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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

V. Early English Comedy

§ 1. John Heywood

ONE of the leading notes of medieval literature in all its forms is its impersonality. Its most characteristic products of romance or saga or song bear the impress, not of an individual writer’s art, but of the collective genius of a nation or an epoch. This is equally true of medieval drama, both of those scriptural and allegorical plays by which the church sought at once to entertain and edify all classes, and of the farces which, in continental countries, were a still more spontaneous product of the popular instinct for the theatre. Thus, it is a sign of the passing of the old order, when the historian of the English stage is for the first time confronted, not by the shadowy and elusive forms of the writers to whom we owe the miracles and earlier morality plays, but by the authentic figure of a dramatist the record of whose career is still in part extant in letters, legal documents and state archives.

John Heywood was born towards the close of the fifteenth century, in 1497 or 1498. In a letter to Burghley from Malines (18 April, 1575), he speaks of himself as seventy-eight years of age. E. P. Droeshout, a Jesuit father, in a manuscript Histoire de la Compagnie de Jésus à Anvers, speaks of him in April, 1578, as a “vieillard octogénaire.” J. Pitseus says that he was born in London; and, as Pitseus was well acquainted with Heywood’s younger son, Jasper, the statement may be accepted as correct. At an early age, Heywood entered the royal service, probably as a chorister. On 6 January, 1514–15, he is set down in the Book of Payments of Henry VIII as receiving “wages 8d. per day,” and, in 1519, he appears as a “singer.” In 1526, he received, as a “player of the virginals,” the quarterly wage of £6 13s. 4d., and, between 1538 and 1542, he is mentioned frequently in the same capacity at a much lower salary. But, evidently, he was also engaged in other ways. In January, 1536/7, his servant was paid 20d. for bringing princess Mary’s “regalles” (handorgan) from London to Greenwich; and, in March of the following year, 40s. were paid him for playing an interlude with his “children” before the princess. These “children” probably belonged to the song-school of St. Paul’s cathedral.