Elizabethan Prose Fiction : Essay writing

Also Read

      The romances and picaresque tales provided the basis of prose fiction of Elizabethan era. Paramount among the influences fostering the growth of Elizabethan prose fiction were the translations of the old Greek and Latin romances rediscovered at the Renaissance. At the same time, the literature of chivalry flowed in from Italy, France and Spain. Amadis de Gaul of Portugese origin and Don Quixote of Spain have an important influence on the developement of prose fiction in Elizabethan age. Two other books-Utopia of Thomas More and Lazarillo de Tormes by an unknown Spanish author added to the scope of the English novel. More's book encouraged the social analysis and Lazarillo gave a new direction to the picaresque tradition by satiric representation of the revolt of the underdog.

Elizabethan prose fiction were the translations of the old Greek and Latin romances rediscovered at the Renaissance
Elizabethan prose fiction

      Lyly's Euphues : The Anatoy of Wit, the first important romance in Elizabethan literature is based on North's Dinll of Princes and Castiglione's Courtier. The plot of Euphues is very slender and simply served as a peg on which to hang discourses, conversations and letters on the subject of love. Lyly published a sequel - Euphues and his England and the two together form the first prose fiction of England. It turns on the theme of romance - the conflict between love and friendship. The book, however, has greater importance for its style. Lyly's euphuism has come to be associated with extreme elaboration and artifice of style distinguished by excessive use of balanced antithesis.

      The second place in Elizabethan romance may be assigned to Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia published in 1590. It is a pastoral romance, its action being held in the ideal Arcadia where King Basileus has retired and where he brings up his daughters as shepherdesses. It marks a well-defined stage in the history of the novel. Sidney here invented a new style and for a while Arcadianism displaced euphuism. In essence, the book is a romance with a pastoral flavour. The framework of the story the atmosphere and the incidents were largely influenced by the Aethiopica of Heliodorus and Spanish pastoral romance Diana Enamorada. Sidney unlike Lyly made no attempt to imitate the manners of everyday life; his conceptions were poetic and his characters live at an unnatural pitch of intensity. Sidney's purpose was to depict every aspect of vice and virtue in an exciting romance or adventure. It is in some way a half-way house between the older romance of chivalry ard the heroic romances of the seventeenth century, The historical importance of Arcadia is that it linked up with first real signs of a shrewd differentiation of character which was to lead later on to the comedy of manners.

      Lyly and Sidney were scholars and courtiers and brought ease, rhythm and a grace into English prose. Greene and Nashe were scholars and lived wild lives. Their personal experiences provided the materials for their prose fiction. Greene, however, wrote romances like Pandosto and Menaphon which were based on the mediaeval pastoral romances of Longus. Thomas Lodge's Rosalynde and Emanudi Ford's Ornatus and Artesia also belong to the romantic and pastoral tales. Their style is initiative of that of Lyly. But both Lodge and Greene wrote realistic pamphlets based on their personal experiences. In his 'Conny-Catching' pamphlets Greene exposed with gusto the devices of the various kinds of money-sharks that infested the town. More entertaining is Thomas Deloney who describes work of craftsmen in narratives that are simple, anachronistic but based on realism. In Jack of Newbury, he shows the life of weavers, and in the Gentle Craft he tells the whole story of the shoemakers with some vivid and authentic scenes. Thomas Dekker portrayed contemporary life in a number of tracts of which the most successful is The Girls Homebooke which describes the low life of London.

      Thomas Nashe, however, is the most significant writer in realistic fiction. His chief contribution to prose fiction is the picaresque tale - The Unfortunate Traveller or the life of Jack Wilton, a story remarkable for its spirit and wit and for the streak of tragic realism which runs through the chief episodes. Nashe's rogue Jack Wilton begins his career in the army of Henry VIII and in his travels meets a number of living people. Here is the nearest approach to the realistic picaresque novel which anticipates the novels of Defoe, Fielding, Smollett of the eighteenth century In these writers-Greene, Nashe and Dekker the native stream of course, racy humour flowed freely and their tales of low life and ingenious rascality led the way to satirical, realistic fiction.

      Alongside these prose fictions in Elizabethan age which showed a marked change in theme and attitude congenial to the development of prose fiction, prose which is the medium of the novel developed both in its richness and flexibility and ease that is so essential for the growth of the novel. The importance of the contributions to the prose style of the Authorised Version of the Bible, of Bacon and Hooker and of Burton can hardly be overestimated. Hooker wrote plain and simple prose and Francis Bacon in his Non-fictional Essays wrote clear and self-conscious prose characterised by epigrammatic brilliance. The development of prose style, furnished the future writers with a medium of infinite flexibility and range.

Previous Post Next Post