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ALL the biographers of George Peele concur that he was a native of Devonshire, but the date of his birth is unknown. It is supposed that he was sent to the University of Oxford about 1573, and it has been ascertained that he took his degree of Master of Arts of Christ-Church College in 1579. On his arrival in London soon afterwards, he seems to have commenced poet and perhaps actor', and the earliest performance to which his name is attached is dated two years after he quitted the University. In 1584 “ the Arraign“ment of Paris," a court entertainment, was printed without his name, but Nash in his Address before Greene's “ Menaphon” in 1587, assigns it to him in the following terms : “ I dare commend George Peele “ unto all that know him, as the chief supporter of “ pleasance now living, the Atlas of poetry, and pri6 mus verborum artifex ; whose first increase, the “ Arraignment of Paris, might plead to your opinions “ his pregnant dexterity of wit and manifold va“ riety of invention, wherein, (me judice) he goeth a " step beyond all that write." As Nash calls it Peele's
1 Mr. Malone recovered from among P. Henslowe's papers at Dulwich College a letter from which it is to be gathered, that Peele had acquired some reputation in a particular part which Ned Allen was also to undertake for a wager. (See Malone's Shakspeare, by Boswell, III. 335.) “ The merrie conceited Jests of George Peele, Gentleman, sometime Student in Oxford,” were several times republished with and without date, and from one of these it is likewise apparent that Peele took upon himself to play at Bristol, though he cheated both the audience and his fellow actors. It is not impossible that he was the “ humorous George” addressed by the Juggler in the Prologue to Wily Beguiled, and that he performed one of the characters in it, as well as delivering the Prologue.
2 Watson's “ ExaTout abia, or passionate Century of Love,” was entered on the Stationers' books in 1581, and Mr. Malone asserts that it was printed in that year, though the only edition known is without date. Peele's verses “ to the author" are the last of a collection of laudatory poems by bim, J. Lilly, G. Bucke, T. Achelley, C. Downhalus, and M. Roydon.
first increase," we might conclude that the Arraignment of Paris was his earliest work of importance, though in the interval between 1584 and 1587, he perhaps had established his reputation by other performances.
It is impossible to rely implicitly upon the representations in the “ Merry conceited Jests of George “ Peele," but as far as they deserve credits they certainly shew (to use an expression of Greene in his“ Groats“ worth of Wit,” and supposed to be applied to Peele) that he was driven “ to extreme shifts” to maintain himselt'; sometimes resorting to methods of obtaining money by false pretences, as well as by positive theft, which in the present day would have brought him under the lash of the law. Oldys states, that at his death he left behind him a wife and daughter; but this is only an inference from an assertion in the pamphlet to which we are now referring, that he married and had a daughter of ten years old, whom he now and then employed to assist him in his fraudulent contrivances.
Peele was engaged by the citizens of London to pen some of the pageants presented on the election of Lord Mayor, and in his capacity of City Poet he appeared as early as 1585: the shews of the same kind in 1590 and 1591 were also by him, but it does not seem that he was the only writer employed for the purpose.
Peele's pen was always ready to pay court to the great, and their gifts on these occasions no doubt often relieved his necessities. In 1589 he published “ An “ Eclogue Gratulatory” to Robert Earl of Essex and Ewe, on his return from Portugal; and in the same
3 There is one reason for placing more confidence in these stories of Peele, than they perhaps would otherwise merit; viz. that several of them were incorporated into a Comedy attributed to Shakespeare, (but perhaps by Wentworth Smith) called “ the Puritan "Widow." "The hero is called George Pie-board, which in fact, is only George Peele, and the incidents refer to the events of his life, which gives the piece, otherwise entertaining, an artificial value. It was first printed in 1607, at least nine years after the death of Peele, but it was probably acted considerably earlier, and before the town had had much time to forget “ a man very well “ known in the City of London and elsewhere."
year appeared his “ Farewell” to Sir John Norris and Sir Francis Drake, which on their return to England was followed by a complimentary poem in a dialogue between two shepherds. · In 1590 he described the “ Triumphs at Tilt” before Queen Elizabeth on the 17th of November; and three years afterwards produced “ The Honour of the Garter," entitled to the Earl of Northumberland on his being installed at Windsor on the 6th of June, 1593. At this date it has been supposed that Peele was under the patronage of the last mentioned nobleman, but merely because he dedicated the preceding tract to him.
Peele's productions deserve peculiar attention, because he was one of the very earliest writers of English blank verse not for the stage, and because there is no doubt that he preceded Shakespeare as a dramatic poet, and like Marlow, Lodge, and Greene set an example in this kind which our great bard followed. The historical play now for the first time reprinted from the old copy of 1593 (compared with that of 1599) and added to this collection, is in many respects a very remarkable production, and appears to have been popular for several years. It is probable that it was written before 1590, and from Henslowe's MS, we learn that it was acted on the 29th of August, 1595, and produced him the then considerable sum of 40 shillings as his share of the profits.
Peele was dead when Francis Meres published his Palladis Tamia in 1598, and according to this authority, he owed his premature fate to his vices. (fol. 286.) It is a remarkable fact, that during the whole contest between Nash and Harvey, in which the latter abused the former for his abandoned associates, Peele is not mentioned as one of them. Either Nash was not then intimate with Peele, or Harvey had some other motive for not introducing his name. This literary warfare was carried on principally previous to the year 1594, and there is every reason to suppose that Peele was then alive; but if he had been dead, this circumstance would not have protected him from the malignity of Harvey.