The University Wits
From The Oxford Companion to English Literature, ed. Margaret Drabble.
Lyly, John (?1554-1606), the grandson of William *Lily. He was educated possibly at the King's School, Canterbury, then at Magdalen College, Oxford. He studied also at Cambridge. He was MP successively for Hindon, Aylesbury, and Appleby (1589-1601), and supported the cause of the bishops in the *Martin Marprelate controversy in a satirical pamphlet, *Pappe with an Hatchet (1589). The first part of his *Euphues, the Anatomy of Wit appeared in 1578, and the second part, Euphues and His England, in 1580. Its peculiar style came to be known as 'Euphuism'. Among Lyly's plays, all of which were written for performance by boy actors to courtly audiences, are Alexander, Campaspe and Diogenes (see under Campaspe, its later title); Sapho and Phao (1584); Endimion (1591); Midas (1592), Mother Bombie (1594, see under Bumby). The attractive songs in the plays, including such well-known lyrics as 'Cupid and my Campaspe played', were first printed in Blount's collected edition of 1632; it is doubtful to what extent theyh are the work of Lyly. Although Euphues was Lyly's most popular and influential work in the Elizabethan period, his plays are now admired for their flexible use of dramatic prose and the elegant patterning of their construction. R. W. Bond edited Lyly's works in 1902, and there is a good study of him by G. K. Hunter, John Lyly: The Humanist as Courtier (1962).
Peele, George (1556-96), the son of James Peele, clerk of Christ's Hospital and author of city pageants and books on accountancy. He was educated at *Christ's Hospital, Broadgates Hall (Pembroke College), and Christ Church, Oxford. From about 1581 he was mainly resident in London, and puruing an active and varied literary career. He was an associate of many other writers of the period, such as Thomas *Watson and Robert *Greene. His works fall into three main categories: plays, pageants, and 'gratulatory' and miscellaneous verse. His surviving plays are *The Araygnement of Paris (1585), Edward I (1593), *The Battle of Alcazar (1594); *The Old Wives Tale (1595); and *David and Fair Bethsabe (1599). His miscellaneous verse includes *Polyhymnia (1590) and The Hounour of the Garter (1593), a gratulatory poem to the Earl of Northumberland. Peele's work is dominated by courtly and patriotic themes, and his technical achievements include extending the range of non-dramatic blank verse. The jest book The Merrie Conceited Jests of George Peele (1607) seems to bear little relation to Peele's actual personality. His Life and Works were edited by C. T. Prouty (3 vols, 1952-70).
Greene, Robert (1558-92), born in Norwich, educated at St John's College and Clare Hall, Cambridge, from 1575 until 1583, and incorporated at Oxford in 1588. From about 1585 he lived mainly in London. Although he liked to stress his connections with both universities, his later literary persona was that of a feckless drunkard, who abandoned his wife and children to throw himself on the mercies of tavern hostesses and courtesans; writing pamphlets and plays was supposedly a last resort when his credit failed. He is said to have died of a surfeit of Rhenish wine and pickled herrings, though it may more likely have been plague, of which there was a severe outbreak in 1592. Greene was attacked at length by Gabriel *Harvey in Foure Letters (1592) as the 'Ape of Euphues' and 'Patriarch of shifters'; *Nashe defended him in Strange Newes in the same year, acknowledging Greene to have been a drunkard and a debtor, but claiming that 'Hee inherited more vertues than vices.' Greene's 37 publications, progressing from moral dialogues to prose romances, romantic plays, and finally realistic accounts of underworld life, bear out Nashe's assertion that printers were only too glad 'to pay him deare for the very dregs of his wit'. The sententious moral tone of his works suggests that his personal fecklessness and deathbed repentance may have been partly a pose.
Among the more attractive of his romances are the Lylyan sequel Euphues his Censure to Philautus (1587); *Pandosto: The Triumph of Time and Perimedes the Blacke-Smith (1588); *Menaphon (1589). Among his 'repentance' pamphlets are Greenes Mourning Garment and Greenes Never too Late (1590) and the work attributed to him *Greenes Groats-Worth of Witte (1592). Greenes Vision (1592) is a fictionalized acccount of his deathbed repentance in which he receives advice from *Chaucer, *Gower, and King Solomon. The low-life pamphlets include A Notable Discover of Coosenage (1591) and three 'conny-catching' pamphlets in the same years 1591-2. His eight plays were all published posthumously. The best known are Orlando furioso (1595), *Frier Bacon and Frier Bongay (1594) and *James the Fourth (1598), of which there are editions by J. A. Lavin and N. Sanders.
Greene is now best known for his connections with Shakespeare. The attack on him in the Groats-Worth of Witte (below) as an 'upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers' is the first reference to Shakespeare as a London dramatist, and his Pandosto provided Shakespare with the source for *The Winter's Tale. The voluminousness of Greene's works and the supposed profligacy of his life have caused him to be identified with the typical Elizabethan hack writer; he probably provided a name and a model for the swaggering Nick Greene in Virginia *Woolf's Orlando (1928) . Green's works were edited in 15 volumes by *Grosart (1881-6).
Greenes Groats-Worth of Witte, Bought with a Million of Repentance, a prose tract attributed to Robert *Greene, but edited and perhaps written by Henry *Chettle, published 1592.
It begins with the death of the miser Gorinius, who leaves the bulk of his large fortune to his elder son Lucanio, and only 'an old groat' to the younger, Roberto (i.e. the author), 'wherewith I wish him to buy a groatsworth of wit'. Roberto conspires with a courtesan to fleece his brother, but the courtesan betrays him, subsequently ruining Lucanio for her sole profit. The gradual degradation of Roberto is then narrated, and the tract ends with the curious 'Address' to his fellow playwrights *Marlowe, *Lodge, and *Peele, urging them to spend their wits to better purpose than the making of plays. It contains the well-known passage aobut the 'upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers', the *'Johannes fac totum¡, who 'is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey', which probably refers to Shakespeare as a non-graduate dramatist newly arrived in London.
Lodge, Thomas (1558-1625), son of Sir Thomas Lodge, lord mayor of London, educated at Merchant Taylors' School, London, and Trinity Colelge, Oxford. He was a student of Lincoln's Inn in 1578. In 1579 he pubished an anonymous Defence of Poetyr, Music, and Stage Plays, a reply to *Gosson's Schoole of Abuse, and in 1584 An Alarum against Usurers (dedicated to Sir Philip *Sidney), depicting the danger that moneylenders present to young spendthrifts. Appended to it was a prose romance Forbonius and Prisceria. *Scillaes Metamorphosis, an Ovidian verse fable, was published in 1589. In about 1586 Lodge sailed on a privateering expedition to the Terceras and the Canaries, and in 1591-3 to South America. On the earlier voyage he wrote his best-known romance *Rosalynde (1590), 'hatcht in the stormes of the Ocean, and feathered in the surges of many perillous seas'. After four more minor prose romances he published Phillis: Honoured with Pastorall Sonnets, Elegies, and Amorous Delights (1593), including many poems adapted from Italian and French models , to which was appended 'The Complaynt of Elstred', the story of the unhappy mistress of King *Locrine. His play The Wounds of Civill War (1594), about Marius and Sulla, had been performed by the Lord Admiral's Men; he also wrote A Looking Glasse for London and England (1594), in collaboration with Robert *Greene. It is not clear whether he wrote any other plays. A Fig for Momus (1595) was a miscellaneous collection of satirical poems including epistles addressed to Samuel *Daniel and Michael *Drayton. Wits Miserie, and the Worlds Madnesse: Discovering the Devils Incarnate of this Age was published in 1596, as was a remarkable romance, *A Margarite of America, written during his second voyage, under Thomas Cavendish, while they were near the Magellan Straits. Lodge soon after this became a Roman Catholic, and studied medicine at Avignon; he was incorporated MD at Oxford in 1602, and in the next year published A Treatise of the Plague. He completed two major works of translation: The Famous and Memorable Works of Josephus (1602), which was frequently reprinted, and The Workes of Lucius Annaeus Seneca (1614). His last work was a translation of Goulart's commentary on *Du Bartas (1621). Lodge is now mainly remembered for Rosalynde and for the lyrics scattered throughout his romances. His works were edited by E. *Gosse (4 vols, 1883).
Other "University Wits":