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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

§ 14. His literary career; his Novels and Pamphlets

Greene seems to have begun his varied literary career while still at Cambridge, for, in October, 1580, the first part of his novel, Mamillia, was licensed, though it did not appear before 1583. In the latter year, the second part was licensed, though the first edition we have bears date 1593. We are not clear as to what exactly Greene was doing between the time of taking the two degrees; but, in some way, it meant a preparation which made it possible for him to pour out, between 1583 and 1590, a rapid succession of some dozen love stories and ephemeral pamphlets—Morando, Planetomachia, Menaphon, Perimedes, Pandosto, The Spanish Masquerado, etc., etc. That, during this time or later, Greene was either a clergyman or an actor has not been proved. About 1590, some unusually strong impulsion, resulting either from a long sickness or, less probably, from some such contrition as his Repentance says the eloquence of John More at one time produced in him, gave him a distaste for his former courses, in literary work as well as in general conduct. Certainly, as Churton Collins has pointed out, Greene’s Mourning Garment, his Farewell to Folly, 1590 and 1591, and his Vision—which, though published after his death (1592), as written when he was moribund, was evidently, for the most part, composed about 1590—show this changed mood. Indeed, the mood was sufficiently lasting for him to write, in 1592, when he published his Philomela,

  • I promised, Gentlemen, both in my Mourning Garment and Farewell to Folly, never to busy myself about any wanton pamphlets again … but yet am I come, contrary to vow and promise’ once again to the press with a labour of love, which I hatched long ago, though now brought forth to light.
  • In any case, it cannot be denied that his non-dramatic production in the two years of life remaining before 1592 was, for the main part, very different from that which had preceded. Whether his series of coney-catching exposures formed part of a genuine repentance, it is quite impossible to tell. The three or four pamphlets of this sort by Greene were not wholly the result of an observation which moved him irresistibly, either through indignation or repentance, to frank speaking.