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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VI. The Drama to 1642, Part Two.

IV. Thomas Heywood

§ 1. Thomas Heywood as the servant of public taste

IT is in writers of the second rank—and of these, with his abundant merit and attractive idiosyncrasy, Thomas Heywood unmistakably was—that we find it easiest to study the progress and expansion of the form of art practised by them. In the brief but often interesting addresses prefixed by Heywood to his plays, he was fond of referring to the changes in public taste which playwrights had been called upon to consult in the course of his own long experience; but he seems to care little about indicating his own preference for either old style or new, being manifestly as ready to fall in with the latter as he had been to put forth his best endeavours in the former. When commending to favour a drama depending for its effect entirely on character, situations and dialogue, and introducing

  • No Drum, nor Trumpet, nor Dumbe show,
  • No Combate, Marriage, not so much Today
  • As Song, Dance, Masque, to bumbaste out our Play—
  • he hastens to add:
  • Yet these all good, and still in frequent use
  • With our best Poets.
  • And, as with matter, so with form: recalling the time when rime was in fashion in plays and “strong lines were not lookt after,” he takes occasion to observe that what is out of date now may come into fashion again “and sute well”—and, for himself, he is clearly quite ready to stop or rime his lines with his fellows. He has no wish to criticise or to theorise, or to set himself up as a representative of any special class or select sort of English drama. Had he not, at the beginning of his twoscore or more years of labours for the stage, dramatised both history and historical romance in plays to which no bold prentice could listen without breaking into rapturous applause and no citizen’ wife without dropping a sympathetic tear; and, as for “song, dance and masque,” had not Homer and Ovid and Apuleius been alike laid under contribution by him for providing entertainments from which neither learned nor lewd would go home unsatisfied? Even dramatic species to which he felt no personal attraction—such as that comedy of “humours flash’d in wit” which satirised types of humanity neither heroic nor attractive—he declined to depreciate, merely urging those who cultivated them not to eschew the treatment of other and loftier subjects: the deeds of “great Patriots, Dukes and Kings,” for the memorising of which the English drama (some plays of his own with the rest) had hitherto been notably distinguished.