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Lyly’s ‘Anatomy of Wit’ | Early Modern and Open Access

By August 14, 2016 No Comments

This is part of a series here at TSS: Early Modern and Open Access regularly showcases peer-reviewed articles (or other resources) of interest to early modernists that are freely available in open access formats.


Adele Kudish, “John Lyly’s Anatomy of Wit as an Example of Early Modern Psychological Fiction,” Cerae 3 (2016)


John Lyly developed the prose style that would become known as euphuism, named after the main character in his Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit (1578) and Euphues and his England (1580). The term ‘euphuism’ signifies the use of paradoxical and self-correcting language, while its spokespersons express a great deal of self-doubt and contradiction. We can conjecture that Lyly intended his ironic, detailed examination of ‘wit’ to dissect both the intellect and its often-inconsistent maneuverings, revealing a cynical view of human behavior. In this article, I re-read The Anatomy of Wit (1578) in the context of a larger body of what I call proto-psychological fiction. I argue that certain Early Modern texts, of which Lyly’s is a strong example, share tropes and motifs that indicate the author’s interest in the workings of human psychology avant la lettre, and more specifically, of a pessimistic strain of thought that is critical of self-awareness and doubtful of our ability to be guided by reason.

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Author Lindsay

Lindsay Ann Reid is a regular contributor to The Scrivener and Early Modern and Open Access. She holds a PhD from the University of Toronto and is a Lecturer in English at the National University of Ireland, Galway.

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