The University Wits were a group of influential 16th-century English writers who had a significant impact on the Elizabethan theatre scene. These writers, mostly educated at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, were known for their intellectualism, wit, and literary skill. The University Wits contributed significantly to the development of English drama and literature of 16th century England. Each of these highly educated writers had a keen interest in classical literature which they even incorporated and used into their own works of literature.
The University Wits were heavily influenced by the humanist movement, which emphasized on the importance of education, reason, and individualism. The impact of this movement could be visibly seen in their writing which very often featured intellectual dialogue, complex plots and detailed characters. The University Wits were also influenced by the Renaissance movement which celebrated the emergence and creative innovations in the field of Literature, art, science and culture. They shared a common educational background and creative literary style of writing filled with subtle but effective undertones.
One of the most significant contributions of the University Wits was their influence on the development of English drama. Before the University Wits English theatre was mostly dominated by mystery plays and morality plays which were often very crude and unsophisticated in their form and structure. The University Wits introduced a new style of theatre, characterized by complex plots, vivid language, and sophisticated themes. This style of theatre came to be known as the University Wits’ Drama and it eventually paved the foundation for the upcoming great works of William Shakespeare.
The detailed list of 7 significant University Wits are as follows:-
John Lyly (1554-1606) :- Best known for his comedies. He did not write any tragedy in his literary career. His works include Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit and “Euphues and His England. Lyly’s writing style was characterized by his use of rhetorical devices, wordplay, and his elaborate metaphors. He is credited with developing the ‘euphuistic’ style of writing which was marked by its ornamented prose and well use of alliteration.
His other notable dramatic works are, Women in the Moon, Endymion, Galathea, Mida, Sapho and Phao, Mother Bonnie, Love’s Metamorphosis.
Robert Greene (1558-1592):- Robert Greene was a playwright, poet, and well acclaimed pamphleteer. Greene’s writing style was characterized by his use of prose, colloquial language, and his exploration of themes such as love, revenge, and deceit. Greene accuse Shakespeare of stealing other writers’ creative works and commented on Shakespeare calling him ‘upstart crow flying with our feathers’.
His significant works are, A Looking Glass for London and England ( written in collaboration with Thomas Lodge), The Honorable History of Friar Bacon and
Friar Bungay, The History of Orlando Furioso, The Comical History of Alphonsus, King of Aragon(it is an imitation of Christopher Marlow’s famous work Tamburlaine), Pandosta or Triumph of Time; Shakespeare used the plot of Pandosta as an inspiration for his own romantic comedy titled Winter’s Tale.
George Peele (1556-1596) : – He was a well known Dramatist, poet and Translator of his period, praised mainly for his contribution to the development of the historical play genre.
His works include The Arrangement of Paris, The Battle of Alcazar, The Love of King David and Fair Bethsabe, Chronicles of King Edward I , The Old Wives Tale.
Thomas Kyd (1558-1598) : – He was not from any university unlike other university Wits. The Spanish Tragedy or Hieronimo is Mad Again is considered as the most remarkable work of Kyd. The play tells the story of revenge and it is considered as a significant milestone in the development of the Elizabethan revenge tragedy genre. He is also known for his use of ‘play within play’ technique in his work Spanish Tragedy.
Kyd’s writing style was marked by his use of blank verse, soliloquies, and powerful imagery. Some of his other works are Cornelia: Pompey The Great, Solomon and Persida.
Thomas Nashe (1567-1601) : – He was a pamphleteer and satirist who is best known for his work ‘The Unfortunate Traveller or The Life or Jack Wilton’. This prose tale is regarded as the first Picaresque novel in English literature.
Few More works of Nashe are The Terrors of the Night, Summer’s Last Will and Testament. Thomas Nashe also contributed in completing Christopher Marlow’s play Dido, Queen of Carthage. He also co-authored The work Isle of Dogs with Ben Johnson.
Thomas Lodge (1558-1625) :- is best known for his novel Rosalynde or Euphues’ Golden Legacy which served as the foundational source material for Shakespeare’s play As You Like It. Lodge wrote the work A Looking Glass for London with fellow playwright Robert Greene. The Wounds of Civil War is also a work written by Lodge.
Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593):-He was a playwright, poet, and translator. His father John Marlow was a shoemaker. He was born in the same year as William Shakespeare. Marlowe’s writing style was marked by his brilliant use of blank verse, powerful, memorable and overreaching protagonists and characters, and his exploration of complex themes such as ambition, power, and morality. He is considered as one of the greatest playwrights of the Elizabethan era. To appreciate his writing ability and style, Ben Johnson used the phrase ‘Marlowe’s mighty lines’.
Marlow is best known for his plays Tamburlaine the Great, Dr. Faustus and The Jew of Malta. His other works are Edward II, The Massacre of Paris, Hero and the Leader; a non- dramatic poem which can be classified as Epyllion. He also co-wrote Dido: Queen of Carthage with Thomas Nashe.
The University Wits were a group of highly educated and influential writers who made a significant impact on English literature during the 16th century. Their works were marked by their use of powerful imagery, complex themes, and exploration of human nature. Their writings are considered an essential part of the English Renaissance. Even today, their works continue to be studied and enjoyed by literary enthusiasts around the world. The University Wits were an essential part of the cultural and intellectual movement of the Renaissance period and they played a crucial role in shaping the literary and dramatic traditions of England.