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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

§ 9. George Peele

George Peele (born 1558) graduated B.A. at Christ Church, Oxford, in 1577, and M.A. in 1579. Either he must have made rapid advance as a dramatist during his first years in London, 1580–2, or, during his long career at the university, some nine years, he must have developed genuine dramatic ability. This is evident because, in July, 1583, he was summoned from London to Oxford to assist William Gager, author of Rivales, in an entertainment which the latter was arranging for the reception at Christ Church of Albertus Alasco, Polish prince palatine. Certainly, The Araygnement of Paris, Peel’s “first encrease,” as Thomas Nashe called it, shows a writer who would seem to have passed the tiro stage. This play, entered for publication in April, 1584, is evidently influenced by the dramatic methods of John Lyly, owing to the fact that, like Lyly’s plays, it was acted before the queen by children. When we consider that Peele’s activity covered sixteen or eighteen years (he was dead by 1598), at a time when dramatic composition was rapid, his dramatic work remaining to us seems not large in quantity. Nor was he himself a slow workman. Syr Clyomon and Clamydes, tentatively assigned to him by Dyce, is no longer believed to be his. It is clearly of an earlier date, and, very possibly, was written by Thomas Preston. Of Wily Beguiled, sometimes attributed to Peele, Schelling rightly says: “There is nothing in this comedy to raise a question of Peele’s authorship except the simple obviousness with which the plot is developed.” Nor does it seem possible at present to go beyond Miss Jane Lee’s conclusions as to Peele’s probable share in The First and Second Parts of Henry VI. The best proof as yet advanced for Peele’s authorship of Locrine is, even cumulatively, inconclusive. Besides The Araygnement of Paris, we have, as extant plays assigned to Peele, The Old Wives Tale, Edward I, The Love of King David and Fair Bethsabe and The Battell of Alcazar. The last of these plays is attributed to Peele only because a quotation from it in England’s Parnassus (1600) is assigned to him and because of certain similarities of phrase; but the play is usually accepted as his. The Hunting of Cupid, a masque extant only in a slight fragment, and The Turkish Mahomet, which we know only by its title and some references, complete the list of Peele’s plays.