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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Thomas Heywood (c. 1570–1641)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
WE have Thomas Heywood’s own word that he was the author of the whole or chief part of two hundred and twenty plays. For years he wrote his dramas and acted in them with Henslowe’s company, or that of the Lord Admiral, or at the theatre of the Red Bull in London; and composed, too, many of the Lord Mayor’s pageants. Yet so modest was he about his own achievements, and so careless of fame, that he made no effort to preserve his work, and now we have only twenty-three plays and a variety of scattered fragments. From these we may gather many hints of his genial and gifted mind; but of his actual life we know little. There is evidence that he was of good family, a fellow of Peterhouse College, Cambridge, and remarkably well read; and that he early went to London. Even the dates of his birth and death are lost; but he was probably about ten years younger than “mellifluous Will” Shakespeare, and must have known him well and many other celebrities of that brilliant period.  1
  He too felt the spirit of the English Renaissance, and wrote under the influence of its overwhelming, sometimes rude, vigor and spontaneity. As a popular actor he must have been kept busy; yet for years he found time to write something every day, scribbling off what occurred to him wherever he might be, and often on the blank side of his tavern bills. He watched the ardent city life with more critical vision than was common in that simpler-minded time; took note of all, as his prose writing shows; and was, as Symonds says, “among our earliest professional littérateurs.”  2
  The anthology of poets of all ages and lands, which he planned but never finished, has been much regretted by scholars. He himself was primarily a poet, and scattered through his plays are dainty, breezy lyrics of “April morning freshness,” which show an easy mastery of metre. But he is best known as a dramatist; and his readers must admire his eloquent expression of deep feeling, and a delicacy of taste often lacking in his contemporaries.  3
  He first tried historical plays; but although these contain fine passages, they are less satisfactory than his later work. There is a suggestion of the realist in Heywood; for he seldom left home for his subjects, but sought them in English men and women of his time. He excelled in strong and simple situations, and in able touches which depicted character and developed a homely everyday atmosphere; but his work is very uneven, showing many technical faults of uneven metre and interrupted rhyme, and his finest passages are sometimes followed by jagged doggerel unworthy a schoolboy. He wrote too rapidly to take much heed of form, and when not mastered by an emotional instinct for the fitting expression, he was careless of minor points.  4
  Among his best-known plays are ‘The English Traveller,’ a study of character; ‘The Fair Maid of the West,’ which has an adventurous ring much like that of Kingsley’s ‘Westward Ho’; and ‘A Woman Killed with Kindness.’ The last is well sustained, and in its capable character-drawing and eloquent blank verse is considered his masterpiece. Henslowe records in his diary that he paid Heywood three pounds for it. The slight plot—the story of a faithless wife whose husband sends her to a manor-house where she must live separated from him and from her children, although in comfort, and who dies there of her bitter repentance—is of less interest than the naturalness of the emotion, and the lofty moral feeling for which Heywood is especially noteworthy.  5
 
 
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