Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Gorinius, an old usurer who lives in a city with strong resemblances to London, addresses his sons from his deathbed. He counsels his younger son Lucanio, his heir, to follow his example and “heap treasure upon treasure” in every way possible, moral or immoral. He advises the boy above all to disregard conscience where profit is involved. He disinherits his older son Roberto, who has dared to condemn his father and others of his profession for their unscrupulous dealings. Gorinius leaves Roberto with only an old groat . . . wherewith I wish him to buy a groats-worth of wit: for he in my life hath reprooud my manner of life, and therefore at my death, shall not be contaminated with corrupt gaine.
Roberto forsakes the path of right when he observes his brother’s good fortune, and thereafter he devotes all his energies to securing Lucanio’s wealth. He gives up his studies and plots with a courtesan, Lamilia, to ensnare his innocent, malleable brother. According to the plan, Roberto is to induce Lucanio to wed Lamilia in return for half the wealth she will gain in the alliance.
Lamilia entertains Lucanio with a seductive song of pleasure and thus quickly makes him her ardent suitor. When the three settle down to dinner, Roberto proposes to tell a tale about the hazards of love, but Lamilia interrupts him with a fable about a crafty fox who makes a match between a badger and a ewe. On the eve of the wedding, the fox kills the ewe and escapes, leaving the badger to the mercy of passing shepherds who believe he is guilty of the sheep’s death. Lamilia concludes by telling Roberto, “go forward with your tale, seek not by sly insinuation to turne our mirth to sorrow.”
Roberto launches into a complicated...
(The entire section is 713 words.)
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Bibliography (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Crupi, Charles W. Robert Greene. Boston: Twayne, 1986. Provides an overview of Greene’s brief but frenetic literary career.
Helgerson, Richard. The Elizabethan Prodigals. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976. Shows the significant influence of the prodigal son parable on Elizabethan prose fiction.
Melnikoff, Kirk, and Edward Gieskes, eds. Writing Robert Greene: Essays on England’s First Notorious Professional Writer. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2008. Provides a consistently valuable set of essays on all aspects of Greene’s writing career. Steve Mentz’s essay “Forming Greene: Theorizing the Early Modern Author in Groastworth of Wit” sees the work as a recapitulation of Greene’s print career. Also includes Lori Humphrey Newcomb’s essay “A Looking Glass for Readers: Cheap Print and the Senses of Repentance.”
Skura, Meredith Anne. Tudor Autobiography: Listening for Inwardness. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008. Shows how Greene’s own repentance runs parallel to his fictional narratives about repentant heroes, in a book about the rise of English autobiography in the sixteenth century.