The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.2459 Thursday, 1 January 2004
Date: Wednesday, 31 Dec 2003 18:21:11 EST
Subject: Lukas Erne on Chettle & Greene
In his Appendix C Lukas Erne suggests that an opinion expressed by
Richard Dutton "depends on the questionable belief that Chettle's
apology in _Kind-Hartes Dreame_ was to Shakespeare" (259).
In an earlier chapter Erne alludes to the same issue:
Biographers have liked to believe that Chettle's reference of 1592 to
a playwright that is esteemed by "diuers of worship" and of whom
he praises the "facetious grace in writting" is to Shakespeare,
though it seems more likely that the reference is in fact to Peele.
Earlier the same year, Greene had placed Shakespeare among the
players, the "rude grooms, . . ." (67)
Erne's 1998 _English Studies_ article very ably restates the case that
Chettle referred not to Shakespeare but to George Peele as the
apo(lo)gee playwright slandered in _Groatsworth of Wit_. Scholars have
been more than reluctant to cede that probability but Erne's opinion
will no doubt prevail.
Yet Erne commits a nearly identical oversight when he repeatedly refers
to "Greene's attack on Shakespeare" in Groatsworth (2-5). Modern
scholarship has caught up to the ancient opinion that Henry Chettle --
not Greene -- was responsible for Groatsworth. Nashe, Chauncey Sanders,
Warren Austin, Groatsworth editor D. Allen Carroll, and John Jowett all
argue or acknowledge the convincing case against Chettle, who admitted
the manuscript was in his hand, and who was saddled with its
responsibility by the publisher.
When Nashe called GW a "lying pamphlet," I'm inclined to think he knew
what he was talking about, though he lacked our 400-year advantage in
hindsight. Sanders laid out the devastating case long ago and Austin's
truly groundbreaking early computer comparison of Greene's and Chettle's
usage is convincing. So why doesn't Erne mention even the possibility
that Greene had no part in the attack on Shakespeare? Carroll makes
Chettle's authorship the centerpiece of his introduction: Erne must be
aware of the issue. A cynic may suppose that Dutton was no less remiss
than Erne, if each felt obliged to make a point at the expense of accuracy.
Nevertheless, these fundamental counters to the tradition of GW will one
day cause a general reevaluation of the first reference to Shakespeare.
Erne missed a chance to take another step forward, though I don't mean
this to be a significant objection to Erne's book.
Gerald E. Downs
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