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Euphues: the Anatomy of Wit by John Lyly

Euphues: the Anatomy of Wit (1578)

by John Lyly

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Euphues is a fable from the fifteen-seventies, a time more of courtly manners than manly courtiers. ‘Tis more a manual of speaking than a study of man. ‘Tis style over substance, rhyme over reason, affectation more than effect, more a novel of rhetoric than a realistic novel.

The plot is simply and swiftly put: Euphues, a young scholar of Athens, decides to abandon his studies to sojourn abroad, for the flower blooms brightest where the soil is fresh. He names Naples as his aim, and there befriends Philatus, a noble native. Now Philatus’s finacée is the lovely Lucilla. To see Lucilla is to be stricken by Love, and as Paris to Menelaus ‘twas Euphues to Philatus, taking the heart of his Helen and rewarding friendship with infidelity, repaying trust with treachery. But just as Love is Folly, so Lucilla is fickle. As soon as Euphues breaks with Philatus, does Lucilla betray Euphues, casting her courtesies upon a courtier called Curio.

Euphues is made mature by misfortune, draws discernment from disappointment, and adjourns to Athens to resume his researches. Ere long he is producing essays and penning epistles, perpetually promoting a stern philosophy and a strict piety. Yet the wisdom of Euphues is no more than the wit of a magpie: Lyly but plagiarizes Plutarch and imitates Erasmus. His script “On Education” to cite an example is but the same-named chapter of Plutarch’s “Moralia” with minor amendments.

Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit displays the fanciful style of a frivolous set. ‘Tis a book less read than ridiculed, less studied than satirized. Even Shakespeare found profit in poking fun at its silly alliterations, its rhymes and repetitions, and its ludicrous allusions. Read it, if you will, as a curiosity of the age, not as an ageless creation, for this Lyly smelleth sweet, but nourisheth not. ( )
13 vote StevenTX | Sep 13, 2012 |
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'Euphues: The anatomy of wit' is one work and 'Euphues his England' is its sequel. The two works are sometime published separately, and sometimes combined into one voiume. The stand-alone editions should not be combined with the two-work editions.
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