Home  »  Volume V: English THE DRAMA TO 1642 Part One  »  § 19. Development of the Love story

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

§ 19. Development of the Love story

Moreover, as he matures, he grows to care as much for character as for incident, as his development of Nano, Margaret and Dorothea proves. Nashe, thinking of Greene’s novels, called him the “Homer of women”; and it would not be wholly unfitting to give him that designation among pre-Shakespearean dramatists. With him, as with Kyd, the love story becomes, instead of a by-product, central in the drama—not merely the cause of ensuing situation, but an interest in itself. To see clearly what he accomplished for dramatic comedy, one should compare his James IV with Common Conditions. Greene took over the mad romanticism of the latter production, of which Peele was already making fun—all this material of disguised women seeking their lords or lovers, of adventure by flood and field—but, by infusing into it sympathetic and imaginative characterisation, he transmuted it into the realistic romance that reaches its full development in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Cymbeline and The Winter’s Tale. As Lyly had broken the way for high comedy by his dialogue, the group of people treated and his feeling for pure beauty, so Greene broke the way for it on the side of story—an element which was to play an important part in Shakespeare’s romantic work. He supplies just what Lyly lacked, complicated story and verisimilitude, and, above all, simple human feeling. Thomas Kyd, in his Spanish Tragedie, had raised such material as that of Tancred and Gismunda to the level of reality, making the love story central. Thus, Kyd opened the way to real tragedy. On the level, perhaps somewhat lower, of romantic comedy, Greene’s verisimilitude is equal. The more we study these men, the more true in many cases we find contemporary judgment. As Chettle said, Greene, in 1590–2, was “the only commedian of a vulgar writer in this country.”