The University Wits
The University Wits were a group of late 16th century English playwrights and secular writers who were educated at the Oxford and Cambridge. Prominent members of this group were Christopher Marlowe, Robert Greene and Thomas Nashe from Cambridge, and John Lily, Thomas Lodge and George Peele from Oxford. Thomas Kyd is sometimes considered as one of the University Wits but he did not read in any university. Nevertheless, Kyd’s plays show close resemblance to those of others members of the group. This association of London writers and dramatists set the stage for the theatrical Renaissance of Elizabethan England. They were looked upon as the literary elite of the day, and they paved the way for William Shakespeare. However, Shakespeare never was University educated, and Greene calls him an “upstart crow” in one of his pamphlets. The plays of University wits had several features in common. There was a fondness for heroic themes, which needed heroic treatment: great fullness and variety, splendid descriptions, long speeches, the handling of violent incidents and emotions. These qualities, excellent when held in restraint, only too often led to loudness and disorder. The style was also ‘heroic’. The main aim was to achieve strong and sounding lines, magnificent epithets, and powerful declamation. This sometimes led even to nonsense, but in the best examples, such as in Marlowe, the result is quite impressive. The best medium for such expression was blank verse, which was sufficiently elastic to bear the strong pressure of these expansive methods. The themes were usually tragic in nature. The general lack of real humour in the early dramas is one of its most prominent features.
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