The Scene before the University Wits and The University Wits

The Scene before the University Wits:

 The Scene before the University Wits the English drama as it developed from the Miracle plays has an interesting history. It began with school-masters, like Udall, who translated and adapted Latin plays for their boys to act, and who were naturally governed by classic ideals. It was continued by the choir-masters of St. Paul and the Royal and the Queen’s Chapel, whose companies of choir-boy actors were famous in London and rivaled the players of the regular theatres. These choir-masters were first stage-managers of the English drama. They began with masques and interludes and the dramatic presentation of classic myths from the Italians. But some of them, like Richard Edwards (choir master of the Queen’s Chapel in 1561), soon added forces from English country life and dramatized some of Chaucer’s stories. Finally, the regular play-wrights, Kyd, Nash, Lyly, Peele, Greene, and Marlowe, brought the English drama to the point where Shakespeare began to experiment upon it.

The Emergence of the University Wits:

 These regular dramatists are known as university wits. They were the learned men with university degrees and were associated with the University of Cambridge or of Oxford. They were gifted men of Bohemian nature. They electrified their plays with Renaissance humanism and the pride of patriotism.
The constellation of the University wits consists of stars like John Lyly, Thomas Kyd, George Peele, Robert Greene, Thomas Lodge and Thomas Nash, all of whom revolved round the central sun, Christopher Marlowe.

Actors as well as Dramatists:

The University Wits were usually actors as well as dramatists. They knew the stage and the audience and in writing their plays they remembered not only the actor’s part but also the audience’s love for stories and brave spectacles. Often their training began as actors and then they revised old plays and finally became independent writers. They often worked together as Shakespeare worked with Marlowe and Fletcher either in revising old plays or in creating new ones. They had a common store of material from which they derived their stories and characters and so we find frequent repetition of names in their plays. They were romantic in their attitude and represented the spirit of the Renaissance.

Chief Characteristics of the Plays of the University Wits:

 The University Wits were more or less acquainted with each other and most of them led irregular and short lives. Their plays, according to Edward Albert, had the following features in common:
(1) There was a fondness for heroic themes, such as the lives of great figures like Mohammed and Tamburlaine.
(2) Heroic themes needed heroic treatment: length and variety splendid descriptions, long swelling speeches, the handling of violent incidents and emotions. These qualities are excellent when held in restraint, only too often led to loudness and disorder.
(3) The style also was ‘heroic.’ The chief aim was to achieve strong find sounding lines, magnificent epithets, and powerful declamation. This again led to abuse and to mere bombast, mouthing, and in the worst cases to nonsense. In the best examples, such as in Marlowe, the result is quite impressive. In this connection it is to be noted that the best medium for such expression was blank verse, which was sufficiently elastic to bear the strong pressure of these expansive methods.
(4) 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.

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