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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: May ::
Upstart Crow
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0322  Thursday, 3 May 2007

[1] 	From: 	Abigail Quart <
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 	Date: 	Friday, 20 Apr 2007 01:07:04 -0400
 	Subj: 	RE: SHK 18.0297 Upstart Crow

[2] 	From: 	Anne Cuneo <
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 	Date: 	Friday, 20 Apr 2007 16:54:36 +0200
 	Subj: 	Re: SHK 18.0297 Upstart Crow

[3] 	From: 	Philip Tomposki <
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 	Date: 	Sunday, 22 Apr 2007 15:05:18 -0400
 	Subj: 	Re: Upstart Crow


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Abigail Quart <
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Date: 		Friday, 20 Apr 2007 01:07:04 -0400
Subject: 18.0297 Upstart Crow
Comment: 	RE: SHK 18.0297 Upstart Crow

I know the Renaissance scholars will be able to explain every word, but 
the impression I always got was of a guy with the college degree being 
totally pissed off at the success of a smartass who didn't graduate high 
school. How dare he master blank verse? He couldn't have done it if the 
educated fellows hadn't shown him how.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Anne Cuneo <
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Date: 		Friday, 20 Apr 2007 16:54:36 +0200
Subject: 18.0297 Upstart Crow
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0297 Upstart Crow

My probably not-too-academic reading has always been that Green and a few 
others were furious because this non-university wit, with his Stratford 
accent and all, had the audacity of writing plays that had more success 
than theirs. Of course, Green would have found details which "proved" that 
he and his friends had been wronged, because the upstart had been copying 
their ideas, thus beautifying himself with their feathers. Robert McCrum 
(The Observer's Literary Editor) says this is a phenomenon one observes 
with each successful book, film or play. Someone is always sure the 
successful author has copied HIM. And the impudent crow compounded his 
misdeeds by playing those bombastic - but successful - verses himself. All 
of which brought him money that Green would sorely have needed.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Philip Tomposki <
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Date: 		Sunday, 22 Apr 2007 15:05:18 -0400
Subject: 	Re: Upstart Crow

Everything I've read (except for the revisionist interpretations of the 
you-know-whos) indicates a general consensus that this is a complaint by 
Greene about the fact that Shakespeare, with only a grammar school 
education, was becoming the dominant playwright of the time.  Except for 
Kyd, Shakespeare was, I believe, the only prominent English playwright 
without a university education at the time Groatsworth was published.

Some have argued that "...beautified with our feathers..." was a 
suggestion of plagiarism. I believe, however, a look at the quote in 
context (the full text of Groatsworth is available at 
http://www.uoregon.edu/~rbear/greene1.html) shows it as part of a general 
attack on actors, who Greene describes variously as "Puppets ... that 
speake from our mouths" and "Anticks garnisht in our colours" and later 
writes "...let those Apes imitate your past excellence, and neuer more 
acquaint them with your admired inuentions." Beautified with our feathers 
sounds to me like an attack along the same lines, and since crows are 
known for imitating other birds, upstart crow is probably in a similar 
vein. Greene is obviously complaining that actors get the glory for the 
playwrights' work. At this point in time, a plays author was not usually 
identified to the audience, and often their name did not even appear in 
their printed plays.

Greene's main complaints, however, are that of ingratitude and 
abandonment:

"Is it not strange that I, to whom they al haue beene beholding: is it not 
like that you, to whome they all haue beene beholding, shall (were yee in 
that case that I am now) bee both at once of them forsaken?"

Greene is said to have lived a dissipate lifestyle, and it is likely that 
in his last years both the quality and reliability of his output suffered. 
He may well have been passed over for a more reliable Shakespeare, who 
after all was a much better writer.  The attack on Shakespeare makes more 
sense when viewed in this context.  The condemnation of actors for 
ingratitude both precedes and follows the complaint about the upstart 
crow.  Greene's bias against a grammar school educated writer would be 
enhanced if that writer were threatening his livelihood.

Philip Tomposki

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