Robert Greene, 1558?-1592?

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Biographical note

Poet, dramatist, and pamphleteer, was born at Norwich, and studied at Cambridge, where he graduated A.B. He was also incorporated at Oxford in 1588. After travelling in Spain and Italy, he returned to Cambridge and took A.M. Settling in London he was one of the wild and brilliant crew who passed their lives in fitful alternations of literary production and dissipation, and were the creators of the English drama. He has left an account of his career in which he calls himself “the mirror of mischief.”

During his short life about town, in the course of which he ran through his wife’s fortune, and deserted her soon after the birth of her first child, he poured forth tales, plays, and poems, which had great popularity. In the tales, or pamphlets as they were then called, he turns to account his wide knowledge of city vices. His plays, including The Scottish History of James IV., and Orlando Furioso, which are now little read, contain some fine poetry among a good deal of bombast; but his fame rests, perhaps, chiefly on the poems scattered through his writings, which are full of grace and tenderness.

Greene died from the effects of a surfeit of pickled herrings and Rheinish wine.

His extant writings are much less gross than those of many of his contemporaries, and he seems to have given signs of repentance on his deathbed, as is evidenced by his last work, A Groat’s worth of Wit bought with a Million of Repentance. In this curious work occurs his famous reference to Shakespeare as “an upstart crow beautified with our feathers.” Among his other works may be mentioned Euphues’ censure to Philautus, Pandosto, the Triumph of Time (1588), from which Shakespeare borrowed the plot of The Winter’s Tale, A Notable Discovery of Coosnage, Arbasto, King of Denmark, Penelope’s Web, Menaphon (1589), and Coney Catching.

His plays, all published posthumously, include Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, Alphonsus, King of Aragon, and George-a-Greene, the Pinner of Wakefield.

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