Home  »  Volume V: English THE DRAMA TO 1642 Part One  »  § 5. His interludes: Witty and Witless; Love; Wether; The Foure P. P

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

§ 5. His interludes: Witty and Witless; Love; Wether; The Foure P. P

Of the undisputed plays, three, Witty and Witless, Love and Wether, form an allied group. They are dialogues or débats discussing a set theme. Their method is forensic rather than dramatic, in the strict sense; it is the method which, in the next century, was to be glorified in the verbal fence between Comus and the Lady, and in the dialectics of the fallen angels in Milton’s Pandemonium. Witty and Witless is the most primitive of the group. James and John dispute whether it is better “to be a fool or a wise man.” James, who is far the more fluent in argumentation, wins a paradoxical victory on behalf of the fool by proving that he has not to toil for his living, that he is free from mental pain and that he is secure of the greatest of all pleasures—salvation. But, just as John confesses defeat, Jerome enters the lists; he retrieves the day for “wytty” by driving James to admit that a reasonable man is better than a beast, while the “wyttles” and the beast are one and the same. Many of the arguments of James have their counterpart in Erasmus’s Encomium Moriae; but there is a still closer parallel to his debate with John in the French Dyalogue du fol et du sage. This Dyalogue was probably represented at the court of Louis XII, and may well have been Heywood’s model, though the Socratic conclusion in which Jerome demonstrates the superiority of “wytty” is the English writer’s own addition.

No source has as yet been traced for Love. Like Witty and Witless, it is a debate on an abstract theme. The Lover not Loved and the Woman Loved not Loving contend as to who suffers the greater pain, while a parallel argument on pleasure takes place between the Lover Loved and Neither Lover nor Loved. Each pair ask the other to adjudicate upon their claims, with the banal result that the first couple are declared to have equal pain and the second to have equal pleasure. The argumentation is spun out to an insufferable length; but Love is not merely a formal disputation like Witty and Witless. There is the crucial difference that the four characters, for all their uncouthly abstract nomenclature, give voice to their own experiences and emotions. Lover not Loved, in especial, speaks at times with a genuinely personal accent of pain. Neither Loved nor Loving tells with humorous gusto the tale of how he was beaten at the game of moccum moccabitur by an artful “sweeting.” Later, he contributes the one dramatic episode in the interlude. He “cometh in running suddenly about the place among the audience with a high copper tank on his head full of squibs fired, crying water! water! fire! fire! fire!” and sends the Lover Loved into a swoon with a false alarm that his mistress has been burnt to death. It is noticeable that, while the central part of the play is written in couplets, the earlier sections are in rime royal, and that Heywood reverts to this in the closing speeches, in which the religious moralising was suitable to Christmastide, when Love was evidently performed.

The Play of the wether has similar metrical characteristics. Jupiter’s opening and closing speeches are in rime royal, and the rest of the play is in couplets, save for occasional quatrains. The interlude was written for an evening entertainment at court, or in some nobleman’s hall, and introduces no less than ten personages—much the largest number that occurs in any of Heywood’s works. He thus has an opportunity of sketching varied types, from the solemn and sententious Jupiter to his “cryer,” the Vice, Mery-reporte, a bouncing self-confident rogue with an ungovernably free tongue. Mery-reporte’s by-play, as the characters are successively introduced, furnishes an element of action lacking in the interludes discussed above. But, in spite of its wider range, Wether belongs to the same type as Witty and Witless and Love. It has no development of plot, but presents, in turn, representative exponents of divergent views on a debatable theme. Here it is the problem of the management of the weather, which a “parlyament” of gods and goddesses, with the characteristic complaisance of a Tudor legislature, has “holly surrendryd” to the

  • Was com from heven, by his owne accorde,
  • This nyght to suppe here wyth my lorde.
  • autocrat Jupiter, who, also in accord with Tudor precedent, consults the opinion of “all maner people” before taking action. The “gentylman” wants dry and windless weather suitable for hunting; the merchant begs for variable, but not violent, winds; the ranger of woods is anxious for “good rage of blustryng and blowynge.” The water-miller wants rain which will not fall while the wind blows; the wind-miller complains that there is “such revell of rayne” that it destroys the wind. These two brethren of the craft are not content, like the other petitioners, with making their appeal to the god. They have an altercation on the merits of wind and water, to which trade rivalry gives a pungency and realism not often found in a débat. There are high words, too, between the “gentylwoman,” who would banish the sun, lest it should ruin her complexion, and the “launder,” who wants it to shine always in order to dry clothes for him. Last, there runs in “the Boy, the lest that can play,” with his delightful plea:
  • All my pleasure is in catchynge of byrdes,
  • And makynge of snow-ballys and throwyng the same;
  • For the whyche purpose to have set in frame,
  • Wyth my godfather god I wolde fayne have spoken,
  • Desyrynge hym to have sent me by some token
  • Where I myghte have had great frost for my pytfallys,
  • And plente of snow to make my snow-ballys.
  • This onys had, boyes lyvis be such as no man leddys.
  • O, to se my snow ballys light on my felowes heddys,
  • And to here the byrdes how they flycker theyr wynges
  • In the pytfale! I say yt passeth all thynges.
  • Jupiter, finally, declares that all the petitioners shall have in turn the weather that they have asked for. And, in the didactic vein of a lecturer on economics, he points the moral of the mutual dependence of all classes:
  • There is no one craft can preserve man so,
  • But by other craftes, of necessyte,
  • He must have myche parte of his commodyte.
  • The first edition of The Play called the foure P. P. was not published till more than ten years after Rastell’s edition of Wether. The presumption, therefore, is that, of the two plays, The foure P. P. is the later though the internal evidence is inconclusive. It contains a smaller and less diversified range of characters—the “palmer, pardoner, ’potycary and pedler,” from whom it takes its title; the structure is less compact, and the versification, which consists almost throughout of couplets with four stresses in each line, has not so much variety. On the other hand, the verve and pungent humour of the most notable passages are unequalled by Wether or any other of Heywood’s undoubted interludes, and the climax to the triangular duel which forms the main episode of The foure P. P. is an effective piece of dramatic technique.

    The opening wrangle between the palmer, the pardoner and the ’potycary on the merits of their respective vocations is in Heywood’s characteristic manner. The entry of the light-hearted pedler—a true fore-runner of Autolycus—with his well filled pack, turns the talk into a more broadly humorous vein, ending in a song. The newcomer is then asked to decide between the claims of the three rivals, but he modestly declines to judge “in maters of weyght.” As, however, he has some skill in lying, and, as lying is their “comen usage,” he offers to pronounce upon their relative merits in this respect. After some preliminary skirmishing, in which the pardoner vaunts the virtues of his remarkable assortment of relics, and the ’potycary those of his equally wonderful collection of medicines, the pedler proposes that each shall tell a tale as a test of his powers of falsification. Though these tales are not organically related to the preceding dialogue, they give Heywood an opportunity for the display of his remarkable narrative faculty at its best. The ’potycary’s tale is coarse; but, regarded from the point of view of a Munchausen romance, it is a capital piece of writing. It is far outdone, however, by the pardoner’s story of his visit to hell to rescue the soul of his friend, Margery Coorson, who had died during his absence. No such masterpiece of humorous narrative had appeared in England since Chaucer ceased to write, though the grimly grotesque vein of the recital is entirely Heywood’s own. The description of the anniversary festival of Lucifer’s fall, when all the devils appeared in gala dress:

  • Theyr hornes well-gylt, theyr clowes full clene,
  • Theyr taylles wellkempt, and, as I wene,
  • With sothery butter theyr bodyes anoynted;
  • the account of Lucifer’s audience to the pardoner, with the interchange of courtesies, and the formal compact that Margery may go free if the pardoner will undertake that “there come no mo” women to hell—all these are combined in a chiaroscuro treatment unequalled of its kind till, in Byron’s Vision of Judgment, it was applied to a similar theme, with added touches of sublimity and saeva indignatio. The pardoner’s tale gives the palmer his chance. He cannot understand
  • That women in hell such shrewes can be,
  • And here so gentyll, as farre as I se.
  • He has known five hundred thousand women;
  • Yet in all places where I have ben
  • Of all the women that I have sene,
  • I never sawe nor knewe in my consyens
  • Any one woman out of paciens.
  • Such an unheard-of statement startles rivals and judge alike into involuntary exclamations:
  • ’POT. By the masse, there is a great lye.
  • PARD. I never harde a greater, by our lady.
  • PED. A greater! nay, knowe ye any so great?
  • The palmer, manifestly, is the victor, and the situation should have been rounded off in a few lines. But the pedler spins it out by the prolix manner of his adjudication, and by his final homily on matters of conduct and faith.