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Was Actor Edward Alleyn the Real “Upstart Crow”?

Harrison Weir's illustration of The Vain Jackdaw (1881), a bird beautified with the feathers of other birds.

Harrison Weir’s illustration of The Vain Jackdaw (1881), a bird beautified with the feathers of other birds.

Stratfordian professors have long claimed that a passage in Robert Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit Bought with a Million of Repentance (1592) is a reference to William Shakspere, the man from Stratford. In Groatsworth, Greene warns other playwrights against

an upstart crow, beautified with our [playwrights’] feathers, that with his Tiger’s heart wrapped in a Player’s hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes fac-totum is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country.

Stratfordian Stanley Wells believes this to be the first printed reference to the man from Stratford.

Was Edward Alleyn, an actor widely popular in his day, the real target of Robert Greene’s warning against an “upstart crow”?

Was Edward Alleyn, an actor widely popular in his day, the real target of Robert Greene’s warning against an “upstart crow”?

 

In “Henry Chettle’s Apology Revisited,” however, Robert Detobel argues that the “upstart crow” is more likely a reference to Edward Alleyn (pictured left), one of the leading actors of the day. Alleyn is known to have inserted lines of his own composition into one of Robert Greene’s plays. If Detobel is correct, then a prime piece of evidence crumbles in the case for the Stratford man as author of Shakespeare’s plays. Mr. Detobel’s article was originally published in Shakespeare Matters, vol. 12, no. 3 (Summer 2013).

 

You can download a PDF version of Mr. Detobel’s article here.

 

[posted February 28, 2015]
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