Roger Ascham's violent attack on Italian fiction stands out for its apparent unreasonableness in the midst of the sensible pedagogic programme he proposed in his famous treatise on teaching Latin, The Scholemaster (1570). Ascham spoke for the advocates of censorship and writers of prose fiction themselves. One would think that there could not have been a better time for admirers and imitators of Italian fiction to have stayed discreetly silent. Instead the 1570s witnessed an astonishing deluge of English narratives which freely acknowledged their debts to Italian models. The prose fiction of the 1570s is not merely a useful repository of plots and situations to be quarried by later dramatists. It is witty, and daring, and innovative, in ways that are not always obvious to the twentieth-century reader who is unaware of its context, and who has lost some of the rules of the literary and political games it plays.
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