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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

§ 10. Early attempts at realistic treatment

Nor was it a mere change of preference which accounts for the impetus given to the dramatisation of experiences, sorrows and consolations familiar to the country squires and town merchants and their wives and children in contemporary England. In a period of the national history when the middle classes were beginning to assert themselves in the social system of the country—a movement which it would be a mistake to regard as altogether identical with the striving of puritanism for ascendancy—it could hardly be but that room should have been found in the drama for exposition of the middle class point of view, middle class morality and middle class humanity, as distinct from the historic pretensions of kings and nobles and prelates, from the easier social codes of palaces and castles and, again, from the violent impulses and freer ways of life habitual to an uninstructed populace. Shakespeare, whose muse was at home on the throne of kings, in the strife of battlefields, or in communion with nature in her moods of elemental agitation or of woodland calm, and who (save in so exceptional an excursion into a new field as The Merry Wives) looked upon civic life in a satirical humour, was not responsive to this movement, and, indeed, appears to have been very imperfectly aware of it. When domestic troubles are his dramatic theme, they are conflicts in heroic minds or tempests of romantic passion. Jonson, and his school—including Middleton—on the other hand, treat such griefs and their agents or victims from the point of view of critical superiority. The large majority of Elizabethan plays which may be classed as domestic drama proper are anonymous; and, with the exception of Dekker, who produced powerful work of the kind in The Honest Whore (assuredly his in the main) and in many scenes ascribable to him in plays of joint authorship, Heywood, in many ways specially attracted and suited to this genre, is the only Elizabethan dramatist of note who attained to eminence in it.