GREENE, Robert

A pamphleteer and dramatist, Robert Greene was a central figure in the En­glish literary community of the late sixteenth century. Greene, who was born in Norwich, entered St. John's College, Cambridge, in 1575 as a sizar, or poor working student. He received his B.A. in 1578 and his M.A. in 1583 and was incorporated M.A. from Oxford in 1588. A 1586 marriage produced at least one child, but Greene deserted his family and went to London. There he became notorious for heavy drinking, financial irresponsibility, and associating with prostitutes and cutpurses.
Greene's academic credentials earned him a place among Christopher Mar­lowe,* George Peele, and Thomas Nashe*—the so-called University Wits. One of England's first professional authors, he produced more than thirty-five works between 1580 and 1592. Beginning with moral writings, he proceeded to pas­toral romances, including Pandosto (1588), the source of William Shake­speare's* Winter's Tale. Greene has at times been linked with forty plays, although modern scholars assign him just five. Of these, only The History of Orlando Furioso (c. 1591, published in 1594) bore his name during his lifetime. Another, The Scottish History of James the Fourth' (c. 1591, published in 1598), anticipates Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream with its fairy lore and tragicomic form.
Around 1590 Greene began to write didactic works with autobiographical content. Many of these, like Greenes Never Too Late (1590), are prodigal-son stories in which a youth ignores his father's advice, sows wild oats, and returns humbled and penitent. Greenes Groatsworth of Wit (1592) expresses concern for the immorality and atheism of Marlowe, Nashe, and Peele. It also contains the first printed reference to Shakespeare, who is attacked as "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 own conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey."
In 1592 Greene wrote several exposes of London conycatchers, or swindlers, including A Quip for an Upstart Courtier, which attacks scholar Gabriel Har­vey.* Soon after, Greene became ill from a meal of pickled herring and Rhenish wine and died alone and penniless. That his friends failed to dispute Harvey's subsequent malicious description of Greene's vices and death in Four Letters and Certain Sonnets (1592) confirms Greene's dubious moral character; despite this, he was a popular writer who provided Shakespeare with a dramatic model of comedy and romance.
C. W. Crupi, Robert Greene, 1986.
Kevin Lindberg

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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