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About twenty years after Gorboduc, in about 1580, the first of the
University Wits appeared on the English stage. The Wits were a group of
seven young writers, bred in the traditions of the lassial dra!a and
eduated at the universities of "#ford and $a!bridge.
%1& John Lyly, the first of the seven to enter the field, stands apart fro!
the others in that he wrote entirelyfor the ourt rather than for the
popular stage. 'yly(s eight plays, to whih )ha*espeare owed a
onsiderable debt, were ourt allegories. Their the !es were derived
fro! lassial !ythology, and nearly all were in prose, steeped in the
euphuisti style. Two of his best plays are Endymion and Campaspe.
%+& George Peele, another of this group, is re!e!bered hiefly for
his Arraignment of Paris, David and Bethsabe, The Old Wives
Tale and The Battle of Alca!ar. ,eele(s wor* is do!inated by ourtly and
patrioti the!es.
%-& Thomas Kyd, in The "panish Tragedy, established .the tragedy of
blood/, to whih )ha*espeare(s Titus Andronicus belongs. #amlet itself
is said to be based upon a horror0play of the sa!e genre1ur$#amlet
% believed to be written by 2yd.
%3& Thomas Lodge wrote lassial plays li*e The Wounds of Civil War,
and A &oo'ing Glass for &ondon and England in ollaboration with
4reene. 5'odge wrote a 6efene of ,oetry in response to
4osson(s "chool of Abuse7
%5& Robert Greene was a !an of greater genius but he s8uandered it in
drin* and !uh seond0rate writing. 4abriel 9arvey, in (our &etters,
atta*ed 4reene(s waywardness and :ashe defended hi! in "trange
)e*s. The best0*nown of his plays are Orlando (urioso, (riar Bacon
and (riar Bongay and +ames the (ourth. ;ost of his plays are
dra!ati<ed pastoral ro!anes, li*e As ,ou &i'e -t, and The Winters Tale.
4reene is also re!e!bered today for his atta* on )ha*espeare as an
.upstart $row beautified with our feathers/ in the Groats.Worth of Wit.
9is Pandosto was the soure of The Winters Tale.
%=& "ne of 4reene(s ollaborators was Thomas Nash whose e#tant
dra!ati wor* is slight. 59e is re!e!bered for his prose wor* The
/nfortunate Traveller or The &ife of +ac' Wilton7
The greatest of all University Wits was Christopher Marlowe. The
youngest of the group and born in the sa!e year as )ha*espeare,
;arlowe, before his unti!ely death at the age of +>, had founded
English ro!anti tragedy and onverted the stiff, !ehanial blan* verse
of Gorboduc into that vital verse for! whih )ha*espeare would later
use in his plays. 9is plays show only !oderate power of harateri<ation
but they arry the reader away by the sheer fore and beauty of language
and their i!aginative power. ?n his four great plays the protagonists are
driven by vaulting a!bition, inordinate pride, a lust for power and
inhu!ane ruelty. The tragedy invariably ta*es the sa!e ourse1
triu!ph followed by a !ighty fall. Eah protagonist is ;arlovian in his
!asuline prowess whih often oneals a sensuous, sensitive
heart. Tamburlaine the Great is his earliest and rudest reation where a
shepherd0robber rises to i!perial power through ruthlessly ruel ations
and one appears on stage driving a tea! of *ings before his hariot. 9is
feroity is softened only by his love for his aptive @enorate. ?n The
+e* of 0alta, Aarabas, a Bew, is harassed by the governor of ;alta for
not paying the tributeC and Aarabas, in revenge rises to be the governor
by treahery and the power of gold. Aut he is punished and *illed by the
Tur*ish o!!ander against who! he plots. The ,rologue to the play is
spo*en by D;ahevil( and Aarabas is one of the prototypes for
unsrupulous ;ahiavellian villains in later Eli<abethan and Baobean
dra!a. 9is praise of gold and preious stones as .?nfinite rihes in a
little roo!/ is often 8uoted. Doctor (austus is perhaps the first
dra!ati<ation of the !edieval legend of a !an who sold his soul to the
6evil and who bea!e identified with a 6r. Eaustus, nero!aner of the
1=th entury. ;arlowe(s Eaustus, unli*e the legendary figure who was
!erely a !agiian, is an e!bodi!ent of a spiritual thirst for infinite
power, an a!bition to rule over the universe. Again, unli*e the legend, at
the end of the play, as the hour for the surrender of his soul draws near,
Eaustus is depited as reeling in intense !ental anguish. ;arlowe(s best
wor*, fro! the tehnial point of view, is Ed*ard --, but it annot
o!pare in psyhologial interest or poeti grandeur with Doctor
(austus. 'i*e his great hero Eaustus, ;arlowe also tasted the forbidden
fruit and a!e to a !iserable and sordid end, not indeed torn by devils,
but stabbed in a tavern over a slight dispute.