George Peele Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

George Peele’s work in other literary forms consists mostly of occasional pieces celebrating public or patriotic events. Somewhat related to his dramatic works are three of the Lord Mayor of London’s annual pageants: The Device of the Pageant Borne Before Woolstone Dixi, of 1585; the pageant of 1588 (now lost); and Descensus Astraeae, of 1591. “A Farewell,” a short poem published in 1589, applauds an English naval expedition setting out to destroy the Spanish forces. Longer occasional poems, with their dates of publication, are An Eclogue Gratulatory (1589), celebrating the Earl of Essex’s safe return from the same ill-fated naval expedition; Polyhymnia (1590), written for the Queen’s Accession Day, November 17, 1590; The Honour of the Garter (1593), marking the Earl of Northumberland’s induction into the Knights of the Garter; and Anglorum Feriae (printed transcript, c. 1830), written for the Queen’s Accession Day, November 17, 1595. Miscellaneous pieces are the short poems “Lines to Watson” (1582) and “The Praise of Chastity” (1593) and the long poem A Tale of Troy (1589; revised as The Tale of Troy, 1604), a narrative summary.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

George Peele’s full achievement as a dramatist cannot now be properly assessed because some of his work is missing. Two of his known plays are lost, and possibly others are; in addition, the extent of his collaboration with other playwrights is unknown. Peele was, however, well respected by his fellow writers, and he is one of those from whom a certain “upstart crow,” William Shakespeare, was accused of stealing beautiful feathers (by Robert Greene in Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit Bought with a Million of Repentance, 1592). Along with Greene, John Lyly, and Christopher Marlowe, Peele was one of the so-called University Wits , in whose hands Renaissance English drama was swiftly breaking out of the classical mold. No doubt, Shakespeare did build on their efforts and their risks: The University Wits, with Thomas Kyd, explored the new world of drama, and Shakespeare colonized it. Except for Marlowe, Peele was probably the most original of Shakespeare’s predecessors, though some of Peele’s innovations were not taken up by others (for example, biblical drama).

Peele’s dramatic talent, unlike Marlowe’s, was not for depicting character and conflict but for spectacle, as his writing of pageants tends to confirm. The prevailing mode in his work is narrative, expository, or poetic: Two main influences on Peele were Geoffrey Chaucer and Edmund Spenser, and one of Peele’s achievements was to stake out their material for the drama. His plays embody dramatic conflicts, but the conflicts do not generate much tension; thus, his characters sometimes declaim or rant. Balancing the declamation and ranting is some attractive poetry. In addition, if the approximate dating of his plays is roughly correct, Peele improved as a dramatist as he went along, so that his best plays are his latest ones, The Old Wives’ Tale and David and Bethsabe.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Braunmuller, A. R. George Peele. Boston: Twayne, 1983. An attempt to rebuild Peele’s reputation by noting how thoroughly he studied the folk motifs used in The Old Wives’ Tale and how frequently he rearranged historical facts for The Battle of Alcazar and Edward I to relate those plays to current political concerns.

Clemen, Wolfgang. English Tragedy Before Shakespeare: The Development of Dramatic Speech. Translated by T. S. Dorsch. London: Methuen, 1961. Peele’s five extant plays are analyzed in turn. Emphasis on Peele’s language and the set speeches in his plays.

Dreher, G. K. Samples from the Love of King David and Fair Bethsabe. Chicago: Adams Press, 1980. This unusual brief volume relates passages from the play David and Bethsabe to their biblical sources, followed by commentary on these passages.

Horne, David H. The Life and Minor Works of George Peele. 1952. Reprint. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1978. A lengthy study of Peele’s life and family backgrounds, with some historical and critical information about the plays. Contains illustrations and references from public records concerning the Peele family. Informative and readable.

Lamb, Mary Ellen. “Old Wives’ Tales, George Peele, and Narrative Abjection.” Critical Survey 14, no. 1 (2002): 28-44. Uses Peele’s play as the focal point for a discussion of the status and representation of old women and old wives’ tales in early modern literature.

Sutton, Dana Ferrin. Oxford Poetry by Richard Eedes and George Peele. New York: Garland, 1995. Peele’s poetry is addressed.