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Thomas Heywood

213 pages
Library of Alexandria
“If I were to be consulted as to a reprint of our old English dramatists,” says Charles Lamb, “I should advise to begin with the collected plays of Heywood. He was a fellow actor and fellow dramatist with Shakespeare. He possessed not the imagination of the latter, but in all those qualities which gained for Shakespeare the attribute of gentle, he was not inferior to him—generosity, courtesy, temperance in the depths of passion; sweetness, in a word, and gentleness; Christianism, and true hearty Anglicism of feelings, shaping that Christianism, shine throughout his beautiful writings in a manner more conspicuous than in those of Shakespeare; but only more conspicuous, inasmuch as in Heywood these qualities are primary, in the other subordinate to poetry.” In another note Lamb calls Heywood a “prose Shakespeare.” Allowing for the exaggeration with which an enthusiastic love for our then neglected minor dramatists charged the criticism of Charles Lamb, this verdict is in many points a just one. Heywood, while he lacks the poetry, philosophy, deep insight into nature, and consummate art of Shakespeare—those qualities, in a word, which render Shakespeare supreme among dramatic poets—has a sincerity, a tenderness of pathos, and an instinctive perception of nobility, that distinguish him among the playwrights of the seventeenth century. Like Dekker, he wins our confidence and love. We keep a place in our affection for his favourite characters; they speak to us across two centuries with the voices of friends; while the far more brilliant masterpieces of many contemporary dramatists stir only our aesthetic admiration. Heywood, unlike many of his contemporaries, and in this respect notably unlike Dekker, seems to have kept tolerably free from joint composition. Of twenty-four plays, only two, The Late Lancashire Witches and Fortune by Land and Sea, were produced by him in collaboration, the former with Brome, and the latter with W. Rowley. Of all the playwrights of that period he was the most prolific. In 1633 he owned to having “had either an entire hand or at least a main finger” in two hundred and twenty dramas; and after that date others were printed, which may perhaps be reckoned in augmentation of this number. His literary fertility is proved by his Nine Books of Various History concerning Women, a folio of 466 pages, which appeared in 1624 with this memorandum: “Opus excogitatum inchoatum, explicitum, et typographo excusum inter septemdecem septimanas.” Kirkman, the book-seller, in his advertisement to the reader at the end of the second edition of his catalogue of plays, observes of Heywood that “he was very laborious; for he not only acted almost every day, but also obliged himself to write a sheet every day for several years together.” Besides composing dramas, he delighted in the labour of compilation, and had for some time on hand a Biographical Dictionary of all the poets, from the most remote period of the world’s history down to his own time.