The son of Robert Chettle, a London dyer, he was apprenticed in 1577 and became a member of the Stationer's Company in 1584, traveling to Cambridge on their behalf in 1588. His career as a printer and author is shadowy. He may have set up some of the tracts printed in response to Martin Marprelate. In 1591, he entered into partnership with William Hoskins and John Danter, two stationers. They published a good many ballads, and some plays, including a surreptitious and botched first quarto of Romeo and Juliet, to which it is suggested Chettle added lines and stage directions.
In 1592 Greene's Groats-Worth of Wit, supposedly the work of the recently deceased, and very popular, Robert Greene, was published, having been entered in the register of the Stationer's Company "at the peril of Henry Chettle". This offended at least two contemporary writers, who were probably Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare, causing Chettle to deny the charge in the preface to his Kind Heart's Dream, published later that year:
About three months since died M. Robert Greene, leaving many papers in sundry booksellers' hands, among other his Groatsworth of Wit, in which a letter written to divers play-makers is offensively by one or two of them taken, and because on the dead they cannot be avenged, they willfully forge in their conceits a living author [...] With neither of them that take offence was I acquainted, and with one of them I care not if I never be. The other, whom at that time I did not so much spare as since I wish I had, for that, as I have moderated the heat of living writers and might have used my own discretion (especially in such a case, the author being dead), that I did not I am as sorry as if the original fault had been my fault, because myself have seen his demeanor no less civil than he excellent in the quality he professes. Besides, the diver of worship have reported his uprightness of dealing, which argues his honesty, and his facetious grace in writing that approves his art.
Chettle was widely suspected of having been the author of the original attack. The general tenor of his work with Hoskins and Danter also suggests the plausibility of such a deceit. The theory that Greene's Groatsworth is a forgery by Chettle was challenged as long ago as 1935Harold Jenkins, "On the Authenticiy of Greene's Groatsworth of Wit and The Repentence of Robert Greene," The Review of English Studies 11 (1935): 33. and again in 2006Richard Westley, "Computing Error: Reassessing Austin's Study of Groats-worth of Wit," Literary and Linguistic Computing 21 (2006): 363-78. and 2012.Born Hanspeter, „Why Greene was Angry at Shakespeare“, Medieval and Renaissance Drama 25 (2012), 134-136.
He seems to have been generally in debt, judging from numerous entries in Philip Henslowe's diary of advances for various purposes, on one occasion (January 17, 1599) to pay his expenses in the Marshalsea prison, on another (March 7, 1603) to get his play out of pawn. He made a greater number of small borrowings from Henslowe than any other person. These and Henslowe’s casual records of them suggest some friendship between them, though in 1602 Chettle seems to have been writing for both Worcester's Company and the Admiral's, despite signing a bond to write exclusively for the latter.
As early as 1598 Francis Meres includes Chettle in his Palladis Tamia as one of the "best for comedy", and Henslowe lists payments to him for thirty-six plays between 1598 and 1603, and he may have been involved in as many as fifty plays, although only a dozen seem to be his alone. Chettle had regular association with Henry Porter, Thomas Dekker, and after 1600 with John Day. Of the thirteen plays usually attributed to Chettle's sole authorship only one was printed. This was The Tragedy of Hoffmann: or a Revenge for a Father (played 1602; printed 1631). It has been suggested that this piece was put forward as a rival to Shakespeare's Hamlet. There is also evidence that Chettle contributed to the play Sir Thomas More (c. 1592–1593), which is famous for containing a scene which many scholars believe to be authored by Shakespeare.
Chettle's non-dramatic writings include (besides Kind Heart's Dream) Piers Plainnes Seaven Yeres Prentiship (1595), the story of a fictitious apprenticeship in Crete and Thrace, and England's Mourning Garment (1603), in which are included some verses alluding to the chief poets of the time.
He died before 1607, when Dekker in his Knight's Conjurer described him joining the poets in Elysium: “in comes Chettle sweating and blowing by reason of his fatness”.Click here to hide this biography