Authors: George Peele

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English playwright and poet

Author Works

Drama:

The Hunting of Cupid, wr. 1581-1585, pb. 1591 (no longer extant)

The Arraignment of Paris, pr. c. 1584

The Battle of Alcazar, pr. c. 1589

Edward I, pr. c. 1590-1591

The Old Wives’ Tale, pr. c. 1591-1594

David and Bethsabe, pr. c. 1593-1594

“Mahomet and Hiren the Fair Greek,” wr. before 1594 (no longer extant)

Poetry:

An Eclogue Gratulatory, 1589

A Tale of Troy, 1589 (revised as The Tale of Troy, 1604)

Polyhymnia, 1590

The Honour of the Garter, 1593

Anglorum Feriae, wr. c. 1595, pb. c. 1830

Miscellaneous:

The Life and Works of George Peele, 1952-1970 (3 volumes; Charles Tyler Prouty et al., editors)

Biography

George Peele studied at Oxford University. After leaving the university he wrote for the stage and produced various patriotic occasional poems, of which the best known are Polyhymnia, The Honour of the Garter, and Anglorum Feriae. These poems suggest that he moved in court circles, and the same impression is left by his play The Arraignment of Paris, which was performed before Elizabeth I by the Children of the Chapel Royal.{$I[AN]9810000413}{$I[A]Peele, George}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Peele, George}{$I[tim]1556;Peele, George}

Assessment of the Peele canon offers many difficulties because some of his works are missing, and the extent of his collaboration with other playwrights is unknown. Peele did improve as a dramatist throughout his career. His latest plays, David and Bethsabe and The Old Wives’ Tale, are generally considered to be his best.

Very little is known about Peele’s life, except that his final days were spent in poverty and sickness. He was evidently very much a public figure in his own day, but although his Oxford education fitted him to be a gentleman, he had difficulty maintaining this social rank. Anecdotes about him abound, and his reputation as a jester survived long after his death. The character George Pieboard (a reference to a baker’s peel or shovel) in the pseudo-Shakespearean comedy The Puritan Widow (1607) doubtless presents him as his contemporaries saw him.

Peele’s dramatic talent was not for depicting character but for spectacle and for the poetic mode. Of his lyrical gifts there can be no doubt, and the songs in his plays have a verbal felicity that is almost Tennysonian. The Arraignment of Paris and The Old Wives’ Tale are successful within their limits precisely because they exist at a gentle and unconstrained pastoral level which allows full scope for lyricism. David and Bethsabe, which draws freely on Samuel and The Song of Solomon, is a notable attempt to present Hebrew pastoral, but the general effect is marred by Peele’s attempts to bring off the more heroic parts of his material in the grand Marlovian manner. There is probably a measure of topical satire in The Old Wives’ Tale, but the merit of the play lies in its deft and impalpable presentation of a tale of magic and spells. It has affinities with Comus (1634), and it is likely that Peele’s work influenced John Milton far more than is generally recognized.

BibliographyBraunmuller, A. R. George Peele. Boston: Twayne, 1983. An attempt to rebuild Peele’s reputation by noting how thoroughly he studied the folk motifs used in The Old Wives’ Tale and how frequently he rearranged historical facts for The Battle of Alcazar and Edward I to relate those plays to current political concerns.Clemen, Wolfgang. English Tragedy Before Shakespeare: The Development of Dramatic Speech. Translated by T. S. Dorsch. London: Methuen, 1961. Peele’s five extant plays are analyzed in turn. Emphasis on Peele’s language and the set speeches in his plays.Dreher, G. K. Samples from the Love of King David and Fair Bethsabe. Chicago: Adams Press, 1980. This unusual brief volume relates passages from the play David and Bethsabe to their biblical sources, followed by commentary on these passages.Horne, David H. The Life and Minor Works of George Peele. 1952. Reprint. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1978. A lengthy study of Peele’s life and family backgrounds, with some historical and critical information about the plays. Contains illustrations and references from public records concerning the Peele family. Informative and readable.Lamb, Mary Ellen. “Old Wives’ Tales, George Peele, and Narrative Abjection.” Critical Survey 14, no. 1 (2002): 28-44. Uses Peele’s play as the focal point for a discussion of the status and representation of old women and old wives’ tales in early modern literature.Sutton, Dana Ferrin. Oxford Poetry by Richard Eedes and George Peele. New York: Garland, 1995. Peele’s poetry is addressed.
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