Internet Shakespeare Editions


The upstart crow

From Greene's Groatsworth of Witte (1592). By permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Greene describes the actors as parasites, "burrs," mere puppets:

...those puppets (I mean) that spake from our mouths, those antics* garnished in our colours. . . Yes, trust them not: for there is an upstart crow*, beautified with our 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 Factotum*, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country.

That Greene was referring to Shakespeare is evident from his pun on "Shake-scene" and also from his parody of a line from one of Shakespeare's first plays, Henry VI, Part 3: "O tiger's heart wrapped in a woman's hide!" (1. 4. 137).

Why did Greene choose to disparage Shakespeare?


  1. What does Greene mean?

    Jesters, fools.
    Upstart crow
    The reference is to the Aesop's fable of the crow which thought itself beautiful when it wore some peacock's feathers. The precise meaning of the attack is unclear. It may be a charge of plagiarism, with Greene accusing Shakespeare of revising other writers' plays; or perhaps Shakespeare, a writer who had not attended University, was presuming to compete with his betters (more...).
    Literally the stuffing of clothing (in shoulder pads, puffed breeches, bum rolls), figuratively applied to an inflated dramatic style.
    Johannes Factotum
    "Jack-of-all-trades" referring to Shakespeare's diverse occupations in the theatrical world (the sneer implies that he was a general dogsbody rather than a professional playwright).