University Wits

Christopher Marlowe is considered one of the so-called "university wits". Der Ausdruck lässt sich schwer übersetzen. Das englische "wits" bedeutet "Geist" im Sinne von "Intellekt", "Esprit" oder "Scharfsinn". "Universitätsgeister" klingt allerdings nach einer schlechten Spukgeschichte. The very term is problematic. George Edward Bateman Saintsbury first used it in 1887 in his History of Elizabethan Literature1 for a group of Elizabethan writers who had university degrees. In addition to Marlowe, these included Thomas Nashe, Robert Greene, George Peele, John Lyly, Thomas Lodge and Thomas Kyd. Opposite them were practitioners such as Henry Chettle, Anthony Munday and William Shakespeare, who was the only one of these amateurs who could not only hold a candle to the university wits, but ultimately perfect their efforts for the English theatre.

The selection of the university wits is arbitrary. Not even a university diploma is common to all these men. Kyd pretty much did not attend university. Gabriel Harvey, on the other hand, did, but was an opposer of this group. One of the fiercest literary disputes was between him and Thomas Nashe. The authors mentioned here serve different genres with varying degrees of success. Greene was at home everywhere, Nashe was a pamphleteer rather than a playwright, Lyly was known for his romances but also wrote comedies, Marlowe was widely famous for his poetry rather than his tragedies, Thomas Lodge wrote scientific treatises as well as romances and pamphlets, and George Peele also successfully dabbled in several literary genres.

Several pamphlets are considered evidence of the conflict between the two groups. As already mentioned, such disputes existed regardless of any allegiance or academic degree. Furthermore, not all writers were as explicit as Nashe and Harvey. Often today we have at best a guess at who the attack was aimed at. It remains questionable whether there really was a renewal movement in theatre at that time, including disputes about direction. The number of sources on dramas outside the court is simply too few for the period before the end of the 1580s,2 in order to be able to provide reliable information on this.

The elitist university wits, with their posthumously created writers' war, seem like a scholarly formulation of some aspects of Romantic novel and drama literature about Shakespeare and his time.

Saintsbury, George. 1887. A History of Elizabethan Literature. London: Macmillan.

  1. Saintsbury (1887)↩︎
  2. Erne (2005)↩︎

Aktualisiert am 18.01.2023

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