Last Updated on January 19, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 307
Context: Robert Greene, a talented writer who lived a dissolute life in the slums of Elizabethan London, was much given to confessing his sins and follies in the form of penny pamphlets. In A Groatsworth of Wit Bought with a Million of Repentance he cautions several of his fellow University Wits to be warned by his deplorable example and mend their ways while yet there is time. The first one he addresses is Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593), the famous gracer of tragedies; he urges him not to defer his reformation until he, like Greene, is upon the point of death. He also tells Thomas Nashe (1567–1601), the prose satirist, not to make enemies with his biting words. To George Peele (1558?–1597?) he also urges the living of a better life. He then sneers at an unnamed writer, almost universally thought to be Shakespeare (1564–1616), who apparently bases his plays on the works of Greene's coterie, the University Wits. He calls him an upstart, because Greene and his fellows, all university educated, looked down upon those, like Shakespeare, who had not attended a university. The phrase "tiger's heart wrapped in a player's hide," with its glance at King Henry the Sixth, Part Three (Act I, sc. iv, l. 137), is generally held to be the first reference to Shakespeare as an actor and a reviser of old plays.
. . . There is an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his tiger's heart wrapped in a player's hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you; and being an absolute Johannes fac totum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country. Oh that I might entreat your rare wits to be employed in more profitable courses; and let those apes imitate your past excellence, and never more acquaint them with your admired inventions. . . .