John Lyly and Early Modern Authorship

Andy Kesson
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This book discusses the extent of John Lyly's importance for early modern authorship in three parts: prose fiction, drama and reception. The first two parts study Lyly's impact on early modern culture, focusing on prose fiction and drama respectively. In each part, the first chapter assesses Lyly's originality and the second chapter assesses the impact of that authorship upon the print market for each of those literary forms. These two parts demonstrate how Lyly's work was innovative and was received and commodified by his contemporaries. The third part of the book examines Lyly's reception history up to the present day, focusing on nineteenth-century uses of the word euphuism as part of a debate over appropriate literary male style. The dynamic relationship between performance and text creates the market for two basic kinds of English literature: printed single-story fiction and printed drama. Lyly's dramaturgical stories are as elusive and protean as his prose fiction. At the same time that his character Euphues was being reworked and commodified by print writers and publishers, Lyly reworked and innovated ways to create fictional worlds and characters in the theatre.

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Shortlisted for the Globe Book Award, 2016


‘Giving us an entirely new view of John Lyly may not seem all that exciting, but Andy Kesson shows that Lyly's work in the nascent forms of prose fiction and in drama – in print and on stage – requires serious attention, and that it reshapes our idea of the early modern period. By bringing Lyly into important debates about popularity and authorship that have tended to be articulated around the figure of Shakespeare, Kesson challenges notions of Shakespeare's preeminence, and looks again at many of the generically and historically compartmentalised narratives of the early modern theatre. Kesson understands debates in book history, in drama, and in theory, and wears them all lightly. He establishes Lyly as absolutely key to many of our current critical concerns, in a book that is lucid, learned, and above all enthusiastic about its subject.'
Emma Smith, Fellow in English at Hertford College, Oxford

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