'Bogus History' and Robert Greene’s <i>Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay</i>

  • David M. Bergeron Universiy of Kansas
Keywords: Elizabethan comedy, concepts of history, Robert Greene, poetry and history,


In this paper I focus on Greene’s Elizabethan comedy, which David Bevington has referred to as containing ‘bogus history’. I argue that Greene embraced the history he inherited. The play contains three strands of history that parallel and intertwine: the pursuit of marriage for Prince Edward; the story of Margaret of Fressingfield; and a depiction of Friar Bacon, the magician. We can think of several categories of history, but ‘bogus’ raises different issues. ‘Bogus’ seems to presuppose the superiority of accuracy as a function of historical writing, an alien concept to most Tudor-Stuart writers of history. Using the examples of Spenser, Francis Bacon, and Thomas Heywood, I delineate concepts of history in Shakespeare’s time. From this delineation I examine the play, ending with Bacon’s speech at the play’s end in which prophecy and history coalesce, reinforcing the play’s link to thirteenth-century England.