Thomas Heywood 1573?-1641
English playwright, poet, and biographer.
The following entry provides criticism on Heywood's works from 1893 through 2001.
A prolific Elizabethan playwright, Heywood is known for his popular dramas in a wide variety of genres, including chronicle histories, domestic tragedies, romances, comedy adventures, pageants, masques, and dramatized legends and myths. His most famous work is the domestic tragedy A Woman Killed with Kindness (1603).
Heywood was born in 1573 or 1574 in either Rothwell or Ashby, Lincolnshire, to Elizabeth and the Reverend Robert Heywood. Very little is known about the circumstances of Heywood's early life. Some sources suggest the family was poor, but most literary historians believe the family was respectable and fairly prosperous. There is some evidence he attended Cambridge University, probably Emmanuel College, from 1592 to 1593, when his father's death apparently forced him to leave school and begin working. In 1603, Heywood married Anne Buttler, and after her death he married Jane Span. There is no solid evidence that either marriage produced children; although baptismal records exist for several children named Heywood, there is no clear indication that they were offspring of the playwright. In 1596, Heywood began writing plays for Philip Henslowe and acting in Henslowe's company of players, the Admiral's Men. Heywood also may have been a shareholder in the company. He was a prolific playwright who composed in a wide range of dramatic genres for differing theatrical concerns, including the Earl of Worcester's company, Queen Anne's Men, and Lady Elizabeth's Men. He also collaborated with other writers on a number of works, boasting that he had “either an entire hand, or at the least a main finger” in more than 220 plays over the course of his writing career. Only about twenty of these are extant. Although his plays were both popular and successful, Heywood remained poor throughout his life, a condition he discussed with regret in his lengthy poem The Hierarchy of the Blessed Angels (1635). In the last five years of his life, he abandoned the theater and began writing poetry and commendatory verses, entering what some critics have called his journalistic phase characterized by hack work and reworkings of his earlier writings. Heywood died in August, 1641, in London and was buried in St. James's, Clerkenwell.
Although the majority of Heywood's work is lost, some of his more popular plays remain available to scholars and researchers today. One of the first productions of Heywood's work was the chronicle history play Edward IV in 1594. This was followed by The Four Prentices of London (c. 1594), which involves a group of young apprentices who in 1095 travel to the Holy Land as part of the First Crusade. The work, like most of Heywood's plays, was aimed at a middle-class audience since it suggested that young artisans, as well as young noblemen, participated in the crusades. Around 1597, Heywood produced The Fair Maid of the West, a two-part romantic drama about a sea captain and an inn-keeper, complete with pirates, slavery, and a highly praised tavern scene. In 1603, one of Heywood's most popular dramas was staged, his play about Queen Elizabeth, If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody. Heywood then turned to classical material as the basis for his work, writing the tragedy The Rape of Lucrece around 1606, followed by a series of four plays dramatizing the legends and myths of ancient Greece and Rome: The Golden Age (c. 1609-11), The Silver Age (c. 1610-12), The Brazen Age (c. 1610-13), and The Iron Age (c. 1612-13). Also in 1612, Heywood published An Apology for Actors, which defends the theater from its Puritan detractors and makes a case for the stage as an important part of English culture.
Heywood's domestic tragedy A Woman Killed with Kindness has always been considered his masterpiece. Set on an English country estate, the play features a primary plot and a subplot, both depicting the domestic lives of the English gentry. The work deals with adultery, murder, the control and exchange of women, and containment of female sexuality—all in a manner surprisingly sympathetic to women. Heywood may have taken part in a popular controversy on the status of women around 1617-19. His company presented a play, possibly written by Heywood, in response to the misogynist writings of Joseph Swetnam. His nonfiction work Gunaikeion; or, Nine Bookes of Various History Concerninge Women (1624) and his collection of biographical essays Exemplary Lives and Memorable Acts of Nine of the Most Worthy Women of the World: Three Jews, Three Gentiles, Three Christians (1640) are his most famous works displaying his sympathy and support of women's issues.
The English Traveller (c. 1625) is Heywood's only other surviving marital drama besides A Woman Killed with Kindness. The work involves two domestic plots, one tragic, the other comedic. In 1634, Heywood again combined genres in his five-act play Love's Mistress, or The Queen's Masque, which was successfully performed at court. The work incorporates features of both conventional plays and of the masque genre, a combination rarely accomplished with any success in the theater of the time. A year later, Heywood published his lengthy didactic poem The Hierarchy of the Blessed Angels, consisting of individual books, each devoted to one of the seven orders of angels. The work includes numerous prose sections and draws on a variety of sources, primarily folklore and the Old Testament.
Heywood's plays were enormously popular with audiences during his lifetime. From a critical standpoint, however, he has always suffered from comparisons with Shakespeare, his contemporary, although Charles Lamb referred to Heywood as the “prose Shakespeare” and insisted that in some ways Heywood's “beautiful writings” were equal to those of his fellow actor and writer. David M. Bergeron (1988) asserts that “in several ways his career was more diverse than, say, Shakespeare's, as he worked with a wide variety of dramatic forms and with various acting companies.” M. C. Bradbrook (1983) believes that differences between the staged versions of Heywood's plays and the corrupt published versions account for some of the negative criticism of his work. Bradbrook suggests that Heywood's initial failure to publish his work made his art “ephemeral” and that the author's well-known “preference for performance leaves him but Shakespeare's shadow.”
John Addington Symonds (1893) contends that Heywood was at his best when dealing with “homespun stories” and pictures of domesticity, whereas “pure comedy and pure tragedy were neither of them suited to his genius.” The most famous of his domestic plays is A Woman Killed with Kindness, which Symonds calls “the finest bourgeois tragedy of our Elizabethan literature.” Diana E. Henderson (1986) has studied Heywood's use of the home in the play, concluding that it serves as more than an important plot device and marker of bourgeois realism; in addition, “it provides a base for transforming essentially static social precepts and Christian homily into a dynamic sequence of events on a localized stage.”
Many modern critics focus on Heywood's views on women, which were considered progressive for his time. Nancy A. Gutierrez (1989), for example, examines women's issues in A Woman Killed with Kindness, and maintains that the play “dramatizes the age's moral uncertainty about the role of women by focusing on the potentially catastrophic social transgression of adultery.” Marilyn L. Johnson (1974) explores Heywood's concept of the good wife as represented in his plays and in Gunaikeion. Although she concedes that his view is similar to that offered in contemporary advice manuals, “he does seem more willing than most writers to see the woman's point of view.” Eugene M. Waith (1975) positions both Gunaikeion and Exemplary Lives within a contemporary controversy about women. Gunaikeion, according to Waith, “is devoted to the greater glory of women” and was one of several responses to Joseph Swetnam's 1615 diatribe Arraignment of Lewd, idle, forward and unconstant women. Waith identifies Exemplary Lives as a “feminist tract.”
Although most critics consider A Woman Killed with Kindness Heywood's best work, Raymond C. Shady (1980) maintains that the court performance of Love's Mistress “marks the apex of Heywood's forty-year career on the London stage.” According to Shady, the unique quality of the work rests on “a sustained symbiotic relationship of masque and play that is unique in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama.” Another combination of genres, in this case comedy and tragedy, is exhibited in The English Traveller, reports Richard Rowland (1994), who claims that “the stability of generic conventions is undermined by Heywood's invention of a story that offers neither the relief of lighthearted cuckoldry nor the arousal of tragic passions.” According to Rowland, Heywood was deliberately overturning the dramatic convention that kept the high art of tragedy, associated with an aristocratic audience, separate from the low art of comedy, aimed at a bourgeois audience—not surprising since the majority of his plays addressed middle-class theatergoers and many of them took the experiences of the gentry and the bourgeoisie as their primary subject matter.
Edward IV (play) 1594
The Four Prentices of London, with The Conquest of Jerusalem (play) c. 1594
The Famous History of the Life and Death of Captain Thomas Stukeley (play) 1596
The Fair Maid of the West, Part I (play) c. 1597
How a Husband May Choose a Good Wife from a Bad (play) c. 1602
If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody (play) 1603
A Woman Killed with Kindness (play) 1603
The Wise Woman of Hogsdon (play) 1604
The Rape of Lucrece (play) c. 1606
The Golden Age (play) c. 1609-11
The Silver Age (play) c. 1610-12
The Brazen Age (play) c. 1610-13
An Apology for Actors (nonfiction) 1612
The Iron Age, Parts I & II (play) c. 1612-13
The Captives (play) 1624
Gunaikeion: or, Nine Bookes of Various History Concerninge Women (nonfiction) 1624
The English Traveller (play) c. 1625
The Fair Maid of the West, Part II (play) c. 1630
Love's Mistress; or, The Queen's Masque (play) 1634
The Hierarchy of the Blessed Angels (poetry and prose) 1635
Exemplary Lives and...
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SOURCE: Symonds, John Addington. “Thomas Heywood.” In Thomas Heywood, edited by A. Wilson Verity, pp. vii-xxxii. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1893?.
[In the following essay, Symonds provides an overview of Heywood's literary career.]
“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...
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SOURCE: Johnson, Marilyn L. “Heywood's Favorite Types: The Good Wife.” In Images of Women in the Work of Thomas Heywood, edited by Dr. James Hogg, pp. 103-35. Salzburg, Austria: Institut für Englische Sprache und Literatur, 1974.
[In the following excerpt, Johnson discusses Heywood's representations of ideal wives in How a Man May Choose a Good Wife from a Bad and other plays.]
But if heaven will that I a Consort have, O grant mee one that's pious, wise, and grave.
(Curtaine Lecture, p. 78)
Scattered comments about marriage and stories of wives in Heywood's prose works clearly indicate that in his view wives should be chaste, loyal, patient, and obedient. He gives a character of a good wife “according to Theophrastus” in A Curtaine Lecture. She
must bee grave abroad, gentle at home, constant to love, patient to suffer, obsequious to her neighbors, obedient to her husband. For silence and patience are the two indissoluble ties of conjugall love and piety.
Also in Curtaine Lecture, Heywood extolls the honor of marriage and discusses qualities to look for in the choice of a wife.
Heywood's view is not essentially different from the ideals set forth in the marriage manuals discussed in Chapter I, except...
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SOURCE: Prager, Carolyn. “Heywood's Adaptation of Plautus' Rudens: The Problem of Slavery in The Captives.” Comparative Drama 9, no. 2 (summer 1975): 116-24.
[In the following essay, Prager maintains that Heywood's play has been underestimated by critics because of the difficulty of dealing with the the subject of slavery issue in dramatic form.]
Scholarly inability to localize the problem of slavery outside of anachronistic translation from the classics has resulted in a critical underestimation of Thomas Heywood's adaptation of Plautus' Rudens in The Captives (1624). Transported by Heywood to a contemporary European terrain, the slave elements of the play trouble the modern judgment of those prepared to accept the normalcy of chattel bondage in the world of antique Roman comedy but not in English Renaissance drama. The absence of informed perspective on the relationship of institutional slavery to the slave figure in the drama is apparent from a review of the critical writing on Heywood's The Captives. A. H. Gilbert, the first extensively to assess Heywood's debt to Plautus in the play, circumvents the question of slavery by ignoring it. A. C. Judson, the first modern editor of the play after Bullen, naively finds the question out of phase with the sociology of Renaissance Europe. Subsequent allusions to the slave problem follow this critical path of avoidance. A....
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SOURCE: Waith, Eugene M. “Heywood's Women Worthies.” In Concepts of the Hero in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, edited by Norman T. Burns and Christopher J. Reagan, pp. 222-38. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1975.
[In the following essay, Waith discusses Heywood's transformation of the aristocratic “exemplary lives” genre into biographies intended to inspire the general reading public.]
A subtitle for this paper might be: “From the Exemplary Life to the Pop Biography and the Journalistic Profile,” for Thomas Heywood's book not only shows the pressure of several intellectual and social forces on a major component of the heroic tradition—the exemplary life—but also anticipates some of the ways in which this component was later to be transformed and popularized. The work I shall describe is not a neglected literary masterpiece but a valuable piece of evidence in the history of the tradition that this conference and its predecessor were designed to illuminate. While keeping Heywood's nine women worthies in the foreground, I shall make a few excursions into areas to which they seem to point.1
The title page of a book that appeared in London in 1640 reads: The Exemplary Lives and Memorable Acts of Nine of the Most Worthy Women of the World: Three Jewes. Three Gentiles. Three Christians. Written by the Author of the History of Women. These lines...
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SOURCE: Shady, Raymond C. “Thomas Heywood's Masque at Court.” Elizabethan Theatre 7 (1980): 147-66.
[In the following essay, Shady contends that in Love's Mistress Heywood created a hybrid dramatic genre that incorporates features of both plays and masques.]
For one dizzy week in mid-November, 1634, Thomas Heywood, at the age of sixty, was the favourite Court Poet. A lively play called Love's Mistress, or The Queen's Masque catapulated him to this royal favour, and in a sense, marks the apex of Heywood's forty-odd year career on the London stage. Within a period of eight days, Love's Mistress was performed three times before Charles and Henrietta Maria—first at a private dress-rehearsal at the Phoenix, and twice again at Denmark House. For the latter two productions, the play was graced with what Heywood calls the “excellent inventions” and “rare decorements” of Inigo Jones, “to every act, nay almost to every scene.”
There is little in the play that touches what Eliot calls “those deeper emotions which shake the veil of Time”; but Love's Mistress possesses a quality that makes it unique within the spectrum of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama. Heywood has very skillfully incorporated the spectacle of both masques and antimasques into the action and theme of his five-act play, and the result is a hybrid species of drama in which “play”...
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SOURCE: Henderson, Diana E. “Many Mansions: Reconstructing A Woman Killed with Kindness.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 26, no. 2 (spring 1986): 277-94.
[In the following essay, Henderson explains the importance of home in Heywood's most famous play.]
“Domestic tragedy” has been defined in a myriad of ways, particularly often in terms of the protagonist (of ordinary status and capacity) or the conflict (between family members or a married couple).1 One element contained in the name itself remains in the background—domus, the home. The “rich circumstantiality of an English country house” in A Woman Killed has been mentioned as an important device in establishing the play's immediacy with its audience, as a material concern in the subplot, and as an indication of a new bourgeois realism in the drama.2 But Heywood's home is even more: it provides a base for transforming essentially static social precepts and Christian homily into a dynamic sequence of events on a localized stage.
A Woman Killed is built upon the narrative paradigm of exile from and return to the home, both sacred and secular. By using a double plot, Heywood presents his Christian and civic versions of this basic story without either collapsing important distinctions or losing the close relationship believed to exist between the two spheres of...
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SOURCE: Bergeron, David M. “Patronage of Dramatists: The Case of Thomas Heywood.” English Literary Renaissance 18, no. 2 (spring 1988): 294-304.
[In the following essay, Bergeron contends that in Heywood's time, the support of dramatists through patronage had not yet been replaced by support from theater audiences.]
Werner Gundersheimer, writing on the subject of Renaissance patronage, asks whether Shakespeare's awareness of how the political and social order of European society was reflected in the system of patronage may have “led him to prefer the support of the London crowds to that of a single patronus[.] If so, we may view his career less as a product of, than as a departure from and perhaps a challenge to, the traditional relationships that define patronage in the Renaissance.”1 I do not think that Shakespeare's dramatic career represents any kind of challenge to the system of Renaissance patronage; instead, I think that the terms had changed through the natural process of the building of permanent theater buildings and the establishment of secure acting companies. After all, the group with which Shakespeare worked was first known as the Lord Chamberlain's Men and then triumphantly in 1603 as the King's Men, servants of the royal household. In many ways, one might argue, this situation reflects precisely the system of patronage well-established in Renaissance societies....
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SOURCE: Gutierrez, Nancy A. “The Irresolution of Melodrama: The Meaning of Adultery in A Woman Killed with Kindness.” Exemplaria 1, no. 2 (fall 1989): 265-91.
[In the following essay, Gutierrez contends that Heywood's play is not a tragedy but a melodrama with an open-ended conclusion that provides no solution to the problem of adultery.]
Since genre is a mediating concept “between the individual work and its culture,”1 it seems appropriate to apply to Thomas Heywood's A Woman Killed with Kindness (1603), a play whose critical history is notable for its many arguments about genre, the critical perspective that Stephen Greenblatt calls a “poetics of culture.”2 Rather than perceiving literature as autonomous and fixed, this methodology strives to consider each text, not as a static artifact, but as a living expression of its time, depicting values and problems of its period, and commenting on them: “literature does not ‘reflect’ a life, static and fully formed, but is part of the cultural production which contributes to the process of formation.”3 Consequently, in such a methodology, immutable notions of genre are resisted.
This is contrary to most of the scholarly discussion concerning A Woman Killed. Although the play draws much of its aesthetic power from the symbiosis of realistic representation and emblematic...
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SOURCE: Bonahue, Edward T., Jr. “Social Control, the City, and the Market: Heywood's If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody.” Renaissance Papers (1993): 75-90.
[In the following essay, Bonahue discusses the role of Heywood's play in providing a forum for debate on the more controversial aspects of the changing culture of the city in early modern England.]
Until recently, scholars describing the economic and social history of early modern London assessed the dominant cultural paradigm as one of continual “crisis,” a series of political, economic, and social problems that grew more and more volatile until they finally launched the civil war.1 Focusing on those cultural forces that provided some measure of stability, however, revisionist historians within the last decade have demonstrated that despite its succession of so-called “crises,” early modern London in many ways prospered. The city increased dramatically in wealth, and sanitation and public works were improved; periodic food riots over shortages and high prices never erupted into full-scale revolution.2 Of course, London also periodically faced high inflation, a decline in real wages, and rising unrest among the working population, but somehow, despite such challenges, “the city managed to contain the tensions which many historians believe were their inevitable consequence.”3 How did London...
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SOURCE: Rowland, Richard. “‘Thou teachest me humanitie’: Thomas Heywood's The English Traveller.” In English Comedy, edited by Michael Cordner, Peter Holland, and John Kerrigan, pp. 137-57. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
[In the following essay, Rowland considers The English Traveller as a response to Philip Massinger's play The Roman Actor.]
At the Blackfriars theatre in 1626 the King's Men gave several performances of Philip Massinger's tragedy The Roman Actor, a play which Anne Barton has rightly characterised as ‘more pessimistic about the power of art to correct and inform its audience than any other play written between 1580 and 1642’.1 It seems likely that as avid a playgoer as Thomas Heywood would have made the short trip from his home in Clerkenwell to see it. If he did, the experience may have been a disconcerting one. He would have heard Joseph Taylor as the eponymous hero defending the theatre, eloquently and at length, with arguments about its moral efficacy which were closely modelled on those Heywood himself had advanced in An Apology for Actors (1612).2 He would then have witnessed the play's systematic annihilation of both the arguments and the man who courageously expounds them. In The Roman Actor theatre itself is out of control; comedy entrenches rather than reforms folly, noble love stories incite not...
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SOURCE: Jankowski, Theodora A. “Historicizing and Legitimating Capitalism: Thomas Heywood's Edward IV and If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody.” Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 7 (1995): 305-37.
[In the following essay, Jankowski explores the role of Heywood's texts in validating the relationship between mercantile interests and the English monarchy in the development of industry and trade at home and abroad.]
But now behold In the quick forge and working-house of thought, How London doth pour out her citizens! The mayor and all his brethren in best sort, Like to the senators of th'antique Rome, With the plebeians swarming at their heels, Go forth and fetch their conqu'ring Caesar in; As by a lower but loving likelihood, Were now the general of our gracious Empress, As in good time he may, from Ireland coming, Bringing rebellion broached on his sword, How many would the peaceful city quit To welcome him! Much more, and much more cause, Did they this Harry.
(Henry V, V. Prol. 22-35)1
This section of the chorus's speech just before Act 5 of Shakespeare's Henry V negotiates with at least three different moments of history: the imminent return of Henry V from France and Agincourt in 1415, a moment between April and September 1599 when England...
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SOURCE: Davies, Lindsay. “Neither Maids nor Wives in The Wise-Woman of Hogsdon.” In Place and Displacement in the Renaissance, edited by Alvin Vos, pp. 69-86. Binghamton, N.Y.: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1995.
[In the following essay, Davies discusses Heywood's play as a response to ambiguities in the marriage laws that left women in a vulnerable, but also potentially transgressive, position.]
Thomas Heywood's comedy, The Wise-Woman of Hogsdon (1604), is often called a prodigal comedy because of Chartley, its compulsively prodigal male lead.1 As Barbara Baines has put it, Chartley “out-prodigals the worst prodigals of this dramatic kind,” for in addition to committing the usual sins of drinking and gambling, he is an incorrigibly promiscuous bigamist.2 Robert Turner has pointed out that “the new prodigal son plays [i.e., those of 1601-6] are distinguished from the old [e.g., Lusty Juventus] because the purgation prepares the sinner not for heaven but for married love”;3 and The Wise-Woman of Hogsdon certainly exemplifies this observation, for the whole thrust of the narrative is devoted to reforming Chartley and returning him to his first, and therefore, legitimate wife. Indeed, Chartley's bigamy considerably exaggerates the emphasis on matrimonial as opposed to filial prodigality. However, and more...
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SOURCE: Courtland, Joseph. “A Cultural Rereading of The Fair Maid of the West: Part I.” In A Cultural Studies Approach to Two Exotic Citizen Romances by Thomas Heywood, pp. 91-121. New York: Peter Lang, 2001.
[In the following excerpt, Courtland examines Heywood's play within the context of Elizabethan colonialism.]
Scholars have long recognized Thomas Heywood's exotic fantasy, The Fair Maid of the West: Part l, as one of the best citizen adventure dramas ever written: Frederick S. Boas has called it one of Heywood's most attractive and accomplished pieces of work,1 Arthur Melville Clark judged it to be a “breezy masterpiece,”2 while Mowbray Velte considered it as among the finest of its own rank: “a really splendid blending of realism and romantic adventure, a tale with an appeal to all ages and all red-blooded peoples.”3 Yet in spite of such recognition, most available commentary consists of nothing more than a short plot summary of the piece accompanied by an opinion as to when the text of Part l was actually written.4 In effect, little real critical attention has been accorded to this bona fide expression of Elizabethan popular culture which remained a favorite with all strata of English society5 from the time of its initial production circa 1600.6
This chapter initiates a fresh reading of...
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Bach, Rebecca Ann. “The Homosocial Imaginary of A Woman Killed with Kindness.” Textual Practice 12, no. 3 (winter 1998): 503-24.
Refutes the common critical assessment that classifies Heywood's play as a domestic tragedy, claiming that the term domestic carried a far different meaning in early modern England than it does today.
Baines, Barbara J. Thomas Heywood. Boston: Twayne, 1984, 178 p.
Comprehensive coverage of Heywood's life and work, with chapters on each of the dramatic genres in which Heywood wrote.
Boas, Frederick S. “The Four Ages: Golden, Silver, Brazen, Iron.” In Thomas Heywood, pp. 83-104. London: Williams & Norgate, 1950.
Discusses the critical reception of Heywood's dramatic series, which was surprisingly successful despite its mythological subject matter.
Bradbrook, M. C. “Thomas Heywood, Shakespeare's Shadow, ‘A Description Is Only a Shadow, Received by the Ear’ (An Apology for Actors).” In Du Texte à la Scéne: Langages du Théâtre, edited by M. T. Jones-Davies, pp. 13-34. Paris: Jean Touzot, 1983.
Discusses recent developments in Shakespeare scholarship that have implications for the critical reception of Heywood's texts given apparent differences between his theatrical productions and his...
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