Thomas Heywood

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The facts of Thomas Heywood’s early life are scarce. Heywood was apparently born sometime in 1573 to the Reverend Robert Heywood and his wife, Elizabeth. Probably a Cambridge graduate, Robert Heywood migrated before Thomas’s birth from Cheshire to Lincolnshire, where he served as rector first at Rothwell and then at Ashby-cum-Fenley. Thomas was one of eleven children; there is, however, no record of any dealings between him and his siblings after he arrived in London.

The Heywoods were, it would seem, a family of gentility, evidenced by the application of Heywood’s Uncle Edmund for a grant of arms. At sixteen or seventeen, Heywood entered Emmanuel College, Cambridge, a stronghold of Puritanism, which may explain the moral thrust in much of his writing, particularly in the pamphlets of his later career. His college work ended early, however, when his father died in 1593. At this point, Heywood, like so many young men with talent and a bit of learning but no degree, accepted the challenges of the London stage and began his career as an actor.

In 1593, Heywood was hired by Philip Henslowe as an actor for the Admiral’s Men. Heywood, however, turned his hand very quickly to writing, sharing in the revision of works being done by the company. Among these may have been, in 1599, The Siege of London.

Around 1600, Heywood began writing for Derby’s Men, although the specifics of his relationship with this company are relatively obscure. Edward IV was produced by Derby’s Men before Heywood broke the connection in 1601, when he became an actor-sharer with Worcester’s Men and entered the service of Queen Anne, under the auspices of Henslowe. This new association connected Heywood with Henry Chettle, Thomas Dekker, Wentworth Smith, and John Webster. By this time, as A. M. Clark notes, Heywood was financially well off as a result of his hasty writing, which, according to Clark, was “fatal to [the] literary quality” of his scripts but which “did not greatly diminish their price.” Whatever effect Heywood’s mercenary spirit may generally have had on his work, he did in 1603 write A Woman Killed with Kindness, the play on which his reputation rests.

A successful actor-sharer and playwright in 1603, Heywood married Ann Butler on June 13, with whom he had six children. Although no record of Ann Heywood’s death has been found, Heywood apparently married Jane Span in 1632.

In 1608, after fifteen years of increasing success as a dramatist, Heywood turned his energies to other forms of literary achievement. His decision was probably spurred by the financial problems the theater experienced because of a new outbreak of the plague in London. More to the point, however, Heywood had always envisioned himself as a literary figure whose talent had been absorbed by his efforts to earn a living rather than achieve recognition as a poet. In 1609, he published Troia Britannica, certainly his best effort at poetry. Yet, whatever its merits, Troia Britannica is not as accomplished a piece as his series known as The Ages (The Golden Age, The Silver Age, The Brazen Age, and The Iron Age), his dramatizations of basically the same material. In 1612, Heywood published his major piece of criticism, An Apology for Actors, which defended on didactic grounds the London theater. This work remains a major piece of criticism, its value being enhanced by the fact that it was written by a major figure of the Jacobean theater.

For approximately the next ten years, Heywood had his finger in a number of activities but produced very little...

(This entire section contains 817 words.)

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himself. In 1619, he joined the Lady Elizabeth’s Men when the Queen’s Company split. His new troupe producedThe Captives just before he moved in 1625 to Queen Henrietta’s Company, for which he wrote The Fair Maid of the West, Part II, which enjoyed a successful Christmas performance at court. Again, Heywood’s interests began to turn from the stage, although he did write The English Traveler, The Late Lancashire Witches, and his last play, either A Challenge for Beauty or Love’s Mistress (the dates are somewhat uncertain), all of which were performed by the Lady Elizabeth’s Men.

In 1631, Heywood began a series of city pageants that displayed his limited abilities with the masque. At the same time, he published a number of didactic journalistic pieces, such as the pamphlet Philocothonista: Or, The Drunkard, Open, Dissected, Anatomized (1635), a treatise against the abuses of drinking. His A Curtain Lecture (1636) celebrates the value of marriage and further glorifies the domestic virtues that Heywood championed throughout his career. All these works, however, have little to recommend them other than their support of our understanding of the changes in thought that Heywood experienced as he grew older.

When Heywood was buried at the Church of St. James, Clerkenwell, on August 16, 1641, he had had his hand in the writing of more than two hundred plays that had appeared between the years 1592 and 1641.


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