So Robert Greene (who can be safely identified as the author of Groatsworth) had an existing beef with Edward Alleyn, had called him a Crow beautified with other’s feathers before, and through details in the main part of Groatsworth clearly identifies Alleyn (not least through the ownership of a windmill) as the wealthy Player who promised him riches but is now allowing him to die in poverty.  There are grammatical, typographical and etymological reasons why his ‘Shake-scene‘ means ‘actor’ not ‘Shakespeare’.

But what of the parodied line from the play that would later become the third part of Henry VI, originally referring to a ‘tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide’?  Surely quoting a Shakespeare play means his finger is pointed at Shakespeare?


It’s time for a short quiz.   With whom do you associate the following lines?

  1. ‘I coulda been a contender.’
  2. ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.’
  3. ‘Go ahead, make my day.’
  4. ‘Here’s looking at you, kid.’
  5. ‘I’ll be back.’

Arnie I'll be back memeMost people would answer Marlon Brando, Clark Gable, Clint Eastwood, Humphrey Bogart and Arnold Schwarzenegger.  We recall the actors who spoke the lines, not the writers who wrote them. Unless you’re a screenwriter yourself — and even if you are — it’s most unlikely that you thought of

  1. Budd Schulberg and Malcolm Johnson
  2. Sidney Howard
  3. Joseph Stinson
  4. Julius and Philip Epstein with Howard Koch
  5. James Cameron and Gale Ann Hurd.

Likewise, most of Greene’s readership, reading the line ‘tiger’s heart wrapped in a Player’s hide’, would think of the actor who played Richard Duke of York, not the writer, whose name in any case they were unlikely to know.

edward alleyn tiger's heartShakespeare was not publicly known as the author of this play for another 27 years.  Indeed, we have no evidence he was known as the author of any play (or poem) when Groatsworth was written; ‘William Shakespeare’ would not appear on the title page of a play for another six years.  The parody of the line from The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York turns out to be yet another piece of evidence pointing towards Edward Alleyn.  The True Tragedy at this time was being performed by Lord Strange’s Men (the company for whom Greene had been writing).  Edward Alleyn, according to the Dictionary of National Biography, was established with Lord Strange’s Men by 1592.[1] As the company’s leading actor, Alleyn was the man most likely to have taken the title role and spoken these words.  Though some have argued that he wouldn’t have played York, because he is killed in Act I, the part is clearly written so as to allow it to be doubled with the part of Clarence.

Whose words?

You might argue that Greene’s letter, even though it was published at his request, wasn’t addressed to the general populace. It was addressed to three playwrights who very likely would know who wrote the line ‘Tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide’.  But who was that, exactly?   The early versions of the plays that eventually became Henry VI are widely acknowledged to be co-authored, and are not universally acknowledged, even by orthodox scholars, to be by Shakespeare.

In fact Tom Merriam, who undertook a computer-based stylometric analysis of Henry VI, concluded that The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York was written by Christopher Marlowe.[2]  His opinion, shared by a number of well-respected scholars of the early twentieth century, was that Marlowe’s play was adopted and adapted by Shakespeare into the play we now know as Henry VI Part 3, a view that in 2016 was adopted, with considerable fanfare, by the editors of The New Oxford Shakespeare.

In this circumstance, Robert Greene, and ‘his quondam acquaintance, that spend their wits in making plays’ would not have associated the ‘tiger’s heart’ line with William Shakespeare but with Marlowe, the first of those people Greene warns against the ‘upstart Crow’.  If this is so, Green’s parodic reference would be even more satisfying, tying together both his target (Alleyn) and his chief addressee.


[1] S. P. Cerasano, ‘Alleyn, Edward (1566–1626)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://0-www.oxforddnb.com.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/view/article/398, accessed 22 June 2017].
[2] T. Merriam, Tamburlaine Stalks in Henry VI’, Computers and the Humanities 30, 267–280, 1996.

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