Elizabethan Fictions: Espionage, Counter-espionage, and the Duplicity of Fiction in Early Elizabethan Prose Narratives

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In Elizabethan Fictions, Robert Maslen argues that English writers of prose fiction from the 1550s to the 15570s produced some of the most daringly innovative publications of the sixteenth century. Through close examination of a number of key texts, from William Baldwin's satircal fable Beware the Cat to George Gascoigne's mock-romance he Adventures of Master F.J. and John Lyly's immensely popular Euphues books, he sets out to demonstrate the courage as well as the considerable skills which these undervalued authors brought to their work. They wrote at a time when the Elizabethan censorship system was growing increasingly rigorous in response to the perceived threat of infiltration from Catholic Europe, yet they chose to write books of a kind that was specifically associated with Catholic Italy and France. Their topics were the secrets, lies, and acts of petty treason which vitiated the private lives of the contemporary ruling classes, and their vigorous experiments with style and form marked out prose fiction for years to come as shifty and perilous literary territory. These writers presented themselves as masters of the arts of duplicity, whose talents made them emminently suitable for employment as informers or spies, whether for the government or for its most deadly ideological opponents. Their sophisticated narratives of sexual intrigue had a profound effect on the development of the complex poetry and drama which sprung up towards the end of the century, as well as of the modern novel. This book provides a much-needed reappraisal of their achievements.

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Oxford University Press
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