Robert Greene was baptised on 11th July 1558 at St George’s, Tombland, Norwich and attended Cambridge where he received a BA in 1580 and an M.A. in 1583 before he moved to London. There are no records of Greene ever participating in any dramatic productions during his education.
Not much is known about Greene’s youth but it is believed his works contained autobiographical remarks included a reputed journey to Italy and France. However, after a modern computer analysis of vocabulary of The Repentance it was suggested that The Repentance of Robert Greene was not actually written by Robert Greene.
According to Newcomb about Greene works he wrote;
“Greene’s work evince an inexhaustible linguistic facility, grounded in wide reading in the classics, and extra-curricular reading in the modern continental languages.”
Greene wrote between 1583 and 1592 during which time he published 25 pieces of work in prose. His literary career began with the publication of a romance called, Mamillia. Greene’s romance pieces included short poems and songs. Some of his later work told stories of gentlemen and citizens being duped out of their money by rascals. The stories were told from the point of view of the rascal who has since repented.
Some of Greene’s work was unpublished during his life including ‘The Scottish History of James IV’ and ‘Alphonsus’
Greene is probably most remembered for his pamphlet ‘Greene’s Groats-Worth of Wit’ in which he takes a swipe at William Shakespeare by writing;
“…for there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey.”
Greene implied that Shakespeare stole other people’s ideas and that he complains about an actor who believed that he could write as well as if not better than those that had received an education at university. The term ‘Shakes-scene’ had never been used before this pamphlet and it gave a thinly disguised reference as to who he was talking about. However, Jay Hoster put forward the argument that Greene was in fact talking about Edward Alleyn, an actor who married Philip Henslowe’s step daughter and entered into a partnership with Henslowe.
Greene died on 3rd September 1592 his death and burial were announced by Gabriel Harvey in a letter to Christopher Bird on 5th September, it was first published as a butterfly pamphlet and then three days later it was expanded as Four Letters and Certain Sonnets before it entered the Stationers’ Register on 4th December. It is claimed that Greene was buried in a new churchyard near Bedlam on 4th September although no record of this exists.