Hughes: That’s simple. They were all written during the 1580s when plays weren’t getting published yet, so their authorship wasn’t an issue yet. All the plays now attributed to Robert Greene acquired their attributions much later, and even later their dates, which, due largely to the Shakespeare anomaly, are much too late. It wasn’t until playwrights and companies got too frisky with plays like Tamburlaine and satires directed at the author of the Mar-Prelate pamphlets in the late ’80s that the authorities began to get concerned with who was doing the writing.
The plays now attributed to Robert Greene were originally written for the Queen’s Men, the Crown company created in 1583 by Walsingham to bring pleasure and propaganda to the provinces. Following the company’s collapse c.1589-’90, they ended up with the Henslowe/Alleyn group at the Rose, probably because by then Oxford had no further use for them. Those plays he saw promise in he kept so he could rewrite them for the new Crown company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.
The so-called Greene plays that did make it into the First Folio are mostly the early versions of Shakespeare’s history plays, the Contention, the True Tragedy, the Famous Victories, etc., that we now know as Richard II and III, and the various parts of Henry IV, V, and VI. Two history plays that didn’t make it into the FF are Edmund Ironside and Thomas of Woodstock. I should note that the first versions of some of these plays, among them The Famous Victories, were probably written some time before the Queen’s Men acquired them, but my guess, based on its style, is that the version that’s come down to us is a revision created for the Queen’s Men.
My guess is that it was plays like an early version of Famous Victories that gave Walsingham the impetus to create the Queen’s Men in the first place. He would not have dared to take a chance on such a venture without a reliable play book. He had to know what he’d be sending into the provinces. Basically there was no one but Oxford writing 1n 1583, when the Queen’s Men began their long career as London’s top company. What we know of their personnel suggests that they were essentially the company that worked for Burbage at his public stage in Shoreditch, with a few new members from the other companies.
I’m sure you understand that while I may take for granted that the Greene canon is Oxford’s juvenilia, all the stuff he wrote in English during the 1580s, so far there is only one other Oxfordian that I know of who accepts this, and nary a single orthodox scholar, so don’t be confused when you see elsewhere that Greene is treated by everyone but me as a real writer, his bathetic biography that of a real person, etc. The authorship of these early works is probably regarded as a side issue, so it doesn’t get much attention. It should, but it doesn’t.
Greene is the accepted author of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, and James IV, plays with many connections to Oxford’s life and Shakespeare’s works. Some have attributed to him Arden of Faversham, King Leir, Alphonsus, Fair Em, Locrine, A Knack to Know a Knave, etc. He, along with George Peele, Thomas Kyd, and John Lyly, are the alternating set to whom most of the these early plays are attributed, depending on which expert you’re reading.
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“I’m sure you understand that while I may take for granted that the Greene canon is Oxford’s juvenilia, all the stuff he wrote in English during the 1580s, so far there is only one other Oxfordian that I know of who accepts this,” …
While I neither know nor presume myself to be on any par with this other Oxfordian, still, as merely an amateur and part-time Oxfordian rather than a genuine scholar, I’d like to bump that number up to 1+(1/n) “Oxfordians” “accept this.”
I’m just finishing the reading of your revised paper on Greene, “Robert Greene: King of the Paper Stage” and take this opportunity to thank you for that brilliant piece of scholarly sleuthing and detection and finely written. I wish it were required-reading in high school senior and university freshman English classes.
Readers of this post:
SHH’s link to the paper:
Click to access hughes-king-of-the-paper-stage.pdf