughter Lord Burleigh fell through while they were bothe underage. Anne Cecil later married de Vere. Sidney married the daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham in 1583.



Edmund Spenser was an English poet best known for his epic poem The Faerie Queen. The poem was an allegory of Tudor England under the control of Queen Elizabeth I. The title of this fantastical poem became an emblematic epithet of the queen.  Spenser was educated at Cambridge. He is known as one of the leading contributors of early Modern English verse.


Gaius Vallerius Catullus was a Roman poet from 1st century BC. His poetry took up many subjects, including friendship, love, and politics. Many of his poems are explicitly erotic. Cicero condemned Catullus for his obscenity, and Catullus fell into obscurity until the middle ages. His most famous poems honor a woman called Lesbia, who is believed to represent the poetess Saphho of Lesbos. Catullus’ poetry indicated heterosexual and homosexual liaisons. He is considered one of the foremost writers of Latin lyric poetry. 

Astrophil and Stilla

A sonnet sequence published in 1591 by Thomas Newman. It features 108 sonnets and 11 songs. Though the author was anonymous, many believe it was written by Philip Sidney. The sonnets are adapted from the Petrarchan model. Some believe that the sonnets are autobiographical allegory of Sidney’s love affair with the wife of a courtier.


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