Biographers of William Shakespeare of Stratford Upon Avon rely heavily
on one document to show that by 1592 the man had risen to the top flight
of actors and dramatists notwithstanding the absence of any evidence
in any cultural field whatever. The document, 'Greene's Groatsworth
of Wit Bought with a Million of Repentance' is in outline a plea to
three dramatists not to give employment to actors and in particular
to an 'upstart crow' with a 'tiger's heart': the phrases
impress the 'orthodox' biographers are:
'supposes he is well able to bombast out a blank verse as the
best of you',
'the only Shake-scene in a country'
and they conclude that these phrases all refer to their William Shakespeare
and evidence his new-found pre-eminence as an actor.
As a result of the publication of Groatsworth in September 1592 (registered
at Stationers' Hall on 20th September), Henry Chettle caused the publication
of his pamphlet 'Kind Heart's Dream in December 1592 (registered 8th
December), tendering a fulsome apology to one of the dramatists alledgedly
insulted in the earlier document. 'Orthodox' biographers immediately
suggest that this apology is to Shakespeare now as a playwright ignoring
his previous incarnation in Groatsworth as merely an insulted actor.
and for the most part ignoring also the clear non-sequitur. Only Chambers
realised this basic difficulty convicting Chettle (who at this time
was a professional editor) of some 'looseness of language'.
The possible solution to all these problems is down to Richard Malim
and presents a logical framework. Dr. Kathman however suggests that
opponents of the 'orthodox' view are afflicted by literalness which
may in fact be a useful attribute when the writings of the professional
editor Chettle are examined.
First it may be helpful to consider the people involved:
Robert Greene: poet and dramatist who died on the 3rd September
1592 in abject poverty. There is no reason to suppose that he wrote
any version of Groatsworth as it was registered 17 days later - even
the printer marked it 'upon the peril of Henry Chettle'
- , because:-
1. Groatsworth is a prolix diatribe and scarcely reeks of deathbed
repentance. It may be contrasted with the genuine article in fact written
2. Over thirty years ago computer tests established that both Groatsworth
and Kind Heart's Dream were by the same author, namely Chettle.
3. Peter Moore pointed out that the reference to Greene's son Fortunatus
as the son of his wife and himself is distorted. Fortunatus is another
woman's son of whom Greene/Chettle writes, 'in whose face regard
not the father so much as thy own perfections', an insult to a childless
widow by an ignorant author. Greene's genuine letter to his wife is
a much more sensitive production and does not mention the child who
was apparently in the care of his mother anyway.
4. Thomas Nashe (see below) denounced Groatsworth as a 'scald trivial
lying pamphlet' as he clearly agreed with the suggestion that Greene
was not the author.
Henry Chettle: acceptance of his role as author of both Groatsworth
and Kind Heart's Dream is gaining ground. Apprenticed to a stationer,
he became a partner in a printing firm in 1591, Although he later became
a prolific playwright usually in collaboration with other authors (and
preservation of copyright considerations arise), these two pamphlets
were apparently his first literary efforts. His experience of the London
dramatic and stage scene was not extensive enough to avoid the mistakes
in Groatsworth which made the apology in Kind Heart's Dream necessary.
William Shakespeare: no record of any activity between 1585
and 1593 except for a mortgage action in 1589 relating to a local property
in Stratford Upon Avon.
Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford: the leading playwright
by 1592 as well as actor and probably producer, using the nickname or
pseudonym 'Will Shakespeare'. In 1588 his wife Anne daughter of Burleigh
died and with the withdrawal of Burleigh's protection and support causing
the collapse of his finances, Oxford became something of a recluse.
These pamphlets may however mark his return nearly four years later
to the cultural scene. His social position would prevent his contemporaries
from referring to him as a writer let alone as an actor.
Christopher Marlowe: generally accepted as the first playwright
addressed by 'Greene'.
Thomas Nashe: likewise the second playwright.
George Peele: some suggest him as the third playwright without
Other Playwrights: Kathman has suggested that because Kind Heart's
Dream refers to 'divers play-makers' it is not necessarily
an apology to one of the three principal playwrights principally addressed
in Groatsworth. The passage in Question in Groatsworth referring to
other playwrights reads in Groatsworth:-
'In this I might insert two more , who have written against these
buckram gentlemen ; but let their own works serve to witness against
their own wickedness, if they persevere to maintain any more such
peasants. For other newcomers, I leave them to the mercies of these
painted monsters, who (I doubt not) will drive the best-minded to
despise them ; for the rest, it skills not though they make a jest
at them. But now return I again to you three ...........'
Again this would not appear to have much additional point or to make
any difference to the position in logic.
2. The Pamphlets Considered
The heading of the relevant portion of Groatsworth is:-
"To those gentlemen, his quondam acquaintance, that spend
their time making plays R.G. wishes a better exercise and wisdom to
prevent his extremities"
The phrase "his quondam acquaintance" is considered
below. Next three playwrights are addressed - first,
"Wonder not (for with thee I will first begin), thou famous
gracer of tragedians, that Greene, who said with thee, ( like the
fool in his heart ) "There is no God", should now give glory
unto His greatness. For penetrating is His power...." etc.
The address continues at length with a naive attempt to convert the
sophisticated atheist Marlowe. Secondly, Nashe:
"With thee (i.e. Marlowe) I join young Juvenal,
that biting satirist that lastly with me together writ a comedy ..."
Chettle is probably wrong again here - no trace or reference to a joint
work by Greene and Nashe can be found.
"Sweet boy, might I advise thee, be advised ; and get not
many enemies by bitter words ..." etc.
Nashe is advised to choose his targets carefully and not to be outspoken.
Thirdly, as will be shown, Oxford:-
"And thou, no less deserving than the other two, in some
things rarer, in nothing inferior; driven (as myself) to extreme shifts:
a little I have to say to thee. And were it not an idolatrous oath,
I would swear by sweet Saint George thou art unworthy better hap,
sith thou dependest on so mean a stay "
The writer appears not to know very much about this dramatist notwithstanding
his/Greene's "quondam acquaintance".
"Base-minded men , all three of you, if by my misery, ye be
not warned..." continues Chettle, but at this stage the nature
of any offence committed against the playwrights by these descriptions
must be considered.
Marlowe's atheism was common knowledge and attempts to convert him
could hardly be offensive. Chettle even has the cheek to suggest that
he did edit 'Greene's ' remarks about Marlowe in Kind Heart's Dream
(see below) and should have done the same to the references to the other
playwrights. Later in the pamphlet he repeats his claim of defective
editing, which only draws further attention to his problem.
Of Nashe there is nothing objectionable, and nothing to 'edit'.
Of the third playwright, apart from a reference to financial insecurity,
and an apparent ignorant comparison, there is nothing. The Shakespearian
adjective "base-minded" is conditionally applied
only if the 'advice' is ignored.
No apology of any substance to any of the dramatists let alone any
thing to 'edit' appears on the face of it to be necessary. Nevertheless
Chettle writes in Kind Heart's Dream:-
"About three months since died M. Robert Greene leaving many
papers in sundry book sellers hands , among other his 'Groatsworth
of Wit' and which a letter a letter written to divers play-makers,
is offensively by one or two of them taken: and because of the dead
they cannot be avenged, they wilfully forge in their conceits a living
who has written nothing previously published which survives -
"and after tossing it to and fro no remedy, but it must light
on me. ..... With neither of them that take offence was I acquainted...."
- so much for 'Greene's "quondam acquaintance":
This is a confession of earlier ignorance about the complaining playwrights.
".,. and with one of them I care not if I never be.."
This could be Nashe whose description of Groatsworth (point 4 of the
ascription reasons above) may well have hurt Chettle.
".. the other whom I did not so much spare, as since I wish
I had for 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 sorry as if the original fault had been
my fault. "
This approaches an admission and provides certainly internal evidence
(because of the absence of the need to edit) that Chettle did write
Groatsworth and what he wrote was offensive to
the playwright, even though the offensive bit is not specifically linked
to the playwright. The playwright was sufficiently important and powerful
to be apologised to in fulsome terms - contrast the position of William
of Stratford Upon Avon.
Back to Groatsworth: there follows 'Greene's' warning about actors:-
"...for unto none of you (like me) sought those burrs to
cleave: those Puppets (I mean) that spake from our mouths , those
Antics garnished in our colours. Is it not strange that I, to whom
they have all been beholding; is it not like that you, to who they
have all been beholding , shall (were ye in that case as I am now)
be both at once of them forsaken? Yes , trust them not..."
Now comes the offensive passage:
"for there is an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers,
that, with his tiger's heart..."
Objection may be taken to the identification of Oxford with the
"upstart crow" actor as he had been acting much earlier.
However because of his retirement in 1588 (see above) his re-appearance
might seem to an apparent late-comer to the theatrical scene like Chettle
then to be that of an "upstart". Also, if an "upstart
crow" really is an upstart crow, he would be flattered to be
characterised as having a tiger's heart. As the metaphorical converse
seems to be applicable, he would be mightily offended.
"...with his tiger's heart wrapped in a player's hide..."
The famous parody from HenryVI Part 3: it would be ludicrous to a suggest
that a knowing writer (unlike Chettle) would parody the words of the
play's author to denounce that same author as an actor who thinks he
can write plays This is further evidence of Chettle's ignorance of
the true circumstances. Clearly he thought that the actor and the dramatist
were two different people: he apologises to one person, ostensibly on
the face of it one of the dramatists.
"supposes that he is as well able to bombast out a blank
verse as the best of you"
This ( and particularly the word "supposes") would
be very offensive if the actor were as good a dramatist as the three
addressed in Groatsworth. Oxford was the only actor at the time who
was also writing plays, save perhaps for Marlowe.
"and, being an absolute Johannes fac tiotum, is, in his own
conceit, the only Shake - scene in a country..."
He thinks himself, not only a class playwright, but able to play all
parts and the only first rank actor about ( as well as producer ?) -
which was of course accurate, but in the way expressed and joined with
the earlier suggestions must have been highly obnoxious. "Shake-scene"
is probably a cut at someone called or known as Shakespeare, but
who is meant ? Certainly not William Shakespeare of Stratford Upon Avon,
of whom there is no trace in the period 1586-93 in London or anywhere
else, let alone any public record as an actor and/or dramatist, to attract
such an attack. The probability is that here Oxford is being attacked
under his pseudonym.
Groatsworth finishes with a plea to the playwrights not to write any
more and to let the actoras act only in old plays which would cut off
the playwrights' income at the same time.
What does Chettle in his apology Kind Heart's Dream say to the actor
? On the face of it, not a word. Still addressing the playwright,
he writes a full, well-mannered and ingratiating apology:-
"I am sorry as if the original fault had been my fault,
because my self hath seen his demeanour no less civil than he excellent
in the quality he professes: besides divers of worthship have reported
his uprightness of dealing, which argues his facetious grace in writing..."
The use of the word facetious is interesting, as it means urbane, laid-back
in an upper class manner, applicable it is suggested only to 'Shakespeare'
in contemporary literature - "that approves his art" i.e.
that justifies, puts the seal of approval on the dramatist's own art
of acting - a vocation that certainly would not otherwise receive such
approval. The phrase, "excellent in the quality he professes"
is a slightly concealed reference to acting perhaps designed to mollify
further the actor/writer. The playwright being apologised to in such
elegant terms has to be the actor who has been insulted for his acting
and his playwriting. In effect, Chettle is again confessing that when
he wrote Groatsworth, he was not in the 'know'.
Oxfordians have sufficient independent evidence, 1 for the playwriting,
2 for the acting, and 3 for Oxford's own exalted view of acting as shown
in his earlier plays. It must be emphasised that as Oxford was the
only actor with a playwriting track-record at the time (except perhaps
Marlowe, and he would not merit the apology), he must be Chettle's third
playwright and the actor. Stratfordians have no contemporary evidence
of either activity for William of Stratford Upon Avon. Before 1593
nothing had been published under the name of William Shakespeare. Had
he been the dramatist, there would have been no reason to omit identification
of him as there was no need to conceal his authorship, and, of course,
no question of apologising to a person of his social status in the terms
used by Chettle. Thus there is no realistic candidate for the identification
except Oxford ; he alone provides a reason for requiring anonymity/pseudonomity
, namely his high social position.
It is therefore possible to reconcile the existing historical stage-scene
with Greene's Groatsworth and Kind Heart's Dream and to take in all
the facts known in such reconciliation without ignoring or twisting
any element of the evidence in the manner which 'orthodox' biographies
Since Groatsworth and Kind Heart's Dream cannot in logic be considered
as evidence for William Shakespeare's careers as actor and /ar dramatist,
all the biographical superstructure in his favour eected by 'orthodox'
biographers on the basis of the two pamphlets lacks any actual foundation
and should now be discarded.
Note: Richard Malim will
supply references on request.