(c1558 - 1592)
Birth and education
Robert Greene was born in Norwich, Norfolk, and entered St John’s College, Cambridge, in 1575 (17), graduating in 1578 (20). During the next years, he seems to have travelled widely. According to his own account 'I have smiled with the Italian … eaten Spanish mirabolanes … France, Germany, Poland, Denmark, I know them all'. He returned to Cambridge to take his MA in 1581 (23).
First literary productions
He began to write plays, but also turned his hand to songs, romances and poetry.
Around 1585 (27) he married a Lincolnshire woman, who bore him a son, but he abandoned her after he had spent her inheritance.
His career as a professional writer
He was one of the first professional writers, one of the first autobiographers, and his Honourable History of Friar Bongay and Friar Bacon, a play written in c1591 (33) and published in 1594 (d2), was one of the first romantic comedies. The best example of his poetic style is Pandosto (1588, 30), which was modelled on the prose pastorals of Sir Philip Sidney, and which was the immediate source for the story of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. His didactic and autobiographical works include Greenes never too late (1590, 32), containing prodigal son stories largely based on his own experiences, and Greenes Groatsworth of Wit bought with a Million of Repentance (1592, 34). It is in this last work that he refers to Shakespeare as ‘an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers heart wrapt in a Players hide, supposes he is well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you...in his owne conceit the only Shake-scene in a country’. His A Notable Discovery of Coosnage (1591,33) seeks to expose the practices of the panders and whores, swindlers and card-sharps of London for the unwary, and A disputation betweene a hee conny-catcher and a shee conny-catcher (1592, 34) and The Blacke Booke's Messenger (1592, 34) continue in this genre with lurid descriptions of the London underworld. His Quip for an Upstart Courtier or a Quaint Dispute between Velvet-Breeches and Cloth-Breeches (1592, 34) compares the lives of the courtier (Velvet Breeches) and the merchant (Cloth Breeches) in order to find which is deserving of more respect.
He died in 1592 (34) in the house of a poor shoemaker, leaving the following note for his wife : ‘Doll I charge thee by the love of our youth and by my soul’s rest that thou wilt see this man paid, for if he and his wife had not succoured me, I had died in the streets.’ At his request the shoemaker’s wife garlanded his head with bay leaves.
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