Greene's Groats-Worth of Witte Bought with a Million of Repentance

by Robert Greene
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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 469

*London

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*London. The great city in this novel is never mentioned by name, but topical references, not to mention the prefatory material by the printer and the editor, clearly establish London as the novel’s principal setting. Indeed, the pamphlet is so steeped with the gritty reality of the sixteenth century London underworld that the dangers Greene points out seem as real to modern readers as those of any modern metropolis.

Autobiographical fables that begin the pamphlet set up the contrast between the bucolic delights of the poet’s country home and his years at Cambridge with the grimy, deceitful, rough-and-tumble, and ultimately destructive environment of the city. “Roberto,” the persona Greene gives himself at the beginning of this work, is easily swayed by the attractions of an irregular life in the underworld of London in the sixteenth century. He goes through a succession of seedy lodgings from which he flits one step ahead of the landladies who demand rent from him. He frequents taverns filled with thieves and con men. He is also a well-known patron of the brothels of the Bankside where, much to the despair of his long-suffering wife, he consorts with prostitutes, finally taking one as his mistress, only to contract a venereal disease from her. He loses whatever meager earnings he ekes out as a writer in the gambling dens. Finally, on his deathbed, he not only repents of his misspent life but warns his friends of how easily they may also become entrapped in the illusory pleasures offered by the city.

In Greene’s mind the city becomes a diseased living organism that reaches out and pulls naïve and innocent young men into its clutches with the sole intention of destroying them.

Theaters

Theaters. One of the self-proclaimed “university wits” who thought he should be able to take the theatrical world by storm, Greene is particularly virulent in his condemnation of the theatrical milieu. While his pique is undoubtedly brought on by the failure of the playing companies to reward his talent and the audiences to appreciate it, the world of the theaters is filled, in his mind, by atheists (Christopher Marlowe), pretenders to talent (Thomas Nashe and George Peele), but, most offensively, by one upstart crow (William Shakespeare) who manages to attain the popular and financial success Greene envies despite his lack of a university education. He takes none of the blame on himself, despite his professed repentance for his follies, but rails against a setting in which these evils exist solely to lead unsuspecting country gentlemen astray. Greene professes that an entire book cannot contain the wrongs that exist and the temptations that abound in the playhouses of sixteenth century London. There is no escape from their evil for Greene in this world but only in the world to come.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 104

Berek, Peter. “The ‘Upstart Crow,’ Aesop’s Crow, and Shakespeare as a Reviser.” Shakespeare Quarterly 35, no. 2 (Summer, 1984): 205-207. Reviews interpretations of famous “upstart crow” reference to Shakespeare as either a boorish actor or plagiarist. Supports the plagiarist interpretation, noting that it was a charge based on Shakespeare’s early career as a play reviser.

Carroll, D. Allen. “The Player-Patron in Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit.” Studies in Philology 91, no. 3 (Summer, 1994): 301-312. Argues that the player-patron cannot be identified as an actual actor, that it is more likely that he is a “fictional caricature” created to facilitate the work’s critique of the Elizabethan theater.

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