EUPHUİSM,is a prose style marked by the pervasive use of carefully balanced antithetical phrases. Anticipated in ancient Greek rhetoric and early Renaissance writers, it was fully developed by the Elizabethan author John Lyly and named after his romance Euphues (1578).
Euphuism is a style for argument, for presenting neatly defined cases. In Euphues, for example, the hero’s advisor sums up: “Thou art a young sojourner, I an old senior; thou secure doubting no mishap, I sorrowful dreading thy misfortune.” Here the conditions of the two men are grasped in verbal units of equal length linked by alliteration of the contrasting words. Further, euphuism supports its cases with clumps of illustrations drawn from mythology or natural history: “Ermines have fair skins from foul livers; women fair faces but false hearts.“
Although euphuism has been termed a “disease of language,” Tudor prose—previously often clumsy—benefited from its clarity and precision. Its vigor and logical sharpness made it effective in depicting a web of intricate, carefully observed relationships. Lyly’s success provoked imitation by Thomas Lodge and Robert Greene, but the popularity of the style proved brief. Sir Philip Sidney attacked it, and in Shakespeare‘s Henry IV, Part I, Falstaff parodies it. Later examples of euphuism occur in the historical novels of Henry Kingsley and Sir Walter Scott.