In discussing contemporary allusions to William Shakspere or Shakespeare (or however you spell the name), I have not relied on Chettle’s remarks (in Kind–Hart’s Dreame, 1592) concerning Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit. Chettle speaks of it, saying, “in which a letter, written to divers play-makers, is offensively by one or two of them taken.” It appears that by “one or two” Chettle means TWO. “With NEITHER of them that take offence was I acquainted” (at the time when he edited the Groatsworth), “and with one of them I care not if I never be.” We do not know who “the Gentlemen his Quondam acquaintance,” addressed by Greene, were. They are usually supposed to have been Marlowe, Peele, and Lodge, or Nash. We do not know which of the two who take offence is the man with whom Chettle did not care to be acquainted. Of “the other,” according to Chettle, “myself have seen his demeanour no less civil than he is excellent in the quality he professes” (that is, “in his profession,” as we say), “besides divers of worship have reported his uprightness of dealing, which argues his honesty; and his facetious grace in writing that approves his art.”
Speaking from his own observation, Chettle avers that the person of whom he speaks is civil in his demeanour, and (APPARENTLY) that he is “excellent in the quality he professes”— in his profession. Speaking on the evidence of “divers of worship,” the same man is said to possess “facetious grace in writing.” Had his writings been then published, Chettle, a bookish man, would have read them and formed his own opinion. Works of Lodge, Peele, and Marlowe had been published. Writing is NOT “the quality he professes,” is not the “profession” of the man to whom Chettle refers. On the other hand, the profession of Greene’s “Quondam acquaintance” WAS writing, “they spend their wits in making Plays.” Thus the man who wrote, but whose profession was not that of writing, does not, so far, appear to have been one of those addressed by Greene. It seems undeniable that Greene addresses gentlemen who are “playmakers,” who “spend their wits in making Plays,” and who are NOT actors; for Greene’s purpose is to warn them against the rich, ungrateful actors. If Greene’s friends, at the moment when he wrote, were, or if any one of them then was, by profession an actor, Greene’s warning to him against actors, directed to an actor, is not, to me, intelligible. But Mr. Greenwood writes, “As I have shown, George Peele was one of the playwrights addressed by Greene, and Peele was a successful player as well as playwright, and might quite truly have been alluded to both as having ‘facetious grace in writing,’ and being ‘excellent in the quality he professed,’ that is, as a professional actor.” 259
I confess that I did not know that George Peele, M.A., of Oxford, had ever been a player, and a successful player. But one may ask — in 1592 did George Peele “profess the quality” of an actor; was he then a professional actor, and only an occasional playwright? If so, I am not apt to believe that Greene seriously advised him not to put faith in the members of his own profession. From them, as a successful member of their profession (a profession which, as Greene complains, “exploited” dramatic authors), Peele stood in no danger. Thus I do not see how Chettle’s professional actor, reported to have facetious grace in writing, can be identified with Peele. The identification seems to me impossible. Peele and Marlowe, in 1592, were literary gentlemen; Lodge, in 1592, was filibustering, though a literary man; he had not yet become a physician. In 1592, none of the three had any profession but that of literature, so far as I am aware. The man who had a special profession, and also wrote, was not one of these three; nor was he Tom Nash, a mere literary gentleman, pamphleteer and playwright.
I do not know the name of any one of the three to whom Greene addressed the Groatsworth, though the atheistic writer of tragedies seems meant, and disgracefully meant, for Marlowe. I only know that Chettle is expressing his regrets for Greene’s language to some one whom he applauded as to his exercise of his profession; and who, according to “divers of worship,” had also “facetious grace in writing.” “Myself have seen him no less civil than he is excellent in the quality he professes”; whether or not this means that Chettle has SEEN his excellence in his profession, I cannot tell for certain; but Chettle’s remark is, at least, contrasted with what he gives merely from report —“the facetious grace in writing” of the man in question. HIS writing is not part of his profession, so he is not, in 1592 (I conceive), Lodge, Peele, Marlowe, or Nash.
Who, then, is this mysterious personage? Malone, Dyce, Steevens, Collier, Halliwell–Phillipps, Knight, Sir Sidney Lee, Messrs. Gosse and Garnett, and Mr. J. C. Collins say that he is Will Shakspere. But Mr. Fleay and Mr. Castle, whose “mind” is “legal,” have pointed out that this weird being cannot be Shake-scene (or Shakspere, if Greene meant Shakspere), attacked by Greene. For Chettle says that in the Groatsworth of Wit “a letter, written to divers play-makers, is offensively by one or two of them taken.” The mysterious one is, therefore, one of the playwrights addressed by Greene. Consequently all the followers of Malone, who wrote before Messrs. Fleay and Castle, are mistaken; and what Mr. Greenwood has to say about Sir Sidney Lee, J. C. Collins, and Dr. Garnett, and Mr. Gosse, in the way of moral reprobation, may be read by the curious in his pages. 260
Meanwhile, if we take Chettle to have been a strict grammarian, by his words —“a letter, written to divers play-makers, is offensively by one or two of them taken,” Will is excluded; the letter was most assuredly not written to HIM. But I, whose mind is not legal, am not certain that Chettle does not mean that the letter, written to divers play-makers, was by one or two makers of plays offensively taken.
This opinion seems the less improbable, as the person to whom Chettle is most apologetic excels in a quality or profession, which is contrasted with, and is not identical with, “his facetious grace in writing”— a parergon, or “ bye-work,” in his case. Whoever this person was, he certainly was not Marlowe, Peele, Lodge, or Nash. We must look for some other person who had a profession, and also was reported to have facetious grace in writing.
If Chettle is to be held tight to grammar, Greene referred to some one unknown, some one who wrote for the stage, but had another profession. If Chettle is not to be thus tautly construed, I confess that to myself he seems to have had Shakspere, even Will, in his mind. For Will in 1592 had “a quality which he professed,” that of an actor; and also (I conceive) was reported to have “ facetious grace in writing.” But other gentlemen may have combined these attributes; wherefore I lay no stress on the statements of Chettle, as if they referred to our Will Shakspere.
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