George Peele (1556-1597) was an English poet and dramatist and translator. His father James Peele who appears to have belonged to a Devonshire family, was a clerk of Christ’s Hospital and wrote two treatises on book-keeping The Maner and Fourme How to Kepe a Perfecte Reconyng (1553) and The Pathe Waye to Perfectnes (1569). George Peele was educated at Christ’s Hospital, and entered Broadgates Hall, Oxford, in 1571. In 1574 he returned to Christ Church, taking his B.A. degree in 1577, and proceeding M.A. in 1579.
Peele is thought to have written a poem, The Tale of Troy, while at school, and also translated one of Euripides’ ancient Greek plays, either Iphigenia at Aulis or Iphigenia in Taurus. From about 1581 he lived mainly in London, pursuing a literary career and associating with many other writers of the period.
One of the intellectuals of the Elizabethan theatrical community, he associated with Christopher Marlowe, John Lyly, Robert Greene, Thomas Nashe, and Thomas Lodge, and other writers known as the ‘university wits.’ He was one of the first writers to provide pageants for the City of London, a form of entertainment that became standard in the programme of the Lord Mayor’s Pageant. The form was taken up by a series of distinguished playwrights like Thomas Dekker, Munday, Thomas Middleton and Ben Jonson.
His work comprised different kinds of dramatic entertainment catering to the taste of the people of the Elizabethan Age. He wrote pastoral, Biblical, historical plays:
1. The Arraignment of Paris (1584): A pastoral play, very popular one staged by the boys of the Royal Chapel. a mythological tale of the goddess Diana’s trial of Paris for his having judged Venus to be the most beautiful of the three competing goddesses. The play was written mostly in rhyming couplets.
2. The Famous Chronicle of Edward the First (1593) is a historical play. It is patriotic in spirit, flavoured with romance.
3.The Battle of Alcazar (1594) with the death of captain Stukeles is a historical play.
4. The Old Wife’s Tale (1595): A pastoral play, also very popular. It is something like a dramatized folk tale. It is a play within a play, slight enough to be perhaps better described as an interlude.
5. The Love of King David and Fair Bethsabe (1599) is the only Biblical play he wrote.
Among his occasional poems are The Honour of the Garter, a gratulatory poem to the earl of Northumberland which has a prologue containing Peele’s judgments on his contemporaries, and Polyhymnia (1590), a blank verse description of the ceremonies attending the retirement of the Queen’s champion, Sir Henry Lee. This is concluded by the sonnet, “His golden locks time hath to silver turnd,” quoted by Thackeray in the 76th chapter of The Newcomes.
Some plays of doubtful authorship have been attributed to him. He is supposed to have a hand in Henry VI of Shakespeare. Though he had a short life, he displayed admirable virtuosity and versatility. Whether he wrote by chance upon any subject or whether he was deliberately experimenting is still a matter of dispute. Sampson observes, “The Old Wife’s Tale is the first English play to embody literary criticisms in jests. Though much of Peele’s work is untidily disposed and carelessly executed he had a clear vision of literature as an art: Primus veborum artifex, Thomas Nash called him. His feeling for the musical value of words can hardly be missed by the careful reader.”
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