What is ‘University Wits’
University Wits were a group of young dramatists who wrote and performed in London towards the end of the 16th century. They are called University Wits because they were the witty students of Cambridge or Oxford. They were all more or less acquainted with each other and most of them led irregular and uncertain life. Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Kyd, Thomas Lodge, Thomas Nash, Robert Greene, George Peele, and John Lyly were the members of this group. Their plays had some common characteristics.
University Wits had a fondness of introducing heroic themes in their dramas. They often took it from the lives of great figures. They gave heroic treatment to the heroic themes. Their dramas usually had variety, splendid description, and violent incidents. Their chief aim was to achieve strong and sounding lines. The best example was Marlowe, who is famous for his use of blank-verse. Again, the themes, used in their dramas, were usually tragic in nature. There was a lack of real humor in their dramas. The only exception was Lyly. His “The Woman in the Moon” is the first example of a romantic comedy.
Christopher Marlowe was perhaps the greatest among the University Wits. He was the only dramatist who was compared to Shakespeare even though he lacked the warm humanity of Shakespearean plays. Marlowe was fond of tragic in literature. He had no interest in comedy. Again, as a dramatist, he had some serious limitations, especially, in plot construction. His art of characterization was simple. His plays were a one-man show- they centered around one figure. Though he had some lacking, he was remarkable for being lyrical and romantic in his dramatic presentation of life. All his plays were poetic and artistic. “The Jew of Malta” and “Dr. Faustus” are two of his best works. These two plays clearly show Marlowe’s love for the conventional Machiavellian hero.
Thomas Kyd is another important dramatist of the University Wits. He introduced the tradition of revenge play. We can easily find the influence of Kyd in the works of Shakespeare. “The Spanish Tragedy” is the best work of Thomas Kyd. This play had some outstanding features. The plot is horrific. There are murders, madness, and death, but it earned huge popularity for the play.
Thomas Lodge was a lawyer by profession but he gave up his career and took literature as a career. He wrote only a few dramas. “Rosalynde” is the most famous of his romantic comedies. It is said that Shakespeare took the plot of his “As You Like It” from Lodge’s “Rosalynde”.
Thomas Nash was a professional journalist. He got involved in politics as well. His works had a satiric tone. “Unfortunate Traveller” is his best work, which had much influence as far as the development of English novel is concerned.
Robert Greene’s plays had a great contribution to the development of English drama. Although his art of characterization was weak and his style was not outstanding, his humor was highly interesting. His method was not very strict like the other tragedians of that time. He was witty, humorous and imaginative.
George Peele was another important dramatist of the University Wits. His plays had romantic, satiric and historical evidence. He had no attraction towards the poetry. He handled Blank-verse with variety and had a sense of humor and pathos. “Edward the 1st” was perhaps his best work.
John Lyly was another great dramatist who had a strong interest in the romantic comedy. His comedies were marked by elaborate dialogues, jests, and retorts. We can find his influence in Shakespearean comedies. “Midas” is one of the most important works of John Lyly which had shaken the development of the romantic comedy in English literature.
Thus, we can conclude that University Wits have much influence in the history of English drama. Their dramas, especially the romantic comedies are of great height. We can find their influence in later dramas of the Elizabethan period.