1753 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Heywood

Anonymous, in Cibber-Shiels, Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) 1:271-76.



THOMAS HEYWOOD lived in the reign of Queen Elizabeth and King James I. He was an actor, as appears from the evidence of Mr. Kirkman, and likewise from a piece written by him called, The Actor's Vindication. Langbaine calls his plays second rate performances, but the wits of his time would not permit them to rank so high. He was according to his own confession, one of the most voluminous writers, that ever attempted dramatic poetry in any language, and none but the celebrated Spaniard Lopez de Vega can vie with him. In his preface to one of his plays he observes, that this Tragi-comedy is one preserved amongst two hundred and twenty, "in which I have had either an entire hand, or at least a main finger." Of this prodigious number, Winstanley, Langbaine, and Jacob agree, that twenty-four only remain; the reason Heywood himself gives is this; "That many of them by shifting and change of companies hare been negligently lost; others of them are still retained in the hands of some actors, who think it against their profit to have them come in print, and a third, that it was never any great ambition in me to be voluminously read." These seem to be more plausible reasons than Winstanley gives for their miscarriage; "It is said that he not only acted himself every day, but also wrote each day a sheet; and that he might lose no time, many of his plays were composed in the tavern, on the backside of tavern bills, which may be the occasion that so many of them are lost." That many of our author's plays might be plann'd, and perhaps partly composed in a tavern is very probable, but that any part of them was wrote on a tavern bill, seems incredible, the tavern bill being seldom brought upon the table till the guests are going to depart; besides as there is no account of Heywood's being poor, and when his employment is considered, it is almost impossible he could have been so; there is no necessity to suppose this very strange account to be true. A poet not long dead was often obliged to study in the fields, and write upon scraps of paper, which he occasionally borrowed; but his case was poverty, and absolute want. Langbaine observes of our author, that he was a general scholar, and a tolerable linguist, as his several translation from Lucian, Erasmus, Texert, Beza, Buchanan, and other Latin and Italian authors sufficiently manifest. Nay, further, says he, "in several of his plays, he has borrowed many ornaments from the ancients, as more particularly in his play called the Ages, he has interspersed several things borrowed from Homer, Virgil, Ovid, Seneca, Plautus, which extremely set them off." What opinion the wits of his age had of him, may appear from the following verses, extracted from of one of the poets of those times.

The squibbing Middleton, and Heywood sage,
Th' apologetick Atlas of the stage;
Well of the golden age he could entreat,
But little of the metal he could get;
Threescore sweet babes he fashion'd at a lump,
For he was christen'd in Parnassus pump;
The Muses gossip to Aurora's bed,
And ever since that time, his face was red.

We have no account how much our author was distinguished as an actor, and it may be reasonably conjectured, that he did not shine in that light; if he had, his biographers would scarce have omitted so singular a circumstance, besides he seems to have addicted himself too much to poetry, to study the art of playing, which they who are votaries of the muses, or are favoured by them, seldom think worth their while, and is indeed beneath their genius.

The following is a particular account of our author's plays now extant:

1. Robert Earl of Huntingdon's downfall, an historical Play, 1601, acted by the Earl of Nottingham's servants.

2. Robert Earl of Huntingdon's Death; or Robin Hood of Merry Sherwood, with the tragedy of chast Matilda, 1601. The plots of these two plays, are taken from Stow, Speed, and Baker's chronicles in the reign of King Richard I.

3. The Golden Age, or the Lives of Jupiter and Saturn, an historical play, acted at the Red Bull by the Queen's servants, 1611. This play the author stiles the eldest Brother of three Ages. For the story see Galtruchius's poetical history, Ross's Mystagogus Poeticus; Hollyoak, Littleton, and other dictionaries.

4. The Silver Age, 1613, including the Love of Jupiter to Alcmena. The Birth of Hercules, and the Rape of Proserpine; concluding with the Arraignment of the Moon. See Plautus. Ovid. Metamorph. Lib. 3.

5. The Brazen Age; an historical play, 1613. This play contains the Death of Centaure Nessus, the tragedy of Meleager, and of Jason and Medea, the Death of Hercules, Vulcan's Net, &c. For the story see Ovid's Metamorph. Lib. 4-7-8-9.

6. The Iron Age; the first part a history containing the Rape of Helen, the Siege of Troy, the Combat between Hector and Ajax. Hector and Troilus slain by Achilles, the Death of Ajax, &c. 1632.

7. Iron Age, the second part; a History containing the Death of Penthesilea, Paris, Priam, and Hecuba: the burning of Troy, the Deaths of Agamemnon, Menelaus, Clytemnestra, Helena, Orestes, Egistus, Pylades, King Diomede, Pyrrhus, Cethus, Synon, Thersetus, 1632, which part is addressed to the author's much respected friend Thomas Manwaring, Esq. for the plot of both parts, see Homer, Virgil, Dares Phrygius; for the Episodes, Ovid's Epistles, Metamorph, Lucian's Dialogues, &c.

8. A Woman kill'd with Kindness, a comedy acted by the Queen's Servants with applause, 1617.

9. If you know not Me, you know Nobody; or the Troubles of Queen Elizabeth, in Two parts, 1623. The plot taken from Camden, Speed, and other English Chronicles in the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

10. The Royal King, and Loyal Subject, a tragi-comedy, 1627, taken partly from Fletcher's Loyal Subject.

The Fair Maid of the West, or a Girl worth Gold, 1631. This play was acted before the King and Queen. Our author in his epistle prefixed to this play, pleads modesty in not exposing his plays to the public view of the world in numerous sheets, and a large volume under the title of Works, as others, by which he would seem tacitly to arraign some of his Cotemporaries for ostentation, and want of modesty. Langbaine is of opinion, that Heywood in this case levelled the accusation at Ben Johnson, since no other poet, in those days, gave his plays the pompous title of Works, of which Sir John Suckling has taken notice in his session of the poets.

The first that broke silence, was good old Ben,
Prepar'd before with Canary wine;
And he told them plainly, that he deserved the bays,
For his were called works, where others were but plays.

There was also a distich directed by some poet of that age to Ben Johnson,

Pray tell me, Ben, where does the mystery lurk?
What others call a play, you call a work.

Which was thus answered by a friend of his,

The author's friend, thus for the author says
Ben's plays are works, when others works are plays.

12. Fair Maid of the West, or a Girl worth Gold, the second part; acted likewise before the King and Queen with success, dedicated to Thomas Hammond, of Gray's-Inn, Esq;

13. The Dutchess of Suffolk, an historical play 1631. For the play see Fox's Martyrology, p. 521.

14. The English Traveller, a tragi-comedy acted at the Cock-pit in Drury-lane, 1633, dedicated to Sir Henry Appleton, the plot from Plautus Mostellaria.

15. A Maidenhead well lost, a comedy acted in Drury-lane, 1634.

16. The Four London Apprentices, with the Conquest of Jerusalem; an historical play, acted by the Queen's servants 1635. It is founded on the history of Godfrey of Bulloign. See Tasso, Fuller's history of the holy war, &c.

17. A Challenge for Beauty; a tragi-comedy, acted by the king's servants in Black-Fryers, 1636.

18. The Fair Maid of the Exchange; with the Merry Humours of the Cripple of Fen-church, a comedy, 1637.

19. The Wise Woman of Hogsden; a comedy, acted with applause, 1638.

20. The Rape of Lucrece, a Roman Tragedy, acted at the Red Bull, 1638. Plot from Titus Livius.

21. Love's Mistress, or the Queen's Mask; presented several times before their Majesties, 1640. For the plot see Apuleius's Golden Ass.

22. Fortune by Land or Sea, a comedy; acted by the Queen's servants, 1653. Mr. Rowley assisted in the composing of this play.

23. The Lancashire Witches, a comedy; acted at the Globe by the King's servants. Mr. Brome joined with Mr. Heywood in writing this comedy. This story is related by the author in his Hierarchy of Angels.

24. Edward IV. an historical play, in two parts. For the story see Speed, Hollinshed and other chronicles.

This author has published several other works in verse and prose, as his Hierarchy of Angels, above mentioned; the Life and Troubles of Queen Elizabeth; the General History of Women; An Apology for Actors, &c.