British and Irish Literature John Lyly
by
Chloe Porter
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 August 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0088

Introduction

John Lyly (b. 1554–d. 1606) is often famed for his precarious hold on fame; he was a contemporary of Shakespeare and a literary celebrity in his own lifetime, but he has fallen, by comparison, into considerable obscurity. Lyly’s celebrity grew rapidly with his first two publications, the prose works Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit (1578), and Euphues and His England (1580). These hugely popular prose fictions told of a prodigal Greek scholar named Euphues, and introduced euphuism, the highly patterned prose style in which the adventures of Euphues are narrated. Euphuism became immediately fashionable and much imitated as a mode of courtly, witty expression, and shapes the prose style deployed by the author in his subsequent works for the stage. Lyly produced eight plays, most of which were probably performed at court, by the troupe of boy actors known as the Children of Paul’s (also referred to as Paul’s Boys); some of the plays were also performed at the Blackfriars theater. The Children of Paul’s ceased playing amid controversy in 1590, and for a long time critical opinion held that Lyly’s career spiraled into crisis after this date. The last of Lyly’s plays to be published, The Woman in the Moon, printed in 1597, is the only play by Lyly written in blank verse, rather than prose, and so was taken as evidence of Lyly attempting, and failing, to write blank verse drama of the sort performed by the adult theater companies. This interpretation of the performance contexts for The Woman in the Moon has been convincingly challenged, although the precise stage history of this play remains elusive. Lylian scholars have also dislodged the narrative of Lyly as a literary and courtly failure, pointing to the frequent printing of both parts of Euphues in the 17th century, and to the publication of a collection of Lyly’s plays in 1632. Lyly’s works are a rich source for scholars of early modern literature, intersecting with the period’s major preoccupations, movements, and figures. Lyly’s grandfather was the grammarian William Lily, and the prose works and plays are steeped in humanist learning; Lyly was also a political satirist, contributing the pamphlet Pap with an Hatchet (1589) to the Marprelate Controversy. Depictions of same-sex desire in Lyly’s plays have fascinated scholars, and euphuism has proved receptive to analysis from a range of historical and theoretical perspectives. The publication of accessible editions of Lyly’s works has enabled their more frequent inclusion on university syllabi, and, after years on the margins, Lyly is finally being recognized as a pivotal figure in early modern literary and theater history.

General Overviews and Critical Studies

A number of critical studies and biographies of Lyly were published in the early 20th century; these remain useful and of interest as sources of information on Lyly’s life and writing, and as evidence for studies of Lylian reception history. Wilson 1905, the earliest critical study, discusses Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit as “the first English novel.” and emphasizes Lyly’s significance for the Renaissance and the “rise of the novel.” Biographical studies are presented in Bond 1902, and Feuillerat 1910 is a highly detailed biography that resolves ambiguities concerning Lyly’s parentage in Bond 1902. Hunter 1962 was the first critical biography to discuss Lyly in his own right, rather than because of his perceived influence on Shakespeare and Elizabethan culture more generally, and this study remains a seminal Lylian text. Hunter characterizes Lyly’s career as marked by failure and frustration, a narrative challenged convincingly by Scragg 2006. Scragg 2005 contributes to the revival of Lyly as an important voice in early modern drama through a discussion of the political language of the plays. Kesson 2014 is the first book-length study of Lyly since Hunter 1962 to consider both the prose works and the plays, and it contributes to the recovery of Lyly’s significance as a major writer of the early modern period. As critical interest in Lyly continues to grow, Lunney 2011 functions as a useful resource for scholars new to Lyly, bringing together important essays on most aspects of Lyly’s work.

  • Bond, R. Warwick, ed. The Complete Works of John Lyly. 3 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1902.

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    The first volume of this edition of the prose and plays includes a biography of the author and a critical introduction to euphuism; considers Lyly’s influence on Shakespeare. See also Editions.

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  • Feuillerat, Albert. John Lyly: Contribution à l’histoire de la Renaissance en Angleterre. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1910.

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    Detailed and still authoritative biography that laid the foundations for later 20th-century Lylian scholarship. In French.

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  • Hunter, G. K. John Lyly: The Humanist as Courtier. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962.

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    Seminal critical biography that remains essential reading for scholars new to Lyly; the first study to consider Lyly worthy of discussion in his own right. Discusses Lyly’s prose and drama.

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  • Kesson, Andy. John Lyly and Early Modern Authorship. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2014.

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    First major single-author, book-length study of Lyly’s works to be published in the 21st century. Builds on work on early modern print culture to argue for new connections between Lyly’s prose works and plays. Also presents new arguments concerning the marginalization of Lyly in early modern literary studies.

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  • Lunney, Ruth, ed. John Lyly. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2011.

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    Substantial collection of essays by prominent scholars of Lyly, including Jonas Barish, Leah Scragg, and Michael Pincombe; essays mostly date from the late 20th century. Usefully brings together work on the most significant themes in Lylian studies, including gender, Elizabethan court culture and politics, and questions of performance.

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  • Scragg, Leah. “John Lyly and the Politics of Language.” Essays in Criticism 55.1 (2005): 17–38.

    DOI: 10.1093/escrit/cgi02Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Complex and important critical discussion, influenced by post-structuralist approaches to language. Highlights the political significance of Lyly’s language in a number of his plays, including Campaspe, Galathea, Sappho and Phao, The Woman in the Moon, and Midas.

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  • Scragg, Leah. “The Victim of Fashion? Rereading the Biography of John Lyly.” Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England: An Annual Gathering of Research, Criticism and Reviews 19 (2006): 210–226.

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    Corrective to Hunter 1962, arguing that Lyly was not a “victim of fashion” whose drama failed to transfer to the public stage in The Woman in the Moon. Scragg argues that this play is an example of Lylian experimentation, not necessarily written for adult players.

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  • Wilson, John Dover. John Lyly. Cambridge, UK: Macmillan & Bowes, 1905.

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    The earliest critical study of Lyly, focusing on the writer for his significance in literary history. Mainly discusses Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit and Euphues and His England, while a more limited section considers the plays.

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Editions

The revival of interest in Lyly in the late 20th and early 21st centuries has been made possible by the publication of numerous modern-spelling editions of the Plays and editions of Prose Works. All of Lyly’s plays, as well as the two parts of Euphues, are available in modern-spelling editions. Lyly’s plays are most usually published in separate editions; there is only one volume of complete works and collected works are limited.

Complete and Collected Works

The only volume of complete works is Bond 1902. No modern-spelling volume of complete works is available, although Scragg 2003 is a collected works combining plays and prose. Daniel 1988 presents all eight plays in modern spelling but lacks the scholarly apparatus of many of the single and double editions available.

  • Bond, R. Warwick, ed. John Lyly: Complete Works. Vols. 1–3. Oxford: Clarendon, 1902.

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    Multivolume, old-spelling complete works. Volume 1 contains Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit, a biography and an essay on Euphuism. Volume 2 includes Euphues and His England and the early plays. Volume 3 includes later plays and Pap with an Hatchet (see Marprelate Controversy). Includes works where the authorship is in doubt.

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  • Daniel, Carter A., ed. The Plays of John Lyly. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1988.

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    The first modern-spelling collection of Lyly’s eight plays, with light annotation Accessible, but lacks the scholarly apparatus of many single editions of the plays, especially those produced in the Revels Plays series published by Manchester University Press (see Plays).

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  • Scragg, Leah, ed. John Lyly: Selected Prose and Dramatic Work. Reprint. Manchester, UK: Carcanet, 2003.

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    Modern-spelling edition, grouping together extracts from the first part of Euphues with two of Lyly’s best-known plays, Campaspe and Galathea. Includes a useful introduction, but has been superseded by Scragg’s subsequent editorial work (see Plays and Prose Works). Originally published in 1997.

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Prose Works

The only modern-spelling edition of the two parts of Euphues published in the 20th century is Croll and Clemons 1916; the authoritative edition is Scragg 2003. The anti-Martinist prose tract Pap with an Hatchet is the only one of Lyly’s works unavailable in a scholarly, modern-spelling edition.

Plays

In the 1990s, G. K. Hunter and David Bevington inaugurated a project to publish all of Lyly’s plays in scholarly, modern-spelling editions in the Revels Plays series, published by Manchester University Press; Leah Scragg completed the project in the 21st century. The products of this project are: Hunter and Bevington 1999, Hunter and Bevington 2000, Bevington 1996, Scragg 2006, Scragg 2008 and Scragg 2010. All of the plays are now available in the Revels Plays series. Scragg 2012 is the first example of an edition of a Lyly play aimed primarily at undergraduate readers.

Prose

Studies of Lyly’s prose works are dominated by chapters and articles on Euphues and Euphuism. Euphuism is the sophisticated, witty, and complex prose style deployed in Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit and Euphues and His England. This prose style was highly influential in late-16th-century literature, and it is often considered the cornerstone of Lyly’s contribution to literary history. By contrast, Lyly’s prose contributions to the Marprelate Controversy have received significantly less critical attention. This situation may change as the influence of book history on Lylian scholarship has produced a notable shift in critical focus toward Lyly’s role in the history of prose and print culture.

Euphues and Euphuism

Early-20th-century scholars of Lyly, in works including Croll and Clemons 1916, approached euphuism as a decorous style of primarily ornamental value. Barish 1956 challenges this view, drawing attention to the formal significance of the euphuistic mode and paving the way for subsequent studies that treat euphuism as a site of the generation of meaning. In the late 20th century, influenced in part by new historicism and cultural materialism, studies such as Bates 1992, Pong Linton 1996, and Maslen 1997 explored the cultural and political contexts for Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit and Euphues and His England. The literary “market” discussed by Pong Linton is increasingly the concern of studies of Euphues, with Hadfield 1998, Schurink 2009, and Wilson 2006 considering Lyly’s early prose works as landmarks in the development of Elizabethan prose fiction. Wilson 2013 is a useful introduction

  • Barish, Jonas A. “The Prose Style of John Lyly.” English Literary History 23.1 (1956): 14–35.

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    Seminal essay in Lylian scholarship; explores euphuism as a meaningful mode of signification that also shapes Lyly’s early plays (see Drama). Essential starting point for those new to Lyly’s prose style.

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  • Bates, Catherine. The Rhetoric of Courtship in Elizabethan Language and Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511518843Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discusses Lyly primarily in one chapter, in which the courtly language of Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit and Euphues and His England is situated in relation to that of Sidney’s Arcadia. Bates sees euphuistic inconclusiveness as part of a broader ambivalence toward courtship, sexuality, and marriage in courtly rhetoric.

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  • Croll, Morris W., and Harry Clemons, eds. Euphues, The Anatomy of Wit; Euphues and His England. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1916.

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    First modern-spelling edition of the two parts of Euphues; includes a critical discussion of euphuism foundational for subsequent studies, but challenged by Barish 1956 (see also Editions: Prose Works).

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  • Hadfield, Andrew. Literature, Travel, and Colonial Writing in the English Renaissance, 1545–1625. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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    Discusses Euphues and His England in detail in a chapter on English fiction written between 1553 and 1625, emphasizing generic instability and complexity of meaning in the second part of Euphues. Argues for the political significance of Lyly’s prose, and therefore contributes to the late-20th-century resurgence of serious critical interest in Lyly.

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  • Maslen, R. W. Elizabethan Fictions: Espionage, Counter-Espionage and the Duplicity of Fiction in Early Elizabethan Prose Narratives. Oxford: Clarendon, 1997.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198119913.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents a fascinating analysis of Euphues and His England as a labyrinthine “resolution” to the unruly volatility of Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit. Unusual in approaching Lyly as the chronological endpoint for an Elizabethan cultural trend, in this case the relationship between prose fiction and cultures of espionage and secrecy.

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  • Pong Linton, Joan. “The Humanist in the Market: Gendering Exchange and Authorship in Lyly’s Euphues Romances.” In Framing Elizabethan Fiction: Contemporary Approaches to Early Modern Prose Narrative. Edited by Constance C. Relihan, 73–97. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1996.

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    See also pp. 219–223. One of the earliest essays to consider Lyly in relation to early modern authorship and the literary market. Explores the effeminacy of Lyly’s image as a writer, a subject subsequently taken up in Kesson 2014 (cited under General Overviews and Critical Studies). Also included in Lunney 2011 (cited under General Overviews and Critical Studies).

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  • Schurink, Fred. “The Intimacy of Manuscript and the Pleasures of Print: Literary Culture from The Schoolmaster to Euphues.” In The Oxford Handbook of Tudor Literature, 1485–1603. Edited by Mike Pincombe and Cathy Shrank, 671–686. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199205882.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit and Euphues and His England in the context of Tudor literary culture, alongside Ascham’s The Schoolmaster. Rather than seeing Euphues as a reaction against The Schoolmaster, Schurink highlights the popularity of both texts, arguing that Lyly’s prose works register changes and tensions in the marketplace for print.

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  • Wilson, Katharine. Fictions of Authorship in Late Elizabethan Narratives: Euphues in Arcadia. Oxford English Monographs. Oxford: Clarendon, 2006.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199252534.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that like Robert Greene and Thomas Nashe, Lyly uses prose romance to create self-reflexive literary personae. Chapter 2 discusses the two parts of Euphues in this light and suggests that Greene exploits Euphues in developing the character Lady Mamillia, in Mamillia (c. 1580).

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  • Wilson, Katharine. “‘Turne your library into a wardrobe’: John Lyly and Euphuism.” In The Oxford Handbook of English Prose, 1500–1640. Edited by Andrew Hadfield, 172–187. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199580682.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Useful essay on euphuism, providing a comprehensive but concise overview of a complex subject. Explains the function and significance of Lyly’s prose style through the playful motif of “dressing up”; also considers euphuism on stage and Lyly’s influence on prose fiction.

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Marprelate Controversy

Lyly’s contributions to the Martin Marprelate controversy of 1588–1589 receive significantly less attention than do his other prose writings and dramatic work. Along with writers such as Thomas Nashe (b. c. 1567–d. 1601), Lyly was employed to produce writings in defense of the established church against anti-Episcopalian tracts produced under the pseudonym “Martin Marprelate.” The only tract that is confidently attributed to Lyly, Pap with an Hatchet, is considered by Hunter 1962 (cited under General Overviews and Critical Studies) to have caused “‘offence,” and to have contributed, in turn, to the banning of Paul’s Boys in 1590 and consequently the waning of Lyly’s career as a dramatist, a narrative accepted by Dutton 1991 (see also Introduction). This interpretation of the impact of the Marprelate controversy on the closure of Paul’s Boys has been revised in the last decade, notably by Dutton 2002. In recent studies, Lyly is discussed as a part of the Marprelate controversy and its print-culture context, but is not the main focus of these works. The most sustained analyses of Lyly of this sort are Tribble 1993 and Poole 2000.

  • Dutton, Richard. Mastering the Revels: The Regulation and Censorship of English Renaissance Theatre. London: Macmillan, 1991.

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    A study of censorship and early modern drama that connects the Marprelate controversy with the cessation of playing by Paul’s Boys in 1590. This argument is revised in Dutton 2002.

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  • Dutton, Richard. “The Revels Office and the Boy Companies, 1600–1613: New Perspectives.” English Literary Renaissance 32 (2002): 324–351.

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    Argues that Paul’s Boys stopped playing because of changes in fashion, and so revises the argument in Dutton 1991 that a connection exists between the Marprelate controversy and the closure of Paul’s Boys.

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  • Poole, Kristen. “The Puritan in the Alehouse: Falstaff and the Drama of Martin Marprelate.” In Radical Religion from Shakespeare to Milton: Figures of Nonconformity in Early Modern England. By Kristen Poole, 16–44. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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    Discusses Pap with an Hatchet in a chapter on Shakespeare’s Falstaff as an inheritor of the burlesque puritanism of “Martin Marprelate.” Lyly is discussed alongside Nashe in a Bakhtinian reading of anti-Martinist writings.

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  • Tribble, Evelyn B. “Beyond the Bounds: Martin Marprelate, Thomas Nashe, and the Margins of Humanism.” In Margins and Marginality: The Printed Page in Early Modern England. By Evelyn B. Tribble, 101–129. Charlottseville: University of Virginia Press, 1993.

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    Lyly is discussed along with Nashe and Bacon in a chapter on the Marprelate controversy, exploring the politically and satirically unsuccessful appropriation of Martinist language in anti-Martinist writings by Lyly and Nashe.

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Drama

Lyly wrote eight comedies: Campaspe, Sappho and Phao, Galatea, Midas, Endymion, Mother Bombie, Love’s Metamorphosis, and The Woman in the Moon. A number of Critical Studies of the Plays have been published since the 20th century, often focusing on questions of dramaturgy and Lyly’s career as a dramatist at court. Lyly’s plays are often also discussed in connection with other drama of the 16th and 17th centuries (see Lyly and His Contemporaries), and critical work on Lyly and Performance continues to grow in tandem with the increasing popularity of the Plays in Performance in the 21st Century.

Critical Studies of the Plays

Much Lylian criticism centers on the question of what type of drama the author produced; this question is intimately connected to debates about the nature of Lyly’s career as a courtier and playwright. Hunter 1962 sets up an influential narrative of Lyly as a failed court dramatist. The first monograph devoted to Lyly’s plays, Saccio 1969, notably follows Hunter 1962, discussing Lyly as a courtly dramatist whose “situational” court dramas were allegorical in meaning and a “short-lived phenomenon.” Hunter 1962 and Saccio 1969 view Lyly’s comedies as “static,” a view challenged in Cartwright 2006. Scragg 2006 presents an important, nuanced interpretation of Lyly’s dramaturgy as “experimental.” Pincombe 1996 is significant as the first book-length study of all of Lyly’s plays and usefully complicates our understanding of the relationship between Lyly’s works and Elizabethan courtly literature.

  • Cartwright, Kent. Theatre and Humanism: English Drama in the Sixteenth Century. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

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    Chapter 6 is devoted to a discussion of Lyly as the “humanist as popular dramatist,” focusing on Galatea as a key example. Significantly challenges the dominant view of Lylian drama as “static.”

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  • Hunter, G. K. John Lyly: The Humanist as Courtier. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962.

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    Argues that Lyly failed to sustain a career as a humanist-influenced court dramatist who turned, unsuccessfully, to the public stage. This narrative has been substantially challenged by much subsequent Lylian scholarship, especially Scragg 2006.

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  • Pincombe, Michael. The Plays of John Lyly: Eros and Eliza. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1996.

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    Scholarly, detailed readings of each of the eight plays in their Elizabethan cultural contexts. Also discusses Lyly’s life and the early prose works; notably influenced by the view that Lylian drama fell out of fashion in the 1590s, a narrative challenged by Scragg 2006 and Kesson 2014 (cited under Gender and Sexuality).

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  • Saccio, Peter. The Court Comedies of John Lyly: A Study in Allegorical Dramaturgy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969.

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    Important contribution to the development of Lylian scholarship in the late 20th century. Explores Lyly’s drama as allegorical and courtly; does not discuss Mother Bombie. In two chapters Saccio charts a progression between Campaspe and Galatea, which is compared to Spenserian allegory; Loves Metamorphosis, Sappho and Phao and Endymion are covered in a single chapter.

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  • Scragg, Leah. “The Victim of Fashion? Rereading the Biography of John Lyly.” Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England: An Annual Gathering of Research, Criticism and Reviews 19 (2006): 210–226.

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    Important intervention in debates about Lyly’s status and career, and a cornerstone of the revival of critical interest in Lyly in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Convincingly challenges Hunter 1962 and presents a nuanced reading of Lyly as “court” or “popular” dramatist.

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Lyly and His Contemporaries

In the early 20th century, Lyly’s plays were discussed largely in relation to their influence on later, more well-known dramatists, especially Shakespeare. Wilson 1970 (originally published 1905) is an example of such an approach. In criticism later in the 20th century, discussions of Lyly in relation to Shakespeare and his contemporaries were more focused on the revival of Lyly as a playwright worthy of critical attention. In this vein, Scragg 1982 argues for Lyly’s significance for early modern drama, exploring the ways in which Galatea undergoes a process of “creative adaption,” forming a model for Shakespearean comedies. Scragg emphasizes the diversity of the Lylian corpus as a source of influence on Shakespeare, and in this argument moves forward the debates around Lyly’s influence as discussed in Mincoff 1961 and also Bond 1902 (cited under General Overviews and Critical Studies). Building on Scragg 1982, Clare 2014 examines connections between Lyly and Shakespeare in light of recent theater history and research on the market for plays in print. Dillon 2002 provides an introduction to Lyly’s comedies in the broader context of late-16th-century English drama, and Kesson 2014 discusses Lyly’s plays in relation to early modern notions of authorship and the emergent market for print.

  • Bradbrook, M. C. “Courtier and Courtesy: Castiglione, Lyly and Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona.” In Theatre of the English and Italian Renaissance. Edited by J. R. Mulryne and Margaret Shewring, 161–178. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1991.

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    Discusses a number of Lyly’s plays in relation to Italian court culture; sees Shakespeare as a superior dramatist. Informed by the contested view that Lyly’s career was marked by failure.

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  • Clare, Janet. “Competing Dramaturgies: Later Comedy.” In Shakespeare’s Stage Traffic: Imitation, Borrowing, and Competition in Renaissance Theatre. By Janet Clare, 114–143. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

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    Useful for scholars interested in Lyly’s influence on Shakespeare. A chapter includes a sustained reading of Lyly’s dramaturgy in relation to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Builds on Scragg 1982.

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  • Dillon, Janette. “Elizabethan Comedy.” In The Cambridge Companion to Shakespearean Comedy. Edited by Alexandra Leggatt, 47–63. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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    Discusses Lyly’s comedies alongside other major Elizabethan dramatists, including Shakespeare. Useful for those new to Lyly and Elizabethan drama.

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  • Kesson, Andy. John Lyly and Early Modern Authorship. Revels Plays Companion Library. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2014.

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    Argues persuasively for Lyly’s significance in the development of a market for printed drama; two chapters treat Lyly’s drama in this regard. Also addresses the critical neglect of Lyly in favor of Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

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  • Mincoff, Marco. “Shakespeare and Lyly.” Shakespeare Survey 14 (1961): 15–34.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521064279.002Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues for the influence of Lyly on Shakespeare, but also identifies resistance toward Lyly on Shakespeare’s part; updated by Scragg 1982.

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  • Scragg, Leah. The Metamorphosis of Gallathea: A Study in Creative Adaptation. Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1982.

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    Focuses on Gallathea as an influence on Shakespearean comedy, including Love’s Labours Lost, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night. An epilogue briefly opens up the influence of Lyly on Shakespeare’s late plays.

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  • Wilson, John Dover. “Lyly the Dramatist.” In John Lyly. By John Dover Wilson, 86–131. Reprint. New York: Haskell House, 1970.

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    Originally published in 1905. In a third chapter on the plays, Wilson discusses “Lyly’s dramatic genius and influence.” Provides a good sense of early-20th-century attitudes to Lyly, and so useful for reception studies. Some of the claims made about Lyly’s influence should be approached with caution, such as the suggestion that Lyly invents the disguise motif in early modern drama.

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Lyly and Performance

Studies of Lyly in relation to contemporary and historical performance are increasing, especially as his plays are performed with greater frequency and prominence (see Plays in Performance in the 21st Century). Almost all of Lyly’s plays are associated with performance by boy actors; The Woman in the Moon is a controversial play in this respect, as it is the only one of Lyly’s plays to be written in blank verse, and it was long thought to have been written for performance by an adult company, partly because of the cessation of playing by the Children of St. Paul’s in 1590 (see Marprelate Controversy). Charney 1979 challenges this view with specific reference to the play’s potential in performance. Thinking about the plays in performance can thus produce important interventions in critical discourse on the drama: experience of directing Lyly’s dramatic work, for example, leads the author of Levin 2001 to argue that Lylian dramaturgy is not “static.” Scragg 2005 draws out the visual strengths of Lyly’s plays in performance. Kesson 2014 is a good example of a book-length study of Lyly that builds on theater history and contemporary performances of Lylian drama.

  • Charney, Maurice. “Performing Lyly: Female Roles and the Children’s Companies: Lyly’s Pandora in The Woman in the Moon.” Research Opportunities in Renaissance Drama 12 (1979): 37–43.

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    Discusses The Woman in the Moon as a play suited to performance by child actors.

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  • Kesson, Andy. John Lyly and Early Modern Authorship. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2014.

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    Discusses all eight plays with a sensitive awareness of historical and contemporary theater practice. Covers topics including Lyly’s critical engagement with notions of performance and the function of the audience in Lylian drama.

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  • Levin, Kate D. “Playing with Lyly: Theatrical Criticism and Non-Shakespearean Drama.” Research Opportunities in Renaissance Drama 40 (2001): 32.

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    An example of practice-based critical work on Lyly’s plays. Uses experiences of directing Lyly in performance to challenge dominant critical narratives about Lylian dramaturgy.

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  • Scragg, Leah. “Speaking Pictures: Style and Spectacle in Lylian Comedy.” English Studies: A Journal of English Language and Literature 86.4 (2005): 298–311.

    DOI: 10.1080/0013838042000335659Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Offers a closer emphasis on the visual and aural effects of performance than hitherto considered in Lylian scholarship. In a lively discussion of Lyly’s “stage picture,” Scragg covers Campaspe, Gallathea, Endymion, and Love’s Metamorphosis.

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Campaspe

Lyly’s earliest play, Campaspe attracts substantial critical attention. The play was first performed at court and at the Blackfriars theater in January 1584, and it was published soon after that date. Depicting the court of Alexander the Great, and alluding ambiguously to the Elizabethan court, Campaspe is receptive to new historicist-influenced explorations of courtly power, as demonstrated in Scragg 1999. Walker 2000 discusses the play in relation to questions of court power, but it is notably influenced by the view that Lylian drama is “static,” which has been challenged by a number of scholars (see Critical Studies of the Plays). Porter 2013 continues the exploration of Campaspe as a play concerned with political, courtly behavior and the exercise of monarchic authority. The ancient Greek painter Apelles is a central character in Campaspe, and the play is notable for its unusually sustained depictions of drawing and painting, a subject discussed in Tassi 2005, Porter 2009, and Porter 2013.

  • Porter, Chloe. “Idolatry, Iconoclasm and Agency: Visual Experience in Works by Lyly and Shakespeare.” Literature & History 18.1 (2009): 1–15.

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    Discusses Campaspe in relation to modes of spectatorship fostered in the aftermath of the Reformation; compares Lyly’s play with Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.

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  • Porter, Chloe. “‘But begun for others to end’: The Ends of Incompletion.” In Making and Unmaking in Early Modern English Drama: Spectators, Aesthetics and Incompletion. By Chloe Porter, 98–128. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2013.

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    A chapter discusses the depiction of drawing in Campaspe as an example of Lyly’s formulation of modes of expression appropriate for political, courtly contexts. Campaspe is explored alongside literary and visual works by Lyly’s contemporaries.

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  • Scragg, Leah. “Campaspe and the Construction of Monarchical Power.” Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England: An Annual Gathering of Research, Criticism and Reviews 12 (1999): 59–83.

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    Exploits new historicist approaches to “power” in an exploration of the extent to which Campaspe is implicated in Tudor court politics.

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  • Tassi, Marguerite. “John Lyly’s Campaspe and the Subtle Eroticism of the Elizabethan Miniature.” In The Scandal of Images: Iconoclasm, Eroticism, and Painting in Early Modern Drama. By Marguerite Tassi, 66–97. Selinsgrove, PA: Susquehanna University Press and Associated University Press, 2005.

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    A chapter discusses Campaspe, eroticism, and the portrait miniature. Situates Lyly’s play in relation to Reformation debates about images.

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  • Walker, Greg. “Courtship and Counsel: John Lyly’s Campaspe.” In A Companion to English Renaissance Literature and Culture. Edited by Michael Hattaway, 187–194. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000.

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    Discusses Campaspe in relation to Elizabethan court politics; follows the contested view that Lylian drama is “static,” and so should be supplemented with more recent scholarship on this play. Targeted partly at an undergraduate readership and so a good introduction to Lyly’s drama in historical context.

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Sappho and Phao

Like Campaspe, Sappho and Phao is one of Lyly’s earliest dramas, performed at court in March 1584, at the Blackfriars theater, and printed in the same year. Depicting the love between a shepherd, Phao, and Sappho, queen of Syracuse, the play has been discussed in relation to courtship narratives, as in Bevington 1990, and questions of gender and the depiction of Elizabeth I, as in Jankowski 1991. Pincombe 1998 continues this theme, but focuses on the depiction of lesbian love in the play. These examples demonstrate the significance of Sappho and Phao for studies of early modern Gender and Sexuality. The play is often considered a response to the marriage negotiations between Elizabeth I and the Duke d’Alençon, a possibility discussed in Jankowski 1991.

Galatea

Galatea (or Gallathea) was first published in 1592, but it was performed at court in January 1588. Of all Lyly’s plays, Galatea is arguably the most popular among present-day audiences, students, and critics; reflecting the strength of the play in performance, Levin 2001 presents a persuasive reading of Lylian dramaturgy that builds on the author’s experiences of directing Galatea. Cartwright 2004 considers the play as a “popular drama” in its historical contexts, and in the process expands on the view of Galatea as “situational” and static that dominates late-20th-century readings of the play, such as Meyer 1981. Set in a coastal Lincolnshire village that sacrifices virgins annually to Neptune, Galatea depicts love between two women cross-dressed as boys; Galatea is thus often discussed in relation to questions of Gender and Sexuality, and especially in connection with Shakespeare’s cross-dressed characters. Rackin 1987 is the foremost essay to adopt this approach; Wixson 2001 builds on Rackin 1987. With an emphasis on dramaturgy, meanwhile, Scragg 1982 identifies Galatea as an important influence on Shakespeare, an argument utilized and updated in Clare 2014.

  • Cartwright, Kent. The confusion of Galathea: John Lyly as Popular Dramatist.” In Theatre and Humanism: English Drama in the Sixteenth Century. By Kent Cartwright, 167–193. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

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    A chapter considers Galatea as an example of energetic, popular drama; a significant contribution to debates about the extent to which Lylian drama is “static,” also discussed in Levin 2001.

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  • Clare, Janet. Shakespeare’s Stage Traffic: Imitation, Borrowing, and Competition in Renaissance Theatre. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

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    Brief but significant discussion of Galatea in relation to A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Shakespeare’s later comedies. Indebted to Scragg 1982.

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  • Levin, Kate D. “Playing with Lyly: Theatrical Criticism and Non-Shakespearean Drama.” Research Opportunities in Renaissance Drama 40 (2001): 32.

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    Builds on experience of directing Galatea to argue that Lylian drama is not “static.” Good example of practice-based criticism that informs debates about the interpretation of the plays.

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  • Meyer, Robert J. “‘Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue’: The Mystery of Love in Lyly’s Gallathea.” Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900 Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama 21.2 (Spring 1981): 193–208.

    DOI: 10.2307/450144Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Strong example of a reading of Lyly’s play as a static, “undramatic” drama of ideas, as contested in Levin 2001 and Cartwright 2004.

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  • Rackin, Phyllis. “Androgyny, Mimesis, and the Marriage of the Boy Heroine on the English Renaissance Stage.” PMLA 102.1 (1987): 29–41.

    DOI: 10.2307/462490Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Provocative exploration of cross-dressing in Lyly’s play alongside works by Shakespeare and Jonson. Sees Lyly and Jonson as occupying “opposite extremes” in the treatment of transvestism and marriage, with Shakespeare’s plays falling somewhere in the “middle” of this spectrum.

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  • Scragg, Leah. The Metamorphosis of Gallathea: A Study in Creative Adaptation. Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1982.

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    Approaches Lyly’s plays about change and transformation as models for Shakespeare’s Ovidian comedy. Influential analysis that has shaped subsequent critical work on both authors.

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  • Wixson, Christopher. “Cross-Dressing and John Lyly’s Gallathea.” SEL: Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900 41.2 (2001): 241–256.

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    Updates Rackin 1987, with a more detailed focus on Lyly’s play. Argues that socially conservative and subversive elements of the play need to be explored in tandem and not in isolation.

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Endymion

First published in 1591, and probably first performed by the Children of Paul’s before Elizabeth I in early 1588, Endymion concerns the adoration of the moon goddess Cynthia by Endymion. In a comic subplot that parodies the main plot, a knight named Sir Tophas is devoted to a witch named Dipsas; the significance of the subplot is usefully expounded in Deats 1975. Leggatt 1999 and Scragg 2012 are useful, critical overviews of the play. Bevington 1998 situates the drama in its political contexts, while Neufield 2007 explores Lyly’s comic vision in relation to the depiction of witchcraft and monstrosity.

Midas

Midas was first performed at court in January 1590, and it was written in the aftermath of the Spanish Armada of 1588. Midas is therefore often treated as a political allegory for Anglo-Spanish relations, with Midas standing for Phillip II of Spain (b. 1527–d. 1598), as discussed in Bevington 1998. As in the Ovidian myth, which is Lyly’s source, Midas has the power to turn whatever he touches to gold; the significance of this narrative in Elizabethan discourse on Spanish colonialism is discussed in Connolly 2002. Adopting a different approach and focus, Johnston 2005 exploits research on gender and early modern material culture in a reading of the play’s subplot concerning the theft of Midas’s golden beard.

Mother Bombie

First published in 1594, the first performance date for Mother Bombie is uncertain, although it seems likely that the play was composed in the late 1580s. Of all of Lyly’s plays, Mother Bombie is the most “domestic” in tone, does not seem to have been performed at court, and lacks the Ovidian, mythological figures that more usually populate Lylian drama. Set in Rochester, in England, the plot centers on two pairs of lovers and their respective, scheming fathers. This love plot concerns incest and the depiction of lovers, who are “fools” in the early modern sense of “simpletons,” but these topics have received surprisingly little attention from critics. Cook 1990 discusses the play’s lovers in relation to the context of early modern courtship. Lyly’s Mother Bombie, the wise, cunning woman of the play’s title, is based on a popular folk figure, and, as such, she is often mentioned in studies of early modern medicine, such as Kerwin 2005. Scragg 2012 discusses problems posed by editing Mother Bombie and also provides a useful reflection on the process of editing Lylian drama more broadly.

  • Cook, Anne Jennalie. “The Transformation of Stage Courtship.” In The Elizabethan Theatre XI: Papers given at the Eleventh International Conference on Elizabethan Theatre held at the University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, in July 1985. Edited by A. L. Magnussen and C. Edward McGee, 155–175. Port Credit, ON: Meany, 1990.

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    Explores Mother Bombie in relation to changes in Elizabethan attitudes to courtship. Discusses Lyly alongside other playwrights, including Marlowe.

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  • Kerwin, William. “Medea’s Traces: Women Practitioners in History and Drama.” In Beyond the Body: The Boundaries of Medicine and English Renaissance Drama. By William Kerwin, 62–96. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2005.

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    Refers to Mother Bombie and the popular “Mother Bombie” figure in a chapter concerning women practitioners of medicine. Useful for those researching this specific subject, but provides little sustained discussion of the play.

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  • Scragg, Leah. “Re-editing Lyly for the Modern Reader, or the Case of Mother Bombie’s Stool.” Review of English Studies 63 (2012): 20–33.

    DOI: 10.1093/res/hgr007Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discusses the task of the modern editor of Lyly in relation to stage spectacle; focuses on Mother Bombie but also reflects on other Lylian drama.

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  • Sivefors, Per. “Prophecies, Dreams and the Plays of John Lyly.” In Staging the Superstitions of Early Modern Europe. Edited by Verena Theile and Andrew D. McCarthy, 191–216. Studies in Performance and Early Modern Drama. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2013.

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    Essay on prophetic dreams in Lylian drama, situating the plays in relation to early modern dream theory. Mother Bombie is the third play to be discussed, following sections on Sappho and Phao and Endymion.

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Love’s Metamorphosis

Love’s Metamorphosis was probably first performed by the Children of Paul’s in 1588, and first published in quarto in 1601; the play was not included in Blount’s Sixe Court Comedies. Love’s Metamorphosis does not seem to have been performed before Elizabeth I, but evidence exists that Lyly may have composed the drama with such a performance in mind. Set in Arcadia, this comedy depicts three foresters in pursuit of the love of three virginal nymphs; in another plot, Lyly adapts the story of Protea and Erisichthon from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Shulman 1985 discusses the play in relation to Ovidian myth. Scragg 1982 situates Love’s Metamorphosis within a narrative of the formal and dramatic “metamorphosis” that takes place between Lylian and Shakespearean drama. Much critical work on Love’s Metamorphosis concerns questions of Gender and Sexuality: Jankowski 1993 explores the significance of virginity in the play, while Bromley 2009 demonstrates the fruitfulness of readings of Lylian period drama informed by queer studies.

  • Bromley, James M. “‘The Onely Way to Be Mad, Is to Bee Constant’: Defending Heterosexual Nonmonogamy in John Lyly’s Love’s Metamorphosis.” Studies in Philology 106.4 (2009): 420–440.

    DOI: 10.1353/sip.0.0035Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A reading of the play from a queer studies perspective: focuses on the plot involving the virginal nymphs, arguing that Lyly problematizes enforced marriage. See also Gender and Sexuality.

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  • Jankowski, T. “‘The Scorne of Savage People’: Virginity as ‘Forbidden Sensuality in John Lyly’s Love’s Metamorphoses.” Renaissance Drama 24 (1993): 123–153.

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    Important exploration of the construction of virginity in the play; one of the first essays to draw attention to the significance of Lyly’s treatment of sexuality in Love’s Metamorphoses.

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  • Scragg, Leah. “Love’s Metamorphosis and Love’s Labour’s Lost.” In The Metamorphosis of Gallathea: A Study in Creative Adaptation. By Leah Scragg, 37–55. Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1982.

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    A chapter discusses Love’s Metamorphosis alongside Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost. Highlights the significance of Lylian drama for Shakespeare; an influential text for subsequent critical work on this theme.

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  • Shulman, Jeff. “Ovidian Myth in Lyly’s Courtship Comedies.” SEL: Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900 25.2 (1985): 249–269.

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    Approaches the play as an example of Lyly’s Ovidian comedy; also discusses Sappho and Phao and Galatea. Sees Lyly as the beginning point for subsequent engagements with the Metamorphoses in early modern drama. Included in Lunney 2011 (cited under General Overviews and Critical Studies).

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The Woman in the Moon

The Woman in the Moon is often thought of as Lyly’s last play, but the date of composition and the contexts for any early performance are highly contested and of great significance for our understanding of Lyly’s career more broadly (see General Overviews and Critical Studies). The play was entered into the Stationer’s Register in 1595, but it was not published until 1597. The Woman in the Moon is the only one of Lyly’s plays to be written in blank verse, and so it was thought to be an attempt on the part of the dramatist to adapt to writing for adult theater companies in the wake of the cessation of playing by Paul’s Boys (see Marprelate Controversy). This argument is challenged in Charney 1979 and Scragg 2006; the latter suggests that the play represents a mode of “experimental” writing. The Woman in the Moon has received limited critical attention beyond discussions of its performance history, although Lancashire 1982 explores the play as a key example of Elizabethan pastoral.

Plays in Performance in the 21st Century

Among the most exciting developments in Lylian studies since the millennium is the revival of the plays in performance. This development has been made possible, in part, by the publication of scholarly Editions of the plays. All of Lyly’s plays, with the exception of Campaspe, have been performed for paying audiences since 2000. Some productions have been staged readings affiliated with higher education institutions and Lyly scholars, such as Sappho and Phao (Kesson 2007), and Endymion (Waller 2012). The “Read not Dead” series of productions at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London, has also provided a platform for Lyly, with a staged reading of Mother Bombie (Mills 2010). Of particular note among recent productions of Lyly’s plays are those by Edward’s Boys, such as Mother Bombie (Wallace 2010) and Galatea (Mills 2014). Based at the King Edward VI School, Stratford-upon-Avon, and lead by Perry Mills, this theater company contributes significantly to our understanding of the plays as works written for and performed by Elizabethan boy actors. Increasingly, Lyly’s plays are staged by professional adult companies, for example The Woman in the Moon (Wallace 2014), produced by the Dolphin’s Back theater company.

Gender and Sexuality

A number of the articles published on Lyly’s plays and prose works since the late 20th century approach these texts as productive sites for the discussion of early modern gender and sexuality. Pincombe 1996 and Pincombe 1998 are reflective of this scholar’s leading contributions to this area (see also General Overviews and Critical Studies and Drama). This strand of scholarship does not always overlap with work carried out more broadly within Lylian scholarship; rather, it emerges instead from growing critical interest in feminist and queer approaches to the early modern stage. Rackin 1987 is a strong example of an essay from this critical field, treating Lyly alongside his contemporaries in order to think through the implications of staged cross-dressing for early modern gender and sexuality studies. Wixson 2001 provides a critically updated response to Rackin 1987, with a more detailed focus on Lyly’s Galatea. Jankowski 2000 and Bromley 2009 demonstrate the fruitfulness of the application of critically queer approaches to Lylian drama. It is notable that articles in this area tend to focus on the plays, and especially Sappho and Phao, Galatea, and Love’s Metamorphosis; Guy-Bray 2003 is a good example of a reading of sexuality in Lyly’s prose fiction. Scholarly Editions and General Overviews and Critical Studies are increasingly influenced by work on Lyly and gender. Readings of Lyly’s plays in Kesson 2014 are influenced by research on early modern gender and sexuality and will be of especial interest to those wishing to think about Lyly’s canonicity from feminist and queer perspectives.

  • Bromley, James M. “‘The Onely Way to Be Mad, Is to Bee Constant’: Defending Heterosexual Nonmonogamy in John Lyly’s Love’s Metamorphosis.” Studies in Philology 106.4 (2009): 420–440.

    DOI: 10.1353/sip.0.0035Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Advances understanding of questions of sex and gender in Lylian drama by exploring heterosexuality in Loves Metamorphosis within a queer theoretical framework.

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  • Guy-Bray, Stephen. “Same Difference: Homo and Allo in Lyly’s Euphues.” In Prose Fiction and Early Modern Sexuality, 1570–1640. Edited by Constance C. Relihan and Goran V. Stanivukovic, 113–127. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

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    Explores the disruption of heternormative sexuality in Lyly’s prose writing through a discussion of “sameness” in euphuism, which, as an antithetical literary style, is usually discussed in relation to opposites.

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  • Jankowski, Theodora A. Pure Resistance: Queer Virginity in Early Modern English Drama. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000.

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    Galatea, Endymion, and Love’s Metamorphosis are discussed in this exploration of virginity as a mode of queer resistance to early modern patriarchal structures.

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  • Kesson, Andy. John Lyly and Early Modern Authorship. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2014.

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    Approaches Lyly’s plays in relation to questions of sexuality and argues that the reception of Lyly since the 17th-century has been shaped by the patriarchal structures of the canon.

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  • Pincombe, Michael. The Plays of John Lyly: Eros and Eliza. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1996.

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    Discusses all eight plays, with an opening chapter on euphuism. Elizabethan concepts of love and desire provide a framework for the critical narrative, and the chapter on Sappho and Phao is especially useful for those interested in questions of gender.

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  • Pincombe, Michael. “Lyly and Lesbianism: The Mysteries of the Closet in Sappho and Phao.” In Renaissance Configurations: Voices/Bodies/Spaces, 1580–1690. Edited by Gordon McMullan, 89–107. London: Macmillan, 1998.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230378667Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A reading of lesbianism in the play that is broadly new historicist in approach. Important for opening up Lyly’s significance as a playwright interested in the depiction of female same-sex desire.

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  • Rackin, Phyllis. “Androgyny, Mimesis, and the Marriage of the Boy Heroine on the English Renaissance Stage.” PMLA 102.1 (1987): 29–41.

    DOI: 10.2307/462490Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores cross-dressing in Galatea; Rackin’s reading of Lyly’s plays is less detailed in comparison with her discussion of cross-dressing in drama by Shakespeare and Jonson.

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  • Wixson, Christopher. “Cross-Dressing and John Lyly’s Gallathea.” SEL: Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900 41.2 (2001): 241–256.

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    Builds usefully on Rackin 1987; Wixson argues that the play’s depiction of same-sex love between two cross-dressed female characters is not at odds with the socially conservative framework that is otherwise advanced by the drama.

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