from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition
- n. An affectedly elegant literary style of the late 16th and early 17th centuries, characterized by elaborate alliteration, antitheses, and similes.
- n. Affected elegance of language.
The literary affectation called euphuism was directly based on the precepts of the handbooks on rhetoric; its author, John Lyly, only elaborated and made more precise tricks of phrase and writing, which had been used as exercises in the schools of his youth.
Peele's "Arraignment of Paris, a Pastorall" is a court drama in the style of Lilly, intended to flatter the Queen, "poor in action but all the richer in gallant phrases, provided with songs, one in Italian, and with all kinds of love scenes between shepherds and shepherdesses, nymphs and terrestrial gods"; the diction is interesting, because it shows revolt from the prevailing "euphuism," and therefore Peele must be given the praise of first opposing Lilly's affected style.
Though the speeches in the plays, and single lines, have a beauty which tempts the ear to pause on them for their euphuism, yet the sentence is so loaded with meaning and so linked with its foregoers and followers, that the logician is satisfied.
As a consequence of the meaner nature of its characters this play is less tainted with euphuism than the rest, while its dialogue is as lively as ever, the four servants finding in their masters excellent foils to practise their wit upon.
A prose idyl is the term which best describes the courtly and pastoral character of Lodge's "Rosalynde," the last work of fiction of any importance which distinctly bears the impress of euphuism.
I have spoken of the movement generally, but it passed through many phases, such as arcadianism, gongorism, dubartism; and yet of all these phases euphuism was, I think, the most important: certainly if we confine our attention to English literature this must be admitted.
The word 'euphuism' comes from the name 'Euphues', a character in "Euphues, the Anatomy of Wit" and "Euphues and his England" by John Lyly, from Greek 'euphuēs', 'shapely'.