The date of Peele's birth is unknown, but is conjecturally placed about 1558. In 1565 he was a free scholar at Christ's Hospital, of which his father was clerk, and in 1571 he went to Oxford. He was a student first at Broadgates Hall (now Pembroke College), and later at Christ Church, whence he graduate B.A. in 1577, and M.A. in 1579. From the University, where he had already achieved some reputation as a poet, he went to London, and apparently plunged at once into the irregularities that wrecked his career, for in the same year the governors of Christ's Hospital forced his father to turn him out of the precincts of the hospital. His wife, whom he had married by 1583, brought him some property, which he soon dissipated; and he became a member of that group of authors who wrote plays, pageants, and all sorts of occasional productions, in the uncertain hope of earning a living. The famous Jests, fathered on Peele, are probably quite unauthentic; but there is an unfortunate appropriateness in many of them to his known mode of life. He seems to have been an actor as well as a playwright. Meres mentions him in Palladis Tamia (1598) as dead.
Peele's claim to distinction rests upon his treatment of metre, and on his humor. He did much to refine and supple the diction of the drama, and before Marlowe placed his stamp upon blank verse, Peele was writing it with great sweetness and a charming musical quality. The realistic element in his dialogue is more notable than the decorative, and this realism is employed in the service of a new type of humor. "He was the first," says Gummere, "to blend romantic drama with a realism which turns romance back upon itself, and produces the comedy of subconscious humor."
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