Biography of Robert Greene
Robert Greene (baptized 11 July 1558, died 3 September 1592) was an English author popular in his day, and now best known for a posthumous pamphlet attributed to him, Greenes, Groats-worth of Witte, bought with a million of Repentance, widely believed to contain an attack on William Shakespeare. He is said to have been born in Norwich. He attended Cambridge, receiving a B.A. in 1580, and an M.A. in 1583 before moving to London, where he arguably became the first professional author in England. Greene published in many genres including romances, plays and autobiography.
Greene is thought to have attended the free grammar school at Norwich, although this cannot be confirmed as enrolment documents for the relevant years are lost. Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, provided scholarships for students from the Norwich grammar school, and for this reason Greene's matriculation as a sizar at St John's College, Cambridge, has been considered 'strange'. A reason offered for Greene's enrolment at St John's is that some of the gentry of South Yorkshire attended St John's, and among the dedicatees of, or authors of commendatory verses for, Greene's books were members of the Darcy, Portington, Lee, Stapleton and Rogers families, all centered at Snaith, Yorkshire; according to Richardson, the Robert Greene from Norwich who was an innkeeper may have been an immigrant from Yorkshire connected to 'a large family of Greenes' who lived in the parish of Snaith, and may actually have left Norwich to reside at Snaith from 1571 to 1577.
There is no record of Greene's having taken part in the dramatic productions at Cambridge in 1579 and 1580, although 18 of his classmates and Fellows of the Cambridge colleges acted in Hymenaeus, and 46 in Richardus Tertius. His academic performance as an undergraduate at Cambridge was mediocre; on 22 January 1580 he took his BA, graduating 38th out of 41 students in his college, and 115th out of the total university graduating class that year of 205 students. He 'apparently transferred to Clare College for his 1583 MA', where he placed 5th out of 12 students in his college, and 29th of the 129 students at the university. It was 'rare for a student to migrate to another college (as Greene did) after he had received the baccalaureate', and no record of Greene's transfer to Clare College has been discovered, nor does his name appear in the Clare Hall Buttery Book for 1580-84. Greene's claim to association with Clare College is found in the second part of Mamillia, which was not published until 1593, after Greene's death, in which the dedicatory epistle to Robert Lee and Roger Portington is signed 'Robert Greene. From my Studie in Clarehall the vii. Of Julie'.
Greene died 3 September 1592. His death and burial were announced by Gabriel Harvey in a letter to Christopher Bird of Saffron Walden dated 5 September, first published as a 'butterfly pamphlet' about 8 September, and later expanded as Four Letters and Certain Sonnets, entered in the Stationers' Register on 4 December 1592. Harvey attributed Greene's demise to 'a surfeit of pickle herring and Rhenish wine', and claimed he had been buried in 'the new churchyard near Bedlam' on 4 September. No record of Greene's burial has been found.
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WEEP not, my wanton, smile upon my knee;
When thou art old there 's grief enough for thee.
Mother's wag, pretty boy,
Father's sorrow, father's joy;
When thy father first did see
Such a boy by him and me,
He was glad, I was woe;
Fortune changed made him so,
When he left his pretty boy,