The University Wits

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THE UNIVERSITY WITS: The growing popularity and diversity of the drama, its secularization, and the growth of a class of writers who were not members of holy orders led in the 16th century to a new literary phenomenon, the secular professional playwright. The first to exploit this situation was a group of writers known as the University Wits, young men who had graduated at Oxford or Cambridge with no patrons to sponsor their literary efforts and no desire to enter the Church. They turned to playwriting to make a living. In doing so they made Elizabethan drama more literary and more dramatic--and they also had an important influence on both private and public theaters because they worked for each. They set the course for later Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, and they paved the way for Shakespeare. The decade of the 1590s, just before Shakespeare started his career, saw a radical transformation in popular drama. This group of six feisty, well- educated men chose to write for the public stage, taking over native traditions. They brought new coherence in structure, and real wit and poetic power to the language. Of this little constellation, Marlowe is the central sun, and around him revolved as minor stars, Lyly, Greene, Peele, Lodge and Nash. Christopher Marlowe (1564-93) was the greatest of the pre-Shakespearean dramatist. He was born in Canterbury and educated there at Cambridge and adopted literature as a profession. Marlowe's plays, all tragedies were written within a short span of five years (1587-92). He had no bent for comedy and the comic parts found in some of his plays are always inferior. As a dramatist Marlowe had serious limitations. Only in "Edward the Second" does he show any sense of plot construction, while his characterization is of the simplest and lack the warm humanity of Shakespeare. All the plays except "Edward the Second" revolve around one figure drawn in bold outlines. Indeed to appreciate Marlowe properly we must put aside conventional...
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