Robert Greene (c. 1558– 92), another of Marlowe’s companions under Dekker’s imaginary vine, was like Meres an MA of both Cambridge and Oxford. Born in Norwich, he is best known as the supposed author of a deathbed attack on Shakespeare as one who thought himself ‘the only Shake-scene in a country’, the first allusion to Shakespeare in print. This is in Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit (1592), which may actually have been written by Henry Chettle, and in which Shakespeare is attacked as ‘an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his “tiger’s heart wrapped in a player’s hide” supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you’. The quotation parodies a memorable line from Henry VI, Part Three: ‘O tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide!’ (1.4.138), and helps to date that play.
But there is more to Greene than that. He has claims to be our first fully professional writer – or literary hack. ‘Glad was that printer’, wrote Thomas Nashe, in a vivid pen portrait, ‘that might be so blest to pay him dear for the very dregs of his wit.’ Greene was so much a master of the journalistic skill of turning anything that happened to him into copy for the printers that it is difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction in his writings, but to judge by the increasingly confessional tone of his later, allegedly autobiographical pamphlets, he led a dishonest and dissolute, if convivial, life.
And because one book ALWAYS leads to another, I am now reminded that I have a copy of David Hughes' The Hack's Tale, which I have not read yet. What has put me off, to be honest, is that there are two ratings on GR and both are 1*s.
Maybe it would be a good way to start 2020 by finding out if the book is worth taking up shelf space.