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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

§ 3. Period of his dramatic activity

Thus, in actual span of years, Heywood’s diversified career lasted to the eve of, and may possibly have extended into, the decade when Shakespeare’s chief predecessors were in full dramatic activity. But his extant plays all belong to the reign of Henry VIII, and four of these (including two assigned to him on general internal evidence) were printed in 1533. Thus, they date from a period when the morality was still a popular dramatic form, though often with a theological, political, or educational trend. It is Heywood’s distinctive achievement that in his plays he dispenses with allegorical machinery and didactic aim, and gives a realistic representation of contemporary citizen types. His “new and very mery enterludes,” as they are designated on the title-pages, therefore bring us far on the road towards fully developed comedy, though action and individual characterisation are still, for the most part, lacking; and it becomes a problem of first-rate interest for the historian of the drama whether Heywood’s decisive innovation in theatrical methods was or was not due to foreign influences. The traditional view has been that he was the lineal successor of the writers of moralities; that, whereas some of them had introduced low life scenes under a transparent disguise of allegory, Heywood had taken the further step of dispensing with disguise entirely. According to this theory the native English drama developed by an inner organic impulse from the Biblical to the allegorical phase, and thence to the “human comedy” of Heywood.