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Updated: Feb 28

Robert Greene
Robert Greene

After having discussed the profoundly talented and very young University Wit, Christopher Marlowe, let’s get into the discussion of another University Wit, Robert Greene. Robert Greene was born in Norwich in 1558. He was a popular Elizabethan dramatist and pamphleteer known for his negative critiques of his colleagues. He attended Cambridge, receiving his graduate degree in 1580 and master’s in 1583 before moving to London where he became the first professional author of England. Very less has been recorded about his early life or childhood.

In “The Repentance, Greene” which was earlier noted to be his autobiographical account but later was found that it was not written by him, mentions of him being married to a gentleman’s daughter, whim he abandoned after having had a child by her and spending her dowry. After this she went to Lincoln-shire and he to London. However, this is just a hypothesis and confirmed records have not been found. After moving to London, Greene published over twenty-five works in prose in a variety of genres which gave him the fame of “England’s first celebrity author”.

Robert Greene wrote the first successful romantic comedy in English “Honorable History of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay”. It is supposed to be the forerunner to Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” and “Midsummer’s Night Dream”. The source of this play was a 16th century anonymous prose romance “History of Friar Bungay” and a 13th century real figure Roger Bacon who enjoys the reputation of a manager.

However, let us talk about one of the most controversial works of Robert Greene which was published posthumously i.e. “Greene’s Groats-Worth of Witte, bought with a million of Repentance”. This work of his directly attacks William Shakespeare accusing him of plagiarism and false pride. He says “…for there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you : and being an absolute Johannes factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country”. To simplify, he tells that “Shakespeare is an upstart crow beautified with our (University Wits’) feathers. However, as Shakespeare was drawing inspiration from everywhere, even his critics and answering them in his own ways , he modeled the character of “Falstaff’ On Robert Green (According to Stephen Greenblatt”.

Robert died at a young age of 34 in 1592. His death and burial was announced by Gabriel Harvey which was supposedly due to “a surfeit of pickle herring and Rhenish wine”. Again, no record of Greene’s burial has been found.

Such are the lesser known and suspicious life stories of the early writer. Having discussed two of the University Wits, there are many more writers to go. So, keep visiting for a sneak peek of the literary world.

Happy Reading!

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