chapter  4
The Tales of ‘Robin Greene’
Pages 34

As a graduate fresh from the university, Greene stepped into the sixteenth-century marketplace of print with an alacrity that sets him apart from literary models like Lyly, or even the indigent young scholars from Parnassus who would later haunt the Yuletide festivities of the students of his old college. University records show that one Robert Greene graduated from St John’s College, Cambridge, on 22 January 1580.1 Barely eight months later, on 3 October 1580, a new text called Mamillia, a Mirrour or looking-glasse for the ladies of Englande was entered in the Stationers’ Register. This was Greene’s initial venture into the print market, although the book itself would not become available till 1583, when Thomas Dawson and Thomas Woodcocke brought it out, just in time for its second part to be snapped up by the ever-watchful William Ponsonby, soon to be embroiled in the complicated printing history of Sidney’s texts. It is Lyly, however, whom Greene has in his sights in 1580, and understandably so, since Euphues and his England had only just come out in print. The title page of Mamillia’s extant edition proudly displays the name of ‘Robert Greene, Graduate in Cambridge,’ echoing the self-advertisement of ‘John Lyly, Master of Arte, Oxon.’, while its title responds to the ‘Glasse for Europe’ which Lyly’s hero had presented to the ‘Ladies and Gentlewomen of Italy’ in Euphues and his England.2 With its action located in Italy, the country most associated with dissimulation, lust and sex in the English mind, Mamillia would not disappoint those novelty-loving readers who lapped up Euphues’s Neapolitan exploits. Yet that acknowledgement is far from simple; Greene, after all, is not Lyly, nor was he meant to be. As we have seen, both the exuberant display of wit and the anxious and self-conflicting narrative manoeuvres of Euphues were necessary for Lyly, since his ultimate aim was to advertise his employability, not alienate himself from the established authority of his elders. Greene, however, actively advertised his ready commitment to the conditions and opportunities offered by the burgeoning market for fiction. His readiness to utilize the examples of his predecessors, as well as his reworking of the

established tropes of prodigality, guilt and repentance, emerges specifically from those narrative and authorial requirements. Although such a major realignment of social and literary affiliations understandably imposes its own conditions, it also offers its own liberties.3 It is a realignment that largely frees him from the selfnegating tendency that often threatens Lyly’s texts. It shapes the forms of Greene’s wandering romances and his errant heroes in often-unexpected ways, and leads to the emergence of a very different narrative voice.