‘They that tread in a maze’
Movement as emotion in John Lyly
in The Renaissance of emotion
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This chapter considers the emotional and motive implications of John Lyly’s writing. It moves from the spatial metaphors of Sapho and Phao to the representation of authorship as something uniquely painful in Lyly’s prose fiction. It concludes with the onstage creation of a character in Lyly’s verse play, The Woman in the Moon, which allows us to see painfully emotive subjectivity created onstage in both fictional and literal terms, as a small boy represents an empty body becoming a person. Lyly’s spatial metaphors and his exploration of authorship, prose style and character subjectivity make emotive experience physical and unstable. In performance, of course, all emotive representation is active, as the word ‘actor’ ought to remind us, but in Lyly, as with the epilogue above, audience response is repeatedly cast as an active as well as a reactive process. Lyly’s discussion of his own work seems to poise somewhere between the intellect and the passions, in what he calls a ‘labyrinth of conceits’. As a principal dramatist of ambiguity and uncertainty, he is especially helpful in relation to current debates about the history of emotion.

The Renaissance of emotion

Understanding affect in Shakespeare and his contemporaries

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