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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.

XIII. Lesser Elizabethan Dramatists

§ 2. Their names according to Henslowe’s Diary and Meres’s list

Henslowe’s diary begins to record payments made to authors for writing plays at the end of 1597. The entries come to an end, for the most part, in 1603. During this time, twenty-seven authors are named as composers of plays or parts ofplays. The work of ten of these is trifling. Of the remaining seventeen, six are writers of force and distinction, not to be reckoned as “lesser.” These are Chapman, Dekker, Heywood, Jonson, Middleton, Webster. We may note that, of these six, only Chapman refuses to collaborate with inferior men; that none of Jonson’s work done in collaboration is extant, except his additions to Jeronimo; and that Middleton and Webster do not occur in the diary till 1602. Eleven writers are left whom we may describe as the main group of Elizabethan lesser dramatists. These, in alphabetical order, are Henry Chettle, John Day, Michael Drayton, Richard Hathwaye, William Haughton, Anthony Munday, Henry Porter, William Rankins, Samuel Rowley, Wentworth Smith, Robert Wilson. Rowley and Smith begin writing in 1661; Rankins is mentioned only in 1599 and 1601; the remaining eight constitute the main group of lesser men who were writing for the Elizabethan stage between the end of 1597 and the beginning of 1603.

The comments of Francis Meres, in 1598, upon English contemporary writers, give us some means of checking the results of an examination of Henslowe’s records. Of Henslowe’s men, Meres names, among “our best for tragedy,” Drayton, Chapman, Dekker, Jonson; among “the best for comedy,” Heywood, Munday, Chapman, Porter, Wilson, Hathwaye, Chettle. From his place in the list, we conjecture that Wilson—son of the more famous Robert Wilson, the elder—is the writer for Henslowe. One writer, Chapman, shares with Shakespeare the honour of occurring in both lists. All the writers whom we have noted as doing a substantial amount of work for Henslowe’s companies are mentioned by Meres, except Day and Haughton.