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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

§ 18. His qualities as a Dramatist

The above, necessarily compendious, review of the extant writings of this dramatist may have gone some way to make good the conclusion that the flexibility of his talent as well as his indefatigable industry enabled him to hold his own in dramatic species so diverse as the chronicle history, the romantic drama and the comedy of manners. In addition, he achieved at least one masterpiece in domestic drama—a species in which his sincerity and directness, together with a pathetic power springing from a manly, candid and generous nature, found their most congenial expression; while several other of his plays may, at least in part, be regarded as having contributed to this artistic growth. While he possessed the gift of genuine pathos, he was incapable of lending words to passion; his satiric gift was small, and he rarely sought to exercise it, his wit and humour moving more or less within conventional bounds, though his clowns are by no means invariably tedious. He was not strong in the art of construction, and the total effect of several of his plays suffers from the by-plots with which he thought it incumbent on him to eke out their main action; but he was singularly skilful both in devising most effective dramatic situations, and in providing for his plays a background—usually disclosed in an excellent opening—which gave to them individuality and variety. He was devoid of any lyric vein, though the popular sympathies by which he was stirred might have seemed likely to move him to song—for patriotism, both national and civic, was second nature to him. Few features are more striking in him than the love of learning which he had brought with him from Cambridge and which he nourished by lifelong application. But from drying up into a pedant he was preserved by the many-sidedness of his intellectual interests, and by the freshness of spirit that was in him.

A “prose Shakespeare” Heywood deserves to be called only in so far as he, too, could, on occasion, probe the depths of human nature, touching with the wand of poetic imagination what seemed to him of interest in the homely figures and everyday experiences of contemporary life. When he imitated Shakespeare, as in passages of his plays he did more or less unconsciously, this was only in the way of business. He was not the man to dream of donning the armour of Achilles, any more than to aspire to an enduring fame—though of such as is his due meed he is not likely to be deprived.