Henry Medwall was the first vernacular dramatist in English, and he wrote two of the most significant plays in the history of English drama. Fulgens and Lucres, the first vernacular play to be printed in England, is also the first to show the influence of classical antiquity, the first on an entirely secular theme, the first in which a woman is the central character, the first—aside from the Wakefield Master’s Secunda Pastorum (fifteenth century; commonly known as The Second Shepherds’ Play)—to incorporate an extensive secondary plot, and the first English romantic comedy. Nature, a Humanist morality play, is notable for its lively characterizations of the Vices, its allusions to contemporary London, and the excellence of its verse.
Medwall, Henry, and M. E. Moeslein. The Plays of Henry Medwall: A Critical Edition. New York: Garland, 1981. The section on Medwall’s life is dotted with general information about Tudor England that is not immediately or definitely applicable to the dramatist. Contains a consideration of the language, style, and versification in the plays, a discussion of Medwall’s literary reputation, and a separate introductory section for each play with extensive commentary. Lengthy and in the main valuable, but with extraneous comments. Includes an appendix for life records and illustrations. Unattractive format.
Nelson, Alan H., ed. The Plays of Henry Medwall. Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1980. Contains a substantial amount of material on Medwall’s life, including connections with the powerful cardinal John Morton and the young Thomas More. Offers interesting comments on the morality play technique and the language of Medwall’s two surviving plays. Includes a listing of documents pertaining to Medwall’s life, texts of both plays with notes and a glossary, and illustrations.
Reed, A. W. Early Tudor Drama: Medwall, the Rastells, Heywood, and the More Circle. 1926. Reprint. New York: Octagon Books, 1969. Establishes Medwall’s place at the very beginning of the new drama developing just before 1500. Discusses Medwall’s relationship with Cardinal John Morton and possible connections with Thomas More. Presents information on Medwall’s association with John Rastell, himself a playwright, who printed Fulgens and Lucres, and whose son William printed Nature.
Whall, Helen M. To Instruct and Delight: Didactic Method in Five Tudor Dramas. New York: Garland, 1988. Sees Nature as a failure (too instructive and insufficiently delightful) and Fulgens and Lucres as a success (highly didactic; marvelously entertaining, and almost perfect). Medwall’s source for his best play is viewed as a product of Renaissance rhetoric, oratory and debate, and Medwall’s best play is found to be gently persuasive, with its concepts of true nobility presented with diplomacy and good humor.