Monday, 13 August 2012

Robert Greene's Groats-Worth of Wit

Lowry alludes in his novel Ultramarine to Robert Greene's criticism of Shakespeare when speaking about Janet; "Your lamb's heart was beating under your white woollen sweater. A sheep in sheep's clothing ... a tiger's heart wrapped in a sailor's hide" (Pg. 52). Greene is reputedly parodying Henry VI Part 3 when York curses Margaret: "O tiger's heart wrapp'd in a woman's hide!" - a play Shakespeare contributed to.

Robert Greene (1558 – 1592) was an English author best known for a posthumous pamphlet attributed to him, Greene's Groats-Worth of Wit, widely believed to contain a polemic attack on William Shakespeare. He was born in Norwich and attended Cambridge University, receiving a B.A. in 1580, and an M.A. in 1583 before moving to London, where he arguably became the first professional author in England. Greene published in many genres including autobiography, plays, and romances, while capitalizing on a scandalous reputation.

The dramatist is most familiar to Shakespeare scholars for his pamphlet Greene's Groats-Worth of Wit (full title: Greene's Groats-worth of Wit bought with a Million of Repentance), which the majority of scholars agree contains the earliest known mention of Shakespeare as a member of Elizabethan London's dramatic community. In it, Greene disparages Shakespeare, for being an actor who has the temerity to write plays, and for committing plagiarism. The passage quotes a line which is purportedly from Shakespeare's play Henry VI, part 3, but scholars are not agreed on exactly what is meant by this cryptic allusion:

"...for there is 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 fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey".

Greene evidently complains of an actor who believes he can write as well as university-trained playwrights, alludes to the actor with a quotation from a Shakespearean play, and uses the term "Shake-scene," a unique term never used before or after Greene's screed, to refer to the actor. Though anti-Stratfordians argue that the early date of Greene's remark precludes a reference to Shakespeare (who in 1592 had no published works to his name), most scholars think that Greene's comment refers to Shakespeare, who would in this period have been an "upstart" as an actor who is writing and contributing to plays such as Henry VI, Parts 1-3 and King John, which were most likely written and produced (though not published) before Greene's death. Others argue that it is a reference to another actor, Edward Alleyn, whom Greene had attacked in an earlier pamphlet, using much the same language.

Some scholars think that all or part of the Groats-Worth may have been written shortly after Greene's death by one of his fellow writers (the pamphlet's printer, Henry Chettle, being the favoured candidate) hoping to capitalize on a lurid tale of death-bed repentance. Wikipedia

Lowry would have been aware of both the line in Henry VI to describe deceit in women and Greene's parody. Lowry firstly creates a joke that Janet is an innocent compared to Margaret in Henry VI - "Your lamb's heart was beating under your white woollen sweater. A sheep in sheep's clothing..." (Pg. 52) Then the change of the line in Henry VI to "a tiger's heart wrapped in a sailor's hide" both alludes to Dana's status as a sailor but alludes to Greene, with Lowry making a joke about his own plagiarism in Ultramarine and maybe the "accusations" that Lowry was a "literary upstart" who was trying to be too clever.

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