For the play, I remember, pleased not the million: ’twas caviary to the general. But it was (as I received it, and others whose judgments in such matters cried in the top of mine) an excellent play →
In 1592, at the age of twenty-eight, William Shakespeare drew his first critical review, and it was not flattering. Robert Greene, a member of the group now known as the “university wits,” accused Shakespeare, who was not university-educated, of being, among other things, an upstart crow. This criticism is notable for being the first recorded mention of Shakespeare living in London as an actor and playwright. It is also the last negative criticism of Shakespeare by one of his contemporaries.
The surviving records of Shakespeare's colleagues, friends and admirers from Frances Meres to Ben Jonson and John Milton, paint a picture of praise just “this side idolatry.” One path to a deeper appreciation of Shakespeare's works is reading what some of his contemporaries wrote about him. His plays and poems appealed, then and now, as both caviar for the elite and pub fare for the masses. The following is a sampling of the opinions by a few who lived while Shakespeare wrote.
- Robert Greene – A Groats-worth of Witte, 1592
For there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers
- Frances Meres – Palladis Tamia, 1598
So the sweete wittie soule of Ovid lives in mellifluous and hony-tongued Shakespeare
- Richard Carew – The Excellencie of the English Tongue, after 1605
Catullus? Shakespeare, and Marlowe’s fragment
- Ben Jonson – To the Memory of My Beloved, 1623
Soul of the age! The applause, delight, the wonder of our stage
- Ben Jonson – De Shakespeare Nostrat, c1630
There was ever more in him to be praised than to be pardoned
- John Milton – An Epitaph on the Admirable Dramaticke Poet, 1632
Thou in our wonder and astonishment Hast built thyself a live-long monument