Here is a familiar tale found in literary handbooks for much of the twentieth

century. Once upon a time in the 1560s and 1570s (the boyhoods of Marlowe,

Shakespeare, and Jonson), English drama was in a deplorable state characterized

by fourteener couplets, allegory, the heavy hand of didacticism, and touring

troupes of players with limited numbers and resources. A first breakthrough came

with the building of the first permanent playhouses in the London area in 1576-77

(The Theatre, The Curtain)—hence an opportunity for stable groups to form so as

to develop a repertory of plays and an audience. A decade later, the University

Wits came down to bring their learning and sophistication to the London desert, so

that the heavyhandedness and primitive skills of early 1580s playwrights such as

Robert Wilson and predecessors such as Thomas Lupton, George Wapull, and

William Wager were superseded by the artistry of Marlowe, Kyd, and Greene. The

introduction of blank verse and the suppression of allegory and onstage sermons

yielded what Willard Thorp billed in 1928 as “the triumph of realism.”1