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composition. Every stimulus and theoretical as well as practical encouragement existed to bring this combination to pass. The great opportunity was therefore consciously seized; and it is no mere phrase to say, that in seizing it our first great Elisabethan dramatists addressed themselves, as men understanding their age, its signs, and its needs, to a national task.
Had it been otherwise, had the creative activity of Elisabethan genius failed to seek in dramatic literature its most attractive and its most appropriate sphere, our literature would have been left without its most splendid and its most peculiar growth. But more than this: the rich mine of our language would have remained unexplored and unworked in its fullest literary capabilities. Lastly, our national history and national life would have missed their most pregnant interpretation. The great Elisabethan age would have been, so to speak, isolated in the national consciousness from its predecessors and its successors, had not its dramatic literature, with a vividness out of the reach of any other literary form, held up the mirror of its past and of its present to itself and to posterity.
What, then, the genius of the Elisabethan age accomplished in dramatic literature, before the consummation of its glories presented itself in the works of its master-mind, I shall endeavour to show in my Third Chapter.
IN the group of dramatists of whom I propose to treat under a title which, though of course inaccurate, will I think find its justification, the first place in order of chronology belongs to JOHN LYLY'. Though connected personally with one at least of the dramatists to be subsequently noted, and with hardly more than a single exception exercising a marked influence upon the literary developement of all these predecessors of Shakspere, as well as of Shakspere himself, he yet stands in a sense apart, and is, more easily than any other of his contemporaries, distinguishable by characteristics of his own.
John Lyly (15541606).
Lyly (whose name I prefer to write as he seems to have His life. written it himself) was born in Kent in the year 1554, and passed through the regular stages of a University education at Magdalen College, Oxford. His literary reputation was established by his first work, the famous Euphues, published in 1579. At Magdalen he had in vain sought to obtain a Fellowship by asking the intervention of the Lord Treasurer Burghley2; and in spite of the celebrity which
1 The Dramatic Works of John Lilly. With notes and some account of his Life and Writings. By F. W. Fairholt. 2 vols. See also Collier, iii. 172 seqq. and two essays on John Lilly und Shakespeare by C. C. Hense in the Jahrbuch der deutschen Shakesp.-Gesellschaft, vols. vii. and viii. (1872 and 1873).
2 One passage may be quoted from the letter printed by Fairholt, I. xii, in¦ which the petitioner prays 'ut tua celsitudo dignetur serenissimæ regiæ majestatis literas (ut minus latine dicam) mandatorias extorquere, ut ad Magdalenses deferantur quo in eorum societatem te duce possim obrepere.' Burghley seems to have shown some other kindness to Lyly and to have taken him into his
he achieved as a writer, he never obtained the Court officeof Master of the Revels-on which his heart was set. The two letters which he at different times addressed to the Queen testify to the disappointment with which he had to contend throughout a laborious life. Besides the Euphues, and its continuation, Euphues and his England (1581), he produced the dramas which will be described below, and possibly one or two more; and engaged with great ardour in the most famous literary quarrel of his times, the Marprelate controversy. It has been conjectured that his participation in this quarrel was owing to his desire to revenge himself upon his former friend Gabriel Harvey; who had offended Lyly's patron the Earl of Oxford, and may have in some way been connected with his dismissal from the Earl's service or favour1. The pamphlet with which Lyly came forward in 1589 was the Pappe with an Hatchet, to which Harvey replied, being in his turn answered by Nash 2. The latter took the opportunity of paying a high compliment to his friend Lyly's literary ability (and, incidentally, to his power of taking tobacco); but the proofs of Lyly's reputation are too numerous to need mention. The testimony of his antagonist Harvey concurs with that of Meres in his own day, and of Ben Jonson in the next generation, to show the height to which his celebrity as a dramatist had reached. Yet though his fame, even in this capacity, outlasted his life (which came to a close in 1606), it is as the author of Euphues that he will always be best remembered.
The work in question, the delight of its own age, and, until recently, a byword in the mouth of posterity, together with its continuation, lies beyond the range of my subject;
service; but the Fellows of Magdalen either were not approached, or proved as inflexible as they afterwards did on an occasion more famous in English history.
1 See Introduction to Plaine Percevall, p. x (Puritan Discipline Tracts), 1860.
Lyly's tract was published in the collection just quoted, 1844. The meaning of its title (a proverbial expression signifying, in Fairholt's words, 'the roughest mode of doing a necessary service') is well illustrated by a passage in Mother Bombie, act i. sc. 3.
but as euphuism tinctures every page, almost every line, of Lyly's plays, and influenced a large number of other dramatists, Shakspere among them, it is worth while to form a distinct conception of the meaning of the term. Thanks to the efforts of a distinguished historian and critic of our literature, seconded by the republication in a generally accessible form of works which had almost vanished from the light of common day, euphuism may now be studied in Euphues, and need no longer be ridiculed perfunctorily at second-hand, on the authority of Shakspere and of Ben Jonson and Marston, or of Sir Walter Scott1.
If by euphuism be meant (and I take this to be the only legitimate application of the term) a literary style which Lyly's two novels raised to the height of fashion, and of which those novels (and, to an inappreciably less degree, the plays of the same author) furnish the most characteristic examples,—it may be well at once to distinguish what in Lyly may be fairly called euphuistic, and what it would be improper to distinguish by so specific a term.
The tendency to display classical learning (of a limited The classirange) in the choice of subjects, characters, and scenery, in a euphuism. profusion of references and allusions to classical mythology and history, and, above all, in a copious introduction of similes and phrases taken directly from classical sources, and of Latin quotations in the original tongue, is not peculiar to euphuism, though euphuism exhibited it in one of its most exaggerated developements. Euphuism is, after all, only a growth-if the term be preferred, an excrescence
of the Renascence; and the tendency in question it shared with the whole of the Renascence movement. To the belief that the two classical tongues, and Latin in particular, exclusively beseemed the mouth of a highlycultivated man, had succeeded the conviction that in them were alone to be found the ornaments necessary for
1 I refer of course to Professor H. Morley's article in the Quarterly Review on Euphuism (April, 1861), and to Mr. Arber's reprint of both Euphues and Euphues and his England (English Reprints, 1868). An article in the Saturday Review, May 29th, 1869, gives an admirable summary of the history of euphuism.
garnishing the rude body of modern speech. The earlier as well as the later representatives of the Renascence movement in the sixteenth century were at one in the belief which lay at the root of this taste, and its traces are to be found, whether we turn to the Essays of Montaigne or the plays of Ben Jonson. Roger Ascham, who abhorred the Italianated style, and Sir Philip Sidney, who assiduously cultivated it, Gabriel Harvey, and Gabriel Harvey's adversaries, Sir Thomas More in Henry VIII's reign and essayists like Overbury and Earle in James I's, were alike under the influence of this tendency.
Signally exemplified in
In England, however, it reached its height in the earlier Lyly's plays. part of the reign of Elisabeth; it was favoured by the learned tastes which the Queen shared with her predecessors and cultivated by her own studies and `exercises; and a courtly writer like Lyly, whose main object in life was to gain the good-will of Queen and Court, was certain to carry it to the extreme of possibility. To illustrate this from his plays only, it will be observed that, with a single exception (Mother Bombie), the subjects of one and all of them are derived from classical history or legend. The names of his characters, even where not directly taken from a particular legend, together with the subject of the play itself, recall classical originals, and episodes derived directly from classical sources are repeatedly interwoven with the main action. The shepherds in Gallathea have Horatian names; the story of Erisicthon in Love's Metamorphosis is from Ovid; Sir Tophas in Endimion has far more assuredly a prototype in the Miles Gloriosus of Plautus than Falstaff has one in Sir Tophas. But it is quite needless to multiply examples; they crowd every one of Lyly's dramas'. Still more obvious is his fondness for classical allusions of every kind, and above all for Latin quotations. Not one of his plays, or of his characters, spares us plentiful illustrations of this description of the author's learning. As it was said of Congreve's foolish personages, that even they Talk sense, as if possess'd, And each by inspiration breaks his jest,'
1 Cf. Hense, vii. 241 seqq.