Greene with envy

GreeneRobert Greene was one of the first professional writers in England. A grammar school boy, of course, (no enrolment records, of course), six years Shakespeare's senior but with many more years professional experience. His ambition was to be thought a great lyrical poet but as a professional writer he had to go where the money was. Like Marlowe, he went to university, Unlike Oxford, he graduated with a BA in 1580 and after more years of study, received an MA in 1583.

He wrote and published anything that produced cash: pamphlets, scandal, poetry and plays. A true pioneer of the art of making a living from publishing. They say in Silicon Valley that you can always tell a pioneer by the arrows in his back. Pioneers tend to resent the success of followers, marching though the doors they have struggled to open and capitalising on the markets they have discovered and to which they once had exclusive access.

All of which combines to excuse Greene from a spiteful swipe at the young Shakespeare and the success of his earliest stage work, the Henrician Trilogy. After restoring The Rose at a cost of £100, Henslowe's 1592 season opened with a play by Greene, Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay - two magic friars who can discover things by using something close enough to CCTV for the play to be called science fiction.  A failure.

A string of anonymous plays followed, genre pieces by the look of their titles, The Fair Mulacco, The Spanish Comedy of Don Horatio, Sir John Mandeville and Harry of Cornwall along with another work by Greene, Orlando Furioso. All flops.

Saturday 26 February saw the first full house for Marlowe's Jew of Malta, which must have been a relief. Then, the following Friday, the most successful and highest earning play of the season, Henry VI by William Shakespeare, though no one in the audience knew that at the time. Everyone working in the theatre would have known who Will Shakespeare was, however. You can't conceal success in an industry in which success is rare, competition is intense and failure is public. It would be like trying to conceal the identity of J K Rowling or Andrew Lloyd Webber in a town the size of Kettering.

On June 11, Will had the sequel out. Henry VI Part 2, soon followed by Henry VI Part 3 which also played to full houses.

Will's work was profitable because it was different. It played to the crowd. He didn't just give them heads chopped off and French saints burned alive.

Will was the first playwright to manipulate the atmosphere of a full playhouse by by building a steady rise and fall of tension into his narrative thread, cushioning his surprises and ratcheting up the graph of tension in the same way as the great story-telling bards before him or Alfred Hitchcock, 400 years later. No playwright had done this before. The only place the skill could have been learned was in the modern, professional theatre, watching its modern, paying audience react to the action on the stage.  This was new. And it worked.

But it was a new wave Greene was going to be unable to surf as ill health, brought on by a dissipated life, took its toll. He was forced to remain behind, when the playhouses were closed after a rough house led to a riot, much like the one Oxford tried to arrange in the film Anonymous. The players left to tour the provinces and stayed away as the plague took hold in London and killed around 15% of its remaining inhabitants.

Groatsworth

Greene was bitter about his desertion by most of the industry he had helped create. Just before he died, in his Groatsworth of Wit, he wrote:

"..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 factotum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey" 

There's no doubt to whom he refers. It's Will Shakespeare, the man from Stratford, the playwright with no degree and no track record who has outshone him at the box office.

Like Oxford's death in 1604, this is an incontrovertible fact that cannot be ignored. 

'Shake-scene' is an obvious connection . Oxford's supporters try to sweep this into the egregious sandstorm they have kicked up around the different spelling of Shakespeare's name.

As unconvincing as this is, it is not the Oxfordian's biggest problem with Greene:

 his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde

is a direct and deliberate misquotation drawn from the plays Greene most resents, the successful sequels to Will's successful debut. Greene is quoting his young rival:

 O tiger's heart wrapp'd in a woman's hide!
    How couldst thou drain the life-blood of the child,
    To bid the father wipe his eyes withal,
    And yet be seen to bear a woman's face?

There isn't a shred of doubt that Greene is referring to William Shakespeare, the upstart from Stratford who didn't go to university, didn't earn his spurs traipsing round the country's alehouse yards, didn't rely on mighty lines or eye-gouging violence but who could fill a theatre and hold an audience's attention, like a bard round a campfire, by translating the genius of storytelling to the medium of the modern stage. It is not a small achievement. The Elizabethan drama model is still in use today, largely thanks to its refinement by Will Shakespeare.

In the same way that Oxfordians will look at Shakespeare's signatures and, with an entirely straight face, try to prove him illiterate by analysing his handwriting, they equivocate mightily over Green's words, trying to prove it is a reference to another playwright or another anything.

There is no getting around the fact that Greene quotes Shakespeare and effectively names Shakespeare as the man he resents. Nor is there any point in looking beyond the 1592 box office records for a reason.

While all this revolution was searing the professional English theatre, De Vere was dodging creditors and trying to sort out his parlous finances with an advantageous marriage. He had just skinned former employee and fellow poet Thomas Churchyard by defaulting on a bond that Churchyard had signed guaranteeing the Earl's rent in hired lodgings. Money was the first priority for Will and Edward. Will published two very successful volumes of poetry and got the credit and the cash for them. It is unthinkable that anyone in Oxford's position would have given up either. Will had made his métier and his name and would go on to achive unparalled success for a professional man of letters. Oxford had wasted his inheritance and would spend the 1590's fruitlessly trying fund his extravagant habits.

Also damaging to the Oxfordian case is the furore that followed the publication of Greene's comments by Henry Chettle. This triggered a loud and vigorous authorship debate as many thought Greene too noble to have said anything so unworthy. It would be a bitter blow to the Multiple-Concealed-Shakespeare conspiracy theory if the world of Elizabethan theatre was provably outspoken on the issue of who wrote what and which playwright was being insulted by which rival. And, of course, it was.

The Dark Lords of Oxfordianism tackle the subject using standard Oxfordian technique—24 carat intellectual dishonesty.

First they attempt to turn fact into fiction.

The obvious truth behind Greene's undisguised insult is labelled 'the Stratfordian Interpretive (sic) Model' which, they think, both opens the debate and implies there is something misguided about everything 'Stratfordian' . Greene doesn't mean what he says, they continue, as they mimic reasonable discussion, comparing the merits of their own alternative wilful misinterpretations in their own Oxfordian paraphrases. Or they claim that even if it did mean just what it says, it's not referring to Will Shakespeare—not the real one, anyway, but another person with the same name.  

However, you can't disguise the truth with pantomime logic.

Greene was pissed off with young Will. And to be fair, he had every reason to be.

Share this post

Comments (2)

  • anon

    Greene is carrying on Nashe's attack against Florio contained in the epistle "to the gentlemen students of both Universities" appended to Greene's Menaphon. Nashe knew Florio from Cambridge, whilst he was private tutor to young Southampton. Nashe resigned a reasonably good job the year Southampton left, perhaps expecting patronage from Southampton, only to find Shakespeare got there first. The attacks and retorts continued for years, with Florio using his Address to the Reader in Worlde of Wordes 1598 to hit back at his detractors, and possibly standing up for Shakespeare too. 

    Greene was obviously pissed off with Shakespeare's emergence and apparent success. We don't know if he remebers Tygers heart etc from a performance, or from a manuscript, or even that he's paraphrasing Shakespeare. Perhaps Greene was plagiarised by Shakespeare as a retort? Or, more likely in my opinion, Greene is pleading against Shakespeare's predatory nature and qualities as writer/actor (factotum). 

     

     

    Sep 05, 2013
  • alfa-16's picture

    I'm pretty sure Greene lifted the line from Will. It makes a meaningful contrast of extremes the way Will wrote it, whereas I think Greene could have come up with a better opposition than tiger and player if he was starting from scratch. It's a cuff round the ear for the young incomer. It's explicit, like the Basse elegy and conclusive.

    Sep 06, 2013