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The "University Wits"... remember the "Rat Pack" of the 50s or the "Brat Pack" of the 80s? Okay, probably not. But like these far less serious groups of the future, the "University Wits" were people who were grouped together because of their like-minded work. The two "wits" we know best today are Christopher Marlowe, whose most famous work is Doctor Faustus, and Thomas Kyd, best known for The Spanish Tragedy. Not as well known today but popular in their time are Robert Green and John Lyle.
These playwrights elevated theatre drama in a couple of ways. Marlowe rescued dialogue from the strictures of rhyme. Before his time, plays were written in rhyme and when you think about it, the reason is not hard to understand. Rhymes are easy to remember and previously, both literacy and printed texts were in short supply. As both of these aspects improved, it became easier for Marlowe and others to write in free verse and dialogue could become more complex since it wasn't tied to the need for rhyme.
Kyd's contribution was to introduce the "revenge tragedy" to Elizabethan theatre, predating Shakespeare. The Spanish Tragedy also included a "play-within-a-play" for the first time, something Shakespeare would also make use of, in both Hamlet and A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Today, Robert Green is only remembered by a few and really only for his criticism of Shakespeare, famously calling the rival playwright an "upstart crow." Like Marlowe, his most popular work, Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, centered on the occult and magic.
John Lyle wrote beautiful and intricate prose, and, like Marlowe, helped free the theatre from the strictures of rhyme.
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