Influence of University Wits in English Literature


University Wits are 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. There are some characteristics which are commonly to be found in their plays.

University Wits have a fondness of introducing heroic themes in their dramas. They often take it from the lives of great figures. They give heroic treatment to the heroic themes.

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There have been some variety, splendid description and violent incidents in their dramas. Their style is also heroic. Their chief aim is to achive strong and sounding lines. The best example is Marlowe who is famous for his use of blank-verse. Again, the themes, used in their dramas, are usually tragic in nature. There is lack of real homour in their dramas. The only exception is Lyly. His “The Woman in the Moon” is the first example of romantic comedy.

Christopher Marlowe is perhaps the greatest among the University Wits. Even, he is the only dramatist who is compared with Shakespeare in that time though he lacks the warm humanity of Shakespearean plays. Marlowe represents the tragic tendency in literature. He has no interest in comedy. Again, as a dramatist, he has some serious limitations, specially, in plot constraction. His art of characterization is simple. His plays are one man show- they centre around one figure. Though he has some lackings, he is remarkable for being lyrical and romantic in his dramatic presentation of life. All his plays are 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 conventional Machiavellian hero.

Thomas Kyd is another important dramatist of the University Wits. He introduces 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 has some outstanding features. The plot is horrific. There are murder, madness and death which give the play a great popularity. However, there have been much influence of ‘The Spanish Tragedy” in Shakespearean tragedies.

Thomas Lodge is a lawyer by profession but he has given up his legal studied and has taken literary career. He has written only few dramas. “Rosalynde” is the most famous of his romantic comedies. It is said that Shakespeare has taken the plot of his “As You Like It” from Lodge’s “Rosalynde”.

Thomas Nash is a professional journalist. He also takes part in the then politics. His works have some satiric tone. “Unfortunate Traveller” is his best work which has much influence as far as the development of English novel is concerned.

Robert Greene’s plays have a great contribution in the development of English drama. Although his art of charachterization is weak and his style is not outstading, his humour is very much interesting. Again, his method is not very strict like the other tragedians of that time. He is witty, humourous and imaginative.

George Peele is another important dramatist of the University Wits. His plays have romantic, satiric and historical evidence. He has no attraction towards the poetry. He handles Blank-verse with variety. He also has a sense of humour and pathos. However, “Edward the 1st” is perhaps his best work.

John lyly is another great dramatist who has a strong interest towards the romantic comedy. His comedies are marked by elaborate dialogue, jests and retorts. However, we can find his influence in Shakespearean comedies. “Midas” is one of the most important work of John Lyly which has 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, specially the romantic comedies are of a great height. However, we can find their influence in later dramas of the Elizabethan period.
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