Home  »  Volume V: English THE DRAMA TO 1642 Part One  »  § 18. His sources and handling of plot

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

§ 18. His sources and handling of plot

Nashe called Greene “a master of his craft” in the art of plotting. This merit in him has not been enough recognised; but any careful comparison of sources and play in the case of Frier Bacon or James IV will show that he was alive to the essentials of good play-writing and sensitive to the elements of inherent or potential interest in his material. In Frier Bacon, he develops the mere hint of the old romance that a maid Mellisant had two suitors, and that she preferred the gentleman to the knight, into the somewhat idyllic incidents of Margaret of Fressingfield, Lacy and the king. He shifts the order of the stories at will and binds together rather skilfully those he selects. He adds several characters; and he vividly develops others only barely suggested. In the opening act, he cleverly creates interest and suspense. In James IV, he shows right feeling for dramatic condensation by representing the king as in love with Ida even at the time of his marriage with Dorothea, thus getting rid of the opening details of Cinthio’s story. By making Ateukin witness the collapse of his plans rather than hear of it, as in the story, he meets the eternal demand of an audience to see for itself what is important in the motives of a central figure. The letter incident he changes for the sake of greater simplicity and verisimilitude. In other words, he is no haphazard dramatic story teller; for his own time, he certainly is a master in the craft of plotting.