Revenge of the Vpstart Crow

IMG_1659.JPGRobert Greene was an Elizabethan writer and dramatist. He’s little known today except for a short pamphlet he wrote right before his death in which he disparaged William Shakespeare as “an vpstart crow beautified with our feathers, … with his Tygres heart wrapt in a player’s hyde”.

Now Greene considered Shakespeare an upstart because he was a) an actor, and b) unschooled – at least relative to Greene, Ben Johnson, and Christopher Marlowe, all of whom were Cambridge educated. But he wasn’t far off, in his criticisms either.

Crows are well known to be thieves, and attracted to shiny objects, and Shakespeare was a thief of the highest order. Of all of his plays, only one (as far as we know) is completely original, and that’s Love’s Labors Lost.  (To be fair, the plot of The Tempest is probably his, too, though he borrows from other sources for the description of events that occur during the play).

In 1610, Shakespeare took his revenge on Greene (despite the fact that Greene had already been dead for 18 years).  Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale is a ripoff of a story Greene had written over a decade before, called Pandosto. To make matter worse, he took the name of Greene’s first novel (Mamillia), and wrote a character with that name (Mamillius) into the play, and then killed him off.

Harsh, Bill. Harsh.

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One comment

  1. […] and writer are tied together by the description that Robert Greene wrote, describing an “upstart crow” who was an actor with pretensions to write for the stage. In 1610, a man named John Davies […]

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