University Wits in English Literature – Characteristics


“The University Wits” refers to a prominent group of playwrights belonging to the 16th century. They were educated members of the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford and were pivotal to the rise of drama and theatre in London and a precursor to William Shakespeare. 

Characteristics of University Wits

  1. Erudition: Being intellectuals, the University Wits gave a lot of importance to erudition– their works thus distinctly influenced by the Classical languages of Greek and Latin and hence Hellenism. 
  2. Literary Devices: Their works again have a lot of wit and literary devices such as metaphors, puns, and allusions as they exhibit their scholarly mastery of the English language. 
  3. Satire: Their works also extensively critiqued and commented on society and politics and often satirised them. 
  4. Blank Verse: They also experimented a lot and are credited with introducing the famous Blank Verse that Shakespeare later perfected.

University Wits Poets List and Their Work

The seven members of The University Wits are as follows

John Lyly

John Lyly was a graduate of Oxford. He is known for his comedies. Famous works of his include “Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit”, “Endimion” and “Love’s Metamorphoses”. 

Thomas Kyd

The son of a scrivener, Kyd was the only one who did not have a proper education. His magnum opus “The Spanish Tragedy” is known to have begun the tradition of revenge tragedy. His other (and only) play is “Cornelia”. 

George Peele

Peele was a graduate of Oxford. He is known for his contributions to Romantic comedy. Famous works of his include “The Old Wives’ Tales”, “The Arraignment of Paris” and “Euripedes”.

Thomas Lodge

Lodge was again a graduate of Oxford. His work “Rosalynde” was Shakespeare’s inspiration for “As You Like It”. 

Robert Greene

Greene was a graduate of Cambridge. He was known for his pastoral comedies and his distaste for Shakespeare, whom he called an “upstart crow”. Famous works of his include “Pandosto”, which Shakespeare used for “The Winter’s Tale” and “Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay”.

Thomas Nashe

Nashe was a graduate of Cambridge. He is credited with the first picaresque novel in English “The Unfortunate Traveller”. Other famous works of his include “Pierce Penniless” and “Christs Teares over Jerusalem”. 

Christopher Marlowe

Titled the “Father of English Tragedy”, Marlowe perhaps is the most famous of them all. He was a graduate of Cambridge. Famous works of his include “Doctor Faustus”, “Tamburlaine” and “The Jew of Malta”.


The University Wits were thus crucial to the English literary landscape– it is their contributions that paved the way for Shakespeare and the subsequent heights of Elizabethan and Jacobean dramas.