Q. Write a detailed note on University Wits.
The “University Wits” refers to a group of late 16th-century English playwrights and literary figures who were university-educated, predominantly at Oxford and Cambridge.
This group is credited with transforming English drama and paving the way for the golden age of Elizabethan theatre.
Notable figures among the University Wits include Christopher Marlowe, Robert Greene, Thomas Kyd, and John Lyly.
How many members were in the University Wits?
The exact number of individuals who comprise the “University Wits” group can be a bit fluid, as the term is more descriptive of a trend than a formal group or organization.
Typically, around six to eight individuals are prominently noted as being members of this informal group. Here are seven individuals who are often identified as members of the University Wits:
- Christopher Marlowe
- Robert Greene
- Thomas Kyd
- Thomas Nashe
- John Lyly
- George Peele
- Thomas Lodge
Sometimes, Anthony Munday is also included in discussions of the University Wits, which would bring the number to eight.
It’s important to note that modern scholars grouped these figures not because they were part of a formalized group but because of similarities in their educational backgrounds and literary styles and their role in transforming English drama and literature during the Elizabethan era.
Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593): Marlowe went to Corpus Christi College in Cambridge. He was famous for making plays with deep stories and complex characters.
He is famous for works like “Doctor Faustus” and “Tamburlaine”. Unfortunately, he died very young, at 29, in mysterious circumstances.
Robert Greene (1558-1592): Greene attended both Cambridge and Oxford universities. He wrote many things, from comedies to short stories with moral lessons.
He often had disagreements with other writers of his time, including perhaps Shakespeare. His play “Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay” was very popular.
Thomas Kyd (1558-1594): Kyd studied at the Merchant Taylors’ School in London. He created the revenge tragedy genre with his play “The Spanish Tragedy,” a style that centered on justice and revenge themes. It reflects the societal issues of his period.
Thomas Nashe (1567-1601): Nashe was a student at St John’s College, Cambridge. Through his satirical works, he was a well-known writer, poet, and critic of society. His piece “The Unfortunate Traveller” is an excellent example of his storytelling.
John Lyly (1553-1606): Lyly graduated from Magdalen College, Oxford. He was famous for his clever and funny writing style, both in his novels and plays. His book “Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit” was very influential, setting a trend for witty writing during that time.
George Peele (1556-1596): Peele went to Christ Church, Oxford. He was good at writing stories that mixed history with myths. Many loved his play “The Arraignment of Paris” for its rich storytelling, merging different elements in a fun and cohesive way.
Thomas Lodge (1558-1625): Lodge studied at both Oxford and Cambridge. He was a writer and doctor, translating works from other languages to English.
He wrote romantic stories and poems that many people enjoyed during his time. His translations helped English-speaking people access a wide range of classical works.
The University Wits were significantly influenced by the humanist ideals proliferating during the Renaissance.
Was William Shakespeare a member of the University Wits?
William Shakespeare was not a member of the University Wits. The group comprised playwrights and authors with a university education, mainly from Oxford or Cambridge.
Although contemporary to some group members, Shakespeare did not have a university education. However, their works and literary contributions undoubtedly influenced him.
15 Facts About University Wits
Christopher Marlowe was believed to have been a government spy, besides being a playwright, working for Queen Elizabeth I.
Robert Greene might have been one of the first writers to criticize Shakespeare publicly, referring to him disdainfully as an “upstart crow” in one of his pamphlets.
Thomas Kyd was once arrested and tortured in relation to the accusations against Marlowe for atheism, as the two were known to be roommates at one point.
John Lyly, a prolific writer, unsuccessfully sought a court position for many years, even writing a letter to Queen Elizabeth I to consider him for a role.
George Peele was known to lead a bohemian lifestyle. He often got mixed up in rumors and love problems in the exciting and sometimes too wild stories he wrote.
Thomas Nashe engaged in a pamphlet war, a series of public arguments through published pamphlets, with another writer named Gabriel Harvey. This war lasted for several years and is known as the Nashe-Harvey Controversy.
Thomas Lodge left his studies in law to join the London theatre scene and later even took up the medical profession, showcasing a diverse career path.
Christopher Marlowe‘s death remains a mystery, with theories ranging from a bar fight to a political assassination due to his alleged role as a spy.
Robert Greene is believed to have died in poverty at a young age, with his last work being a repentance piece where he regrets his dissolute life.
Thomas Kyd‘s famous work, ‘The Spanish Tragedy,’ was a massive hit and remained popular for several years, even being adapted and expanded by other playwrights.
John Lyly‘s plays were popular among women audiences of the time. It was unusual because, during that time, there were strict rules and expectations about how women should act.
George Peele was also involved in civic pageantry, writing many pageants and entertainments for the City of London.
Thomas Nashe‘s novel “The Unfortunate Traveller” is considered one of the earliest examples of a picaresque novel in English literature.
Thomas Lodge was not just a writer but also contributed as a physician during the outbreak of the plague in London.
Despite their significant contributions to English literature, many University Wits died young. They led turbulent lives, often as dramatic as the plays they wrote.