Who were the University Wits? Discuss their contribution to English Drama.


Answer: The young authors, who were associated with Oxford and Cambridge, did much to found the Elizabethan School of Drama. They were all more or less acquainted with each other. And most of them led irregular and stormy life. These promising university scholars were branded as University Wits. They are— George Peele, Robert Greene, Thomas Nash, Thomas Lodge, Thomas Kyd and Christopher Marlowe. Their plays had several features in common.

  • There was a fondness for heroic themes—the lives of great figures like prophet Hazrat Muhammed (Peace Be upon Him), Tamburline etc.
  • Heroic themes needed heroic treatment—there were variety, splendid description, long drawn speeches, violent incidents and emotion— sanguinary scene.
  • The style was also heroic. The chief aim was to achieve strong and sounding lines. The best example is Marlowe. Marlowe is famous for his use of blank-verse.
  • The themes were usually tragic in nature for the dramatists were as a rule too much in earnest to give heed to what was considered to be the lower species of comedy. The general lack of real humour in the early drama is one of its most prominent features. Humour, when it is brought in at all, is coarse and immature. The only representative of the writers of real comedies is Lyly’. His Endymion and The Woman in the Moon give us the first example of Romantic comedy.

George Peele became a literary hack and freelance. The famous chronicle of king ‘Edward the 1, The Old Wives Tale, The Love of King David and Fair Bethsabe etc. are his great plays. His plays have romantic, satirical and historical evidence. His style is violent to the point of absurdity. He has his moments of real poetry. He handled Blank-verse with more ease and variety that was common at that time. He was fluent and had a sense of humour and pathos. In short he represents a great advance upon the earliest drama and became Popular among the play wrights of his time for the poetical qualities of his verse.

Robert Greene wrote much and recklessly. His plays made a considerable contribution to the development of English drama. His sense of wit, humour and imaginative vision revealed his dramatic Potentiality. His plays number four: Alehouses, King of Aragon, Friar Bacon & Friar Bangay. Greene is weak in creating character.

His style is not one of outstanding merit but his humour is genial. His method is less strict than those of other tragedians.

Thomas Nash was a born journalist. He took an active part in the political and personal question of the day. His writings were satirical. His ‘Unfortunate Traveller‘ or’ The Life of Jacke Wilton’ is a prose tale which is important in the development of English novel.

Thomas Lodge studied law but deserted his legal studies and took to a literary career. He is said to have been an actor at one time His dramatic work is small in number. He probably collaborated with Shakespeare in Henry VI. The most famous of his romances is Rosalynde. It is said that Shakespeare followed him closely in his plot of As You Like It.

Thomas Kyd is one of the most important of the university wits. With him began the tradition of the revenge play. Many features of which are to be seen in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet and in the work of later Elizabethan dramatists like Webster and others. Almost all Shakespearean plays show a strong Senecan influence which was dominant in Elizabethan drama. The rise of English drama apparently shows the influence of classical dramatist Seneca. Of the surviving plays of Kyd The Spanish Tragedy is most important. Its horrific plot, murder, madness, death gave the play a great and lasting popularity. There is a sense of tragedy about the play. He seems to foreshadow the great tragical lines of Shakespeare.


Marlowe was one of the greatest of the pre-Shakespearean dramatists. He also represents the tragic vein in literature. He had no bent for comedy. As a dramatist, he had some serious limitations especially in plot construction he lacks the warm humanity of Shakespearean plays. But his art of characterization is simple. Most of his play revolves around one figure —his plays are one-man show. To appreciate Marlowe properly, we must put aside the conventional ideas of drama and view his plays as the representation of poetic vision. He represents the Renaissance quest for beauty. Marlowe is lyrical and romantic in his dramatic presentation of life. All his plays are poetic and artistic. His language or verse is notable for its burning energy, splendid diction, sensuous richness and its responsiveness to the demands of varying moods. His poetry is also rich with imageries from geography, astronomy etc. It has been said poetry that Marlowe’s power of led Jonson to coin the phrase “Marlowe’s Mighty Lines’. His great plays like ‘Tamburlaine the Great’, ‘The Jew of Malta’ and ‘The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus’ show Marlowe’s love for conventional Machiavellian hero. However, he shows a new dramatic sense in English historical drama. His Dr. Faustus has a good beginning and an end which is Marlowe’s supreme achievement but the comic scenes in the middle are poor. But this play contains some interesting survivals of the miracle plays in the conversation of good and evil angels.