Greene, Robert (1560?-1592) (DNB00)
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Greene, Robert (1560?-1592)
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GREENE, ROBERT (1560?–1592), pamphleteer and dramatist, was born in Norwich about 1560 (not 1550 as Dyce supposed). In his 'Repentance' he states that his parents were respected for their gravity and honest life. He was matriculated as a sizar of St. John's College, Cambridge, on 26 Nov. 1575, proceeded B.A. 1578-9, migrated to Clare Hall, where he took the degree of M.A. in 1583, and was incorporated at Oxford in July 1588. From his 'Repentance' we learn that after proceeding B.A. he travelled in Italy and Spain; and from 'A Notable Discouery of Coosnage' it may be gathered that he visited Denmark and Poland. He acknowledges that he led a dissolute life abroad. 'At my return into England,' he writes, 'I ruffeled out in my silks in the habit of Malecontent, and seemed so discontent that no place would please me to abide in, nor no vocation cause mee to stay myselfe in' (Repentance). He probably returned in 1580, for the first part of 'Mamillia: A Mirrour or Looking-glasse for the Ladies of Englande,' 4to, was entered in the 'Stationers' Register' (Arber, Transcript, ii. 378) on 3 Oct. of that year, though the earliest extant edition (Bodleian) is dated 1583. The first part was dedicated ‘To … his very good Lorde and Maister, Lord Darcie of the North,’ and has commendatory verses by Roger Portington. Of the second part, licensed 6 Sept. 1583, the earliest edition known is the 1593 4to, which has a dedicatory epistle—dated ‘From my Studie in Clarehall’—to Robert Lee and Roger Portington. Some of Greene's biographers state, without authority, that he entered the church. A certain 'Robert Grene,' one of the queen's chaplains, was presented in 1576 to the rectory of Walkington in the diocese of York, but at that time Greene was an undergraduate at Cambridge. Another person who bore the poet's name, but whose identity with the poet cannot be established, was presented on 19 June 1584 to the vicarage of Tollesbury in Essex, which he resigned in the following year. It is clear from the dedicatory epistle before the second part of 'Mamillia' that on his return from abroad Greene was engaged on literary work at Cambridge before taking his M.A. degree. At one time he contemplated adopting the profession of medicine, for at the end of his ‘Planetomachia’ is the signature ‘R. Greene, Master of Arts and Student in Phisicke.’
Towards the end of 1585, or early in 1586, Greene married ‘a gentleman's daughter of good account’ (Repentance), and seems to have settled for a while at Norwich. When she had borne him a child he deserted her, after spending her marriage portion. She returned to her friends in Lincolnshire, and he permanently settled in London. In his 'Repentance' he states that he deserted her because she tried to persuade him from his wilful wickedness. If his own account may be accepted, the life that he led in London was singularly vicious. His friend Nashe allows that 'hee had not that regarde to his credit in which [which it] had beene requisite he should,' but declares 'with any notorious crime I never knew him tainted' (Strange Newes). The author of 'Greene's Funeralls,' 1594, a certain ‘R. B.,’ would have us believe that Greene was a pattern of virtue: ‘His life and manners, though I would, I cannot halfe expresse;’ but it is clear that he was guilty of grave irregularities, although his own confessions (and Gabriel Harvey's charges) are doubtless exaggerated. On one occasion he was so moved by a sermon which he heard in St. Andrew's Church at Norwich that he determined to reform his conduct, but his profligate associates laughed him out of his good resolutions. It is to be noted that, however faulty his conduct may have been, his writings were singularly free from grossness. He never, in the words of his admirer ‘R. B.,’
gave the looser cause to laugh,
Ne men of judgment for to be offended.
His pen was constantly employed in the praise of virtue.
Green's literary activity was remarkable, and he rose rapidly in popular favour. 'In a night and a day,' says Nashe (ib. 1592), ‘would he have yarkt vp a pamphlet as well as in seauen yeare; and glad was that printer that might bee so blest to pay him deare for the very dregs of his wit.’ The style of his first romance, ‘Mamillia,’ is closely modelled on ‘Euphues,’ and all his love-pamphlets bear traces of Lyly's influence. His enemy, Gabriel Harvey, termed him ‘The Ape of Euphues’ (Fovre Letters, 1592).
Early in August 1592 Greene fell ill after a dinner, at which Nashe was present, of pickled herrings and Rhenish wine. The account of his last illness and death given by his malignant enemy, Gabriel Harvey (ib.), may be exaggerated in some particulars, but appears to be substantially true. Harvey called on Greene's hostess, and professes to record the information that she supplied. If his account be true, Greene was deserted by all his friends, Nashe among the number, and died in the most abject poverty. He lodged with a poor shoemaker and his wife, who attended him as best they could, and his only visitors were two women, one of them a former mistress (sister to the rogue known as ‘Cutting Ball,’ who had been hanged at Tyburn), the mother of his base-born son, Fortunatus Greene, who died in 1593. Having given a bond for ten pounds to his host, he wrote on the day before his death these lines to the wife whom he had not seen for six years: ‘Doll, I charge thee by the loue of our youth and by my sovles rest that thou wilte see this man paide, for if hee and his wife had not succoured me I had died in the streetes. Robert Greene.’ He died 3 Sept. 1592, and his devoted hostess, obeying a wish that he had expressed, crowned his dead body with a garland of bays. On the following day he was buried in the New Churchyard, near Bethlehem Hospital.
Shortly after Greene's death appeared Gabriel Harvey's ‘Fovre Letters and Certaine Sonnets: especially touching Robert Greene and other parties by him abused,’ 1592, 4to; licensed 4 Dec., the preface being dated 16 Sept. Meres (Palladis Tamia, 1598) aptly compares Harvey's odious attack on his dead antagonist to Achilles' treatment of Hector's corpse. Chettle, in ‘Kind-Hartes Dream’ (licensed 8 Dec., four days after Harvey's tract had been licensed), represents that Greene's spirit appeared to him and laid on his breast a letter addressed to Nashe. This letter urged Nashe to defend Greene's memory and his own reputation. Nashe, who had been assailed in 'Fovre Letters,' stood in little need of exhortation. On 12 Jan. 1592-3 was licensed his 'Strange Newes,' one of a series of pamphlets directed against Gabriel Harvey. He was more active in ridiculing Harvey than in defending Greene. He had no wish to be regarded as one of Greene's intimate friends. Harvey had called him 'Greene's inwardest companion.' Nashe retorts, 'neither was I Greene's companion any more than for a carowse or two.' 'A thousand there bee,' he writes, 'that have more reason to speake in his behalfe than I, who, since I first knew him about town, haue beene two yeares together and not seene him.' He declares that, so far as his own observation went, Greene's conduct was orderly, and he denies but his denial weighs little—that Greene died in the abject condition described in the 'Fovre Letters.' Harvey, who had never seen Greene, speaks of his 'fond disguisinge of a master of arte with ruffianly haire,' and of his ' vnseemely apparell.' Nashe jocularly notices that 'a iolly long red peake like the spire of a steeple hee cherisht continually without cutting, whereat a man might hang a iewell, it was so sharpe and pendant.' Chettle gives a pleasant description of him: 'Of face amible, of body well proportioned, his attire after the habite of a scholler-like gentleman, onely his haire was somewhat long.' The woodcut portrait in John Dickenson's 'Greene in Conceipt,' 1598, is doubtless fanciful.
No less than twenty-eight separate publications (chiefly romances and prose tracts) appeared in Greene's lifetime. Ten other books issued after his death have been assigned to him. Of Greene's earliest publication, (1) ‘Mamillia,’ mention has already been made. His second publication, (2) ‘The Myrrovr of Modestie. … By R. G., Maister of Artes,’ 1584, 16mo (Brit. Mus.), partly deals with the story of Susanna and the elders; it was dedicated to the Countess of Derby. (3) ‘Gwydonius, the Carde of Fancie,’ 4to, dedicated to the Earl of Oxford, was entered in the ‘Stationers' Register’ 11 April 1584, and published in the same year (Sir F. Freeling's sale-catalogue); reprinted, under the title of ‘Greene's Garde of Fancie,’ in 1587, 1593, and 1608. Commendatory Latin hexameters by Richard Portington are prefixed, and appended is ‘The Debate betweene Follie and Loue, translated out of French [of Louise Labé].’ In 1584 also appeared (4) ‘Arbasto, the Anatomie of Fortune … Omne tulit punctum qui miscuit vtile dulci,’ 4to, and (5) ‘Morando, the Tritameron of Loue,’ 4to. Of the original edition of ‘Arbasto,’ licensed for publication on 13 Aug. 1584, two imperfect copies are preserved (one at Lamport Hall and the other in the library of Mr. C. Davis), which together give the entire text; other editions appeared in 1594, 1617, 1626. Arbasto is a hermit, once king of Denmark, who had been unfortunate in his love affairs. The story was dedicated to ‘the Ladye Mary Talbot, Wife to the Right honorable Gilbert, Lorde Talbot.’ ‘Morando,’ a series of dialogues on the subject of love, dedicated to the Earl of Arundel, was reissued with the addition of a second part in 1587 (Brit. Mus.) Only one of Greene's pamphlets is dated 1585, (6) ‘Planetomachia: or the first parte of the generall opposition of the seuen Planets. … Conteyning also a briefe Apologie of the sacred and misticall Science of Astronomie,’ 4to (British Museum), love-tales and astrological fancies, dedicated to the Earl of Leicester.
On 11 June 1587, his ‘Farewell to Follie’ was entered in the ‘Stationers' Register,’ but the publication was postponed. Another pamphlet, licensed eight days later, (7) ‘Penelope's Web’ (Bodleian), was issued without delay in 1587, 4to, dedicated to the Countesses of Cumberland and Warwick. Penelope and her attendants discourse on love and marriage. A second edition appeared in 1601. (8) ‘Euphues, his Censure to Philautus, wherein is presented a Philosophicall Combat betweene Hector and Achylles, discovering in four discourses … the Vertues necessary to be incident in every Gentleman,’ 4to (Brit. Mus.), was licensed on 18 Sept. 1587, and published in the same year, with a dedication to the Earl of Essex; reprinted in 1634. This pamphlet, which was intended to serve as a continuation to Lyly's ‘Euphues,’ aimed at presenting the exquisite portraiture of a perfect martialist.’ (9) ‘Perimedes the Blacke-Smith, a golden methode how to use the minde in pleasant and profitable exercise. … Omne tulit punctum qui miscuit vtile dulci,’ 1588, 4to (Bodleian), licensed 29 March, has a dedication to Gervase Clifton and a commendatory French sonnet by J. Eliote. Prefixed is an interesting ‘Address to the Gentlemen Readers,’ which contains a satirical notice of Marlowe's ‘Tamburlaine.’ It may be gathered from this address that one of Greene's plays had been unsuccessful on the stage, and that his blank verse had been pronounced inferior to Marlowe's. The book is a collection of love-stories (largely borrowed from Boccaccio), which the Memphian blacksmith Perimedes and his wife Delia relate to one another of an evening after their day's work is done. Some delightful poetry is interspersed, and appended are certain ‘sonets,’ published at the instance of the author's friend William Bubb. In 1588 also appeared Greene's popular romance (based on a Polish tale), (10) ‘Pandosto: The Triumph of Time,’ 4to (Brit. Mus.), with a dedication to the Earl of Cumberland; reprinted in 1607, 1609, 1614, 1629, 1632, 1636, 1655, 1664, 1675, 1677, 1684, 1694, 1703, 1723, 1735. The running title is ‘The Hystorie of Dorastus and Fawnia,’ which is found on the title-page of the later editions. It was twice translated into French; first in 1615 (Bodleian), and again in 1722 (Bibl. Nationale, Paris). From ‘Pandosto’ Shakespeare drew the plot of his ‘Winter's Tale.’ (11) The earliest edition known of ‘Alcida; Greene's Metamorphosis …,’ 4to, is dated 1617, but the pamphlet was licensed on 9 Dec. 1588, and probably published in 1589. It is dedicated to Sir Charles Blount, knt., and four copies of commendatory verse are prefixed—two in Latin by ‘R. A. Oxon.’ and ‘G. B. Cant.,’ and two in English by ‘Ed. Percy’ and ‘Bubb Gent.’ The stories in ‘Alcida’ show the evils that spring from women's pride and vanity. (12) ‘The Spanish Masquerado. Wherein vnder a pleasant deuise is discouered effectuallie in certaine breefe Sentences and Mottos the pride and insolencie of the Spanish Estate,’ 1589, 4to (Brit. Mus.), reprinted in the same year, was licensed on 1 Feb. 1588-9. Written immediately after the Spanish Armada, it contains a strong attack on the Roman catholics. Prefixed are a dedication to Hugh Ofley , sheriff of the city of London, and commendatory French verses by Thomas Lodge. (13) ‘Menaphon. Camillas Alarvm to Slumbering Euphves in his Melancholie Cell at Silexedra …,’ 1589, 4to (Brit. Mus.), dedicated to Lady Hales, is stated by some bibliographers to have been first published in 1587, but there is no authority for the statement. Later editions, under the title of ‘Greene's Arcadia; or Menaphon,’ &c., appeared in 1599, 1605, 1610, 1616, 1634. Nashe prefixed a lively address to the gentlemen students of both universities, in which he reviewed the state of English literature and glanced at the stage. It is possible, but scarcely probable, that some passages in the address refer to Shakespeare; it is certain that others are directed against Marlowe. Greene had been vexed (as we gather from the preface to ‘Perimedes’) at the success of rival playwrights. Nashe assures him that ‘Menaphon’ excelled the achievements of men who, unable to produce a romance, ‘think to outbrave better pens with the swelling bumbast of a bragging blank verse,’ and ‘repose eternity in the mouth of a player.’ In the same spirit writes Thomas Barnibe, who signs his complimentary verses with the anagram ‘Brabine’:
Come forth, you wits, that vaunt the pomp of speech,
And strive to thunder from a stageman's throat;
View Menaphon, a note beyond your reach,
Whose sight will make your drumming descant doat.
‘Menaphon’ contains some of Greene's best poems, notably the beautiful cradle-song, ‘Weep not, my wanton, smile upon my knee.’ Simpson's attempt (School of Shakspere, ii. 355-6, 370-2) to identify Shakespeare with Doron, one of the characters in ‘Menaphon,’ lacks all semblance of probability. (14) ‘Ciceronis Amor. Tullies Loue: Wherein is discoursed the prime of Ciceroes youth …,’ 1589, 4to (Huth), was dedicated to Lord Strange, and has commendatory verses in Latin by Thomas Watson and ‘G. B. Cantabrigiensis,’ in English by Thomas Burnaby (or Barnibe) and Edward Rainsford. This love-story proved very popular and was reprinted in 1592, 1597, 1601, 1609, 1611, 1615, 1616, 1629, and 1639. (15) ‘Greenes Orpharion. Wherein is discouered a musicall concorde of pleasant Histories. … Omne tulit punctum qui miscuit vtile dulci,’ 4to, dedicated to Robert Carey, was licensed 9 Feb. 1589-90, but the earliest edition known is dated 1599. In the preface to ‘Perimedes,’ 1588, Greene promised to publish ‘Orpharion’ during the next term; but the publishers kept the book (see preface to 'Orpharion’) for a whole year. The first edition must have appeared in 1589-90, shortly after the date of its entry in the ‘Stationers' Register.’ Greene imagines himself in ‘Orpharion’ to be transported in a dream from Mount Erycinus [Eryx] to Olympus, where he feasts among the gods and goddesses. Orpheus and Arion are summoned from the shades to entertain the company. (16) ‘The Royal Exchange. Contayning sundry Aphorismes of Phylosophie.… Fyrst written in Italian and dedicated to the Signorie of Venice, nowe translated and offered to the Cittie of London,’ 1590, 4to (Chetham Library), a collection of maxims, is dedicated to the lord mayor, Sir John Hart, kt., and to the sheriffs, Richard Gurney and Stephen Soame. (17) ‘Greenes Mourning Garment: given him by Remembrance at the Funerals of Love; which he presents for a favour to all Young Gentlemen that wish to weane themselves from wanton desires. … Sero sed serio,’ 4to, was licensed 2 Nov. 1590 and published in the same year; but the edition of 1616 is the earliest that has been discovered. A dedication to the Earl of Cumberland and an address to the ‘Gentlemen Schollers of both Vniversities’ are prefixed. The story, remotely autobiographical, relates the adventures of a young man, Philador, who, beguiled by rapacious courtesans, endures much misery, but finally returns a penitent to his father's house. At the end is an apologetical discourse in which Greene announces that he will write no more love-pamphlets, and that he intends to apply himself henceforward to serious studies. He wishes his 'Mourning Garment' to be regarded as 'the first fruites of my new labours and the last farewell to my fond desires.' (18) 'Greenes Neuer too Late. Or, a Powder of Experience: sent to all Youthful Gentlemen … Omne tulit punctum,' with the continuation 'Francescos Fortunes: Or the second part of Greenes Neuer too Late… Sero sed serio,' was published in 1590, 4to Francesco tells in the first part how he deserted his wife Isabella for a courtesan, Infida, who robbed him of his last penny and then thrust him out of doors, whereupon he fell among a company of actors and was encouraged by them to write plays, an employment which he found lucrative and congenial. When Infida heard of his success she tried to win him back to her side; but he rejected her advances. The second part shows his return to the faithful Isabella, whose virtue had been put to severe trial in his absence. Passages in the first part of Francesco's career clearly relate Greene's own experiences; but the second part is fiction. The tract was reprinted in 1600, 1607, 1616, 1631, and n. d. Each part has a separate dedication to Thomas Burnaby; Ralph Sidley and Richard Hake prefixed commendatory verses to the first part, and before the second part are more verses by Hake and an anonymous sonnet. (19) 'Greenes farewell to Folly: sent to Covrtiers and Schollers as a president to warne them from the vaine delights that drawes youth on to repentance. Sero sed serio,' 1591, 4to (Bodleian), was licensed 11 June 1587, but was probably altered later. It consists of a series of discussions on pride, love, &c., supposed to take place in a villa near Florence. Greene declares in the dedicatory epistle, addressed to Robert Carey, that this pamphlet is 'the last I meane euer to publish of such superficiall labours.' The prefatory address to the students of both universities has an attack on the anonymous author of the poor play 'Fair Emm.' Another edition appeared in 1617. Sir Christopher Hatton died 20 Sept. 1591, and Greene paid a tribute to his memory in an elegy entitled (20) 'A Maiden's Dreame. Vpon the death of the right Honorable Sir Christopher Hatton, Knight, late Lord Chancelor of England,' 1591, 4to (Lambeth Palace), dedicated to the wife of Sir William Hatton, the late chancellor's nephew.
Then followed a batch of pamphlets written to expose the practices of the swindlers who infested the metropolis. (21) 'A Notable Discouery of Coosnage. Now daily practised by sundry lewd persons called Connie-catchers and Crosse-biters. … Nascimur pro patria,' 1591, 4to (Brit. Mus.), reprinted in 1592, was licensed 13 Dec. 1591. It shows the various tricks by which card-sharpers and panders cozen unwary countrymen, and touches on the dishonesty of coal-dealers who give light weight to poor customers. In the preface Greene states that the 'conny-catchers' had threatened to cut off his hand if he persisted in his purpose of exposing their villainies. (22) 'The Second part of Conny-catching. Contayning the discouery of certaine wondrous Coosenages, either superficiallie past ouer, or vtterlie vntoucht in the first. … Mallem non esse quam non prodesse patrie [sic],' 1591, 4to (Huth), reprinted in 1592, treats of horse-stealing, swindling at bowls, picking of locks, &c. (23) 'The Thirde and last Part of Conny-catching. With the new devised knauish Art of Foole-taking,' 1592, 4to (Brit. Mus.), was entered in the 'Stationers' Register' 7 Feb. 1591-2. Greene states that he had intended to write only two parts, but that, having learned new particulars about 'conny-catchers ' from a justice of the peace, he published the additional information. (24) 'A Dispvtation Betweene a Hee Conny-catcher and a Shee Conny-catcher, whether a Theefe or a Whoore is most hurtfull in Cousonage to the Common-wealth. …Nascimur pro patria,' 1592, 4to (Huth), an entertaining medley, was reprinted with alterations in 1617 under the title 'Theeves falling out, True Men come by their Goods,' 4to. He states in the 'Dispvtation ' that a band of 'conny-catchers' made an attempt on his life. (25) 'The Black Bookes Messenger. Laying open the Life and Death of Ned Browne, one of the most notable Cutpurses, Crosbiters, and Conny-catchers, that euer liued in England. … Nascimur pro patria,' 1592, 4to (Bodleian), was intended as an introduction to a 'Blacke Booke' which Greene had in preparation, but which was never issued. When he had written this introduction he fell ill; but he looked forward to publishing the larger work after his recovery. He also promised to issue a tract called 'The Conny-catcher's Repentance,' which did not appear. Earlier in 1592 was issued (26) 'The Defence of Connycatching. Or, a Confvtation of those two injurious Pamphlets pubished by R. G. against the practitioners of many Nimble-witted and mysticall Sciences. By Cuthbert Cony-catcher,' 1592, 4to (Brit. Mus.) The writer contends that since there is knavery in all trades Greene might have let the poor 'conny-catchers' alone and flown at higher game. Greene is himself charged with cheating: 'Aske the Queen's Players if you sold them not Orlando Furioso for twenty nobles, and when they were in the country sold the same play to the Lord Admirals men for as much more. Was not this plaine Conny-catching, R. G.?' Nevertheless it is not improbable that Greene wrote this 'Defence,' or at least was privy to the publication. He would certainly have had no objection to let it be known that he had gulled the players. The whole series of 'conny-catching' pamphlets (some of which are adorned with curious woodcuts) is full of interest. Greene had brushed against disreputable characters, but much of his information could have been got from Harman's 'Caveat' and other sources. Nor need we accept the view that his sole object in publishing these books was to benefit society and atone for his unprincipled life. As a matter of fact, some of the pamphlets are by no means edifying; they amused the public, and that was enough. Samuel Rowlands and Dekker went over the ground again a few years later. 'Questions concerning Coniehood and the nature of the Conie,' n. d., 4to, 'Mihil Mumchance,' n. d., 4to, and other anonymous 'conny-catching' tracts have been uncritically assigned to Greene.
(27) ‘Philomela. The Lady Fitzwaters Nightingale. … Sero sed serio. Il vostro Malignare non Giova Nulla,’ 1592, 4to (Bodleian), licensed 1 July, an Italian story of jealousy, was dedicated to Lady Fitzwater; and Greene states that, in christening it in her ladyship's name, he followed the example of Abraham Fraunce [q. v.], ‘who titled the lamentations of Aminta vnder the name of the Countesse of Pembrookes Iuie Church.’ ‘Philomela’ was written (he tells us) before he had made his vow not to print any more ‘wanton pamphlets.’ He wished the romance to be published anonymously, but yielded to the publisher's earnest entreaty. Later editions were published in 1615, 1631, and n. d. (28) ‘A Qvip for an Vpstart Courtier: or, a quaint dispute between Veluet-breeches and Cloth-breeches. Wherein is plainely set downe the disorders in all Estates and Trades,’ 4to, licensed 20 July 1592, appears to have passed through three editions in that year. In its original form the tract contained a satirical notice of Gabriel Harvey and his brothers; but none of the extant copies has the libellous passage, though a certain ropemaker (Harvey's father was a ropemaker) is introduced. Richard Harvey, Gabriel's younger brother, in a ‘Theological Discourse of the Lamb of God,’ had spoken disrespectfully of ‘piperly make-plaies and make-bates.’ Thereupon Greene ‘being chief agent of the companie (for hee writ more than four other) tooke occasion to canuaze him a little in his Cloth-breeches and Veluet-breeches; and because by some probable collections hee gest the elder brothers hand was in it he coupled them both in one yoake, and to fulfill the proverbe Tria sunt omnia, thrust in the third brother who made a perfect parriall [pair royal] of pamphleters. About some seauen or eight lines it was’ (Nashe, Strange Newes, 1592). Gabriel Harvey declares (Fovre Letters) that Greene cancelled the obnoxious passage from fear of legal proceedings. According to Nashe, who ridicules Harvey's statement, a certain doctor of physic (consulted by Greene in his sickness) read the book and laughed over the 'three brothers legend,' but begged Greene to omit the passage altogether, or tone it down, for one of the brothers 'was proceeded in the same facultie of phisicke hee profest, and willinglie hee would have none of that excellent calling ill spoken off.' Greene cancelled or altered the passage; but some copies containing the offensive matter appear to have got abroad. The pamphlet contrasts the pride and uncharitableness of present times with the simplicity and hospitality of the past, denouncing upstart gentlemen who maintain themselves in luxury by depressing their poor tenants. It was dedicated to Thomas Barnaby, who is praised as a father of the poor and supporter of ancient hospitality. Greene was very largely indebted to a poem by F. T. (not Francis Thynne) entitled 'The Debate between Pride and Lowliness.' The 'Quip' was reprinted in 1606, 1615, 1620, 1625, and 1635. A Dutch translation was published at the Hague in 1601, and later editions appeared; the pamphlet was also translated into French. This was the latest work issued in Greene's lifetime.
The first of his posthumous tracts: (29)‘Greens Groatsworth of Wit, bought with a Million of Repentance.… Written before his death, and published at his dying request. Fælicem fuisse infaustum,’ 4to, was licensed 20 Sept. 1592; but the earliest extant edition is dated 1596 (Huth). It was reprinted in 1600,1616, 1617, 1620, 1621, 1629, 1637, n.d. Henry Chettle, who edited this tract from Greene's original manuscript, tells us in the preface to ‘Kind Harts Dreame’ (licensed December 1592) that he toned down a passage (unquestionably relating to Marlowe) in the notorious letter ‘To those gentlemen his quondam acquaintance,’ but that he added nothing of his own. ‘I protest,’ he writes, ‘it was all Greenes, not mine, nor Maister Nashes, as some uniustly haue affirmed.’ In the ‘Private Epistle to the Printer,’ prefixed to ‘Pierce Pennilesse’ (issued at the close of 1592), Nashe indignantly repudiates all connection with the ‘Groatsworth of Wit.’ There is, indeed, not the slightest ground for suspecting the authenticity of the tract. It narrates the adventures of a young man, Roberto, who, deserting his wife, makes the acquaintance of some strolling players, becomes ‘famoused for an arch-playmaking poet,’ continually shifts his lodging, and bilks his hostesses; consorts with the most abandoned characters, and ruins his health by sensual indulgence. Towards the end of the tract Greene interrupts Roberto's moralising: ‘Heere, gentlemen, breake I off Roberto's speech, whose life in most part agreeing with mine, found the selfe punishment as I haue done.’ Greene is not to be identified with Roberto in every detail. For instance, Roberto is represented as the son of an ‘old usurer called Gorinius,’ who is described in the most unflattering terms; whereas Greene's father is praised in ‘The Repentance’ for his honest life. Having narrated the story of Roberto, Greene takes his farewell of the ‘deceiving world’ in an impressive copy of verses, and adds a string of maxims. He then delivers an address ‘to those gentlemen his quondam acquaintance that spend their wits in making plaies,’ in which, after uttering a solemn warning to Marlowe, ‘Young Juuenall’ (probably Nashe, not Lodge), and Peele, he assailed with invective the ‘vpstart crow,’ Shakespeare. The pamphlet closes with a pathetic ‘letter written to his wife, found with this booke after his death.’ A second posthumous pamphlet, (30) ‘The Repentance of Robert Greene, Maister of Artes. Wherein by himselfe is laid open his loose life with the manner of his death,’ 4to (Bodleian), licensed 6 Oct. 1592, and published in the same year, gives a brief account, seemingly drawn from his own papers, of Greene's dissolute courses. But it was probably ‘edited,’ and the passage in which he thanks God for having put it into his head to write the pamphlets on ‘conny-catching’ has a suspicious look, as though it were introduced in order to advertise those pamphlets. Appended is an account of Greene's last sickness, with a copy, somewhat differing from the version printed by Gabriel Harvey, of the last letter to his wife; also a prayer that he composed shortly before his death. Another posthumous work is (31) ‘Greenes Vision. Written at the instant of his death. Conteyning a penitent passion for the folly of his Pen. Sero sed serio’(1592?), 4to (Brit. Mus.) The publisher, Thomas Newman, in the dedicatory epistle to Nicholas Sanders, declares that every word of this tract is Greene's own. We have Chettle's authority for the fact that Greene left at his death many papers, which, fell into the hands of booksellers. The ‘Vision’ may have been put together from some of these papers; but it certainly was not written in his last illness. It begins by declaring that ‘The Cobler of Canterbury’ (an anonymous tract published in 1590) had been wrongly attributed to Greene, much to his annoyance; yet this ‘Vision’ is to some extent modelled on ‘The Cobler.’ Chaucer and Gower are supposed to appear to Greene in a dream, and to hold a discussion about his writings, Chaucer commending and moral Gower condemning them. In the end Solomon presents himself and counsels the study of divinity.
Greene's dramatic work is not so interesting as his pamphlets. Only five undoubted plays (all posthumously published) have come down, and their chronological order cannot be accurately fixed. (32) ‘The Historie of Orlando Furioso. As it was plaid before the Queenes Maiestie,’ 1594, 4to (2nd edit. 1599; both editions are in Brit. Mus.), founded on an episode in the twenty-third book of Ariosto's poem, is mentioned in Henslowe's ‘Diary’ as having been acted 21 Feb. 1591-2 by Lord Strange's men; but the date of its original production is unknown. It is a poor play, with a very corrupt text. In Dulwich College is preserved a transcript made for Edward Alleyn of a portion of Orlando's part it differs considerably from the printed text. (33) ‘A Looking Glass for London and England. Made by Thomas Lodge, gentleman, and Robert Greene. In Artibus Magister,’ 1594, 4to (Brit. Mus.), reprinted in 1598, 1602, and 1617, is mentioned in Henslowe's Diary under date March 1591-2. This is a didactic play on the subject of Jonah and the Ninevites, with comical matter intermixed. Mr. F. Locker-Lampson has an undated edition containing some early manuscript annotations. When Lodge left England with Cavendish (in August 1591) he handed the manuscript of his ‘Euphues Shadow’ to Greene, who issued it in 1592 with a dedicatory epistle to Lord Fitzwater, and an address to the gentlemen readers. (34) ‘The Honorable Historic of frier Bacon and frier Bongay. As it was plaid by her Maiesties seruants,’ 1594, 4to (Devonshire House), reprinted in 1599, 1630, 1655, was founded on the prose tract (of which no early edition is known), ‘The Famous History of Friar Bacon.’ Greene may have chosen this subject from the popularity of Marlowe's ‘Faustus.’ Lord Strange's men gave a performance of' Friar Bacon' 19 Feb. 1591-2 (Henslowe, Diary, ed. Collier, p. 20); but we do not know when the play was first produced. Middleton wrote a prologue and epilogue on the occasion of its revival at court in December 1602. There is less rant and pedantry (though there is too much of both) in ‘Friar Bacon’ than we usually find in Greene's plays, and the love-story is not without tenderness. (35) ‘The Scottish Historie of James the fourth, slaine at Floddon. Entermixed with a pleasant Comedie, presented by Oboram, King of Fayeries,’ 1598, 4to (Brit. Mus.); licensed for publication 14 May 1594, and probably published in that year, is not founded on a Scotch chronicle, but on the first story of the third decade of Cinthio's collection of tales (P. A. Daniel, Athenæum, 8 Oct. 1881). Greene's ‘Oberon’ bears little resemblance to his namesake in the romance of ‘Huon of Burdeux,’ and certainly gave no hints to Shakespeare for ‘A Midsummer Night's Dream.’ (36) ‘The Comicall Historie of Alphonsus, King of Aragon. As it hath bene sundrie times Acted,’ 1599, 4to (Devonshire House), a dreary imitation of ‘Tamburlaine,’ is the crudest of Greene's plays. From Venus's last speech we learn that there was to be a second part. (37) ‘A pleasant conceyted Comedie of George a Greene, the Pinner of Wakefield. As it was sundry times acted by the Seruants of the right Honourable the Earle of Sussex,’ 1599, 4to, licensed for publication 1 April 1595, has been ascribed to Greene on the authority of a manuscript note on the titlepage of a copy belonging to the Duke of Devonshire: ‘Writt by … a minister who ac[ted] the piners pt in it himself. Teste W. Shakespea[re]. Ed. Iuby saith that ys play was made by Ro. Gree[ne].’ Assuming that these memoranda are genuine, we need not accept Dyce's view that they prove Greene to have been a minister. The second note seems to contradict rather than to confirm the first. Shakespeare supposed that the play was written by a minister; on the other hand, Edward Juby,the actor, declared that Greene was the author. The old ‘History of George-a-Green’ (of which only late editions are known) supplied the playwright with his materials. Some skill is shown in the drawing of the character of the Pinner; and the homely pictures of English country life are infinitely superior to Greene's ambitious tragic scenes. (38) An anonymous play, ‘The First Part of the Tragicall Raigne of Selimus.… As it was playd by the Queenes Maiesties Players,’ 1594, 4to, has been plausibly assigned to Greene. Robert Allott, in ‘England's Parnassus,’ 1600, gives two extracts from it, ascribing both to Greene. Langbaine and others claim it for Thomas Goffe [q. v.], who was about two years old when the first edition was published. It is highly probable that Greene had some share in the authorship of the original ‘Henry VI’ plays.
Greene's fame rests chiefly on the poetry that is scattered through his romances. The romances themselves are frequently insipid; but in some of his numerous songs and eclogues he attained perfection. His plays are interesting to students of dramatic history, but have slender literary value.
A lost ballad, ‘Youthe seinge all his wais so troublesome, abandoning virtue and leanyng to vyce, Recalleth his former follies, with an inward Repentaunce,’ was entered in the Stationers' Books 20 March 1580-1, as ‘by Greene.’ He may also be the ‘R. G.’ whose ‘Exhortation and fruitful Admonition to Vertuous Parentes, and Modest Matrones,’ 1584, 8vo, is mentioned in Andrew Maunsell's ‘Catalogue of English printed Bookes,’ 1595. ‘A Paire of Turtle Doves; or, the Tragicall History of Bellora and Fidelio,’ 1606, 4to, has been attributed to Greene on internal evidence, and Steevens was under the impression that he had seen an edition of this romance in which Greene's name was ‘either printed in the title’ or ‘at least written on it in an ancient hand’ (Biblioth. Heber. pt. iv. p. 130). Samuel Rowlands in his preface to ‘Tis Merrie when Gossips Meete,’ 1602, testifies to Greene's popularity, but Ben Jonson in ‘Every Man out of his Humour,’ 1600, ii. l, hints that he was a writer from whom one could steal without fear of detection.
Alexander Dyce collected Greene's plays and poems in 1831, 2 vols. 8vo, with an account of the author and a list of his works. A revised edition of ‘The Dramatic and Poetical Works of Robert Greene and George Peele’ was issued in 1858, 1 vol. Dr. Grosart edited ‘The Complete Works of Robert Greene,’ 15 vols., 8vo, 1881-6, in the ‘Huth Library’ series. Vol. i. contains a translation by Mr. Brayley Hodgetts (from the Russian) of Professor Nicholas Storojenko's able sketch of Greene's life and works.
[Memoirs by Dyce and Storojenko; Simpson's School of Shakspere, ii. 339, &c.; F. G. Fleay's Chronicle History of the Life and Work of William Shakespeare; Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr.; Works of Thomas Nashe; Works of Gabriel Harvey; M. Jusserand's English Novel in the Time of Shakespeare (Engl. transl.), 1890; British Museum and Bodleian Catalogues; Bibliotheca Heberiana, pt. iv.; BibliothecaSteevensiana; Sale Catalogue of Sir Francis Freeling's Library (1836); Hazlitt's Bibliographical Collections; Cat. of the Huth Library; Collier's Bibl. Cat.; Arber's Transcript of Stat. Reg.]