Saturday, August 8, 2020

Drama before Shakespeare

1.The University Wits is a phrase used to name a group of late 16th-century English playwrights and pamphleteers who were educated at the universities (Oxford or Cambridge) and who became popular secular writers. Prominent members of this group were Christopher Marlowe,
 Robert Greene, and 
Thomas Kyd is also sometimes included in the group, though he is not believed to have studied at university.

2.The term "University Wits" was not used in their lifetime, but was coined by George Saintsbury, a 19th-century journalist and author.Saintsbury argues that the "rising sap" of dramatic creativity in the 1580s showed itself in two separate "branches of the national tree":
While Marlowe is the most famous dramatist among them, Robert Greene and Thomas Nashe were better known for their controversial, risquΓ© and argumentative pamphlets, creating an early form of journalism. Greene has been called the "first notorious professional writer".


3.Saintsbury argues that the Wits drew on the ploddingly academic verse-drama of Thomas Sackville, and the crude but lively popular entertainments of "miscellaneous farce-and-interlude-writers", to create the first truly powerful dramas in English. The University Wits, "with Marlowe at their head, made the blank verse line for dramatic purposes, dismissed, cultivated as they were, the cultivation of classical models, and gave English tragedy its Magna Charta of freedom and submission to the restrictions of actual life only". However, they failed "to achieve perfect life-likeness".It was left to "the actor-playwrights who, rising from very humble beginnings, but possessing in their fellow Shakespeare a champion unparalleled in ancient and modern times, borrowed the improvements of the university wits, added their own stage knowledge, and with Shakespeare's aid achieved the master drama of the world."
Influence of University Wits on English Literature

4.What is University Wits

University Wits were a group of young dramatists who wrote and performed in London towards the end of the 16th century. They are called University Wits because they were the witty students of Cambridge or Oxford. They were all more or less acquainted with each other and most of them led irregular and uncertain life. Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Kyd, Thomas Lodge, Thomas Nash, Robert Greene, George Peele and John Lyly were the members of this group. Their plays had some common characteristics.

5.University Wits had a fondness of introducing heroic themes in their dramas. They often took it from the lives of great figures. They gave heroic treatment to the heroic themes. Their dramas usually had variety, splendid description and violent incidents. Their chief aim was to achieve strong and sounding lines. The best example was Marlowe, who is famous for his use of blank-verse. Again, the themes, used in their dramas, were usually tragic in nature. There was lack of real humor in their dramas. The only exception was Lyly. His “The Woman in the Moon” is the first example of romantic comedy.

6.CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE

Christopher Marlowe was perhaps the greatest among the University Wits. He was the only dramatist who was compared to Shakespeare even though he lacked the warm humanity of Shakespearean plays. Marlowe was fond of tragic in literature. He had no interest in comedy. Again, as a dramatist, he had some serious limitations, specially, in plot construction. His art of characterization was simple. His plays were one man show- they centered around one figure. Though he had some lacking, he was remarkable for being lyrical and romantic in his dramatic presentation of life. All his plays were poetic and artistic. “The Jew of Malta” and “Dr. Faustus” are two of his best works. These two plays clearly show Marlowe’s love for conventional Machiavellian hero.

7.THOMAS KYD

Thomas Kyd is another important dramatist of the University Wits. He introduced the tradition of revenge play. We can easily find the influence of Kyd in the works of Shakespeare. “The Spanish Tragedy” is the best work of Thomas Kyd. This play had some outstanding features. The plot is horrific. There are murders, madness and death, but it earned a huge popularity for the play.

8.THOMAS LODGE

Thomas Lodge was a lawyer by profession but he gave up his career and took literature as career. He wrote only few dramas. “Rosalynde” is the most famous of his romantic comedies. It is said that Shakespeare took the plot of his “As You Like It” from Lodge’s “Rosalynde”.

9.THOMAS NASH

Thomas Nash was a professional journalist. He got involved in politics as well. His works had satiric tone. “Unfortunate Traveller” is his best work, which had much influence as far as the development of English novel is concerned.

10.ROBERT GREENE

Robert Greene’s plays had a great contribution in the development of English drama. Although his art of characterization was weak and his style was not outstanding, his humor was highly interesting. His method was not very strict like the other tragedians of that time. He was witty, humorous and imaginative.

11.GEORGE PEELE

George Peele was another important dramatist of the University Wits. His plays had romantic, satiric and historical evidence. He had no attraction towards the poetry. He handled Blank-verse with variety, and had a sense of humor and pathos. “Edward the 1st” was perhaps his best work.

12.JOHN LYLY

John Lyly was another great dramatist who had a strong interest towards the romantic comedy. His comedies were marked by elaborate dialogues, jests and retorts. We can find his influence in Shakespearean comedies. “Midas” is one of the most important work of John Lyly which had shaken the development of the romantic comedy in English literature.

Conclusion

Thus, we can conclude that University Wits have much influence in the history of English drama. Their dramas, specially the romantic comedies are of a great height. We can find their influence in later dramas of the Elizabethan period.

13.Edward Albert in his History of English Literature (1979) argues that the plays of the University Wits had several features in common:

(a) There was a fondness for heroic themes, such as the lives of great figures like Mohammed and Tamburlaine.

(b) Heroic themes needed heroic treatment: great fullness and variety; splendid descriptions, long swelling speeches, the handling of violent incidents and emotions. These qualities, excellent when held in restraint, only too often led to loudness and disorder.

(c) The style was also ‘heroic’. The chief aim was to achieve strong and sounding lines, magnificent epithets, and powerful declamation. This again led to abuse and to mere bombast, mouthing, and in the worst cases to nonsense. In the best examples, such as in Marlowe, the result is quite impressive. In this connexion it is to be noted that the best medium for such expression was blank verse, which was sufficiently elastic to bear the strong pressure of these expansive methods.

(d) The themes were usually tragic in nature, for the dramatists were as a rule too much in earnest to give heed to what was considered to be the lower species of comedy. The general lack of real humour in the early drama is one of its most prominent features. Humour, when it is brought in at all, is coarse and immature. Almost the only representative of the writers of real comedies is Lyly.


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