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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

§ 6. The Apology for Actors

It cannot be said that the Apology for Actors (published in 1612) holds a very important place in the controversy between the stage and its adversaries, which is narrated in a later chapter of this volume, where Heywood’ contribution to the contention is discussed with the rest. Biographically, it interests us as giving proof not only of his learning, which is solid and firsthand, as well as varied and ready for use, but also of a natural moderation and courtesy which led him to abstain from all personalities. And, while we find him anxious for the good report of the profession to which he belonged, and which such men as himself and Alleyn—not to mention greater names—adorned, he at the same time shows a modesty harmonising with all that we know of him as a writer. In the double capacity of actor and playwright—for it is noticeable that he seems to have no wish to distinguish between the two functions—he describes himself as “the youngest and weakest of the nest wherein he was hatcht,” and liable to the charge of presumptuousness for venturing to “soare this pitch before others of the same brood, more fledge, and of better wing” than himself. To his own plays he makes no reference or allusion in the course of his tract, except in the passage where he insists on the moral purpose of the drama:

  • The unchaste are by us shewed in their errors in the persons of Phryne, Lais, Thais, Flora; and amongst us Rosamond and Mistresse Shore.
  • The most rigid of censors could not set up a more “respectable” standard of morality and regard for authority than that desired by the author of the Apology; though there is obviously a polemic meaning in his protest against the practice of putting “bitternesse” and “liberall invective” into the mouths of children—say of the chapel—“supposing their juniority to be a priviledge for any railing.”

    It has been concluded—though it cannot be proved—that from 1634–5 onwards Heywood ceased to write for the stage. His Pleasant Dialogues and Drammas, a miscellaneous collection of essays such as many a modern author has indulged himself by publishing towards the close of his career, was completed by 1637; and the last of the seven pageants which he produced from 1631 onwards, was for the year 1639. These compositions attest his cordial appreciations of the glories of the city under the auspices of haberdashers, ironmongers and drapers—“the dignity of Merchants,” he exclaims with conviction, “who can tell?” He seems to have still been living in 1641, when a Life of Ambrosius Merlin, compiled by him, appears to have been printed; indeed, he is spoken of, as if alive, so late as 1648, in The Satire against Satirists.