As early as 1592 Shakespeare is publicly recognized, not only as an actor of distinction, but as a dramatist whose work had excited the envy and indignation of his contemporaries, and especially of one so accomplished and eminent, so good a scholar and master of the playwright's craft, as Robert Greene. Greene had, it is true, much of the irritability and excitable temper often found in the subordinant ranks of the poetical fraternity, and he often talks of himself, his doings and associates in a highly-colored and extravagant way. But his reference to Shakespeare is especially deliberate, being in the form of a solemn and last appeal to his friends among the scholarly dramatists to relinquish their connection with the presumptuous and ungrateful stage. In his Groatsworth of Wit, published by his friend Chettle a few weeks after his death, Green urges three of his friends, apparently Marlowe, Lodge and Peele, to give up writing for the players. "Base-minded men, all three of you, if by my misery ye be not warned; for unto none of you like me sought those burs to cleave; those puppets, I mean, who speak from our mouths, those anticks garnisht in our colors. . . . There is an upstart Crow, beautiful in our feathers, that, with his tiger's heart wrapt in a player's hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you, and, being an absolute Johannes Factotum, is, in his own conceit, the only Shakescene in the country. Oh, that I might entreat your rare wits to be employed in more profitable courses, and let these apes imitate your past excellence, and never more acquaint them with your admired inventions."
This curious passage bears testimony to Shakespeare's assured position and rapid advance in his profession. The very term of reproach applied to him, "Johannes Factotum," is a tribute to his industry and practical ability. From the beginning of his career he must have been in the widest and best sense a utility man, ready to do any work connected with the theatre and stage, and eminently successful in all he undertook. He had evidently made his mark as an actor, as it is in that character he is referred to by Greene, and denounced for going beyond his province and usurping the functions of the dramatist. Greene's words imply that Shakespeare was not only acknowledged as a good actor, but that he was already distinguished by his dramatic success in revising and rewriting existing plays. This is confirmed by the parodied line--"a tiger's heart wrapt in a woman's hide"--from the third part of Henry VI, revised, if not originally written by Shakespeare, and produced before Greene's death, which took place in September, 1592. Indeed, all the three parts of Henry VI, in the revised form, appear to have been acted during the spring and summer of that year. It is not improbable that two or three of Shakespeare's early comedies may also have been produced before Greene's death; and if so, his resentment, as an academic scholar, against the country actor who had not only become a dramatist, but had excelled Greene himself in his chosen field of romantic comedy, becomes intelligible enough. Even in his wrath, however, Greene bears eloquent witness to Shakespeare's diligence, ability and success, both as actor and playwright. Of Shakespeare's amazing industry, and also of his success, there is ample evidence. Within six or seven years he not only produced the brilliant, reflective and descriptive poems of Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, but at least fifteen of his dramas, including tragedies, comedies and historical plays.