In the final decade of the sixteenth century, Samuel Fallon argues in Paper Monsters: Persona and Literary Culture in Elizabethan England, a new kind of figure came into being: the literary persona. In this elegantly written and theoretically subtle study, Fallon explains that personae were writers’ alter egos and their avatars. Straddling the boundary between writer and work, a persona was at once a character within a given text and its putative author. Examples included the four figures Fallon discusses, Spenser's shepherd-poet Colin Clout, Sidney's poets Philisides and Astrophil, Thomas Nashe's satiric stand-in Pierce Penniless, and the charismatic prodigal Robert Greene, the semifictional, semiautobiographical invention of the romance writer of the same name. For a moment, personae were everywhere, giving an uncanny life to literary culture. Then they vanished.

Why did personae briefly become central to literary writing? In Fallon's account,...

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