Greene's Groats-Worth of Wit
Greenes, Groats-worth of Witte, bought with a million of Repentance (1592) is a tract published as the work of the deceased playwright Robert Greene.
It was published as a short book or pamphlet, a form that was popular and which contributed to the lively intellectual life of the time. Greene’s work is written as a moralistic tale, which, towards the end, is revealed to have been autobiographical. During the course of the story characters introduce song lyrics, fables, and some sharp and resentful criticisms of actors and playwrights. It appears to have been written with the idea that the contemporary reader would try to figure out which actual persons are being represented and satirized by the characters in the story.
The pamphlet is most famous for a passage which appears to allude to William Shakespeare, who was then starting out on his career as an actor and playwright.
The main body of the text is an account of the visit of two brothers, Roberto and Lucanio, to the courtesan Lamilia. This is followed by the later career of Roberto as a playwright.
The actual authorship of the pamphlet has been disputed. Some authorities consider it to be wholly by Greene himself. Others take the view that it is a heavily revised compilation of material left by him. It has also been attributed to the writer and printer Henry Chettle, who arranged its publication.
xxo die Septembr – Willm. Wrighte. Entred for his copie under Mr Watkin’s hand, uppon the perill of Henrye Chettle, a booke intituled Greene’s Groatsworth of wyt, bought with a million of Repentance . . .vjd
It was printed for Wright by John Danter and John Wolfe. Chettle, who had entered into partnership with Danter and William Hoskins in 1591, and who continued to work for Danter for several years after the partnership dissolved, claimed in a prefatory epistle to Kind-Heart’s Dream (1592) that, because Greene’s handwriting was illegible, he (Chettle) had copied out Greene’s manuscript so that the work could be licenced.
The publication caused "a literary scandal" because of its comments about other playwrights. The booklet was one of several publications that followed Greene's death, occasioned by fascination with his dissolute lifestyle. Others written in the first person purporting to be his dying statements were The Repentance of Robert Greene and Greene's Vision.
Groatsworth was reprinted by Thomas Creede in 1596.
The pamphlet begins with an account of the brothers Roberto and Lucanio Gorinius, whose father is a wealthy usurer. Roberto is a scholar, while Lucanio is being groomed to take over the family business. After their father dies, leaving Roberto only a groat to buy a "groat's worth of wit", Roberto takes his now-wealthy brother to visit the dazzling courtesan Lamilia. Lucanio is enchanted with her. The characters sing songs, tell fables and comic anecdotes. Roberto attempts to make a deal with Lamilia to share the proceeds if she can fleece the naive Lucanio, but Lamilia tells Luciano about his brother's proposal and kicks Roberto out of the house. Roberto then meets an actor who tells Roberto he can make a living as a playwright.
Two years later Roberto is a successful playwright and Lucanio is penniless, having spent all the money he inherited on Lamilia, who has now dumped him. Roberto employs his own brother, but Lucanio leaves and spends the rest of his life as a pimp. Roberto's success does not stop him squandering all his money until he is left dying, once again finding himself with just one groat left.
The narrator then states that the life of Roberto is similar to his own life, and exhorts his readers to follow a more honourable path, summed up in ten precepts. He then addresses three unnamed "Gentlemen his Quondam acquaintance, that spend their wits in making Plaies", telling them to reform their ways. One is referred to as a "famous gracer of Tragedians" who has denied the existence of God. The other is a "young Juvenal" who co-wrote a comedy with Greene. The third is "no lesse deserving than the other two" but has been driven to "extreme shifts" to survive. All should beware of actors and newcomers, especially "an vpstart 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 Iohannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey."
The pamphlet continues with further exhortations to repentance followed by an allegory about a grasshopper and an ant, the former representing fecklessness, the latter representing thrift. The text ends with a letter to his wife, which is said to have been found after Greene's death. Greene apologises to her for his neglect and exhorts her to look after their son.
Identities of the playwrights
The comment about an "upstart crow beautified with our feathers" is commonly taken to refer to Shakespeare, criticised for being an actor who has the temerity to write plays, and for either committing plagiarism or excessive pride. The line "Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde" appears to allude to either the anonymous The True Tragedy of Richard, Duke of York (published 1595), or to Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part 3, both of which contain the line "O tiger's heart wrapped in a woman's hide", but scholars are not agreed on exactly what is meant by the cryptic comments.
Greene evidently complains of an actor who believes he can write as well as university-educated playwrights, alludes to a line in either the True Tragedy or Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part 3, and uses the term "Shake-scene," a unique term never used before or after Greene's screed, to refer to the actor. Most scholars accept that Greene refers to Shakespeare, who would in this period have been an "upstart" as an actor who is writing and contributing to plays such as the three parts of Henry VI and Richard III, which were most likely written and produced (though not published) before Greene's death. Hanspeter Born argues that this attack on the "upstart Crow" was provoked by Shakespeare’s interference with Greene’s play A Knack to Know a Knave.
Greene's colourful and irresponsible character have led some, including Stephen Greenblatt, to speculate that Greene may have served as the model for Shakespeare's Falstaff. Greenblatt also suggests that a line from Hamlet is a dig at Greene's phrase "beautified with our feathers". When Polonius reads a letter by Hamlet addressed to "the most beautified Ophelia", he disparages Hamlet's prose, commenting that "beautified is a vile phrase".
The three other writers
The three playwrights of Greene's acquaintance whom he admonishes for their hedonistic lifestyles and implores to repent were among the University Wits, a coterie of university educated writers associated with Greene. The "famous gracer of Tragedians" is generally taken to refer to Christopher Marlowe who was accused of holding atheistic views. Greene also comments that he is an admirer of Machiavelli, who is several times mentioned in Marlowe's work.
The "young Juvenal" may be Thomas Lodge, who co-authored with Greene of the comedy A Looking Glass for London; however, Lodge was out of the country at the time and Greene's language implies that all three playwrights know of Greene's illness. Most modern commentators agree that Greene refers to Thomas Nashe, who was later called "gallant young Juvenal" by Francis Meres in Palladis Tamia, an apparent allusion to Greene's use of the term. Greene's phrase "bombast out a blank verse" appears to be a reference to a remark by Nashe written in the preface to Greene's own book Menaphon (1589). Nashe defended Greene against his detractors, who "out-brave better pens with the swelling bumbast of a bragging blanke verse". Nashe was also much younger than Greene, unlike Lodge, which would explain why Greene calls him "sweet boy". However, there are no known comedies co-written by Greene and Nashe.
The third writer is usually identified as George Peele, who, like Greene, was notorious for his chaotic lifestyle. Peele may have already have collaborated with Shakespeare; the early play Titus Andronicus is now generally taken to have been co-written by them.
Both Peele and Nashe may also have worked with Shakespeare on Henry VI, Part 1. According to Gary Taylor there is considerable evidence for Nashe's dominant role in the authorship of the first act of the play. By the time the "tiger's heart" line in Henry VI, Part 3 was written, Shakespeare was working alone. Greene's warning, therefore, arose in circumstances when Shakespeare was rapidly moving from a junior to a senior role in his relationship to more established writers.
Some scholars hypothesize that all or part of Groats-Worth was written shortly after Greene's death by one of his fellow writers. Henry Chettle has been the favoured candidate, and was suspected at the time, since the manuscript from which it was printed was prepared by him and was in his handwriting. The publication offended at least two contemporary writers. Chettle responded to the complaints in the preface to his Kind Heart's Dream, published later that year. He denied writing the work, stating that he had only transcribed it from Greene's original manuscript into his own hand before publication. He added that he had no wish to know one of the complainants, but wished he had edited out some of the offensive material about the second. It is widely believed that the two authors he comments on are Christopher Marlowe and Shakespeare, though this is far from certain. Chettle wrote,
About three months since died M. Robert Greene, leaving many papers in sundry booksellers' hands, among other his Groatsworth of Wit, in which a letter written to divers play-makers is offensively by one or two of them taken, and because on the dead they cannot be avenged, they willfully forge in their conceits a living author [...] With neither of them that take offence was I acquainted, and with one of them I care not if I never be. The other, whom at that time I did not so much spare as since I wish I had, for that, as I have moderated the heat of living writers and might have used my own discretion (especially in such a case, the author being dead), that I did not I am as sorry as if the original fault had been my fault, because myself have seen his demeanor no less civil than he excellent in the quality he professes. Besides, the diver of worship have reported his uprightness of dealing, which argues his honesty, and his facetious grace in writing that approves his art.
Thomas Nashe was also accused at the time of having written it. He denied it in the 1594 edition of his book Pierce Penniless.
In 1969 Warren B. Austin undertook a pioneering computer-aided analysis of the work of Chettle and Greene. He concluded that Groatsworth was written by Chettle on the basis of word choice frequencies. Austin's analysis convinced many scholars, but in 2006 Richard Westley came to the opposite conclusion, accusing Austin of pre-selecting evidence to support his view. Westley concluded that the pamphlet was the work of Greene and that the evidence of Chettle's quirks was the result of his role as a transcriber. Steve Mentz, writing in 2008, argued that Groatsworth included a substantial amount of material written by Greene, but that its idiosyncratic structure suggested that there was significant editorial intervention in the source material creating "an unusual sort of collaboration" between Chettle and Greene.
- Acheson, Arthur. Shakespeare’s Lost Years in London, 1586-1592. Brentanos, 1920, pg 102
- Greenblatt, Stephen. Will in the World. Jonathan Cape, 2004, pg 212
- 'The Registers of the Stationers’ Company’, Notes and Queries, 3rd Series, Vol. I, (London: Bell & Daldy, 1862), p. 321.
- Jowett, John, ‘Johannes Factotum: Henry Chettle and Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit’, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, December 1993, 87:4, pp. 453-86 at p. 469.
- Jowett, John, ‘Notes on Henry Chettle’, Review of English Studies, August 1994, New Series, 45:180, pp. 384-8 at p. 385.
- Steve Mentz, "Forming Greene - theorising the early modern author in the Groatsworth of Wit" in Kirk Melnikoff, Edward Gieskes, Writing Robert Greene: essays on England's first notorious professional writer, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2008, p.115.
- D.A. Carroll, "The Player-Patron in "Greene's Groatsworth of Wit (1592)", Studies in Philology, 1994.
- Schoone-Jongen, Terence G., Shakespeare’s Companies, (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate Publishing, 2008), p. 28.
- Born, Hanspeter, "Why Greene was Angry at Shakespeare", Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 25 (2012), 133-173.
- Stephen Greenblatt, Will in the World - How Shakespeare became Shakespeare, W. W. Norton & Company, 2004, p.215-16
- The suggestion was first made in 1930 by Baldwin Maxwell in Studies in Phiology 27(2): 230-232 (1930)
- Philip Drew, 'Was Greene's "Young Juvenal" Nashe or Lodge?', Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, 1967, 55-66.
- Stephen, Leslie; Lee, Sidney, eds. (1890). "Greene, Robert (1560?-1592)". Dictionary of National Biography 23. London: Smith, Elder & Co. p. 69.
- Bate, Jonathan, and Eric Rasmussen, eds. The RSC Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Palgrave Macmillan, 2007, p. 1618: "modern scholarship has persuasively demonstrated by means of close stylistic analysis that Titus Andronicus was begun by another dramatist, George Peele, who had a high-level classical education and a taste for large-scale symmetrical stage encounters spoken in high-flown rhetoric."
- Taylor, Gary. "Shakespeare and Others: The Authorship of Henry the Sixth, Part One", Medieval and Renaissance Drama, 7 (1995), 145-205.
- Joseph Pearce, The quest for Shakespeare, Ignatius Press, 2008, p.105
- Richard Westley, "Computing Error: Reassessing Austin’s Study of Groatsworth of Wit", Literary and Linguistic Computing, Vol. 21, No. 3, 2006