Many of the facts about George Peele’s life are unknown or uncertain. What little is known is to some extent eclipsed by a highly unreliable biographical source, The Merry Conceited Jests of George Peele (1607), which depicts him as a rascal. Published by an unknown author eleven years after Peele died, the jest book is merely a traditional collection of old pranks and tricks, here ascribed to Peele. Despite the jest book’s apparently fictional nature, biographers have been unable to resist its suggestions, especially in combination with Francis Meres’s statement (in Palladis Tamia: Wit’s Treasury, 1598) that Peele died of syphilis: “As Anacreon the poet died by the pot: so George Peele by the pox.” Thus, a tradition has grown up that pictures Peele variously as a wastrel, a street person, and a Bohemian who frequented the White Horse Tavern and caroused with fellow writers and University Wits.
The truth is probably more somber, or at least more sober. Peele spent much of his London childhood in the environs of Christ’s Hospital, a public home for orphans and indigent old people managed by his father, James Peele, a solid middle-class citizen and author of two works on double-entry bookkeeping. Peele attended school at Christ’s Hospital until his midteens, when he entered Christ Church College of Oxford University. Here he proceeded to earn a bachelor of arts degree in 1577 and a master of arts degree in 1579. He also...
(The entire section is 557 words.)