|Baptised||11 July 1558|
St George's Church
|Died||3 September 1592 (aged 34)|
|Occupation||Writer, dramatist, playwright|
Robert Greene (1558–1592) was an English author popular in his day, and now best known for a posthumous pamphlet attributed to him, Greene's Groats-Worth of Witte, bought with a million of Repentance , widely believed to contain an attack on William Shakespeare. Robert Greene was a popular Elizabethan dramatist and pamphleteer known for his negative critiques of his colleagues. He is said to have been born in Norwich.He attended Cambridge, receiving a BA in 1580, and an M.A. in 1583 before moving to London, where he arguably became the first professional author in England. Greene was prolific and published in many genres including romances, plays and autobiography.
According to Richardson, "The chief problem in compiling a biography of Robert Greene is the name. Robert must have been almost the most popular Elizabethan Christian name and Greene is no unusual surname".Newcomb states that Robert Greene
was probably the Robert Greene, son of Robert Greene, baptized on 11 July 1558 at St George's, Tombland, Norwich. Greene later described himself as from Norwich on his title-pages, and the year is appropriate for the Robert Greene who matriculated at St John's College, Cambridge, as a sizar on 26 November 1575. The author's father was probably one of two Robert Greenes found later in parish records: either a saddler who lived modestly in the parish until 1599, or a cordwainer who kept an inn in Norwich from the late 1570s until his death in 1591. The saddler appeals to biographers who attribute the writer's later low-life sympathies to a humble birth; the innkeeper, a more prosperous man possibly related to landowners, interests scholars who note the social ambitions of Greene's early works. However, in his will proved in 1591, the innkeeper did not mention a son Robert, although he may have disinherited that son (as the writer implied in one autobiographical statement).
Both the Norwich cordwainer-turned-innkeeper and the Norwich saddler left wills, proved in 1591 and 1596 respectively, but neither will mentions a son named Robert.
Greene is thought to have attended the Norwich Grammar School, although this cannot be confirmed as enrolment documents for the relevant years are lost.Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, provided scholarships for students from the Norwich grammar school, and for this reason Greene's matriculation as a sizar at St John's College, Cambridge, has been considered "strange". A reason offered for Greene's enrolment at St John's is that some of the gentry of South Yorkshire attended St John's, and among the dedicatees of, or authors of commendatory verses for Greene's books were members of the Darcy, Portington, Lee, Stapleton, and Rogers families, all centred at Snaith, Yorkshire; according to Richardson, the Robert Greene from Norwich who was an innkeeper may have been an immigrant from Yorkshire connected to 'a large family of Greenes' who lived in the parish of Snaith, and may actually have left Norwich to reside at Snaith from 1571 to 1577.
There is no record of Greene's having taken part in the dramatic productions at Cambridge in 1579 and 1580, although 18 of his classmates and Fellows of the Cambridge colleges acted in Hymenaeus, and 46 in Richardus Tertius .His academic performance as an undergraduate at Cambridge was mediocre; on 22 January 1580 he took his BA, graduating 38th out of 41 students in his college, and 115th out of the total university graduating class that year of 205 students. He "apparently transferred to Clare College for his 1583 MA", where he placed 5th out of 12 students in his college, and 29th of the 129 students at the university. It was "rare for a student to migrate to another college (as Greene did) after he had received the baccalaureate", and no record of Greene's transfer to Clare College has been discovered, nor does his name appear in the Clare Hall Buttery Book for 1580–84. Greene's claim to association with Clare College is found in the second part of Mamillia, which was not published until 1593, after Greene's death, in which the dedicatory epistle to Robert Lee and Roger Portington is signed "Robert Greene. From my Studie in Clarehall the vii. Of Julie".
According to Newcomb, "Other events of [Greene's] youth must be derived from autobiographical remarks that may not be reliable".In The Repentance of Robert Greene, written in the first person, Greene claimed to have travelled to Italy and Spain; however, no evidence of Greene's continental trip has been found, "or—unless we take merely his word for it—that he ever made the trip at all". Further doubt is cast on Greene's continental journey by Norbert Bolz, who after undertaking a computer analysis of the vocabulary of The Repentance, concluded that "The Repentance of Robert Greene was in fact not written by Robert Greene".
In The Repentance, Greene claimed to have married a gentleman's daughter, whom he abandoned after having had a child by her and spent her dowry, after which she went to Lincolnshire, and he to London.In Four Letters (1592), Gabriel Harvey prints a letter allegedly written by Greene to his wife in which he addresses her as "Doll". However, "[E]xtensive searches of London and Norwich records by successive biographers have failed finally to locate the record of Greene's marriage".
After his move to London, Greene published over twenty-five works in prose in a variety of genres, becoming "England's first celebrity author".
In 1588, he was granted an MA from Oxford University, "almost certainly a courtesy degree".Thereafter the title pages of some of his published works bore the phrase Utruisq. Academiae in Artibus Magister', "Master of Arts in both Universities".
Greene died 3 September 1592,(aged 34 if he was the Robert Greene baptised in 1558). His death and burial were announced by Gabriel Harvey in a letter to Christopher Bird of Saffron Walden dated 5 September, first published as a "butterfly pamphlet" about 8 September, and later expanded as Four Letters and Certain Sonnets, entered in the Stationers' Register on 4 December 1592. Harvey attributed Greene's demise to "a surfeit of pickle herring and Rhenish wine", and claimed he had been buried in "the new churchyard near Bedlam" on 4 September. No record of Greene's burial has been found.
According to The Repentance of Robert Greene, Greene is alleged to have written Groatsworth during the month prior to his death, including in it a letter to his wife asking her to forgive him and stating that he was sending their son to her. No record of Greene's son by his wife has been found; however, in Four Letters, Gabriel Harvey claimed that Greene kept a mistress, Em, the sister of a criminal known as "Cutting Ball" hanged at Tyburn. Harvey described her as "a sorry ragged quean of whom [Greene] had his base son Infortunatus Greene". According to Newcomb, a Fortunatus Greene was buried at Shoreditch on 12 August 1593, "whose folk-tale name might lie behind Harvey's jest".
According to Newcomb, '[Greene's] works evince an inexhaustible linguistic facility, grounded in wide (if not painstaking) reading in the classics, and extra-curricular reading in the modern continental languages'.He wrote prolifically: From 1583 to 1592, he published more than twenty-five works in prose, becoming one of the first authors in England to support himself with his pen in an age when professional authorship was virtually unknown.
Greene's literary career began with the publication of a long romance, Mamillia, entered in the Stationers' Register on 3 October 1580.Greene's romances were written in a highly wrought style which reached its highest level in Pandosto (1588) and Menaphon (1589). Short poems and songs incorporated in some of the romances attest to his ability as a lyric poet. One song from Menaphon, Weep not my wanton, smile upon my knee, (a mother's lullaby to her baby son), enjoyed immense success, and is now probably his best-known work.
In his later "coney-catching" pamphlets, Greene fashioned himself into a well-known public figure, telling colourful inside stories of rakes and rascals duping young gentlemen and solid citizens out of their hard-earned money. These stories, told from the perspective of a repentant former rascal, have been considered autobiographical, and have been thought to incorporate many facts of Greene's own life thinly veiled as fiction: his early riotous living, his marriage and desertion of his wife and child for the sister of a notorious character of the London underworld, his dealings with players, and his success in the production of plays for them. However, according to Newcomb, in his later prose works "Greene himself built his persona around a myth of prodigal decline that cannot be taken at face value".His plays earned himself the title as one of the "University Wits", including George Peele, Thomas Nashe, and Christopher Marlowe.
Richardson makes a similar argument, concluding that Greene's later works 'prejudice the examination of all the work before them', and that the prose works prior to the cony-catching and repentance pamphlets establish that 'initially at least Greene was respectable'. Richardson considers that Greene:
claimed from the outset a moral or civilizing purpose in his writing. His tales repeatedly illustrate the disastrous disruptions caused in life by passion and laud the life of restraint. His views are basically conservative ... He equivocates and hesitates over the defence of the values of a conservative culture, virginity, true devotion, strict moral probity.
In addition to his prose works, Greene also wrote several plays, none of them published in his lifetime,including The Scottish History of James IV , Alphonsus , and his greatest popular success, Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay , as well as Orlando Furioso , based on Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando Furioso .
In addition to the plays published under his name after his death, Greene has been proposed as the author of several other dramas, including a second part to Friar Bacon which may survive as John of Bordeaux , The Troublesome Reign of King John , George a Greene , Fair Em , A Knack to Know a Knave , Locrine , Selimus , and Edward III , and even Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus and Henry VI plays.
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Greene is most familiar to Shakespeare scholars for his pamphlet Greene's Groats-Worth of Wit, which alludes to a line, "O tiger's heart wrapped in a woman's hide", found in Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part 3 (c. 1591–92):
... 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 blanke verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey.
Greene evidently complains of an actor who believes he can write as well as university-educated playwrights, alludes to the actor with a quotation that appears in both the True Tragedy quarto and Shakespeare's Folio version of Henry VI, Part 3 , and uses the term "Shake-scene", a unique term never used before or after Greene's screed, to refer to the actor. The Oxford English Dictionary notes that it is "Of uncertain or vague meaning: used by Greene in his attack on Shakespeare."
Some scholars have hypothesized that all or part of Groatsworth was written shortly after Greene's death by Henry Chettle or another one of his fellow writers, hoping to capitalise on a lurid tale of death-bed repentance.Hanspeter Born argues that Greene wrote the whole of Groatsworth, and that his deathbed attack on the "upstart Crow" was provoked by Shakespeare's interference with a play attributed to Greene, A Knack to Know a Knave.
Greene's colourful and irresponsible character has led some, including Stephen Greenblatt, to speculate that Greene may have served as the model for Shakespeare's Falstaff.[ citation needed ] His quotation has also been used as the title for the 2016 sitcom Upstart Crow on Shakespeare's life, written by Ben Elton, its story commencing in 1592 (the year the quotation was written) and featuring Greene as a character (played by Mark Heap).
In the Ben Elton-written sitcom, Upstart Crow , he is portrayed by Mark Heap as being alive following the publication of Groats-Worth and a constant obstacle to Shakespeare's success.
His most famous song Weep not my wanton, smile upon my knee is a recurring motif in the historical novel The Grove of Eagles by Winston Graham.
William Shakespeare was an English poet, playwright, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's greatest dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon". His extant works, including collaborations, consist of some 39 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and a few other verses, some of uncertain authorship. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.
William Kempe, commonly referred to as Will Kemp, was an English actor and dancer specialising in comic roles and best known for having been one of the original players in early dramas by William Shakespeare. Roles associated with his name may include the great comic creation, Falstaff, and his contemporaries considered him the successor to the great clown of the previous generation, Richard Tarlton.
Thomas Nashe [also Nash] was an Elizabethan playwright, poet, satirist and a significant pamphleteer. He is known for his novel The Unfortunate Traveller, his pamphlets including Pierce Penniless, and his numerous defences of the Church of England.
Martin Marprelate was the name used by the anonymous author or authors of the seven Marprelate tracts that circulated illegally in England in the years 1588 and 1589. Their principal focus was an attack on the episcopacy of the Anglican Church.
Henry Chettle was an English dramatist and miscellaneous writer of the Elizabethan era, best known for his pamphleteering.
Gabriel Harvey was an English writer. Harvey was a notable scholar, whose reputation suffered from his quarrel with Thomas Nashe. Henry Morley, writing in the Fortnightly Review, has argued that Harvey's Latin works demonstrate that he was distinguished by qualities very different from the pedantry and conceit usually associated with his name.
Thomas Lodge, the son of a Lord Mayor of London, was an English writer and author during the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods.
Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, , was the only son of Henry Wriothesley, 2nd Earl of Southampton, and Mary Browne, daughter of Anthony Browne, 1st Viscount Montagu. Shakespeare's two narrative poems, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, were dedicated to Southampton, who is frequently identified as the Fair Youth of Shakespeare's Sonnets.
Sir Walter Wilson Greg, known professionally as W. W. Greg, was one of the leading bibliographers and Shakespeare scholars of the 20th century.
Thomas West, 2nd and 11th Baron De La Warr of Wherwell Abbey, Hampshire, was a member of Elizabeth I's Privy Council.
William Shakespeare was an actor, playwright, poet, and theatre entrepreneur in London during the late Elizabethan and early Jacobean eras. He was baptised on 26 April 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, England, in the Holy Trinity Church. At the age of 18 he married Anne Hathaway with whom he had three children. He died in his home town of Stratford on 23 April 1616, aged 51. Though more is known about Shakespeare's life than those of most other Elizabethan and Jacobean writers, few personal biographical facts survive, which is unsurprising in the light of his social status as a commoner, the low esteem in which his profession was held, and the general lack of interest of the time in the personal lives of writers. Information about his life derives from public instead of private documents: vital records, real estate and tax records, lawsuits, records of payments, and references to Shakespeare and his works in printed and hand-written texts. Nevertheless, hundreds of biographies have been written and more continue to be, most of which rely on inferences and the historical context of the 70 or so hard facts recorded about Shakespeare the man, a technique that sometimes leads to embellishment or unwarranted interpretation of the documented record.
Fair Em, the Miller's Daughter of Manchester, is an Elizabethan-era stage play, a comedy written c. 1590. It was bound together with Mucedorus and The Merry Devil of Edmonton in a volume labelled "Shakespeare. Vol. I" in the library of Charles II. Though scholarly opinion generally does not accept the attribution to William Shakespeare, there are a few who believe they see Shakespeare's hand in this play.
Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, originally entitled The Honorable Historie of Frier Bacon and Frier Bongay, is an Elizabethan era stage play, a comedy written by Robert Greene. Widely regarded as Greene's best and most significant play, it has received more critical attention than any other of Greene's dramas.
John of Bordeaux, or The Second Part of Friar Bacon, is an Elizabethan era stage play, the anonymous sequel to Robert Greene's Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay. The play was never printed in its own historical era and survived in a single, untitled, defective manuscript until it was named and published in 1936. It is usually dated to the 1590–94 period, shortly after the success of Greene's original Friar Bacon.
Cuthbert Burby was a London bookseller and publisher of the Elizabethan and early Jacobean eras. He is known for publishing a series of significant volumes of English Renaissance drama, including works by William Shakespeare, Robert Greene, John Lyly, and Thomas Nashe.
Jocasta "Joyce" Culpeper, of Oxon Hoath was the mother of Catherine Howard, the fifth wife and Queen consort of King Henry VIII.
Greenes, Groats-worth of Witte, bought with a million of Repentance (1592) is a tract published as the work of the deceased playwright Robert Greene.
Sir Marmaduke Constable, of Everingham, Yorkshire, was an English soldier and Member of Parliament. He was the great-grandfather of the poet, Henry Constable, author of Diana, one of the first sonnet sequences in English.
Edward White was a London printer and stationer whose career spanned a period of over forty years. His shop in the booksellers' district of St Paul's Churchyard was at the Sign of the Gun, where he sold many anonymous works as well as works by Thomas Kyd, Robert Greene, Anthony Munday and Christopher Marlowe. Between 1594 and 1611 he sold all three quartos of William Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus.
A Knack to Know a Knave is a 1592 play closely associated with the principal performers Edward Alleyn and William Kempe. The play is a comic morality tale designed to highlight the talents of the celebrated clown Kempe, and is known from one text, itself arguably a memorial reconstruction. The author is unknown, though the involvement of Robert Greene has been suggested, as well as George Peele and Thomas Nashe. Very recent scholarship has argued for a Shakespearean connection. The play gives an insight into the nature of Elizabethan theatre during Shakespeare's time and the relationship between playscript and extemporised comedy.
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