Home  »  Volume V: English THE DRAMA TO 1642 Part One  »  § 1. The University standard of judgment

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

VI. The Plays of the University Wits

§ 1. The University standard of judgment

  • Come foorth you witts, that vaunt the pompe of speach,
  • And strive to thunder from a Stage-man’s throate:
  • View Menaphon a note beyond your reach;
  • Whose sight will make your drumming descant doate;
  • Players avant, you know not to delight;
  • Welcome sweete Shepheard; worth a Scholler’s sight.
  • THESE lines of Thomas Brabine, prefixed to Greene’s Menaphon (1589), follow hard upon Nashe’s involved and, to-day, obscure preface, “To the Gentlemen Students.” This preface is one long gibe at the poets and the writers who, either without university education had risen from the ranks, or, though thus educated, had chosen ways of expression not in accordance with the standards of the university wits. John Lyly, Thomas Lodge, George Peele, Robert Greene and Thomas Nashe, however they may have differed among themselves, stood shoulder to shoulder whenever they were facing the “alcumists of eloquence” whose standards were not their own. Though, in the period from 1570 to 1580, the curriculum at Oxford and at Cambridge was still medieval, yet, as an addition to it, or in place of it, groups of students, from year to year, received with enthusiasm whatever returning scholars and travellers from Italy and France had to offer them of the new renascence spirit and its widening reflection in continental literary endeavour. A pride in university training which amounted to arrogance, and a curious belief, not unknown even to-day, that only the university-bred man can possibly have the equipment and the sources of information fitting him to be a proper exponent of new, and, at the same time, of really valuable, ideas and literary methods—these were sentiments shared by all the members of the group of “university wits.”