Thomas Heywood

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John Addington Symonds (essay date 1893?)

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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 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.1

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 bookseller, 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. The loss of his MS. collections for this book is greatly to be regretted, since there was no man of that century better qualified by geniality and honesty of purpose for the task than the old playwright, who put into the lips of Apuleius:—

Not only whatsoever's mine, But all true poets' raptures are divine.

Even as it is, the few lines in Heywood's Hierarchy of Angels on the nicknames of the poets of his day are among...

(This entire section contains 6515 words.)

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the raciest scraps of information which we possess about those dramatists. The miscellaneous nature of Heywood's literary labours justifies us in classing him, together with Robert Greene, among the earliest professionallittérateurs of our language. His criticism is often quite as valuable as his dramatic poetry. The whole of the running dialogue between Apuleius and Midas in Love's Mistress, for example, contains a theory of the relation of poets to the public, while the prologues to A Challenge for Beauty and The Royal King and Loyal Subject are interesting as showing to what extent the dramatists of the Elizabethan age pursued their art with conscious purpose and comparison.

We may notice how careless, in common with many of his contemporaries, Heywood was concerning the fate of his dramatic writings. Plays, and comedies in particular, were written, not to be read and studied, but to be acted. This we should never forget while passing judgment upon the unequal work of the Elizabethan playwrights. In the Address to the Reader, prefixed to the English Traveller, Heywood complains that this tragicomedy had been published without his consent, and apologises for coming forward to father it before the world, adding, not without a sly poke at Jonson and his school:—

True it is that my plays are not exposed unto the world in volumes, to bear the title of works (as others); one reason is, that many of them by shifting and change of companies had been negligently lost; others of them are still retained in the hands of some actors, who think it against their peculiar profit to have them come in print; and a third that it never was any great ambition in me to be in this kind voluminously read.

In the preface to the Rape of Lucrece he repeats his complaints against the clandestine and unauthorised publication of his plays, with this declaration of his own habit of dealing with them:—

It hath been no custom in me of all other men (courteous readers) to commit my plays to the press; the reason, though some may attribute to my own insufficiency, I had rather subscribe, in that, to their severe censure, than, by seeking to avoid the imputation of weakness, to incur greater suspicion of honesty; for though some have used a double sale of their labours, first to the stage, and after to the press; for my own part I here proclaim myself ever faithful to the first, and never guilty of the last.

He then proceeds to show that the pirated editions of his plays in mangled copies have forced him to right himself before the public by superintending the issue of a certain number of his works. In the prologue to If you Know not Me, you Know Nobody, the same apology is reiterated in terms which throw a curious light upon the short-hand reporters of plays for the press, employed by piratical booksellers to the prejudice of authors and theatre managers:—

                                                                                Some by stenography drew
The plot; put it in print (scarce one word true);
And in that lameness it hath limped so long,
The author now to vindicate that wrong
Hath took the pains, upright upon its feet
To teach it walk, so please you sit, and see't.

Of the twenty-three plays in Mr. Pearson's collection, four—namely, the two parts of Edward IV. and the two parts of If you Know not Me, you Know Nobody—are histories of the old-fashioned sort, rudely dramatised from English chronicles, and seasoned with comic and pathetic episodes. Of the two series, Edward IV. has in it more of Heywood's special quality; the interlude of the Tanner of Tamworth and the romance of Mistress Shore displaying his double power of dealing with drollery and passion in the simplest and most natural style. In truth, the second part of Edward IV., which begins with a dull, confused account of that king's wars in France, becomes a romantic drama on the legend of Jane Shore. This is chiefly remarkable for the way in which Heywood sustains the character of Master Shore, who is the very mirror of sound English middle-class Christianity. The erring wife's portrait is touched with striking, if somewhat sentimental, appeals to natural sympathy. Both are excellent examples of the dramatist's homely art and honest humanity, though nothing can be balder and more artless than the manner of their death together on the stage. If you Know not Me, you Know Nobody is a chronicle of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, including her early dangers and the late glories of the defeat of the Armada. The whole series of scenes breathes the strongest English patriotism and the most enthusiastic Protestant feeling. It is a pity that, hastily and clumsily pieced together, a drama so interesting in its matter should almost be valueless as a work of art. It was published as a companion to S. Rowley's When you See Me, you Know Me, which has been reprinted by Dr. Karl Elze.

The Late Lancashire Witches and the Wise Woman of Hogsdon are comedies of English life, without that element of romantic interest which Heywood usually added to the domestic drama. The plot of the latter play turns upon the quackeries and impostures of a professed fortune-teller; but to mention it in the same breath with Jonson's Alchemist would be ridiculous. The Lancashire Witches, though it attempts, in one scene at least, to touch the deeper interest of witchcraft, deals for the most part only with the vulgar and farcical aspects of the subject. It has nothing in common with The Witch of Edmonton or Middleton's Witch. A household turned topsy-turvy, a coursing-match spoiled, a farm-servant changed into a gelding, and a bridegroom bewitched with a charmed codpiece-point upon his wedding night, are among its insipid drolleries. In Fortune by Land and Sea,The English Traveller,The Fair Maid of the Exchange, and both parts of The Fair Maid of the West, Heywood displays to better advantage his predilection for homespun stories, dealing chiefly with the incidents of country life and the adventures of English captains on the high seas. Pure comedy and pure tragedy were neither of them suited to his genius. He required a subject in which the familiar events of English domestic life might be contrasted with the romantic episodes of sea-roving and of foreign travel. To interweave these motives with the addition of pathos and sentiment, was just what he could do successfully. No dramatist has painted more faithful home pictures. None have thrown more natural light upon the pursuits of English gentlemen in the first half of the seventeenth century. The merit of all these five plays is considerable. It would have been impossible even for Fletcher to realise a difficult scene with greater ease and delicacy than are displayed in the interview between young Geraldine and Wincott's wife in The English Traveller. A pair of lovers, who have been parted, meet again and renew their old vows in the bedroom of the girl just made a wife. The calm strength and honourable feeling displayed by this Paolo and his Francesca in their perilous interview are the result of unsuspecting innocence and sweetness. If the situation is almost unnatural and disagreeable, the poet has contrived to invest it with the air of purity, reality, sincerity, and health. Fortune by Land and Sea is richer in scenes which reveal Heywood at his best. The opening of this play is one of his most vigorous transcripts from contemporary English country life. Frank Forrest, a daring and high-blooded youngster, evades his careful father, and flies off to a neighbouring tavern, less for the sake of drinking than in order to meet spirited companions. One of them picks a quarrel with him about his respect for his old father, and the boy is killed. The grief of old Forrest, the challenge given by the brother to Frank's murderer, the duel that ensues, and young Forrest's escape, are all set forth with photographic reality and force. Event huddles upon event, and the whole proceeds with the simplicity of truth. These scenes only form a prelude to the play, which, like most of Heywood's, contains a double plot; but at the same time they are its salt. The Fair Maid of the West, a romantic drama in two parts, sets forth the adventures of the Devonshire Captain Spencer and his love Bess Bridges, who is introduced to us as the mistress of a Plymouth inn. It may be said in passing, that few tavern-scenes in our Elizabethan drama, not even those of Dekker, are better painted than those which form the introduction to Act I. Battles with pirates, slavery in Fez, and adventures in Florence form the staple of the drama, which must have presented many attractions to an English audience of the age of Stukeley, Sherley, and Drake. The Fair Maid of the Exchange is another play belonging to what the Germans style das bürgerliche Drama. To my mind its sentiment is sickly, and its story, in spite of many beautiful passages, disagreeable. Phillis is the Fair Maid; and the real hero of the piece is a cripple, who saves her from a ruffianly assault, and who falls in love with her. She returns his love; but Heywood had not the courage to develop this situation. Therefore he makes the cripple plead the cause of another suitor to the Fair Maid, who at the end of the play transfers her affections with a levity and a complacency that would be offensive in real life. The charm of this comedy consists in a certain air of April-morning freshness; it has, moreover, one of Heywood's most exquisite songs, a lyric that deserves to rank with Dekker's, and which is made for music: “Ye little birds that sit and sing.”

The seven plays on English domestic subjects which I have now enumerated, are all of them eclipsed in their own kind by Heywood's masterpiece, A Woman Killed with Kindness. Leaving that, the finest bourgeois tragedy of our Elizabethan literature, for future comment, we come to another group of Heywood's plays, which may perhaps be best described as romances. Of these, The Four Prentices of London, a juvenile performance of the poet, is both the least interesting, and by far the most extravagant. Guy, Eustace, Tancred, and Godfrey, the four sons of the Duke of Boulogne, and at the same time 'prentices in London shops, start off like Paladins, and win their laurels in the first Crusade. Whether this absurd play was intended, like Fletcher's Knight of the Burning Pestle, for a parody of chivalrous romances, or whether, as its dedication to “the Honest and High-spirited 'Prentices, the Readers” seems to imply, it was meant for a hyperbolical compliment to the courage of London counter-jumpers, is not a very important matter. The latter is the more probable supposition. The plot is a tissue of sanguinary and sentimental adventures, with a certain admixture of good-humoured sarcasm on the London cits, that may have gratified their 'prentice-lads. The old quarto has for frontispiece a curious woodcut of the four knightly shop-boys. The Royal King and Loyal Subject is a drama with an ideal intention. Pretending to be founded upon English history, it really sets forth the contest of generosity between a monarch and one of his great nobles. In the course of this play Heywood has used some of the motives that add pathos to Patient Grissil; the King of England exposes the Lord Marshal to a series of humiliations and studied insults before, as a climax to the favour he intends to heap upon him, he unites his own family and that of his subject by a triple bond of marriage. The whole situation is better in conception than in execution. I take it to be one of Heywood's earlier dramatic essays. A Challenge for Beauty tells the tale of a proud Portuguese Queen, who thinks herself the fairest woman of the world, but who is brought at the end of the play to admit that she is vanquished as much in beauty by an English lady as her husband's captains are surpassed in courage and courtesy by English gentlemen. The most interesting portion of the drama is subordinate to the subject which supplies the title. The contest of generosity between a noble Spaniard, Valladaura, and an English captain, Montferrers, who has been sold into slavery together with a friend that he dearly loved, displays all that innate gentleness and chivalry which Lamb recognized as the fairest of Heywood's characteristics. Valladaura finds his old enemy Montferrers in the slave-market, pays down his price, and sets him free. Montferrers cannot accept freedom while his friend remains a slave. Valladaura buys them both, taking Montferrers with him to remain, an honoured guest, in his own house. Now begins the duel of courtesy between the two men. Valladaura loves a lady, Petrocella, and beseeches the Englishman to plead his suit with her. Montferrers executes the task, though he also loves Petrocella, and discovers in the course of his wooing that she returns his passion. The use he makes of her avowal is to bind her over to accept the Spaniard's suit. But Valladaura is no whit less chivalrous. He resigns the lady to the man who has deserved her best. Those who have not studied the working out of such strained situations in the Lustspiele of Heywood or of Fletcher, can hardly imagine what flesh and blood reality these poets gave to almost inconceivable improbabilities. The vigorous and natural play of passions under strange disguises and painful conditions—the hesitations of divided allegiance—confusions of sex—contradictory emotions, pleased our play-going ancestors; and the dramatists had the skill to display the truth of human nature beneath the mask and garb of romantic fantasies. Under other hands, or in an age of less directness, such motives would have been ridiculous or offensive. A Maidenhead well Lost, is a romance of this type with Italian characters. While challenging comparison with similar comedies by Fletcher, Ford, Massinger, and others, it is but a tasteless and feeble production. Heywood was so thorough an Englishman that, for the full exercise of his poetic faculty, he needed a subject smacking of his native soil.

Having now described Heywood's Histories, Domestic Dramas, and Romances, it remains for me to speak of the fourth group into which his plays may be divided. At the same time, I should observe that these divisions are, after all, but incomplete and artificial. Many of those which I have classified as Domestic Dramas, for example, borrow largely from the element of romance, while two of them are virtually comedies of farcical intrigue. The Golden, Silver, Brazen, and Iron Ages form a series of four plays, in which Heywood has dramatised antique legends, following principally Homer and Ovid in the selection of his material. Though there are many passages of graceful poetry and of humorous burlesque in these long-winded mythologies, they cannot be said to have much value either as dramas or as descriptive poems. That Heywood felt a natural predilection for this kind of composition may be seen in the rhyming versions he has made of Lucian's Dialogues. Some of these, especially the conversations of Jupiter with Ganymede, and of Juno with Jupiter, deserve attention for their plain, straightforward rendering into racy English of the witty Greek. Love's Mistress, which is a dramatic translation of Apuleius's tale of Cupid and Psyche, is written in the same mood. It takes the form of a long allegorical masque; and here the poetry is sustained throughout at a higher level. Last of all these classic dramas in my list comes the Rape of Lucrece. Here Heywood quits the epical or allegorical treatment of classical subject-matter for the domain of tragedy. Yet he has given to this episode of ancient Roman history more the form of a chronicle-play than of the legitimate drama.

It cannot be denied that the effects of negligence in composition and over-strained fertility are traceable in all that Heywood wrote. He has produced no masterpiece, no thoroughly sustained flight of fancy, no play perfect in form, and very few absolutely self-consistent characters. His finest passages seem to flow from him by accident, as the result of a temporary exaltation of his talent, rather than of settled purpose. His best scenes are improvised. Nor is it possible to evade the conclusion, quaintly phrased by Kirkman, that “many of his plays being composed loosely in taverns, occasions them to be so mean.” These defects, indeed, Heywood shared in common with his contemporaries. Not many dramatic compositions of the seventeenth century can boast of classical finish or of artistic unity. Yet there is in the best works of such men as Marlowe, Webster, Ford, and Fletcher, a natural completeness, an unstudied singleness of effect, which Heywood almost invariably misses. With all our affection for him, we are forced to admire his poetry in fragments and with reservations. Perhaps he shows to best advantage in the extracts made by Lamb.

No dramatist ever used less artifice. The subjects which he chose are either taken straight from real life, or else adopted crudely from the legends of ancient Greece and Rome. In each case Heywood's manner and method are the same. He uses simple, easy English, and sets forth unaffected feeling. The scenes have no elaborate connexion. They cohere by juxtaposition. The language is never high-flown or bombastic; rarely rising to the height of poetical diction, and attaining to intensity only when the passion of the moment is overwhelming, it owes its occasional force to its sincerity.

His means of reaching the heart are of the simplest; yet they are often deep and effectual. He depends for his tragic effects upon no Até, no midnight horrors, no sarcastic knave. Yet his use of some mere name—Nan, Nan!—and his allusions to Christ and our religion, go straight to the very soul. His men are all gentlemen; and it may be said in passing that he had more understanding of men, especially high-spirited young men, than of women. Nothing could be finer than the bearing, for example, of young Forrest when he challenges Rainsford, or of Valladaura and Montferrers, or again of Frankford and Sir Charles Mountford in A Woman Killed with Kindness. Now and then he touches the spring of true poetic language, as in these phrases:—

                                                                      Oh, speak no more!
For more than this I know and have recorded
Within the red-leaved table of my heart.

Or again:—

                                                                      My friend and I
Like two chain bullets side by side will fly
Thorough the jaws of death.

Or yet again:—

Fear, and amazement beat upon my heart,
Even as a madman beats upon a drum.

The last line of this quotation is a splendid instance of the way in which the old dramatists heightened horror by connecting one terrific image with another of a different sort, yet no less terrible. The fury of a lunatic hideously rattling his drum with fantastic gestures rushes across our mind without distracting our attention from the anguish of the man who speaks the words. The simile does but add force to his bewilderment.

Though not a lyrist in any high sense of the word, Heywood at times produced songs remarkable for purity and freshness. To one of these in the Fair Maid of the Exchange I have already called attention. Not less beautiful is a morning ditty, which begins “Pack, clouds away,” in the Rape of Lucrece. The patriotic war-song in the First Part of King Edward IV., “Agincourt, Agincourt, know ye not Agincourt?” is full of fire; while a humorous catch, “The Spaniard loves his ancient slop,” must have been a favourite with the groundlings, since it occurs in both The Rape of Lucrece and A Challenge for Beauty. There is plenty of proof that Heywood could write good words for street melodies. That his English style is generally free, flowing, and vernacular admits of no question; yet such were the contradictions of the age in which he lived, that he must needs at intervals display his erudition by the pedantic coinage of new phrases. Such words as “trifulk,” to “diapason,” “sonance,” “cathedral state,” “tenébrous,” “mœchal,” “monomachy,” “obdure” for “obdurate,” all of which occur in The Rape of Lucrece, demand for their inventor the emetic which Jonson in The Poetaster administered to Marston, and prove conspicuously how a little learning on the lips of an honest playwright is a dangerous thing.

The Rape of Lucrece, as I have before hinted, is nothing but the narrative of Livy divided into tableaux with no artistic consistency. It contains the whole story of Tullia's ambition and the death of Servius, the journey of Brutus to Delphi, the fulfilment of the oracle, the betrayal of Gabii, the camp at Ardea, the crime of Tarquin, the rising of the Roman nobles, the war with Porsena, and the stories of Horatius and Scevola. The characters are devoid of personal reality. Lucrece herself is more a type of innocence than a true woman. Of the minor characters which fill out the play, by far the most original is Valerius. His part must have been a favourite with the London audience, for on the title-page we read: “with the several songs in their apt places by Valerius, the merry lord among the Roman peers.” Instead of fooling, sulking, or gaming, as the other nobles do beneath the Tarquin tyranny, he does nothing but sing. It is impossible to extract from him a word of sense in sober prose. But love songs, loose songs, drinking songs, dirges, street cries, a Scotch song, a Dutch song, and pastoral ditties, with rhymes on the names of public houses, public women, ale, wine, and so forth, flow from him in and out of season. He is the most striking instance of the licence with which the poets of the time were forced to treat their subjects for the sake of the gallery. Some of his verses are full of exquisite feeling; others are grossly coarse; some are comical, and others melancholy; but all are English. When Valerius first hears of the outrage offered to Lucrece, he breaks out into a catch of the most questionable kind, together with Horatius Cocles and a Clown. The whole matter is turned to ridicule, and it is difficult after this musical breakdown to read the tragedy except as a burlesque.

Love's Mistress is a Masque in five acts rather than a play proper. In its day it enjoyed great popularity, for it was represented before James I. and his queen three times within the space of eight days. Its three prologues and one epilogue are remarkable even among the productions of that age for their fulsome flattery. The story of Cupid and Psyche, on which the Masque is founded, could not have failed to yield some beauties even to a far inferior craftsman than Heywood; and there are many passages of delicate and tender poetry scattered up and down the piece. Indeed, the whole is treated with an airy grace that has peculiar charm, while its abrupt contrasts and frequent changes must have made it a rare spectacle under the wise conduct of

that admirable artist, Mr. Inigo Jones, master-surveyor of the king's work, &c., who to every act, nay, almost to every scene, by his excellent inventions gave such an extraordinary lustre—upon every occasion changing the stage, to the admiration of all the spectators—that, as I must ingenuously confess, it was above my apprehension to conceive.

Still, even in Love's Mistress, Heywood betrays that lack of the highest artistic instinct, which we discover in almost all his work. He cannot manage the Court pageant with that exquisite tact which distinguishes the Endimion and the Sapho of Lyly. The whole play has a running commentary of criticism and exposition, conveyed in a dialogue between Apuleius, the author of the legend, and Midas, who personates stupidity. Apuleius explains the allegory as the action proceeds; Midas remains to the end the dull unappreciative boor, who “stands for ignorance,” and only cares for dancing clowns, or the coarse jests of buffoons. Apuleius is the type of the enthusiastic poet, whose wit is “aimed at inscrutable things beyond the moon.” Midas is the gross conceited groundling, who, turning everything he touches to dross, prefers Pan's fool to Apollo's chorus, and drives the god of light indignantly away. Both of them wear asses' heads: Midas, because he grovels on the earth; Apuleius, because all human intellect proves foolish if it flies too far. There is much good-humoured irony in this putting of donkey's ears on the poet's head. This contrast between art and ignorance is paralleled by a series of subtle antitheses that pervade the play. Immortal Erôs finds a balance in the stupid clown, who boasts that Apollo has given him music, Cupid love, and Psyche beauty; but who remains untunable, unlovable, and hideous to the end. The juxtaposition of heaven and hell within our souls, the aspirations and the downfalls of our spirit, the nobility and the vileness of men around us, the perpetual contradiction between the region toward which we soar in our best moments, and the dull ground over which we have to plod in daily life: such are the metaphysical conceptions which underlie the shifting scenes and many-twinkling action of the masque. It would be unfair to institute any comparison between Love's Mistress considered as a poem, and the delicate version of the legend in the Earthly Paradise. Yet there are touches of true poetry here and there throughout the play. The haunted house of Love which receives Psyche and where Echo and Zephyrus are her attendants, the visit of her three sisters, and the midnight awaking of wrathful Cupid, are all conceived with light and airy fancy. Cupid in his anger utters this curse on women:—

You shall be still rebellious, like the sea,
And, like the winds, inconstant; things forbid
You most shall covet, loathe what you would like
You shall be wise in wishes, but, enjoying,
Shall venture heaven's loss for a little toying.

There is another aspect under which Love's Mistress may be viewed—as a very early attempt at classical burlesque. Cupid, for example, is the naughty boy of Olympus. He describes Juno's anger against Ganymede:—

The boy by chance upon her fan had spilled
A cup of nectar: oh, how Juno swore!
I told my aunt I'd give her a new fan
To let Jove's page be Cupid's serving-man.

Vulcan appears at his forge with more orders than he knows how to deal with:—

There's half a hundred thunder-bolts bespoke;
Neptune hath broke his mace; and Juno's coach
Must be new-mended, and the hindmost wheels
Must have two spokes set in.

He thinks of making Venus “turn she-smith,” but

                                                                                                    She'd spend me more
In nectar and sweet balls to scour her cheeks,
Smudged and besmeared with coal-dust and with smoke,
Than all her work would come to.

This is, of course, very simple fooling. Yet it contains the germ of those more thorough-going parodies in which the present age delights.

The play in which Heywood showed for once that he was not unable to produce a masterpiece is A Woman Killed with Kindness. All his powers of direct painting from the English life he knew so well, his faculty for lifting prose to the borderground of poetry by the intensity of the emotion which he communicates, his simple art of laying bare the very nerves of passion, are here exhibited in perfection. This domestic tragedy touches one like truth. Its scenes are of everyday life. Common talk is used, and the pathos is homely; not like Webster's, brought from far. Tastes may differ as to the morality or the wholesomeness of the sentiment evolved in the last act. None, however, can resist its artless claim upon our sympathies. The story may be briefly told. Mr. Frankford, a country gentleman of good fortune, marries the sister of Sir Francis Acton, and receives into his house an agreeable gentleman of broken means called Wendoll. They live together happily till Wendoll, trusted to the full by Frankford, takes advantage of his absence to seduce his wife. Nicholas, a servant, who, with the instinct of a faithful dog, has always suspected the stranger, discovers and informs Frankford of his dishonour. Frankford obtains ocular proof of his wife's guilt, and punishes her by sending her to live alone, but at ease, in a manor that belongs to him. There she pines away and dies at last, after a reconciliation with her injured husband.2

In the genre Heywood had predecessors, but none of his rivals surpassed him. The chief interest of the play centres in the pure, confiding, tender-hearted character of Frankford. His blithe contentment during the first months of marriage, and the generosity with which he opens his doors to Wendoll, form a touching prelude to the suspicions, indignantly repelled at first, which grow upon him after he has weighed the tale of his wife's infidelity related by Nicholas. He resolves to learn the truth, if possible, by actual experience. Here is interposed an admirable scene, in which Frankford and his wife, with Wendoll and another gentleman, play cards. The dialogue is a long double entendre, skilfully revealing the tortures of a jealous husband's mind and his suspicious misinterpretation of each casual word. When they rise from the card-table, Frankford instructs Nicholas to get him duplicate keys for all his rooms. Then he causes a message to be delivered to him on a dark and stormy evening, and sets off with his servant, intending to return at midnight unnoticed and unexpected. His hesitation on the threshold of his wife's chamber is one of the finest turning-points of the dramatic action. At last he summons courage to enter, but returns immediately:—

O me unhappy! I have found them lying
Close in each other's arms and fast asleep.
But that I would not damn two precious souls,
Bought with my Saviour's blood, and send them, laden
With all their scarlet sins upon their backs,
Unto a fearful judgment, their two lives
Had met upon my rapier.

Then, with a passionate stretching forth of his desire toward the impossible, which reveals the whole depth of his tenderness, he cries:—

O God! O God! that it were possible
To undo things done; to call back yesterday!
That Time could turn up his swift sandy glass,
To untell the days, and to redeem these hours!
Or that the sun
Could, rising from the west, draw his coach backward,
Take from the account of time so many minutes,
Till he had all these seasons called again,
Those minutes, and those actions done in them,
Even from her first offence; that I might take her
As spotless as an angel in my arms!
But oh! I talk of things impossible,
And cast beyond the moon. God give me patience!
For I will in and wake them.

The following scene, in which Frankford pleads with his guilty and conscience-stricken wife, is full of pathos. Its passion is simple and homefelt. Each question asked by Frankford is such as a wronged husband has the right to ask. Each answer given by the wife is broken in mere monosyllables more eloquent than protestation. We feel the whole, because not a word is strained or far-fetched, because the tenderness of Frankford is not merely sentimental, because he does not rave or tear his passion to tatters; finally, because in the profundity of his grief he still can call his wife by her pet name.

Mrs. Frankford is no Guinevere, nor, again, like Alice in Arden of Feversham, is she steeled and blinded by an overwhelming passion. Heywood fails to realise her character completely, producing, as elsewhere in his portraits of women, a weak and vacillating picture. She changes quite suddenly from love for her newly-wedded lord to light longing for Wendoll, and then back again to the remorse which eats her life away. Wendoll is drawn more powerfully. We see the combat in his soul between the sense of duty to his benefactor and the love which invades him like an ocean drowning all the landmarks he had raised to warn him from the perilous ground. Adultery has been three times treated by Heywood. In The English Traveller Mrs. Wincott sins with the same limp and unexplained facility as Mrs. Frankford. In Edward IV. Jane Shore is meant to raise the same sentimental pity as Mrs. Frankford on her death-bed.

Thomas Heywood was a Lincolnshire man, presumably of good family, though I cannot find that the Visitations of that county record any pedigree of his name. No poet of his age showed a more intimate acquaintance with the habits of country gentlemen, and none was more imbued with the spirit of true gentleness. He was a Fellow of Peter House, Cambridge, where he probably acquired that learning which sat upon him so lightly. He began to write for the stage as early as 1596, and in 1598 we find him engaged as an actor and a sharer in Henslowe's company. Little else is known about his life, and, though it is certain that he lived to a ripe age, we are ignorant of the date of his death. Like many authors of his period, he adopted a motto for his works, to which he adhered, placing on his title-pages, Aut prodesse solent aut delectare. We may still say, with truth, that what he has written almost invariably succeeds in both these aims. His plays are defiled with very few unpardonably coarse scenes, those to be found in A Royal King and Loyal Subject being an exception to prove the rule. While concluding these introductory remarks, I can only express my regret that the editor has not been able to include more pieces of Heywood in the Mermaid Series; for Heywood is essentially an author whom we love the better the more we read of him. It is impossible to rise from the perusal of his plays without being refreshed and invigorated. May the five here presented, out of the twenty-four which bear his name, induce students to carry their researches further. They will, I feel confident, discover that three other sets of five plays are no less worthy of perusal than the five here chosen for their recreation.


  1. Until recently, Heywood's plays were only accessible piecemeal and in parts. Dodsley's collection contained two; Dilke's contained three, and Baldwyn's two. Between 1842 and 1851, the Old Shakespeare Society produced altogether twelve; while Mr. Halliwell in 1853 printed the Lancashire Witches separately. At last, in 1874 Mr. John Pearson issued a complete edition in six volumes. Since that date another play in MS. by Heywood, The Captives, was discovered and printed by Mr. A. H. Bullen in the last volume of his Old Plays (1885).

  2. With this main-plot Heywood has interwoven a subordinate and independent story. To dwell upon this under-plot would be superfluous. Yet I may point out that it is borrowed from an Italian Novella by Illicini, the incidents of which Heywood carefully transferred to English scenes. In like manner The Captive, consists of a main-plot borrowed from the Mostellaria of Plautus and an under-plot adapted from a novella of the Neapolitan, Masuccio. See my Shakspere's Predecessors (p. 462), and a letter written by me to the Academy (Dec. 12, 1885).


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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).

Biographical Information

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.

Major Works

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.

Critical Reception

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.

Marilyn L. Johnson (essay date 1974)

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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.

(p. 143)

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 that he does seem more willing than most writers to see the woman's point of view. For instance, he points out the evils that result from some parents' preference for sons over daughters.

Others ill advised, or too selfe-opinioned by their too much dotage on the sons have cast too great a neglect upon the daughters; by which, as they lose time, so they forfeit duty, and many times chastity: for when they come to maturity of yeers, such as their fathers have no care to bestow, have a will to dispose of themselves; the event of which is for the most part disaster and penurie.

(pp. 98-99)

Many stories of women in Gunaikeion deal with married women, and in a few the woman's wifely qualities are the point of the story. Wives should exercise care for their husband's reputation. Heywood tells of one Tertia Aemilia, wife of Scipio Africanus the elder, who concealed the fact that her husband was familiar with one of her maids lest he “should have the imputation of any such lightnesse laid vpon him” (p. 136). Another Roman lady, the wife of Fulvius, was unable to keep a secret which her husband had told her. When the disastrous effects of her weakness became known she killed herself. The suicide is presented as a noble act because the wife was supposed to guard her husband's honor above all. Heywood comments that her final act is

a noble resolution in an heathen Ladie, to punish her husband's disgrace and her owne oversight with voluntarie death; and a notable example to all women that shall succeede her, to be more charie in keeping their husband's secrets.

(pp. 127-28)

These stories illustrate the wifely ideal of care for the husband's honor and also the perennial complaint of women's inability to keep secrets. Heywood alludes to this complaint in another story, where the wives wore their husband's swords, concealed, to a feast where it occurred that the men needed their weapons to defend themselves. Upon completion of the story, Heywood comments that “one thing in this historie is worthy especiall admiration, namely, Secresie, to be kept amongst so many women” (p. 148). This same story is one of several which present wives acting in various ways to show love and loyalty to their husbands. For instance, Turia (p. 136) sequestered her proscribed husband and kept him safe from exile. Hormisda's wife (p. 137) smuggled a file into his prison and enabled him to escape. The wives of the Tyrrhenians, who were captured by the Spartans, changed clothes with their husbands so that the men could escape (p. 148).

My personal favorite among these stories concerns the women of the town of Wynbergen. The city's conqueror proclaimed that the women would be allowed to leave the city carrying with them to safety “a burden of what they best liked” (p. 157). The women carried out their husbands. This so impressed the conqueror that he allowed them to return for a second burden.

These and other stories in Gunaikeion illustrate the wifely virtues which are extolled in the marriage manuals. But it is in the plays that Heywood has the fullest opportunity to show the possibilities of the good wife. In all of Heywood's plays, there are only three adulteresses: Jane Shore, Anne Frankford, and Mrs. Wincott. All of the other married women, whether they are major characters, minor characters, or merely walk-ons, are chaste and true wives. Even the adulteresses are shown to be good wives before they fall, and the quality of their repentance when they recognize the horror of their sin indicates that their crimes upset a fundamental basis of organized society which depends on solid marital relations.

The epitome of the good wife in Heywood's works is Mrs. Arthur in How a Man May Chuse a Good Wife From a Bad. This play was printed anonymously in 1602 and was so popular that it went through six more editions up to 1634.1 The play was once ascribed to John Cooke or Joshua Cooke on the strength of an inked notation on the British Museum copy of the 1602 edition, but most critics now agree that the play is Heywood's. Fleay,2 Swinbume,3 Swaen,4 Adams,5 and Baskervill6 are among the early proponents of Heywood's authorship. Schelling7 and Ward8 are not so sure, and Otelia Cromwell9 would like more external evidence. But in the definitive biography of Heywood, A. M. Clark accepts the play into Heywood's canon without even presenting the arguments for it.

The plot is as follows: Young Arthur, recently married, tires of his wife and treats her badly. He berates her, refuses to speak to her, and spends little time in her company, to the chagrin of her father and father-in-law. Mrs. Arthur remains faithful to her husband and resists the advances of Anselm. Arthur falls in love with a courtesan, Mrs. Mary, who is also pursued by a pedant, Sir Aminadab. Aminadab, jealous of Arthur's success with Mary, tries to poison himself with a sleeping potion given him in jest by Anselm's friend, Fuller. As he is about to drink it, Arthur takes it away from him and uses it to “poison” his wife at a feast to which he has invited the courtesan and at which he orders his wife to receive her rival kindly. The wife “dies” and is buried, but the heartbroken Anslem, visiting the tomb, finds her alive and takes her to his mother's house. Meanwhile, Arthur marries Mary, who refuses to please him as did his former wife. Trying to gain her love, he tells her he killed his first wife in order to be free to marry her. She betrays him to justice, but Mrs. Arthur arrives in time to save him and he repents. The play is a “pleasant conceited comedy.” The characters are well drawn, and the dialogue is clever. Old Arthur, Old Lusam, and Justice Reason are humorous old men. Aminadab, the pedant, adds to the comic effect with his illiterate Latin punning. The servant-clown, Pipkin, is an early example of Heywood's skill with that particular type of character. The two friends Anselm and Fuller contrast with Young Arthur and Young Lusam. In both cases one friend advises the other; Fuller advises Anselm on how to seduce Mrs. Arthur and Young Lusam advises Young Arthur to value his good wife at her true worth. The scenes with Mrs. Mary, Mrs. Splay, and Brabo show the depravity of courtesans and bawds in humorous fashion. Mrs. Arthur suffers as a character from the fact that she is a type—the patient wife. Her only motive for remaining true to Young Arthur through all her trials is her unassailable belief in the sanctity of marriage. However, she is somewhat too steadfast in the face of adversity to be altogether convincing as a character. Instead she is a conventional portrayal of ideal wifely virtue as set forth in domestic conduct books.

The plot of How a Man May Chuse is drawn from the Hecatommithi of Giovanni Garaldi Cinthio, Part I, deca terza, novella 5. Heywood probably used the English translation of this work which is in the sixth novel of Riche's Farewell to Military Profession (1581).10

Mrs. Arthur is definitely a Patient Griselda type, though she is made to undergo a different set of trials and though the husband's motive in placing trials on her is different. The Griselda story has been popular in English literature since Chaucer introduced it, probably because it presents man's fantasy of the perfect wife—meek, submissive, obedient, etc. Boccaccio's treatment in the Decameron (tenth day, tenth novel) and Chaucer's “Clerk's Tale” are two of the most widely known sources. An early attempt to portray Griselda on the stage in either English or Latin is the now lost Rare Patience of Chaucer's Griselda (De Griseldis Chauceriane Rara Patientia), 1546(?)-1556, by Ralph Radcliffe.11 A number of Patient Griselda stories were printed around the turn of the century. There is a ballad in Deloney's Garland of Good-Will (1596), called “An excellent Ballad of a noble Marquess and Patient Grissel.” A prose narrative called “The antient True and Admirable History of Patient Grissel, a poore man's daughter in France: shewing how Maides, by her example in their good behavior, may marry rich husbands; and likewise Wives, by their patience and obedience, may gaine much glorie” was printed in 1619, but it is most likely a reprint of a much earlier work. Harbage lists two plays of Patient Griselda. One is John Phillip's Patient and Meek Grissel (1558-61).12 The other is Chettle, Dekker, and Haughton's Patient Grissel (1600, printed in 1603). In this time of changing conditions for women, the popularity of the Patient Griselda type probably reflects the ordinary citizen's wish for things to remain as they are, or as they are presented in the marriage manuals.

The popularity of the general theme of the patient wife can also be seen in the fact that How a Man May Chuse is one of a group of plays written approximately between 1601 and 1604 in which a meek and patient wife endures all sorts of abuse from her profligate husband. Several scholars have recognized this group,13 among them Arthur Quinn, who lists some sixteen Elizabethan and Jacobean plays in which the patient woman-profligate man is either a major theme or an important subplot.14 Concentrating on the prodigal son theme as well as the patient wife or sweetheart, Quinn narrows down his list to five plays in which he sees some similarities. The plays are How a Man May Chuse (c. 1601-02), The London Prodigal (1603-05), The Fair Maid of Bristow (1603-04), The Wise-Woman of Hogsden (c. 1604-21), and The Miseries of Enforced Marriage (1605-06). In these plays, according to Quinn,

we have a rake and spendthrift who deserts his wife for gain or the love of a courtesan, maltreats the wife who remains faithful to him, and after he has sinned sufficiently, is taken into grace again and even rewarded.15

A later student of the prodigal son-patient wife or sweetheart theme, Robert Tumer, suggests the removal of The Miseries of Enforced Marriage and the addition of All's Well That Ends Well (1601-02), The Dutch Courtesan (1603), and Measure for Measure (1603-04) to the first four plays on Quinn's list. Turner believes that these plays should be considered as a group because the

story traces the career of a well-born young man who succumbs to lust and riotous living; usually, as the play opens, he is betrothed or married to a virtuous young lady whom he spurns for a courtesan. As the play progresses, the hero grows increasingly obstreperous in the face of the heroine's stalwart devotion to him; finally the hero's sins catch up with him, he is brought to trial in which either his life is threatened or his pride is deflated by the exposure of his follies. In this trial he is purged of his lust, sees the value of the virtuous heroine and, cleansed, rejoins her to live out his days in true love.16

The significance for our purposes is that How a Man May Chuse is one of a group of plays which constitute a trend that several dramatists observed and sought to exploit.

Of the plays in this group, The London Prodigal and The Fair Maid of Bristow are closest to How a Man May Chuse. The following list of characters17 shows the similarities among these three plays:

Type How a Man May Chuse Fair Maid of Bristow London Prodigal
Father of wife Old Lusam Sir Godfrey Sir Launcelot
Father of husband Old Arthur Sir Eustace Old Flowerdale
Husband Young Arthur Vallenger Matthew Flowerdale
Lover of wife Anselm Challenger Sir Arthur and Oliver
Wife Mrs. Arthur Anabel Luce
Courtesan Mrs. Mary Florence
Friends of husband Young Lusam Challenger

The plays also have some similarities in plot. The husband in The Fair Maid of Bristow prefers a courtesan and the wife saves him from execution on a false murder charge. The wife in The London Prodigal, spurned because she forfeited her dowry, remains true to the husband, works disguised as a servant to get him money, and reveals herself when others accuse her husband of murdering his wife. Obviously, The London Prodigal and The Fair Maid of Bristow copy wholesale from How a Man May Chuse.18 But Heywood's play stands out from its successors because in How a Man May Chuse the faithfulness of the wife is so strongly stressed.

In no other play besides Heywood's are there so many speeches which seem designed solely to illustrate the wife's “good wife” qualities. She has several speeches on the theme of honor and chastity and the “holy band of marriage.” When her would-be lover, Anselm, finds her alive in the grave and offers to shelter her, she replies,

So your demand may be no prejudice
To my chaste name, no wrong unto my husband,
No suit that may concern my wedlock's breach,
I yield unto it; but
To pass the bounds of modesty and chastity,
Sooner will I bequeath myself again
Unto this grave, and never part from hence,
Than taint my soul with black impurity.(19)


When her father threatens to take her back into his household because of the injuries done to her by her husband, she is horrified.

Will you divorce whom God hath tied together?
Or break that knot the sacred hand of heaven
Made fast betwixt us? Have you never read,
What a great curse was laid upon his head
That breaks the holy band of marriage,
Divorcing husbands from their chosen wives?
Father, I will not leave my Arthur so;
Not all my friends can makes me prove his foe.


Mrs. Arthur defends her husband against detractors several times. It should be recalled that this duty of defending the husband's honor is stressed in several of the stories in Gunaikeion.20 When the fathers appeal to Justice Reason for alleviation of Mrs. Arthur's troubles, she is concerned about the effect on her husband's reputation.

Fathers, you do me open violence,
To bring my name in question, and produce
This gentleman and others here to witness
My husband's shame in open audience.


Anselm and Fuller try to break Mrs. Arthur's faith in her husband by telling her of his frequent visits to a courtesan. She flies to her husband's defense.

Wrong not my husband's reputation so;
I neither can nor will believe you, sir.


Later in the same conversation she quite sincerely states that she believes her husband frequents the courtesan's house in order to bring those therein to salvation.21

Heywood shows Mrs. Arthur tending to her housewifely duties in several of her appearances on stage. The scene22 which is most touching in its realism is that in which Mrs. Arthur is preparing for guests whom her husband has invited to dinner. The first thirty-five lines of that scene show Mrs. Arthur bustling busily about the preparations, overseeing every detail from floral decorations at the windows to clean aprons for the servants.23 She takes the wifely duty of entertaining her husband's guests so seriously that she welcomes the courtesan he has brought home and even lets her sit in the wife's place at the table.24

The rather large number of “good wife” speeches by Mrs. Arthur is in sharp contrast to the parallel figure in The Fair Maid of Bristow, Anabelle, who has just over one hundred lines in the whole play and does not make any statements about her duty as a wife. The wife in The London Prodigal, Luce, undergoes abuse almost as severe as Mrs. Arthur's, but she says only a few words about wifely duty.25

Besides delivering good wife speeches, Mrs. Arthur also acts as a good wife should. She offers to be her husband's slave,26 endures his insults,27 welcomes the courtesan to her home,28 spurns Anselm's love,29 forgives even Young Arthur's attempted murder,30 refuses to interfere with Young Arthur's affair with the courtesan,31 succors him when he flees the law,32 and returns from supposed death to save him from being punished for her “murder.”33

Heywood highlights these actions of Mrs. Arthur by contrasting her with the courtesan, Mrs. Mary, and also with the former lovers of Fuller. The most deliberate contrast is with the courtesan. Mrs. Mary's original and continued motive in attracting Young Arthur is money. Her bawd, Mrs. Splay, instructs her in the proper attitude for a courtesan.

[Gold] Gilds copper noses, makes them look like gold;
Fills age's wrinkles up, and makes a face,
As old as Nestor's, look as young as Cupid's
If thou wilt arm thyself against all shifts,
Regard all men according to their gifts.


Once married to Young Arthur, Mrs. Mary refuses to please him. She calls him “Jacksauce,” “cuckold,” and “what-not.”34 She insists on having her will in all things. She forces Young Arthur to dismiss his trusted servant. Young Arthur underscores the contrast between Mrs. Arthur and Mrs. Mary. Whenever Mrs. Mary crosses him, he says, “I had a wife would not have used me so; / But she is dead.”35 In his vain attempt to gain Mrs. Mary's love, or at least her cooperation, Young Arthur reveals to her that the extent of his love can be measured by the fact that he killed his first wife in order to be free to marry Mrs. Mary. The courtesan's reaction is swift and predictable. She betrays him to the law,36 and testifies against him when he is brought to trial.37

This contrast between the good wife and the bad is made quite plain in both the opening and closing scenes of the play. In the opening scene, Young Lusam lists Mrs. Arthur's qualities thus:

Is she not loyal, constant, loving, chaste:
Obedient, apt to please, loath to displease:
Careful to live, chary of her good name,
And jealous of your reputation?
Is she not virtuous, wise, religious?


In the closing scene, Young Arthur directs the good wife to stand on one side and the bad wife to stand on the other while he advances to stage front and delivers his homily. All of the qualities he attributes to the good wife have been displayed by Mrs. Arthur.

A good wife will be careful of her fame,
Her husband's credit, and her own good name;


.....                                                                                          A good wife will be still
Industrious, apt to do her husband's will;


.....                                                                      A good wife will conceal
Her husband's dangers. And nothing reveal
That may procure him harm.


Heywood draws a less obvious, but nonetheless revealing contrast between the behavior of Mrs. Arthur and the women that Fuller tells about when he is instructing Anselm in lovemaking. Fuller thinks a woman's “no” really means “yes,” and he is unwilling to believe that Mrs. Arthur is any different. Twice he launches into stories of his amours as encouragement to Anselm.38 Finally, however, even the suave cynic about love is forced to admit that Mrs. Arthur is a paragon of virtue. He counsels Anselm to forbear.

                                                                                                              persist no more
in this extremity of frivolous love.
I see, my doctrine moves no precise ears,
But such as are profess'd inamoratos.


Obviously, then, Mrs. Arthur is used as an exemplum of ideal wifely virtues as set forth in the marriage manuals. Heywood has carefully constructed her in order to make her such an exemplum. One scene39 in particular shows how closely Mrs. Arthur is modeled on these ideals. First Old Lusam and Old Arthur berate Young Arthur for his behavior. Mrs. Arthur defends him.

I am his handmaid; since it is his pleasure
To use me thus, I am content therewith,
And bear his checks and crosses patiently.


Old Lusam threatens to take Mrs. Arthur back home. She is horrified at the idea of such a divorce. “Will you divorce …” (quoted above, p. 112). Old Lusam and Old Arthur leave, and she illustrates another wifely virtue in her words to young Lusam.

But you are welcome for my husband's sake;
His guests shall have best welcome I can make.


Then, in almost the next breath, she sets about illustrating proper housewifely thrift.

My husband in this humour, well I know,
Plays but the unthrift; therefore it behoves me
To be the better housewife here at home;
To save and get, whilst he doth laugh and spend:
My needle shall defray my household's charge.


While she is thus occupied with her work, her admirer Anselm proposes himself to her to assuage the wrongs her husband has done her. This gives her the opportunity to rebuff his advances, defend her husband, and talk about the unity of man and wife in marriage. Throughout the play Heywood makes Mrs. Arthur a pattern of virtue, the picture of the ideal wife. This scene deserves mention because the good wife qualities are so concentrated in it.

Mrs. Arthur also represents a sort of middle-class version of Dante's Beatrice, acting as a channel for God's grace. It is her good example and her fidelity as well as the reverses suffered as a result of his “marriage” to Mrs. Mary that prompt Young Arthur to reform. Mrs. Arthur thus saves him from death as well as saving his soul. Heywood is not alone in assigning this function to his patient wife. Helena is referred to as “the herb of grace” in All's Well (IV, v, 16). Luce is called a “vertuous maide, / Whom heaven hath sent to thee [Young Flowerdale] to saue thy soule” in The London Prodigal (V, i, 421-22). Anabelle in Faire Maid of Bristow and Isabella and Mariana in Measure for Measure act in similar fashion, though no specific comment is made about the fact.40 Mrs. Arthur does not see herself as Young Arthur's redeemer: “To heaven, not me, for grace and pardon fall” (2681), and indeed she functions in this role only passively; but without her, Young Arthur would not have returned to grace.

All of the plays in the so-called “patient wife or sweetheart” group show a woman enduring the excesses of her profligate husband or lover until the very goodness of the women leads the men to repent. Mrs. Arthur stands out from the group because her good wife qualities are more strongly stressed than those of any of the other women in the group. Since How a Man May Chuse is probably the earliest play of the group, it can be said that Heywood establishes a pattern which is not equalled in any of his imitators.

The relationship of the play to the domestic conduct books can also be seen in the fact that the very title of the play is similar to three tracts published within a few years of each other. Robert Cleaver's A Godlie Forme of Household Government (1598) provides “Six rules to be observed in the choise of a good wife”; in 1607 appeared the anonymous The Court of Good Counsell. Wherein is Set downe the True rules, how a man should choose a good wife from a bad … &etc. in 1615. It is possible that these later titles indicate the popularity of the play. At the very least they show the popularity of the theme.

Middle-class citizens were concerned over ways to better their lives, over guides to proper behavior. Choice of a wife naturally posed a fundamental question in the burgher's life. Domestic conduct books and controversial tracts attack the question directly and give advice concerning choice and behavior of a good wife. Reflecting these trends, the plays dramatize similar problems.

However, it should be noticed that what Heywood does in this play is to present a good wife totally from a male point of view. Everything that she demonstrates of good wife qualities is designed to enhance the husband's comfort: loyalty, obedience, chastity, care for reputation, thrifty household management. The wife is not a person. She has no raison d'etre without reference to her husband. The virtues she displays would adorn a good slave as becomingly as a good wife and Mrs. Arthur even offers to be her husband's slave. Young Arthur is condemned for being nasty to so good a wife, but his sin of adultery is not dwelt upon. In these matters, Heywood reflects the great bulk of the marriage manuals and tracts dealing with women. The most praised virtues are passive ones and the woman has no existence apart from husband, father, or brothers. In 1638 Heywood wrote Exemplary Lives and extolled the “masculine virtue” of women who were effectively single, though some may have been married at one time. But in 1601, the young man seems to see women as pleasant and useful appendages to men. Mrs. Arthur is held up for the audience's admiration—but what they were to admire was largely her patience and submissiveness.

Heywood's Rape of Lucrece seems at first to be totally removed from How a Man May Chuse. One is domestic comedy and the other is a chronicle play based on classical history. Yet Heywood's characteristic bent shows in the way he stresses Lucrece's wifely virtues. Here he takes a story from classical history and turns the woman character into a type of the good wife who shares many qualities with Mrs. Arthur.

The play was published by Heywood in 1608 and was popular enough to go through five editions in his lifetime: 1608, 1609, undated, 1630, and 1638.41 The exact date of composition is not known. The evident imitation of Macbeth in the opening scene where Tullia incites Tarquin to murder King Servius suggests a date after 1606.42 However, Alan Holaday gives convincing arguments for the suggestion that this imitation results from Heywood's reworking of a play which had been written and performed at least a decade earlier.43

The episode which supplies the title, Lucrece's rape, is only a portion of the play. Actually the play presents in typical Heywood chronicle history fashion the whole story of the fall of the Tarquins, from the murder of Servius Tullius and Tarquin's accession through Rome's war with Porsenna and Horatio's stand against the Etruscans at the bridge. The actions dramatized in the play may be summarized as follows: Tarquin accedes to the throne. Aruns, Sextus, and Brutus consult the oracle at Delphi concerning the fate of the Tarquins. Sextus and Aruns quarrel and Sextus goes over to the Gabines, whom he subsequently betrays as prelude to his return to Rome to be appointed leader of the Roman army. During the seige of Ardea, the men pass the time boasting of their wives. This activity leads to the rape of Lucrece. After the rape, Brutus, Lucretius, and Collatine lead a rebellion against the Tarquins. The Romans defend the city against Porsenna; Horatius defends the bridge; Scaevola burns his hand; Tarquin, Aruns, Brutus, and Sextus all lose their lives, leaving Rome and the consulship to Collatine.

The play is almost universally deplored by critics because of the inappropriate insertions of songs sung by the character Valerius. Baldwin, the play's 1824 editor, calls it “a sort of dramatic monster, in the construction of which every rule of propriety is violated, and all grace and symmetry are set at defiance.”44 He goes on to suggest that “the author … must have produced it when in a state of inebriety.” A. W. Ward, writing in 1899, says that

among all the vagaries which the literature of the stage has in our own or in any country permitted itself, I know of none more exquisitely absurd than that of introducing into a tragedy on such a subject as that of Tarquin's crime … a novel sort of clown … distinguished by his capacity for singing all the comic songs of the day.45

The play fares no better in later criticism. L. B. Wright calls it “that miserable play.”46 Otelia Cromwell says “the harmony of Rape of Lucrece is jarred by the incongruous tone of the interspersed songs and low comedy.”47 Even Heywood's biographer, Clark, says “one can only shudder at the disgusting catch sung by Valerius, Brutus, and the clown who has brought Lucrece's message to the camp.”48

In spite of this almost universal condemnation, however, the play is not totally without merit. Baldwin, who calls the play “a sort of dramatic monster,” concedes that the play has a “considerable portion of poetry and some powerful scenes.”49 Clark says “there are strong, dramatic scenes, the most moving interview of Sextus and Lucrece being but one of them.” He adds that Heywood shows in this work “a humanity all his own which is far removed from the commonplace.”50 The presentation of the central episode, Sextus's hesitation before the crime, and Lucrece's reactions are especially good drama. On the whole, however, it is a third-rate play by a good, though not first-rate, playwright.

The most interesting thing about the play from the point of view of this study is the use which Heywood makes of his sources in presenting the character of Lucrece. For sources, Heywood had the immediate example of Shakespeare's poem which he obviously followed quite closely. It is difficult to speculate on one immediate source, however, since the story of Lucrece has been told by Livy, Ovid, Gower, Chaucer, Painter, and Shakespeare, as well as Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Diodorus Siculus, Plutarch, Valerius Maximus, Hieronymus, Servius, and Florus.51 T. W. Baldwin believes that “certainly Ovid and Livy (with Painter) were Shakespeare's chief sources for the story of Lucrece.”52 Heywood would have had access to the same sources, but Holaday believes that Heywood relied wholly on Shakespeare's Rape of Lucrece for the central episode and on Livy for the surrounding history. He says Heywood chose “to lift his plot almost entirely from Livy, inserting at the proper place his dramatized version of Shakespeare's poem.”53

The story is told by a long line of writers; and each writer chooses different points to emphasize. The downfall of the Tarquins and Brutus's rise to power are focused on by Livy, Painter, and to a lesser degree Ovid. Chaucer and Shakespeare, on the other hand, devote relatively more attention to Lucrece's chastity and her degradation. Heywood tells the whole story and the majority of scenes depict the Tarquin's activity, but he names the play after the episode of Lucrece and in this episode he follows Shakespeare very closely in setting, plot, characterization, and even bits of dialogue. When Sextus enters Lucrece's bedroom, Ovid, Livy, and Chaucer have him simply identify himself as Tarquin's son. Shakespeare's Sextus says “this night I must enjoy thee” (512).54 Heywood's Sextus identifies himself as “Tarquin and thy friend, and must enjoy thee” (1974).55 The Lucrece of Ovid, Livy, and Chaucer do not speak in reply, but Shakespeare's and Heywood's Lucreces resist with speeches which stress the pitiable state Lucrece is in and the irretrievability of the loss of honor. Shakespeare has Lucrece beg Sextus to desist in these words: “Mar not the thing that cannot be amended” (578). Heywood's Lucrece says:

                                                                                                    marre not that
Cannot be made againe: this once defilde,
Not all the Ocean waves can purifie
Or wash my staine away: you seeke to soyle
That which the radiant splendor of the Sunne
Cannot make bright again: behold my teares,
Oh think them pearled drops, distilled from the heart
Of soule-chaste Lucrece.


Shakespeare's Lucrece hopes that her tears will

                                                                                                    like a troubled ocean,
Beat at thy rocky and wreck-threatening heart,
To soften it with their continual motion.


In both versions the tears have the opposite effect. Heywood's Sextus says

                    those moist teares contending with my fire,
Quench not my heat, but make it clime much higher.


Shakespeare's Sextus says

                                                  my uncontrolled tide
Turns not, but swells the higher by this let.


His threat to blacken Lucrece's name by killing her and a servant and placing the bodies together on her bed occurs in all versions. The similar language in Heywood and Shakespeare, however, shows that Heywood was following Shakespeare.

That done, despitefully I mean to bear thee
Unto the base bed of some rascal groom,
To be thy partner in this shameful doom.

(Shakespeare, 670-72)

                                                                      That done, straight murder
One of thy basest Groomes, and lay you both
Graspt arme in arme, on thy adulterate bed.

(Heywood, 2012-14)

Heywood adds one note here. His Sextus says that Collatine will hate Lucrece in death (2018-19).

After the rape, Lucrece summons her father, husband, and friends to tell them what has occurred, to ask for revenge in some versions, and to kill herself. Only Shakespeare concentrates on Lucrece's state of mind and feelings between the rape and the arrival of her family. Other versions simply say that she sent for her husband and father. Shakespeare shows Lucrece giving the message to her groom, who blushes because he perceives her to be in some distress. She fancies that he can read the rape on her face, and blushes some more.56 Heywood copies this scene, only changing the groom for the maid. In all versions, the gathered family and friends insist that Lucrece is blameless, but she kills herself in order to put an end to her miserable predicament and to save her reputation.

This kind of close imitation suggests that the dramatist is unable or unwilling to create on his own. However, Heywood does add to the account he found in Shakespeare. Most of his additions are from Livy, but he adds some details of his own invention. The conversation about wives among the men encamped before Ardea is mentioned in all versions. In all versions it is Collatine who precipitates the ride to Rome to test the wives. But only in Heywood's version is there an explicit wager with “a rich horse and armour” (1518) as the stake, and the only bachelor in the group, Sextus, as the judge. Heywood's making Sextus the judge is a nice touch of irony. Exactly what specific virtues the men are testing is not clear in all sources. Ovid mentions “the loyalty of the marriage bed.”57 Livy's Collatine merely insists that his wife excells the rest, but no specific quality is named.58 Chaucer's Collatine says that his wife “Is holden good of alle that evere hire knowe.”59 Shakespeare's Argument states that Collatine “extolled the incomparable chastity of his wife Lucretia,” and the men post to Rome “to make trial of that which every one had before avouched” (p. 65). Heywood presents the wager in more detail. Collatine says:

She of them all that we find best imployed,
Devoted, and most huswife exercisd,
Let her be held most vertuous.


Thrifty housewifery, that important ideal in middle class marriage manuals, is the virtue in which Heywood's Lucrece excells. Like Mrs. Arthur, Heywood's Lucrece performs all the duties of the good wife and gives several speeches which seem designed to exemplify the ideals in the marriage manuals. Heywood is the only author to mention housewifely exercise as a virtue to be tested by the absent husbands. He no doubt derived the hint from the fact that all sources mention Lucrece spinning among her maids when Collatine and the wagering lords appear. But only Heywood takes this aspect of Lucrece's virtues and enlarges it until Lucrece is made a model of the good housewife. Her speeches do nothing to contribute to the action of the play. They seem designed solely for the purpose of portraying Lucrece as an ideal wife.

Neither Ovid, Livy, Chaucer, nor Shakespeare mentions Lucrece prior to the wager. Heywood develops the good wife aspect of her character by having her appear in one scene before the wager which leads to her rape. Neither this scene nor anything like it occurs in any other version of the story. Lucrece summons the clown, Pompey, and the maid, Mirable, in order to reprimand them for

                    casting amorous glances, wanton lookes,
And privy becks favoring incontinence.


She will allow

                                                                                                    no lascivious phrase,
Suspitious looke, or shadow of incontinence,
Be entertain'd by any that attend,
On Roman Lucrece.


Her reason for this strictness is because

                                                                                                              my reputation
Which is held precious in the eies of Rome,
Shall be no shelter to the least intent
Of loosenesse.


The function of this scene is to establish Lucrece's individual characteristics. She illustrates two good wifely virtues here: concern for her reputation and the proper management of servants.

In all versions Lucrece sits spinning among her maids when the wagering lords arrive. Heywood takes this opportunity to give Lucrece one of her good wife speeches about the importance of guiding domestic business and eschewing reveling while the husband is gone.

                                                                                                                                            for it fits
Good huswives, when their husbands are from home,
To eye their servants labours, and in care
And the true manage of his household state,
Earliest to rise, and to be up most late.
Since all his business he commits to me,
Ile be his faithfull steward til the Camp
Dissolve, and he return, thus wives should do.
In absence of their Lords be husbands too.


One maid mentions an invitation to dine out which Lucrece had received, which gives her the opportunity to present another good wife maxim:

Wives should not stray
Out of their doors their Husbands being away.


Lucrece's welcome to her husband and to his guests illustrates proper and gracious wifely behavior, and not surprisingly she wins the wager for Collatine. After they leave she again speaks, this time musing to herself, on good wifely duty.

Husbands and Kings must alwayes be obaid.


I must goe take account among my servants
Of their dayes taske, we must not cherish sloth,
No covetous thought makes me thus provident,
But to shun idlenesse, which wise men say,
Begets ranks lust, and vertue beates away.


So Heywood takes the hint from his sources—Lucrece spinning among her maids—and embroiders it, making Lucrece a model of the good wife. His other additions also move in this direction. None of the sources makes much of the time between Sextus's arrival at the house and his sneaking into Lucrece's bedroom. Ovid and Livy mention that he was entertained as a guest. Chaucer has him arrive and sneak directly to the bedroom. Shakespeare also has him at dinner with Lucrece. Heywood adds several touches to this dinner scene, all designed to emphasize Lucrece's good wife qualities. One such touch is Collatine's ring which Sextus uses to gain entrance to the house. Lucrece twice mentions that without such a token no man would be allowed to visit her (1789 and 1861). The irony of the fact that it was Collatine's wager that set in motion events leading to the rape is also increased by this added touch of the ring. Thus Sextus is shown betraying his friend's trust as well as betraying Lucrece's innocent hospitality, but Collatine's boasting about Lucrece is a major contributing cause of the crime. There is something nasty about men wagering on their wives' honesty—as though they were hawks or horses. Shakespeare seems to have recognized this nastiness when he has Bianca say to Lucentio, “The more fool you, for laying on my duty.”60

When Sextus urges Lucrece to drink some wine, she delivers another of her prim little good wife speeches.

Methinks 'twould ill become the modestie
Of any Roman Lady to carouse,
And drowne her vertues in the juice of grapes.
How can I shew my love unto my husband
To do his wife such wrong? by too much wine
I might neglect the charge of this great house
Left soly to my keepe, else my example
Might in my servants breed encouragement
So to offend, both which were pardonlesse.


By lengthening the scene of Sextus at dinner with Lucrece before the rape, Heywood accomplishes two purposes. One is the opportunity it gives for Lucrece to emphasize her good wife qualities. The other is that the horror of the crime is dramatically increased by this emphasis on Lucrece's chastity and her trusting hospitality towards Sextus. Sextus's cold criminality is markedly contrasted with the warm, trusting innocence of Lucrece, thus emphasizing the horror of the forthcoming rape. Sextus was monstrous enough in the other versions because he betrayed the wife of his kinsman and friend; but Heywood's Sextus betrays a woman who is so careful of her reputation, so conscientious in her wifely duty, so trustingly hospitable, that the villainy is doubly blackened. Heywood's purpose in thus emphasizing the horror of the crime is to increase the plausability of the motivation he gives for the subsequent action. The war on the Tarquins is made specifically for the purpose of avenging this crime. Brutus swears that her knife

Shall not from Brutus till some strange revenge
Fall on the heads of Tarquins.


Later during the various battles in the war with the Tarquins, Brutus calls on her memory several times.61 Mutius Scaevola accepts life from Porsenna solely, he says, for the sake of avenging Lucrece.

                                                                                he gave me life
Which I had then refus'd, but in desire
To venge faire Lucrece Rape.


When Sextus challenges the Romans to single combat, they vie for the honor of avenging Lucrece.62 Heywood thus makes the central episode of Lucrece's rape serve as a unifying element in the loose chronicle history series of events, and ties the downfall of the Tarquins to this one act.

Heywood patches together a chronicle history play which capitalizes on the popularity of Shakespeare's poem, The Rape of Lucrece (and at the same time echoes Shakespeare's plays: Macbeth and Julius Caesar—Brutus is “honorable”). His own inventions include the songs, the lengthening of the dinner scene before the rape, and Lucrece's good wife speeches. The insertion of the songs is almost universally deplored. The dinner scene, however, increases the dramatic effectiveness of the rape and the consequent action. Finally, Lucrece's good wife speeches might help the play by showing just how important Lucrece's wifely qualities are to her self-image and thus increasing the horror of the rape. But the speeches are so prim, so artificial (mostly in rhyme), so obviously a dramatized version of the marriage manuals, that they make Lucrece a flat character.

Only Mrs. Arthur and Lucrece are obviously models of the good wife. But most of the wives in Heywood's plays are chaste and true. Queen Isabella in A Challenge for Beauty brags that she would contest her virtue with any princess in the world. Anne Harding and Susan Forrest Harding, both of Fortune by Land and Sea, are good wives who do what they must: Susan becomes a servant in order to help and stand by her husband; Anne tries to moderate her husband's unreasonable behavior towards his son. The lady d'Auvergne, who appears in The Captives and Gunaikeion, is an example of Heywood's altering of his sources in order to present the good wife in a most favorable light.

The Captives, or the Lost Recovered (1624) was discovered in manuscript in 1885. It can be assigned to Heywood on both internal and external evidence, even though no name appears on the manuscript.63 The play has a main plot and a subplot, from separate sources. The action of the main plot concerns two chaste and fair girls who escape by shipwreck from the control of a bawd, Mildew, and are helped by John Ashburne, a displaced English merchant, who is discovered to be the father and uncle of the two girls, who were kidnapped in infancy. In the subplot, the Lord of Auvergne kills a friar who lusted after the Lady, and disposes of the body so that it appears that the friar's enemy, Friar Richard, did the deed, but the Lord confesses in time to save the friar from hanging. The only connection between the two plots is that the two girls receive temporary succor in the monastery after the shipwreck.

It is Heywood's treatment of the subplot which is more relevant to our purposes than the main plot, in which he faithfully parallels the original, Plautus's comedy Rudens, with few alterations. The subplot appears under a different title as one of the stories in Gunaikeion. We thus have the opportunity to compare two of Heywood's treatments of the same plot with its source or sources. Kittredge mentions several versions of an Old French fabliau and its corresponding English versions, but Emil Koeppel points to an Italian novella of Masuccio do Salerno in 1476, to which Heywood's versions conform in more details.64 The character of the Lady is somewhat different in all versions. In the English fabliau, “The Mery Jest of Dane Hew, Munk of Leister,” alluded to by Kittredge, the monk lusts after the wife of a tailor. She finally offers to receive him while her husband is out of town on condition that he pay her twenty nobles. When he arrives with the money, the husband kills him and sets in motion the plot to obscure the deed. The wife is not mentioned any more as the plot proceeds, so what we have is a wife who, while unwilling to close with the monk's passion, is willing to trick him for money. In the Italian version the friar lusts after the wife of one of the leading gentlemen of the city. This woman is at first flattered by the praise of her beauty and its effects, but she dislikes friars, and does not encourage him. His attempts to gain her sympathy become so importunate that she begins to fear for her reputation, and so reveals the whole matter to her husband, who then orders her to invite the friar to visit her. He kills the friar and sets in motion the plot to obscure the deed. Again the woman drops out of the story.

In neither case does the woman respond to the friar's lust. In fact, both the women ultimately do what good wives ought, that is to tell their husbands and obey them in further workings of the plot to entice the monks to death. However, neither of these women can be considered a model for virtuous women, as both allow the matter to continue for some time before telling their husbands, the one motivated by greed, the other by vanity.

Heywood follows the Italian plot in so many details that his departure in the characterization of the woman is the more significant. Heywood's first use of the story occurs in Gunaikeion, where it is called “the faire Lady of Norwich.” This lady shows none of the less pleasant aspects of her predecessors. She instantly shows the friar's letter to her husband “least her honour should be any way called in question,” then, like her predecessors, obeys him in enticing the monk to the house. In the play, Heywood further refines the character of the wife. Here, as in Gunaikeion, she is annoyed instead of pleased by the friar's letter.

what might [this] sawcy ffellowe spy in mee
to Incorradge such a boldnes.
                                                                                                                        sylly ffryar,
madnes or ffolly, one off these t'must bee.

(1270-71, 1280-81)65

She shows her husband the letter at once instead of allowing the matter to ride as did the women in the sources. Also here, as in Gunaikeion, the woman is presented as being deeply concerned at the possibility that her husband might want to kill the friar: “patiens syr the ffellowe suer is madd” (1333). The lord is so angry that he threatens to demolish the monastery. She tries to temper his anger

ffor my sake syr do-not ffor one mans error,
destroy a woorke off perpetuity
by wch your name shall lyve.


When he persists in his anger and plans to revenge himself on the friar, she, like a good wife, dutifully obeys him as he sets in motion his plans. She writes the letter as he commands, but she continues to try to temper his anger.

All shall bee'
as you Instruct[s] but punishe syr wth pitty
putt him to payne or shame, but deathe alas.
is too seveare example.


The women in Gunaikeion and The Captives are nicer, more likeable, more conspicuously virtuous than the women in the sources. One further refinement occurs in the play. In all the narratives, including Heywood's, the woman is not mentioned again after she obeys her husband concerning inviting the friar to visit her. But in the play, Heywood shows her concerned about her husband's sudden change of mood following the murder. She asks him why he is so restless at night. He curtly replies “you dogg mee Lady / lyke an Ill genius:” (2469-70). She answers “you weare woont to call mee / your better angell” (1471-72). Then, demonstrating her function as her husband's better angel, she goes to the king and obtains a pardon for her husband. Thus she reappears in the last scene of the play as the agent of mercy, having performed her wifely duty of defending her husband's honor.

Heywood, then, has two opportunities to tell the story. In both the narrative and the drama, he improves on the character of the woman, adding the ultimate touch in the play. What he has done, then, has been to take a slightly unsavory, though in the main dutiful woman, and refine her characterization until she becomes in the final version a perfect model of a chaste and true wife.

The remainder of the wives in Heywood's plays are a various lot, ranging from the noble Catelina in Dick of Devonshire to the vicious Tullia in Rape of Lucrece, and including minor characters who come on stage for only a few lines. The point to be noted about the type is that Heywood seems to believe that wives are usually good; that in the normal order of things wives are chaste and true, a genuine “help meet” for their husbands; while as though deliberately dramatizing the conduct books, he presents a few good wives who serve as specific exempla of the ideal.


  1. Water W. Greg, A List of English Plays Written Before 1643 and Printed Before 1700 (London, 1900), p. 13.

  2. Fleay, I, 289-90.

  3. Swinburne, p. 247.

  4. A. E. H. Swaen, ed., How a Man May Chuse a Good Wife From a Bad. Materialien zur Kunde des alteren Englishen Dramas (Louvain, 1912), p. vii.

  5. Joseph Q. Adams, “Thomas Heywood and How …,” Englische Studien, XLV (1912), 43.

  6. Charles R. Baskervill, “Source and Analogues of How …,” PMLA, XXIV (December 1909), 711-30.

  7. Schelling, I, 331.

  8. Ward, II, 608.

  9. Cromwell, p. 200.

  10. Baskervill, pp. 711-12, and Swaen, pp. xiv-xv.

  11. Harbage, Annals of English Drama, 975-1700 (London, 1964), p. 30.

  12. Annals, p. 34.

  13. See Mary Hyde, pp. 38-46; Frank H. Ristine, English Tragicomedy: Its Origin and History (New York, 1910), pp. 97-98; Schelling, I, 330-34; and Baskervill, pp. 717-27.

  14. The Fair Maid of Bristow (Philadelphia, 1902), p. 25. The list includes Patient Grissel, The Shoemaker's Holiday, The Wisdom of Dr. Doddipoll, How a Man May Chuse, The Wise-Woman of Hogsden, Othello, Measure for Measure, The London Prodigal, The Miseries of Enforced Marriage, The Yorkshire Tragedy, A Winter's Tale, The White Devil, The Duchess of Malfi, II The Honest Whore, The Fair Maid of the West, and Match Me in London.

  15. Quinn, p. 27.

  16. Robert Y. Turner, “Dramatic Conventions in All's Well …,” PMLA, LXXV (December 1960), 497-502.

  17. Distilled from Quinn, p. 29.

  18. See Baskervill, pp. 718-25.

  19. All line references given in the text are from the Swaen edition.

  20. Cf. p. 104, above.

  21. See also 468-73 and 1964-67.

  22. The scene runs from 1470 to 1857.

  23. See also 165ff, 220ff, 244ff, and 523ff.

  24. The courtesan is embarrassed by the wife's submission in this matter. Swaen calls this “one touch of true human kindness in his [Heywood's] best manner” (p. xiiin) and cites it as among the minor supporting evidence of Heywood's authorship.

  25. III, iii, p. 231 of W. C. Hazlitt's ed. of Doubtful Plays of Shakespeare (London, n.d.).

  26. 255ff.

  27. 244ff. and 468ff.

  28. 1570-87.

  29. 606-16, 1221-40, and 1973-81.

  30. 1964-67.

  31. 2162-68.

  32. 2428-43.

  33. 2654-66.

  34. 2187.

  35. 2186 and 2192-93.

  36. 2307-15.

  37. 2570-71.

  38. 392-417 and 1132-64.

  39. The scene runs from 425-628.

  40. See Michael H. Leonard, “A Critical Edition of Thomas Heywood's Wise-Woman of Hogsden” (Diss. University of Southern California, 1967), pp. 84-87, for a broader discussion of this convention.

  41. Old English Drama, I (London, 1825), preface to Rape of Lucrece, iii.

  42. Clark, p. 47.

  43. Alan Holaday, ed., Rape of Lucrece (Urbana, 1950), pp. 5-19.

  44. Old English Drama, I, iii.

  45. Ward, II, 581.

  46. Wright, p. 643.

  47. Cromwell, p. 117.

  48. Clark, p. 219.

  49. Old English Drama, I, iii.

  50. Clark, p. 221.

  51. Hans Galinski, Der Lucretia-Stoff in der Weltliteratur (Breslau, 1932), passim.

  52. Thomas W. Baldwin, On the Literary Genetics of Shakespeare's Poems and Sonnets (Urbana, 1950), p. 153.

  53. Holaday, p. 20.

  54. William Shakespeare, The Poems, ed. F. T. Prince (Arden Edition, Cambridge, 1960), pp. 64-149. All line references are to this edition.

  55. Line references are to Holaday's edition.

  56. Shakespeare probably found the blush in Ovid.

  57. Arden Edition, p. 199, 1. 730.

  58. Arden Edition, p. 193.

  59. Legend of Good Women, 1. 1709. The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, ed. F. N. Robinson (Boston, 1957).

  60. Taming of the Shrew, V, ii, 129. Shakespeare: The Major Plays, ed. G. B. Harrison (New York, 1948).

  61. 2612, 2794-95, and 2953.

  62. 2888-2950.

  63. A. C. Judson, ed., The Captives (New Haven, 1921), p. 9.

  64. Archiv für das Studium der Neueren Sprachen und Literaturen 97 (1896), 323-29. Cited by Judson, p. 17.

  65. The Captives, ed. Arthur Brown (Oxford, 1953). All my citations are from this edition.

List of Works Consulted

Adams, Joseph Q. “Thomas Heywood and How a Man May Chuse a Good Wife From a Bad.Englische Studien, XCV (1912), 30-44.

Baldwin, Thomas Whitfield. On The Literary Genetics of Shakespeare's Poems and Sonnets. Urbana, 1950.

Baskervill, Charles R. “Sources and Analogues of How a Man May Chuse a Good Wife From a Bad.PMLA, XXIV (Dec. 1909), 711-30.

Clark, Arthur Melville. A Bibliography of Thomas Heywood. Oxford, 1925.

———. Thomas Heywood, Playwright and Miscellanist. Oxford, 1931.

Cromwell, Otelia. Thomas Heywood: A Study in the Elizabethan Drama of Every Day. New Haven, 1928.

Fleay, Frederick Gard. Biographical Chronicle of the English Drama. 2 vols. London, 1891.

Galinsky, Hans. Der Lucretia-Stoff in der Weltlïteratur. Breslau, 1932.

Greg, Walter Wilson. A List of English Plays Written Before 1643 and Printed Before 1700. London, 1900.

Harbage, Alfred. Annals of English Drama, 975-1700. London, 1964.

Hazlitt, William, ed. Doubtful Plays of Shakespeare. London, n.d.

Heywood, Thomas. The Captives. Ed. Arthur Brown. Oxford, 1953.

———. The Captives: Or, The Lost Recovered. Ed. Alexander C. Judson. New Haven, 1921.

———. A Curtaine Lecture. London, 1638.

———. Dick of Devonshire. Ed. W. W. Greg. Oxford, 1955.

———. How a Man May Chuse a Good Wife From a Bad. Ed. Adrian E. Hugo Swaen. Louvain, 1912.

———. The Rape of Lucrece. Ed. Charles Baldwyn. In The Old English Drama. 2 vols. London, 1825.

———. Rape of Lucrece. Ed. Allan Holaday. Urbana, 1950.

Hyde, Mary. Playwriting for Elizabethans, 1600-1605. New York, 1949.

Kittredge, George Lyman. “A Note on The Captives.JGP, 2 (1898), 13.

Koeppel, Emil. Archiv für das Studium der Neueren Sprachen und Literaturen, 97 (1896), 323-29.

Leonard, Michael H. “A Critical Edition of Thomas Heywood's Wise-Woman of Hogsden.” Diss. Univ. Southern California, 1967.

Quinn, Arthur Hobson, ed. The Fair Maid of Bristow. Philadelphia, 1902.

Ristine, Frank Humphrey. English Tragicomedy: Its Origin and History. New York, 1910.

Schelling, Felix Emmanuel. Elizabethan Drama, 1558-1642. 2 vols. London, 1908.

Shakespeare, William. Shakespeare: The Major Plays. Ed. G. B. Harrison. New York, 1948.

Swinburne, Algernon C. The Age of Shakespeare. London, 1908.

Turner, Robert K. “Dramatic Conventions in All's Well That Ends Well.” PMLA, LXXV (Dec. 1960), 497-502.

Ward, Adolphus William. A History of English Dramatic Literature to the Death of Queen Anne. 2 vols. London, 1875.

Wright, Louis B. “Heywood and the Popularizing of History.” MLN, XLIII (1928), 287-93.

———. Middle Class Culture in Elizabethan England. Chapel Hill, 1935.

Principal Works

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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 Memorable Acts of Nine of the Most Worthy Women of the World: Three Jews, Three Gentiles, Three Christians (biography) 1640

The Dramatic Works of Thomas Heywood. 6 vols. (plays) 1874

Carolyn Prager (essay date summer 1975)

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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. M. Clark speaks of an “incompleteness of translation into modern conditions” and G. E. Bentley of the “material from Plautus … so incompletely adapted as to leave anachronisms in the play.”1

The main plot of The Captives (poorly linked to a sub-plot which does not concern us here) centers about the rescue from prospective sale by a pimp. In Heywood as in Plautus, the girls are clearly slaves being sold into slavery in societies where trade in slaves is legitimate commercial enterprise. In each play, they fortuitously escape their owner during a storm and shipwreck. Plautus' Greek slave girls land off the coast of Cyrene, Heywood's Englishwomen off Marseille. Palaestra, the daughter lost in infancy in either play, is rescued along with her female fellow slave by an unknowing father who violently opposes—though for significantly different reasons in the Roman and the English play—the procurer's right to repossess his human property. The contents of a trunk hauled from the sea in the net of a fisherman (a slave to the father in the Rudens; a countryman in The Captives) reveal the true natal identities of the girls. After the recovery by their parents, Plautus' and Heywood's Palaestras are joined by their lovers who have followed after them on their forced odyssey.

Aside from similar mechanical contrivances of plot and character pairings, there are startling differences, mainly of moral scope, in the two plays. In the Rudens, Daemones, the father, aids the escaped girls because they have taken sanctuary in a Temple of Venus. To preserve the integrity of the sacred place, he violently rejects the attempt by the pimp Labrax to recover his slaves from the sanctuary by force. In the traditional resolution of New Comedy, Daemones frees his witty and resourceful fisherman slave (after cheating him of his money), and then invites the pimp home to dine with him. Moral censure, if any, is directed against the contemporary evil of child-stealing. Chattel slavery and its moral ramifications are not controversial issues in the play.

The portion of Heywood's adaptation which so troubles modern readers—namely the enslavement, prospective barter, and redemption of the two girls—explores the contemporary abuse of slavery, a fact of life affecting Caucasians, Asians, and Africans alike in the Renaissance world.2 The father, transformed by Heywood from Plautus' lecherous recluse to a virtuous English merchant, reacts with horror at the thought that Christian women might be held as common capital. Ashburne challenges their procurer with the innate right of free-born Englishmen to freedom: “I tell thee pesant / Englands [not] no broode ffor slaves” (11. 1536-37).3 Mildew, “a damable hee bawde” (1. 155), “ffather of ffornication,” and “duncart off diseases” (1. 194), plans to emigrate from France with all his capital, including “these shee chattyles” (1. 271), the two English girls. A survey of the geography of most of Western Europe and its neighbors indicates that he can turn the girls, unequivocally his slaves, to good profit in any part of the known world:

England they say is ffull off [marchandyse], whore maste
there [ffor] will be vent ffor such comodityes.
there strompett them where they … weare borne
elce you in spayne maye sell them to the stewes.
Venyce or any place, off Italy,
they' are every where' good chaffer                    Iff not these
what saye you to Morocko …
tush these are wares in all parts vendible. …

(11. 272-79)

English benevolence rescues the two girls after a providential shipwreck out of Plautus. Ashburne overhears them singing of the plight of the recaptured—“No favours knwne no pittyes showen / To them that ffly there Maysters” (11. 1490-91)—and obtains their freedom, at a price.

Their emancipation is accomplished, however, less by ready willingness to pay for their release (which he eventually does in the case of his niece) than by stubborn refusal to return them to the pimp. Ready to defend them with stave and halbert, if necessary, he contests Mildew's legally valid claim to his property with morally chauvinistic argument. Mildew insists that “these are myne / my chattells and my' goodds”:

Nor can you Cease the …
lett mee possesse myne owne, these' are my slaves
.....… my vtensills my moove ables: and bought,
wth myne owne priuate coyne. …

(11. 1515-16; 1524-26)

To this argument based on the right to retain capital, Ashburne opposes one of nationalistic origins essentially hostile to the notion of chattel bondage:

none is bredd wth vs,
but such as are ffree borne. and christian Lawes
do not allowe such to bee bought or' sould, …
to Comon prostitution. …

(11. 1544-48)

Whether or not hypothetically Ashburne could win his case on points of law in any European court of Heywood's day4 is extremely doubtful, “christian Lawes” generally sustaining the right of property in the defense of slavery. The Ashburne-Mildew debate illustrates the basic contradiction in Western laws of slavery still prevalent in Renaissance Europe. Systematically formulated from the Justinian code, contemporary statute recognizes the slave as both person and thing, though, in practice, the slave's status as res with limited civil rights predominates.5 Although the girls have taken refuge in a chapel, under canon law which requires the return of all runaway slaves6 (except the Christian slaves of Jewish masters), they would, ironically, receive less protection than their Athenian counterparts in a pagan temple in the Rudens. Juridical argument, however, in The Captives occurs in the theatre not the court and Ashburne's pro-English defense easily wins the case with the audience.

Heywood argues not the inalienable right to freedom of mankind under natural law but the constitutional liberty of freeborn Englishmen heralded by the Tudor propagandists. In so doing, he alters the Plautine material into a qualified examination of the legitimacy of bondage in the contemporary world. The simple fact that Marseille remains a thriving center of a multi-ethnic slave trade well into the seventeenth century invalidates the argument that the circumstances of slavery in the play defy the logic of historic transplantation to France, c.1550.7 The story's locus near Marseille, a port from which Mildew knows he can sell his human goods throughout the Renaissance world—“tush these are wares in all parts vendible”—geographically verifies Heywood's knowledgeable examination of the question of chattel bondage as a fact of contemporary rather than of pagan life.

Other selective modifications of the Plautine story point to Heywood's conscious artistic effort to lift the matter of the Roman play into the context of recent history. By reducing the number of slaves to the two English bondwomen, he limits the moral thrust of the play to the nationalistic argument exempting English citizens from the degradation of bondage, without need to consider the larger question (not debated until the Enlightenment)8 of the morality of the institution of bondage itself. Gripus, the manumitted slave of the Rudens, performs the stock service of his classical counterpart in The Captives while remaining a poor fisherman. Mildew like Labrax is unreservedly censured for impious offense to God and God's house:

Downe wth these Sacraligious salsaparreales. these vnsanctiffied sarlaboyses: that woold make a very Seralia off the sanctuary and are meare renegadoes to all religion. …

(11. 1509-12)

More important, he is denied the redemptive communal embrace of forgiveness that concludes the Latin play.

Heywood's constrained patriotic response to the issue of institutional bondage reflects the ethical hesitations and confusions of the age unprepared to condemn chattel bondage on humanitarian grounds. Though infrequently posed in English thought, the question phrased by William Perkins in 1604 of whether or not “a Christian may with safe conscience, haue and vse a man as his slaue” indicates the troublesome nature of the problem little alleviated by the uneasy quality of the response. Perkins' answer echos the one worked out long ago by Roman jurists and Church Fathers that argues the authority of jus gentium in a fallen world: “the power and right of hauing bondmen, in the countries where it is established by positiue lawes, may stand with good conscience. …”9 Like Sir Thomas More who allows that if not fortunate enough to be born a Utopian, one is better off a slave in Utopia than a freeman elsewhere,10 theorists often insist upon the uplifting nature of Christian environment to improve upon the unfortunate predestined lot of the slave. “Lastly,” states Robert Pricke in The Doctrine of Svperioritie, and of Subiection in 1609, “the worst estate of seruants amongst such as are reputed Christians: is better and more tollerable, than the state of seruants amongst many nations: … as appeareth both in the Scripture, and in prophane Histories.”11

By the middle of the sixteenth century, a political mythology of the sacred right to liberty of men and women born to breathe English air12 runs counter to such legal and theological arguments. William Harrison declares in An Historicall Description in 1577 that “as for slaues and bondmen we have none, naie such is the privelege of our countrie by especiall grace of God, and bountie of our princes, that if anie come hither from other realmes, so soone as they set foot on land they become so free of condition as their masters, whereby all note of servile bondage is utterlie remooved from them.”13 Tudor political commentators, cognizant of the existence of chattel slavery among Christian and heathen, nonetheless condemn it as a non-Christian and, therefore, a non-English institution. Sir Thomas Smith argues in De Republica Anglorum in 1583 that it is Christian persuasion “not to make nor keepe his brother in Christ, servile, bond and underling for euer unto him, as a beast rather than a man. …” In a true commonwealth, law fosters liberty: “The nature of our nation is free, stout, haulte, prodigall of life and bloud: but contumelie, beatings, servitude and servile torment and punishment it will not abide.”14

The dramatic reflection of the realistic fear that Christians might actually buy and sell other Christians increases on the English stage in the years coincidental with those of expanding trade and travel to southern reaches of Europe, Asia, and Africa. Thematically concentrated in The Captives, the anxiety of a slave trade enfettering Europeans at the hands of fellow Europeans occurs in many contemporary English plays. Most frequent in those dealing with the prospect of captivity in Barbary where English and European renegades and pirates sell their human booty into the markets of the Levant,15 the danger of servile seizure within a European geography figures in a small group of plays. In a variation of the ancient story of the lost foundling found, Valentine in Beaumont and Fletcher's Monsieur Thomas (1610-16?) bemoans the loss of a son “among the Genoua Gallies” (I.i), only to rejoice when he finds that the boy was not enslaved but raised by a kindly old sailor.16 Severino in Philip Massinger's The Guardian (1623) calms a party captured by bandits outside of Naples. He assures them that they “need not doubt / A sad captivity here”:

                                                            … And much less fear
For profit, to be sold for slaves, then shipped
Into another country.(17)


Rutilio and Arnoldo, two gentlemen of Portugal attacked by Italian pirates in Fletcher and Massinger's Custom of The Country (1619-20), jump into the ocean rather than “taste the bread of servitude” (II.i).18 Their female companion is made a “slave” and “bond-woman” (IV.i) to an Italian lady, released only by the happy circumstances of a treaty of accommodation newly negotiated between the two countries. In Heywood's A Challenge For Beauty (1634-35?), a Turkish captain prepares to sell his English captives at a “Male-Market” in Spain where they face life either as “slave to a Turke, or … the bloodie usage / Of an ambitious Spanyard” (II.i).19

The elevated dramatic image of the Englishman enslaved in general conforms to the popularization of Tudor political theory fostering the image of Britannic eleutherism. The figure of the resistant English “slave,” taken as a substantive of impossibility, implies conflict between an Englishman's accidental fortunes and his native condition of freedom. Heroic Britons in Jasper Fisher's pretentious academic Fuimus Troes (1633) rise to defend a heritage that denies slavery. The British slave in Dekker's The Virgin Martyr (1620?) rejects performing slavish acts to preserve a paradoxical freedom (IV.i.151-54).20 In A Very Woman, a play distinguished for its graphic scene of slave sale in the markets of Palermo (III.i), Massinger burlesques the figure of a dandified Englishman—“The finest thing in all the world, sir, / The punctuallest; and the perfectest”—who defies occupation as a slave since, ironically, his very foppishness makes him useless for laboring service.

The two English girls who leap into the ocean to escape a life of enslaved prostitution in The Captives must be viewed in the political context, however limited, of national celebration of non-servile British attribute in a world indulgent of the institution of bondage. Heywood's most significant adaptation of Plautus lies in the ethical focus, however conservative, he gives to the question of slavery in the Renaissance world. Marred by lack of plot cohesion, The Captives is hardly a seminal work in the development of Jacobean drama. Still, it deserves recognition for what it is, a partial examination of the legitimacy of a social institution ethically validated by Western laws of property, a justification a later age will declare reprehensible.

To continue to label Heywood's interest in the problem of slavery an anachronistic derivative of classical model obscures the moral and political distance separating his age and ours. The consequence for students of Tudor-Stuart drama is the critical failure to recognize and accommodate contemporary conceptions and sanctions of servitude in contemporary terms. Without inquiry into English Renaissance understanding of the thriving trade in souls, we cannot properly consider the thematic connection of slavery to the slave in plays as significant and influential in their day as Tamburlaine, Titus Andronicus, Lust's Dominion, Othello, The Tempest, The Bondman, A Custom of The Country, and The Royal Slave.


  1. A. H. Gilbert, “Thomas Heywood's Debt to Plautus,” JEGP [Journal of English and Germanie Philology], 12 (1913), 593-611, esp. pp. 597-99; A. C. Judson, ed., The Captives; or, The Lost Recovered (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1921), p. 15; A. M. Clark, Thomas Heywood: Playwright and Miscellanist (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1958), p. 120; G. E. Bentley, The Jacobean and Caroline Stage (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956), IV, 561.

  2. Venetian tax records prove the sale of more than ten thousand slaves of all nationalities in the years 1414-23. See Iris Origo, “The Domestic Enemy: The Eastern Slaves in Tuscany in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries,” Speculum, 30 1955), 329. For more detailed specifics of slavery in Italy, see E. Rodocanachi, “Les esclaves en Italie du xiiie et xvie siecle,” Revue des Questions Historiques, 79 (1906), 383-408, and Alberto Tenenti, “Gli schiavi de Venezia alla fine del cinque cento,” Rivista storica italiani, 67 (1955), 52-69. Charles Verlinden, L'Esclavage dans l'Europe mediévale: Tome Premier, Peninsule-Ibérique-France (Brugge: De Tempel, 1955) explores the general extent of chattel slavery on the Continent in the period preceding and overlapping Anglo-Renaissance drama. See also David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1966), esp. pp. 29-31, 37-46, and 98-103.

  3. The Captives, ed. Arthur Brown, Malone Soc. (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1953). This edition is without act or scene number.

  4. Verlinden, pp. 851-52, cites evidence, however, of general movement in France, the Marseille area excepted, to prohibit slavery on French soil.

  5. Davis, pp. 32-34 and 55-56; Origo, p. 351; and, in more detail, R. W. Carlyle and A. J. Carlyle, A History of Medieval Political Theory in The West, II (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood, 1927), Ch. IV, “The Political Theory of the Roman Lawyers: The Theory of Slavery,” 34-40.

  6. Carlyle, II, 38; Origo, pp. 350-51.

  7. Verlinden, pp. 838, 851.

  8. Davis discusses the complex nature of the development of anti-slavery thought in the eighteenth century within the pattern of continuity that makes up the history of servitude. See esp. pp. 391-445. Wylie Sypher's Guinea's Captive Kings: British Anti-Slavery Literature of The XVIIIth Century (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1942) is the major study of the literary effect of anti-slavery thought.

  9. A Commentarie or Exposition, vpon Galatians, in The Workes of That Famous and Worthie Minister of Christ … M. W. Perkins, trans. Thomas Pickering (Cambridge, 1613), III, 687, 698.

  10. The Yale Edition of The Works of Thomas More, IV (New Haven and London: Yale Univ. Press, 1965), 185.

  11. Robert Pricke, The Doctrine of Svperioritie, … (London, 1609), sig. [M6r].

  12. The concept of freedom must be measured against severe experiments in restraint evident, for example, in the Tudor laws regulating vagabonds. See the standard work on the subject: Frank Aydelotte, Elizabethan Rogues and Vagabonds (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913), pp. 62-67. Winthrop Jordan, White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro 1550-1812 (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1968), pp. 48-52, discusses the tendency toward liberty at variance with retarded traditions of villeinage in common law.

  13. In Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (London: J. Johnson, 1807-08), I, 275.

  14. L. Alston, De Republica Anglorum: A Discourse On The Commonwealth of England (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1906), Lib. III, ch. 8, pp. 132-33; Lib. I, ch. 10, p. 20; Lib. II, ch. 24, p. 106.

  15. See Samuel C. Chew, The Crescent and The Rose: England and Islam During the Renaissance (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1937), pp. 340-86.

  16. The Works of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, ed. A. Glover and A. R. Waller, IV (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1908).

  17. The Plays of Philip Massinger, ed. William Gifford (London: Henry Washburne, 1850).

  18. The Works of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, I (1906).

  19. The Dramatic Work of Thomas Heywood, ed. R. H. Shepherd, V (1874; rpt. New York: Russell and Russell, 1964).

  20. The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker, ed. Fredson Bowers, III (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1958).

Eugene M. Waith (essay date 1975)

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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 fairly burst with clues to the nature of the work described. Ever since Xenophon wrote his fictionalized account of the early life of Cyrus the Great, the Cyropedia, the exemplary life had been a recognized and well-loved means of glorifying a historical figure and holding aloft for emulation his noble character and great deeds. In the fifteenth century Christine de Pisan called her life of the French king Charles V Le livre des fais et bonnes meurs du sage roy Charles V,2 leaving no doubt that she was presenting this wise king as a model of virtuous living and memorable deeds. Indeed, her technique seems to be to name the standard virtues and then show that Charles had them all. Since this was the fifteenth century, it is not surprising that she gives prominence to the virtues stressed by chivalry—“noblece de courage” (1: 10), “bonne renommée,” “libéralité et sage largèce” (1: 79 ff.), the attributes of the medieval hero, the perfect “chevalier.” In the same century the Italian, Tito Livio, made the point of exemplary biographies embarrassingly clear by addressing his life of Henry V to his unheroic son, Henry VI, with the avowed hope of encouraging him to cope with his enemies as his father had done. Then the anonymous author of the Life of Henry V, written in 1513, translated much of Tito Livio, added to it, and offered his work to Henry VIII to stiffen his resolve against Francis I.3 Of course, the usefulness of these examples was not restricted to reluctant kings, but extended to all readers. As Sidney said of heroic poetry, with which he associated such works as Xenophon's Cyropedia, “For as the image of each action styrreth and instructeth the mind, so the loftie image of such Worthies most inflameth the mind with desire to be worthy, and informes with counsel how to be worthy.”4 In other words, heroic literature only does better and more conspicuously what all literature should do—inspire men to be better. Since the didacticism inherent in the conception of the exemplary life was readily adaptable to bourgeois morality, this strain of the heroic tradition was bound to have a strong appeal to the author of A Woman Killed with Kindness.

Perhaps it was natural not to summon up remembrance of this play on the title page of a book about exemplary women. Here Heywood billed himself as “the Author of the History of Women.” The reference is to Gunaikeion, a compendium of 466 folio pages published in 1624, in which Heywood assembled a formidable quantity of information about all sorts of women. With seeming orderliness, which, as Arthur M. Clark says, is quite deceptive,5 he divided the book into nine sections, each “inscribed” to one of the muses. Goddesses, for instance, are treated under Clio; muses, sybils, vestals, and prophetesses under Euterpe; “Women Incestuous, Adulteresses, and such as haue come by strange deaths” under Melpomene; and “Amazons and other women, famous either for Valour or Beautie” under Terpsichore, because martial discipline consists in “time, number, measure, distance, and order,” and “in daunces we keep time to the musicke” (p. 215). There is something for everyone here, as Heywood clearly intended there should be, describing his audience as “an vniuersalitie of Readers, diuersly disposed” (sig. A3v), but in spite of the inclusion of adulteresses and “women incestuous,” the book as a whole is devoted to the greater glory of women. It was, in fact, a major contribution to the long and bitter controversy about women, and one of many answers to Joseph Swetnam's Arraignment of Lewd, idle, froward and unconstant women of 1615.

To recall Gunaikeion was, therefore, to identify the Exemplary Lives as pro-feminist literature. In the epistle “To the Generall Reader” Heywood states flatly that it is a duty to dignify the sex since we all had mothers; that he tried to do so in Gunaikeion, but that here, instead of a miscellany of all types, he presents only nine worthy women (sig. **4). One of the forces pressing on the tradition of exemplary biography was this feminist controversy of the early seventeenth century.

In the course of stating his laudable and laudatory purpose, Heywood writes that his choice of nine women alludes to the number of the muses, but this time he is being disingenuous or absent-minded, for the primary allusion is not that at all. The authors of the commendatory verses “To the worthy Reviver of these Nine Women worthies” and “To his worthy Friend Mr. Thomas Heywood, on his Nine Female Worthies” show their awareness of what must have been plain to all who read on the title page the division into “Three Jewes, Three Gentiles. Three Christians.” Heywood is invoking worthies, not muses.

The medieval tradition of the Nine Worthies was an interesting subdivision of the heroic tradition, consisting in what purported to be a list of the nine greatest men who had ever been. It must be said at the outset that occasionally there were more or less than nine, and that when there were nine, they were not always exactly the same nine. In the fourteenth century, however, appeared a list approaching the status of canonical in the Voeux du Paon, an addition by Jacques Longuyon to the Roman d'Alexandre, glorifying the heroism of Alexander's enemy, Porus. Not even the greatest men of all time fought more bravely than Porus, according to Longuyon, who then names the three best pagans, Hector, Alexander, and Caesar; the three Jews, Joshua, David, and Judas Maccabeus; and the three Christians, Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Bouillon. This passage about what came to be called in French the “Neuf Preux” seems to have been the source of an identical list in The Parlement of the Thre Ages of the fourteenth century and perhaps of the reference in the fifteenth-century Flower and the Leaf, where they are called the “Nine Worthy.”6 Pageants of the Neuf Preux or Nine Worthies are known to have been presented more than two centuries before Holofernes, Armado, Costard, and the rest made their disastrous attempt, but the tradition was above all visual. Images of these great men appeared in tapestries woven for Charles V, the subject of the biography by Christine de Pisan, and in the tapestries of his son, Charles VI, who also had the Neuf Preuses. Though the tapestries are lost, we know from inventories that the women in this case were not divided like the men into groups of biblical, pagan, and Christian worthies, but were an assemblage of Amazons and of warrior queens such as Tomyris, who is said to have decapitated Cyrus the Great and plunged his head in a bucket of blood.7 Images of these worthies, to be wondered at and possibly revered on a castle wall, were clearly exemplary like the biographies of which I was speaking. They recalled memorable acts and condensed a story into a single visual impression. As we shall see in a moment, Heywood, too, relied on visual aids.

To whom was he addressing his feminist tract? A question to be asked, but not simple to answer, for there are no less than four prefatory epistles, the first to the wife of a knight, the “Honorable and Eminently Vertuous, the Excellent” Lady Theophila Cooke; the second to the wife of a country squire, the “excellently disposed” Mistress Elizabeth Tanfield; the third “To all Noble and Brave Spirited Gentlemen, with the excellent and vertuously disposed Gentlewomen in generall”; and the fourth “To the Generall Reader.” As we descend the social ladder by easy stages, we realize that once again, as in Gunaikeion, Heywood is aiming at “an vniuersalitie of Readers.” This intention has important consequences for his handling of a once aristocratic tradition.

Of the four prefatory epistles, then, two might be called dedications. But there is also, in most copies, a frontispiece on the verso of the first leaf of the first gathering, opposite the title page, where one might take it for yet another dedication. In the Elizabethan Club copy at Yale it is not identified, and it has sometimes been taken to be one of the dedicatees of the prefatory epistles. In some copies, however, the same engraving appears in a different form (fig. 1), folding out at the bottom to reveal the inscription: “The most renowned most mightie & most Excellent HENRETTA MARIA of England, Scotland, France & Ireland, Queene, etc.,” followed by four lines of verse:

Copesmate to crowned Charles our Christian king:
Mother of Princes, blest in Every thing;
Dame Natures darling, whose vnmatch'd renowne,
Add's to the glorious luster of the Crowne.

This larger form of the frontispiece had, of course, to be pasted in, and it was presumably the publisher's intention to cancel the first leaf of the first gathering in copies with the paste-in, but the Huntington Library copy, which contains the engraving reproduced here, also has the other form of frontispiece, while the copy in the Beinecke Library at Yale has neither. Though, even with the inscription, this engraving, derived ultimately from a Van Dyck portrait,8 does not constitute a dedication in the strict sense, it is proper to put Queen Henrietta Maria at the top of that hierarchy of readers whom Heywood was addressing. Six years earlier he had written for her Love's Mistress, or The Queen's Masque, part play, part masque, which had so pleased the court that it had been twice repeated.

The first woman worthy is Deborah, an engraving of whom appears opposite the first page of text, as the engravings of her eight successors precede the sections devoted to them. Heywood tells with considerable verve the Bible story of Deborah's attempt to persuade Barak to assault the Canaanites under Sisera. Barak is very reluctant to take on the task imposed by the prophetess, and only agrees to it if she will go with him. What an admirable beginning for a story intended to undermine male chauvinism! But much more is to come, as all readers of the Bible will remember. “That Heroicke and masculine spirited Championesse,” as Heywood calls her (p. 15), so inspires Barak that the Canaanites are overcome, and Sisera flees from the battlefield. He takes refuge, as Deborah knew he would, in the tent of an Israelite family living in Canaanite territory. There Jael, the wife, having welcomed him, given him a drink of milk, and put him to sleep, drives a nail through his temples. Heywood paraphrases Deborah's great triumphal song with its praise for Jael, but adds: “Neither did this great honour done unto Iael, any way take off or derogate from the merit and magnanimity of Deborah …” (p. 19). Note “magnanimity,” one of the key words for a quality at the heart of the heroic tradition, expressed sometimes in liberality or largesse, sometimes in altruism, sometimes in great deeds or noble aspirations. Deborah had it and Barak did not, until she inspired him.

Next comes Judith, whose well-known head-chopping is vividly memorialized in the accompanying engraving and in paintings throughout the art galleries of the western world. “Match me this woman amongst men,” says Heywood in an introductory poem. Like Deborah, she changed the military fortunes of the Jews.

Esther, the wife of the Persian King Ahasuerus, is, as the illustration suggests …, a regal worthy of a somewhat milder cast, but also, through persuasion and contrivance rather than bloody deeds, a savior of her people.

In the group of worthies variously called the “gentiles” or the “heathen,” first place is given to Bunduca (alias Boadicea or Bondicia), not, surely, to suggest that she chronologically preceded Penthesilea, the Amazon who follows her, but presumably because she was British. Heywood writes:

How much, O Brittaine, are we bound to thee
Mother, and Nurse of magnanimity?
.....Witnes this British Queen, whose masculine spirit
Shall to all future, glorious fame inherit, …

(p. 68)

Boudicca, as she is known to modern historians, was indeed a formidable woman, the queen of the Iceni, who led their revolt against Rome in 61 a.d., which, for a while, seriously threatened Roman control. According to Heywood, she was not a “martiall Bosse, or Amazonian Giantesse, but tall of stature, and moderately fat and corpulent, her face excellently comely, yet withall incomparably terrible, her complexion very faire and beautifull, which who will wonder at in a Lady borne in Brittaine?” (p. 72). It may be debatable whether the engraving does her justice; no doubt it is difficult to convey the quality of the complexion in this medium. But in one respect the engraver is at odds with Heywood, who tells us that she wore her hair to her knees. He finishes his account of her with the information that Stonehenge was erected as a monument to her. In this section he is obviously warming up to his subject.

As a background for Penthesilea and to advance the cause of women he explains: “All these Heroyicke Ladies are generally called Viragoes, which is derived of Masculine Spirits, and to attempt those brave and Martiall Enterprises, which belong to the honour of men …” (p. 96). After discoursing for a time on this subject, he goes on to the story of her going to Troy to help the Trojans and, as some say, to be slain in single combat by Achilles.

Artimesia rates on more than one ground. First, her devotion to her husband, Mausolus, was such that after his death she built the monument to him that became one of the seven wonders of the world. (At this point Heywood describes the other six.) She also displayed magnanimity in giving away her estate. But her other main claim to worthihood was her fighting with Xerxes against the Greeks in the naval engagement that ended disastrously for him. Finding that Artimesia's ships had fought on long after the rest had fled, Xerxes said, “All my men this day have proved themselves women, and the women onely shewed themselves to be men …” (p. 127). By this time it may strike one that these women are consistently praised for being like the other sex rather than their own. However laudatory Heywood is, he seems basically to agree with Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady in wondering, “Why can't a woman be more like a man?”

It is no surprise that the three Christian women worthies are all British by birth or adoption; but with the exception of Queen Elizabeth, the last of them, the choice of British heroines is unexpected. The first is a lady whom Heywood calls sometimes Elphleda and more often Elpheda, but who appears in our history books as Aethelflaed, the eldest daughter of King Alfred, sister of Edward, who succeeded him, and wife of Aethelred, the ealdorman of Mercia. She materially aided her brother in his wars with the Danes by fortifying several strategic points in Mercia, and after her husband's death ruled that section of Britain for eight years as the “Lady of the Mercians.” I need hardly say that Heywood refers to her “Masculine Spirit” (p. 130). He illustrates it with a curious anecdote: “It is further reported of her, that after she had once prooved the paine of travaile in Child birth, shee for ever after abandoned the bed, and embraces of the Duke her Husband: saying, it was neither convenient nor seemely for a Kings Daughter, and Sister to a King, to expose her selfe to any such lustfull action, which might beget those pangs, and throws, which women were inforced to indure in travell, …” (p. 144). She then left “all other effeminacies” to devote herself to war. Her husband's reply to her non-negotiable demands is not recorded, but one is left to suppose that he agreed to everything. Continent, beautiful, free, and “masculine Spirited” (p. 143), Elpheda is clearly one of Heywood's favorites.

The eighth worthy is Margaret of Anjou, the wife of Henry VI. To find this tiger's heart, wrapped in a woman's hide, held up as exemplary, rather than cautionary, is initially breath-taking. Heywood admits that through this marriage Henry lost Anjou and maine, and that many people blamed civil disruptions on the fact that a woman began to take the government of the kingdom into her own hands; but he admires Margaret's “brave and Heroick Spirit” (p. 156), and is soon talking about her magnanimity in the sense of bravery, manifested both in military prowess and in her defiance of King Edward, even when she is in his power (pp. 167, 179). Sheer will and energy command Heywood's respect. He recounts the infamous episode of the taunting and killing of the Duke of York without comment. In this portrait Heywood is perhaps closest to the primitive heroic tradition, which values greatness above moral goodness, or assumes that virtus is the greatest virtue.

Last, but obviously not least, comes “this rare Heroicke Elizabeth” (p. 185), to whom Heywood also devoted a two-part play, a prose tract, and a poem. In this work she is presented quite simply as the sum of the heroic excellences of all the most virtuous ladies.

From the samples given so far it would be hard to form an opinion of the style of this book. There are, as one quotation revealed, sections in verse (they occur at the beginning of each portrait), but well over ninety percent of the whole is prose. Though the poems occasionally get up a head of rhetorical steam, for the most part they jog along with facile rhymes and no special distinction. The prose is workmanlike, readable, and well-suited to narrative—far removed from the grandeur of epic but a natural development of the style of exemplary biography and popular history. Heywood classifies his work as a kind of history, which he defines with a parade of learned terminology. There are four categories of history: nugatory (comical dramas), adhortatory (Aesop's fables), fictionary (poetical narrations), and relatory (adhering to truth), this last being the category to which his tractate belongs. Then, with a proliferation of schemes worthy of Northrop Frye, he further divides history into four species, taken from place (geography), time (chronology), generation (genealogy), and “gests really done” (annology) (sig. **3). The Exemplary Lives are presumably instances of relatory annology, where the emphasis falls on truth. Heywood was enough of a scholar to know that traditional rhetorical decorum prescribed a low style for such an enterprise.

It is characteristic of Heywood, with his divided allegiance to court and city, to have chosen a kind of writing that upholds the values of an aristocratic society while it is addressed to a far wider audience. One senses the same popularizing of the heroic tradition in his plays on the Four Ages, in his The Four Prentices of London (those noblemen in disguise who deliver Jerusalem), and in his enthusiastic comments in the Apology for Actors on the wonderful effect of heroic deeds upon a theater audience: “… what English blood seeing the person of any bold English man presented and doth not hugge his fame, and hunnye at his valor, pursuing him in his enterprise with his best wishes. …”9

Heywood's practice is merely one of many indications of this widening audience and of the transformations of the heroic tradition that it effected. The popularity of the Amadis and Palmerin romances in the late sixteenth century is another such indication. But the transformation was not always, as in this last instance, a debasing of coinage; it could also be a simplification suited to a program of uplift. Heroic literature, addressed primarily to the noblest and best—that is, to the aristocracy—must always have found readers and listeners among those with aristocratic sympathies, if not blood, and among the curious and the dreamers, whose wishes were fulfilled by such marvelous doings. By the seventeenth century it was technically feasible to reach a rapidly increasing number of readers, and an author with Heywood's ambition and missionary zeal could both play upon and encourage their aristocratic yearnings. Though Judith and Margaret of Anjou may not represent what every woman wants to be, they are frankly presented as examples of what women have achieved and therefore may achieve. By implication these histories are, after all, adhortatory as well as relatory.

Before leaving the matter of mixed modes I must also mention the tradition of compendia which asserts its influence on this work. Heywood seems never happier than when he is sharing with his reader the hoards of information that he has busily accumulated here and there, squirrel or magpie of scholarship that he is. Gunaikeion is a catch-all of legends, history, and anecdotes about all sorts of women. The Hierarchy of the Blessed Angels, another monumental work, is not an orderly disquisition on the functions of each of the angelic ranks, as one might expect it to be, but a stupefying collection of information and anecdotes of the most various sorts. In the Exemplary Lives, where he has supposedly confined himself to the nine women of his choice, the restriction proves intolerable, and by the time he has reached his fifth woman worthy he can no longer hold himself in. As a background for Penthesilea he runs through the principal facts about eight other “Heroyicke Ladies” (pp. 96-99). Some of these receive second mention in another list of thirty-five heroic women in all ages, which he rattles off in the Artimesia chapter, and before he embarks on the story of Elpheda he cannot resist digressing on the subject of fourteen women who were the occasion of “much combustion and trouble” and giving yet another catalogue of seven eminent and excellent women (pp. 132-36). In these sections his treatise becomes the Reader's Digest of heroic legend.

I have already said that the tradition of the Nine Worthies was primarily visual. In fact, Heywood's book seems to have been inspired by the illustrative engravings, which already existed as a series called The Nine Woemen Worthys. Three Jewes. Three Heathens. Three Christians., by George Glover,10 who also did some of the illustrations for The Hierarchy of the Blessed Angels. In this form there appeared in the lower margin of Plate 1 the title of the series, the name Debora, four lines of descriptive verse, the artist's name, and the imprint. Each of the other eight plates had the name of the woman worthy and descriptive verses. Oddly enough, the names of the worthies are not quite identical, for Zenobia appears among the heathen instead of Bunduca, who is placed (under the variant name of “Bonditia”) among the Christians. Heywood has moved her into the heathen category, where presumably, she belongs, leaving Zenobia out (though she receives brief mention in two of his lists of heroic ladies) and adding Elpheda among the Christians. The engraving of Zenobia was simply retitled “Elpheda.” As a comparison of the two Deborahs shows, Heywood's plates are identical except for the masking of the marginal titles and inscriptions.

A review of the iconic tradition behind this depiction of the nine women worthies is out of the question here, but a very few samples will help to make one or two more points about Heywood's book. Dating from the fourteenth century, approximately contemporaneous with the list of worthies by Jacques de Longuyon, are the Nine Heroes tapestries at The Cloisters, woven for the Duc de Berry. The original three tapestries, depicting three heroes each, were cut up and dispersed, but enough pieces have been found and reassembled to reconstitute the panels showing five of the nine. Reproduced here is one of the heathens, probably Alexander, surrounded by courtiers and warriors. The heroes are identified by their shields, by motifs on their clothing, and by what they hold in their hands. The device on this shield is sometimes given to Hector, but more often to Alexander.

The stiff formality of the figures makes them seem remote, each in his niche, like the figures on the façade of a cathedral. James Rorimer and Margaret Freeman observe that the treatment of the figures is very similar to that in the stained glass windows of the Duc de Berry's Sainte Chapelle in Bourges.11 The rigidity perhaps confirms one impression made by the arrangement of major and minor figures—a stable order centered on the hero-king (for even Joshua and Caesar are crowned). Each one is a benefactor, surrounded by grateful subjects. But all the figures also have a certain grace and nobility consonant with chivalric romance. The courtly decorum of the entire group suggests a scene in Chrétien de Troyes. These worthies are models and marvels not only of prowess but of magnanimity and courtesy as well.

The early “preuses” who appeared in the lost tapestries of Charles VI or in the surviving frescoes by Iverny in the Castello di Manta in Piedmont were, like most of Heywood's worthies, unusually fierce women, though in the frescoes and in manuscript illuminations they strike graceful attitudes with their spears, battle-axes, and shields. Like their male counterparts, they are set apart, elevated, as it were (and sometimes literally so), the better to be admired.

The medieval images of worthies, male and female, are preserved in an unexpected way on the face cards of the familiar playing deck. The design of American cards derives from British cards, which were based on a sixteenth-century Rouen deck.12 The French tradition went back to the fourteenth century, to the period of greatest interest in the worthies, several of whose names became associated with cards. The four kings were: Charlemagne (hearts), David (spades), Caesar (diamonds), and Alexander (clubs). The Queen of Hearts was Judith, the Queen of Diamonds sometimes Penthesilea, but more often Rachel. They have the same stiff formality as the figures in the tapestries.

In the Renaissance, when frescoes succeeded tapestries as the accepted way to decorate a great hall, the depiction of “uomini famosi” continued, but not the same worthies, and not necessarily nine of them. There is an obvious connection between such paintings and all the heroic portraits and statues of the time, but the sets of famous men and women executed as mural programs are related most closely to the worthies tradition. Worthy women were also, most appropriately, often depicted on wedding chests, though some of them, such as Judith, must have seemed like ill omens to young husbands. In the middle of the fifteenth century Andrea del Castagno painted, in the Volta di Legnaia of the Villa Carducci, a splendid set of heroes and heroines, which may be compared with the medieval worthies. Since they were removed from the original walls many years ago, we cannot be sure how they were originally arranged.

Among these worthies is Pippo Spano, whose real name was Filippo Scolari, a Florentine condottiere of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth century. He spent most of his life in Hungary and Germany as advisor of the Emperor Sigismund, who made him count (ispan) of Temesvar. Though he lived slightly before Castagno's time (he visited Florence for the last time before Castagno's birth), he was a relatively recent hero. Castagno, who may have seen a likeness of him, depicts him as a living man and as an individual. Though his armor and sword are, in a sense, emblematical, the portrait has none of the remoteness or formality of the heroes in the medieval tapestries. One obvious way in which he is made to impinge on our world is Castagno's breaking of the frame he has put around his figure. Pippo, instead of sitting on a throne in a niche, is about to step out. Admirable and outstanding as he is, he is one of us.

The same may be said of Farinata degli Uberti, who is a little more remote in time—a thirteenth-century Ghibelline who appears in the tenth canto of the Inferno. Though there may be some effort to give him the costume of his period, his hat is of a fashion popular in Castagno's time. The immediacy and credibility of these heroes seem to be Castagno's aim.

For Queen Tomyris Castagno had, naturally, to draw on his imagination, but he makes her as much a living individual as Pippo and Farinata. The mere placing of such a worthy alongside the almost contemporary ones asserts the continuity of the heroic tradition. Though the decapitator of Cyrus the Great is shown in an unaggressive pose, the armor beneath her graceful tunic speaks for what Heywood would call her masculine spirit.

In the half-length figure of Esther, which was designed to go over a door, Castagno has obviously attempted to portray the character of a queen who could so influence her husband that the fate of her people was drastically altered. No less exemplary than their medieval predecessors, Castagno's figures are more humanly credible.

After these Renaissance worthies Glover's nine women, with the exception of Queen Elizabeth, seem strangely decorative—almost frivolous, with their bits of flying lace—as unreal as the Medieval worthies, but in a different way. For one thing, all of them except Elizabeth seem to be either like Deborah or like Esther. Bunduca and Penthesilea have that same heaviness of feature, that same rather straight hair. Esther, on the contrary, is closer to being what one might call “cute,” with frizzy hair parted in the middle and brought down on both sides of her smallish face. Artimesia, Elpheda, and Margaret of Anjou are remarkably similar. Judith, somewhat puzzlingly, has characteristics of both models. Whether or not these resemblances are fanciful, the impression remains that these ladies are in fancy dress—that they have put on costumes to play the roles of worthies.

Such a suggestion leads us inevitably back to Heywood's association with the court and the world of the masque, where court ladies, from the queen on down, did indeed play such roles. Inigo Jones's costume design for Penthesilea in The Masque of Queens shows another elegantly helmeted lady in a dress that suggests armor—not in real armor covered by a tunic, as in Castagno's painting of Tomyris. Glover's designs are surely more like this than like the depictions of the worthies in the tapestry or in Castagno's frescoes. Without directly imitating Inigo Jones, Glover seems to show his awareness of the current fashion in designing heroic figures for the court masque.

The masque was a major expression of heroic ideals, closely related to heroic portraiture. As Andrea del Castagno painted Niccolò da Tolentino as an equestrian statue of the Roman imperial sort, while at the same time making both horse and man seem to be full of life, and as Van Dyck painted Charles I, not as he was, but as the perfect warrior and lover, and yet very much a part of the Cavalier world, so the contrivers and designers of masques transformed the noble ladies and gentlemen of the court. In these “spectacles of state” the participants were both themselves and some far nobler extension of themselves. They were given the opportunity to play the heroic roles they read about—to be for a moment what perhaps they truly wanted to be. Charles, for all his ineptitude, may genuinely have wished to be the beneficent lover of his people that Carew made him in the role of Philogenes in Salmacida Spolia in the ominous year 1640. And it may be that for many people in the seventeenth century heroism of the sort that is glorified in epic and romance was to some extent a role. The work we are considering, though far removed from the conventions of the masque and not addressed to the court, may share with the masque certain assumptions or hypotheses. Heywood seems to be saying to his female readers, “You, too, Lady Theophila and Mistress Elizabeth, may be a Deborah or an Elpheda.” So, at least, the engravings make us think.

In 1637 Heywood wrote a book called The Phoenix of these late times: Or the life of Mr. Henry Welby, Esq., who lived at his house in Grub-street forty foure yeares, and in that space, was never seene by any, aged 84. The last number refers to his supposed age at the time of his death. The little book is a eulogy, but also a strange example. Welby lived a fairly active life for forty years, manifesting several of the chivalric virtues, which, by the seventeenth century, had become the marks of a gentleman. “Now courage and courtesie are the two principal decorements that adorne a gentleman,” Heywood writes (sig. C 4), going on to speak of Welby's bounty, honor, and humility. Then, in his forty-first year, a traumatic experience changed the course of his life: his younger brother attempted to shoot him. The pistol misfired, however, and the elder Welby disarmed his would-be assassin. After a period of meditation on this event, he decided to retire from the world, and had a house in Grub Street rebuilt in such a way that he need never see anyone, even the servants who took care of him. “What should I say?” Heywood comments (sig. A2), “hee dyed living, that he might live dying: his life was a perpetuall death, that his death might bring him to an eternal life. …” Despite the religious tone induced by this sort of rhetoric, the pamphlet is a sort of journalism—a feature story or profile of an odd character who is also exemplary, presented so as to interest the average reader. It is to the heroic tradition what Elbert Hubbard's Little Journeys to the Homes of Great Philosophers (1904) is to philosophy.13

Yet The Phoenix of these late times is not radically different from the Exemplary Lives. The heroic tradition blended with other traditions more easily than one might have supposed, so that vestiges of it appear in the most unlikely places. No abrupt shift of sensibility characterizes the development of certain kinds of heroes and heroines into the subject matter of the didactic and sentimental literature of the eighteenth century or of a twentieth-century article on “The Most Fascinating Character I Have Met.”


  1. For valuable advice and assistance in the preparation of this paper I am indebted to Professor David Cast of the History of Art Department at Yale University; Miss Helen Chillman, the Art Librarian; Miss Marjorie Wynne, Research Librarian at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library; Mr. James Thorpe, Director of the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery; and Mr. Carey S. Bliss, Curator of Rare Books at that library. For their kindness in allowing me to reproduce illustrative material I am obliged to the institutions cited under the illustrations. In the quotations extended passages in italic have been silently altered to roman type.

  2. Edited by S. Solente, 2 vols., (Paris: H. Champion, 1936). On the subject of exemplary biography see O. B. Hardison, The Enduring Moment (Chapel Hill, N. C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1962).

  3. See The First English Life of Henry the Fifth, edited by C. L. Kingsford (Oxford, 1911), pp. 4-7.

  4. Apology for Poetry in Elizabethan Critical Essays, edited by G. Gregory Smith (Oxford, 1904), 1: 179.

  5. Thomas Heywood, Playwright and Miscellanist (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1931), p. 93.

  6. For Longuyon see John Barbour, The Buik of Alexander, edited by R. L. Graeme Ritchie (Edinburgh, 1821-29), 4: 402-6, where the French is printed opposite the Scottish translation; for The Parlement Israel Gollancz's edition (London, 1897), lines 297-583; for The Flower and the Leaf W. W. Skeat's edition of Chaucer (Oxford, 1897), 7: 377.

  7. See Jules Guiffrey, Les Tapisseries du XIIe à la fin du XVIe siècle, in Histoire générale des arts appliqués à l'industrie du Ve à la fin du XVIIIe siècle, edited by Emile Molinier, vol. 6 (Paris: E. Lévy et cie., n.d.), pp. 31-32; and Paolo d'Ancona, “Gli affreschi del Castello di Manta nel Saluzzese,” L'Arte 8 (1905): 94-106, 184-95. For a capricious variation of the tradition see Bruce Dickins, “The Nine Unworthies,” in Medieval Literature and Civilization: Studies in Memory of G. N. Garmonsway, edited by D. A. Pearsall and R. A. Waldron (London: Athlone Press, 1969), pp. 228-32.

  8. See Margery Corbett and Michael Norton, Engraving in England in the 16th and 17th Centuries [a continuation of the work of A. Hind], Part III (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964), under “George Glover,” #67.

  9. 1612; re-edition New York: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1941), sig. B4.

  10. Described by Corbett and Norton, Engraving in England, under “Glover,” #67.

  11. “The Nine Heroes Tapestries at the Cloisters,” Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., vol. 7 (1948-49), pp. 243-60.

  12. See W. Gurney Benham, Playing Cards (London, 1931).

  13. That Elbert Hubbard also shared Heywood's feminist sympathies is suggested by his Little Journeys to the Homes of Famous Women (1897) and his Little Journeys to the Homes of Good Men and Great (1895), starting off with George Eliot.

Further Reading

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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 published plays.

Briggs, K. M. “Heywood's Hierarchie of the Blessed Angells.Folklore 80 (summer 1969): 89-106.

Analysis of the literary and folkloric sources for Heywood's long didactic poem Hierarchie of the Blessed Angells.

Carson, Neil. “Collaborative Playwriting: The Chettle, Dekker, Heywood Syndicate.” Theater Research International 14, no. 1 (spring 1989): 13-23.

Explores the subject of collaborative playwriting for the Elizabethan theater by Heywood and two of his frequent collaborators.

Clark, Arthur Melville. “Heywood the Dramatist.” In Thomas Heywood, Playwright and Miscellanist, pp. 208-51. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1931.

Authoritative treatment of Heywood's career as a playwright.

Cooper, Lisa H. “Chivalry, Commerce, and Conquest: Heywood's The Four Prentices of London.” In Material Culture and Cultural Materialisms in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, pp. 159-75. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols Publishers, 2001.

Contends that Heywood's play appealed to both the aristocracy and the emerging bourgeoisie by representing both groups as participants in the eleventh-century Crusades.

Crook, Nonna Neil Rhodes. “The Daughters of Memory: Thomas Heywood's Gunaikeion and the Female Computer.” In The Renaissance Computer: Knowledge Technology in the First Age of Print, edited by Neil Rhodes and Jonathan Sawday, pp. 135-48. London: Routledge, 2000.

Considers Heywood's Gunaikeion as an “encyclopaedia of women” in the English Renaissance.

Eliot, T. S. “Thomas Heywood.” In Selected Essays, pp. 171-81. London: Faber and Faber, 1933.

Maintains that Heywood's plays, while popular in their time, are justifiably neglected today.

Hammill, Graham. “Instituting Modern Time: Citizen Comedy and Heywood's Wise Woman of Hogsdon.Renaissance Drama 29 (1998): 73-105.

Explores the relationship of Heywood's play to the genre of citizen comedy in establishing heterosexuality as a cultural norm.

Kamps, Ivo. “Thomas Heywood and the Princess Elizabeth: Disrupting Diachronic History.” In Historiography and Ideology in Stuart Drama, pp. 67-90. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Discussion of the political message in Heywood's popular play If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody.

Lewis, Cynthia. “Heywood's Gunaikeion and Woman-Kind in A Woman Killed with Kindness.English Language Notes 32, no. 1 (September 1994): 24-37.

Examines parallels between Heywood's play and his nonfiction treatise on women.

Robinson, Benedict Scott. “Thomas Heywood and the Cultural Politics of Play Collections.” Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 42, no. 2 (spring 2002): 361-80.

Discussion of the difficulties Heywood faced in publishing a collection of his dramatic works.

Rowland, Richard. “The Captives: Thomas Heywood's ‘Whole Monopoly Off Mischeiff.’” Modern Language Review 90, no. 3 (July 1995): 585-602.

Compares critical neglect of Heywood's The Captives with the negative commentaries on Plautus's Rudens, on which Heywood's text is based.

Van Fossen, R. W. Introduction to A Woman Killed with Kindness, edited by R. W. Van Fossen, pp. xv-lxix. London: Methuen & Co., 1961.

Introduction to Heywood's most famous play, including background information on the author and his sources.

Velte, Mowbray. The Bourgeois Elements in the Dramas of Thomas Heywood. New York: Haskell House, 1966, 156 p.

Study of the elements of Heywood's plays intended to appeal to a middle-class audience.

Additional coverage of Heywood's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 62; DISCovering Authors Modules: Dramatists; Literary Movements for Students, Vol. 1; Literature Resource Center; Reference Guide to English Literature Ed. 2; and Twayne's English Authors.

Raymond C. Shady (essay date 1980)

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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” and “masque” are interdependent.

The singularity of this play bears stressing. Jonson and Shirley wrote both plays and masques but rarely combined them structurally or thematically. Cynthia's Revels (1600) and The Poetaster (1601), for example, contain masques, but they are set apart from the whole and simply reflect the action of the play; the allegory of Honor and Riches (1631) and the lyrical grace of Triumph of Beauty (1639), on the other hand, lean rather to the less dramatic masque form. Dekker and Ford's brief play, The Sun's Darling (1623), while it approximates to Love's Mistress in its mythological allegory, falls far short of it in sustained dramatic appeal. Lyly, Dekker, Middleton and Rowley, Webster and Shakespeare all “use” masque elements in their plays; but only Heywood seems to have hit upon or chosen the harmonious combination of the two forms that allowed him to assert modestly in his Preface, that the play “gave so general a content, that I presume … their sacred Majesties … never parted from any object presented in that kind, better pleased, or more plenally satisfied.”

There are three levels of action in Love's Mistress which comprise the play's dramatic structure: the interaction of the characters Apuleius and Midas serves as the main unifying principle of the play, and as a choral framework through which all the major thematic concerns of the play are expressed; the Cupid and Psyche story, adapted from Apuleius' The Golden Ass, provides beauty and elegance, and the chief substance of Heywood's “argument” in the play; the sequence of episodes involving Corydon and the swains are comic interludes, designed to reflect the action of the two other levels. These three separate threads are all intimately related both structurally and thematically. Their inter-relationships are forcibly realized at those few moments in the play when these levels intersect, when characters forgo their functional positions within the structure of the whole play to inter-act with characters at a different level. This juxtaposition and inter-relationship of characters and themes provide a delightful source of dramatic perspective, as well as the basis for understanding and appreciating the play.


In The Golden Ass, when Lucius is finally re-metamorphosed into his human shape, he undergoes a series of purification rites to prepare him to be a servant and minister to the great goddess Isis. After fasting, praying and performing sacrifices, he is taken by a high priest to the sacred temple, where he is granted a vision of heaven and hell. He tells us that he can relate only a small portion of his divine vision “for the understanding of the profane,” since to elaborate further on the mysteries of the gods might cause “both thy ears and my tongue [to] incur the like pain of rash curiosity.”

When Apuleius first walks on to the stage in Love's Mistress he is carrying his ass's ears, so lately shaken off, to remind him of his previous “vain ambitions.” Like his counterpart in The Golden Ass, he still smarts from the pain brought about by his rash curiosity. Before his own downfall, he had “a brain aimed at inscrutable things / Beyond the moon,” but now he realizes that it was his overzealous aspirations and pride that had turned him “to so dull a beast”:

That knowing man who keeps not in his bounds,
But pries into heaven's hidden mysteries
Further than leave, his dulness is increased,
Ceaseth to be a man, and so turns beast.

(i. i. 9-12)1

Apuleius is like Lucius in that he too is a former and once-fallen ass who now clearly sees the vanity of his misguided curiosity. In the same way that Lucius must purify himself in the eyes of the goddess who has restored his true shape, so must Apuleius make a pilgrimage to Aganippe's spring to perform a sacrifice at the temple of the Muses. As Love's Mistress unfolds, it becomes clear that Apuleius has been granted some new-found aesthetic perspective which allows him to act in the role of a representative of the Arts in general, and divine Poetry in particular. In castigating Midas for his covetous desire for the golden touch, Apuleius speaks ex cathedra poetica when he declares,

I'll make thee then ingenuously confess
Thy treason 'gainst the Muses' majesty;
Withal, not only whatsoever's mine,
But all true poets' raptures are divine.

(i. i. 75-78)

So in spite of the fact that Apuleius still carries “folly's crest” about with him, Heywood clearly means him to speak for the cause of the poet, and against the dull and the ignorant who dare “with Arts compare.”

But Apuleius never reaches the Muses' hill. After asking the audience “the way to Helicon” and receiving no response, he attempts to seek direction from Midas. “The Muses?” answers Midas, “Hang the Muses”; and when Apuleius explains that he must perform a sacrifice there, that “most unreverend groom” suggests, “An ass head of thy own thou must perform.” Midas proceeds to make his aesthetic position very clear—he is reasonably content living “A beast among wild beasts”:

I tell thee once again, I know no Muses,
No Muses' hill, no Aganippe's spring;
And what is more, I care for no such toys.

(i. i. 36-38)

Apuleius had been transformed into an ass because he had aspired to the knowledge of heavenly mysteries, but Midas reveals that he has been turned into a beast because of his experiences with the golden touch. The two are quite clearly asses of a different colour: Apuleius, a reformed over-reacher, is an ass only by reason of his vain ambition, since abandoned; while Midas is a dull, unimaginative ass, not only unable to hear the music in the divine raptures of the poetry, but also “A block, a stone, yet learning he'll revile.”

By the end of the first scene, when Apuleius has finally prevailed with Midas to sit and see his story of “Cupid's love to Psyche,” Heywood has very neatly laid the foundation for the basic thematic concern of the play, which incorporates the more aesthetic moments of Neo-platonic exegesis, as well as the grotesquerie of the antimasques. The root of this thematic concern lies in the character of Apuleius, who assures his audience that they shall not “part from hence / With unfeasted ears.” His function is not simply to relate the story of Cupid and Psyche. In fact he declares that his primary purpose has been “To expose to [the audience] the shapes of all those asses / With whom my lost soul wandered in a mist”; while the position of the classical myth is almost an after-thought. The function of the play, then, is not precisely captured in the title, but lies rather in the spectacle and debate of opposing opinions of critical taste. Speaking to the audience of his own relationship with Midas, Apuleius declares:

We two contend—Art here, there Ignorance.
Be you the judges; we invite you all
Unto this banquet academical.

(i. i. 82-84)

The ground for this debate between Art and Ignorance lies in the presentation of the Cupid and Psyche story, in response to which both parties are allowed to express their critical opinions. Midas commences the choral discussion at the end of Act i, after he has seen a fair portion of the story, with his characteristic reserve and moderation:

Hand off, let go my sheep-hook! I'll not stay
I'll hang myself ere I'll see out thy play.
Call you this poetry?

(i. vi. 1-3)

In response to his dissatisfaction, Apuleius suits himself to Midas' common taste, and presents the spectacular antimasque that he had promised in the first scene. Six human asses, representing Pride, Debauchery, Drunkenness, Usury, Fickleness and Ignorance, enter one after another to entertain the obviously thrilled Midas. In response to Apuleius' observation that the Ignorant Ass represents Midas himself, the king of beasts defensively counters by demanding, “where's your Poet Ass among all these?” Midas is talking about those

That let not men lie quiet in their graves,
But haunt their ghosts with ballads and bald rhymes[.]
Do they not teach the very fiends in hell
Speak in blank verse? Do we not daily see
Every dull-witted ass spit poetry?

(i. vi. 47-51)

And then, in a magnificent appeal to reason and common sense, totally devoid of any imagination, Midas condemns Cupid and Psyche with great indignation:

And for thy scene, thou bring'st here on the stage
A young green-sickness baggage to run after
A little ape-faced boy thou term'st a god!
Is not this most absurd?

(i. vi. 52-55)

Apuleius' response is wrought from as much exasperation as Midas' query: “Misunderstanding fool, thus much conceive: / Psyche is Anima, Psyche is the Soul.” The debate proceeds as Apuleius explains the allegorical significance of every detail in his story to the scarcely discerning Midas, who can only half-heartedly assure him, “Thou hast made this somewhat plain.” The two characters respond to the story of Cupid and Psyche in ways which establish a pattern recurring in every act of the play: Midas' first reaction to the story is to escape. Only as the play progresses does he very gradually respond to the story itself by demanding clarification. It is Apuleius' function every time to coax him back to his important position within this debate as both chorus and representative of Ignorance. It is for Midas, then, that the antimasques are introduced into every Act of the play; for without the positive reinforcement of Apuleius' commentary, Midas can see the story as nothing more than “villainous lies.” Apuleius, on the other hand, is forced by Midas to respond to his own story by making clear his “absurdities” for his ignorant companion, and consequently he provides the allegorical commentary for the play.

At the end of Act ii, when Midas again tries to leave, Apuleius allows him to present his own antimasque for the disconcerting reason that “Art must sometimes give way to Ignorance.” At face value, this statement may appear to question Heywood's artistic integrity: is he merely catering to the debased taste of the ignorant, or “to the rather pompous frivolity of the queen and her ladies?”2 The conflict between Apuleius and Midas concerning the function of art and entertainment on the stage is very clearly didactic. Midas is a misunderstanding fool, but he is not insidious in his threat against the Arts. In An Apology for Actors (1612), Heywood writes, “To speak my opinion with all indifferency, God hath not enioyned vs to weare all our apparrell solely to defend the cold: Some garments we weare for warmth, others for ornament.”3 In this instance, he is defending the place of the theatre within society, in response to the many “seditious Sectists” of his age who were opposed to the stage; but the analogy is easily adapted to Heywood's concept of the Horatian formula of prodesse and delectare. There is no question that he considered the dulce to be of equal importance with the utile, and it is through the relationship of Art and Ignorance that we see the function of the antimasques in Love's Mistress. This “Ignorance” is not absolutely insipid, nor is it something that Art must aesthetically “give way” to; rather, it represents “ornament” or delectatio, diverting and entertaining to the audience and the reader. Apuleius himself agrees that the dance of Pan, the clown, swains and wenches in Act ii is sport indeed: “My modesty gives thee no reprehension, / For I am well pleased with thy pastoral mirth.”

While spoon-feeding this allegorical commentary to the befuddled Midas, Apuleius constantly echoes his own trangression against the sanctions of the gods. Midas does not understand why Cupid hides himself from Psyche's sight when she first arrives at Cupid's bower, but Apuleius simply answers, “Oh who dares pry into those mysteries / That heaven would have concealed?” Later he remarks that Psyche's predicament grew so extreme because “She aimed to search forbidden mysteries.” Psyche's cheeks are soon to be blasted and deformed in the same manner, and for the same reason, that Apuleius was once turned into a Bottom.

The mythological characteristics of Midas from Ovid's Metamorphoses are again apparent in Act iii but with a twist that fuses two levels of action in the play, and provides a delightful interlude after Psyche's disobedience and tragic fall. Heywood transforms Ovid's account of the musical contest between Pan and Apollo to accommodate his own gallery of unlikely heroes: Midas is chosen to be the judge in a singing contest which sets one of Apollo's minions against Midas' bastard son.4 Apollo is apparently aware of the judge's relationship to his opponent's champion, but he is certainly not as aware as the reader of Midas' fierce loyalty to the Arcadian “arts.” Midas is further prejudiced against Apollo on account of the god's last musical confrontation with another Arcadian who was flayed alive for his efforts.5 But Midas is confident, and declares that

                                                  though poor Marsyas
For striving with thee had his skin pulled off,
Yet have we swains, and some, too, not far off
(I could have said, some near to me in blood)
Can tickle you for a tone.

(iii. ii. 35-39)

With much of the half-hearted conviction he had betrayed in dealing with Apuleius, Midas acknowledges the song of Apollo's champion to be “somewhat to th' purpose.” But after his bastard son “sets out a throat” with his doggerel sing-song praise for Pan, Midas reveals that he can censure as well as his son can sing, “and that most learnedly.” Midas forsakes his primary role as chorus, which he never wanted in the first place, and enters into the action of the play to which he has formerly been audience. In his new role of actor and critic he again betrays his earthy unimaginative taste, but now there is no Apuleius to call him a fool, and more Arcadians to cheer for his son and Pan than for Apollo. And so he declares:

Thy harp to Pan's pipe yield, god Phoebus,
For 'tis not now as in diebus
Illis; Pan all the year we follow,
But semel in anno ridet Apollo.
Thy quirester cannot come near
The voice of this our Chanticlear.

(iii. ii. 105-10)

The price that Midas pays for his gross indiscretion marks the symbolic transferral of Apuleius' ears to himself. In the very first scene of the play, Midas had warned Apuleius, “take heed, poet, that your rhymes be sound, / Else with thine own ass ears thou shalt be crowned.” Now, the case is altered, and because of his own unsound censure, Midas is newly crowned an ass by Apollo: “Midas, for thee, may thy ears longer grow, / As shorter still thy judgment.”

Midas' one and only foray into another level of action in the play is certainly costly. But like a true ass, he remains unmiffed by Apollo's condemnation, and returns to his original role of chorus, resplendent in his new ears, and proud that he had been able to maintain “our rural music, / Preferring it before Apollo's harp.” He also returns no wiser, as Apuleius is persuaded to arrange another antimasque to keep him awake: “Love's Contrarieties,” in which a king and a beggar, a young man and an old woman, a lean man and a fat woman, all enter and dance together showing that “Love hath power over all.” And for the third time, Apuleius must then explain the allegorical meaning of the story to Midas, who does not understand the significance of Psyche's discovery of Cupid, and the god's subsequent wrath:

One glimpse, one lamp, one spark, one divine thought
Plucks back her arm, and more inflames her breast
With amorous raptures. But because, poor soul,
She aimed to search forbidden mysteries,
Her eyes are blasted, Cupid loathes her sight,
He leaves her ugly and his blessed bower
Is rent in pieces. For heaven seems to fall
When our poor souls turn diabolical.

(iii. iii. 32-39)

This pattern of the interaction between Apuleius and Midas is repeated in the last scene of Act iv, when the latter suddenly finds that he is in need of some “quaint device, / Some kick-shaw or other to keep waking.” Apuleius grudgingly begs the pardon of the audience and agrees to comply with Midas' wishes:

Of Vulcan's cyclops I'll so much entreat,
That thou shalt see them on their anvil beat.
'Tis music fitting thee, for who but knows,
The vulgar are best pleased with noise and shows.

(iv. iii. 7-10)

Act iv marks the last time that Apuleius provides Midas, and “such like drones,” with an analysis and explanation of his allegory, insisting even to the end that the true meaning of the story is “to the wise, perspicuous and most plain.”6

The conflict between Art and Ignorance continues through Act v, even after the triumphant conclusion of the Cupid and Psyche story, when all the gods and goddesses have danced in heavenly harmony on Psyche's wedding day. Midas blusters out on to the stage, followed by the exasperated Apuleius, and arrogantly demands:

Is this your moral? this your poetry?
What hast thou done, what spoke, what represented,
Which I with all these cannot justly tax?

(v. iii. 127-29)

Apuleius agrees: anyone as obtuse and stupid as Midas probably could find fault with the story, although he would certainly remain unaware of the “golden truth” which would always be obscured by his “shallow nonsense.”

Cupid must play the role of arbitrator in their strife, and he speaks for both audience and reader in weighing the case between Art and Ignorance. Cupid's decision is one of moderation, and harmonious reconciliation, and further illustrates that “Love hath power over all”:

                                                  One seeks to advance
His Art, the other stands for Ignorance.
Both hope, and both shall have their merits full:
Here's meed for either, both the apt and dull.
Pleased or displeased, this censure I allow:
Keep thou the ass's ears, the laurel thou.

(v. iii. 136-41)

Midas is not condemned for his ignorance. Both he and Apuleius continue to prosper according to their individual merits, the one with the symbol of his true ignorant and earthy metal, the other now wearing the symbol of poetic excellence. The fact that both characters are allowed to have “their merits full,” seems to suggest a structural unity to the play which gladly embraces both the Art of the allegory and the Ignorance of the antimasque. Apuleius and Midas represent a calculated juxtaposition of the Horatian concepts of instruction and entertainment, both of which are integral parts of the dramatic structure of Love's Mistress.


Not too deeply submerged beneath Heywood's adaptation of the classical myth is a Christian theme of disobedience, fall and redemption, which parallels the Apuleian allegory in The Golden Ass. Psyche is, at once, a representation of both the Soul and sinful man, who because of his overweening pride, falls and risks damnation, until his sacrifice and penance cleanse him of his sins and make him worthy in the eyes of God. Her story also parallels that of Apuleius, and consequently of Lucius in The Golden Ass, since they are both brought low for having “aimed at inscrutable things, / Beyond the moon,” and for attempting to pry into “heaven's hidden mysteries.”

Psyche's “pride” is actually closer to frivolity, especially since her vain ambitions are regarded as the natural side-effects of her fickle, female nature. Nevertheless, within the allegorical framework of the play, her tragic downfall and expulsion from Cupid's bower of bliss are a direct result of her “pride”; the pride that the off-stage Echoes mock when she presumes to eat the heavenly food at Cupid's board; her pride in styling herself “queen of delight” when she first speaks with her husband; and her pride in dealing with her sisters when she describes Cupid: “Come, come; you shall not be enamoured / On my fair husband. This for all suffice: / He's young and rich.” Ironically, of course, it is Psyche's “high felicity” which sparks her cruel sisters to plot her downfall. When Petrea innocently remarks that it does her good to see her sister marry into money, Astioche, the more vile of the two creatures, responds:

Thou art a fool, Petrea, for I hate
That any's fortune should transcend my state.
She sends us hence in scorn, but we'll return,
And never cease, till by some treachery,
Her pride we make a slave to misery.

(ii. i. 80-84)

The Sisters return shortly and easily trap Psyche when she contradicts herself in speaking about her husband. (She has already admitted that it is very easy for her own tongue to “breed [her] confusion.”) And as they turn Psyche's pride back upon itself to bring about her destruction, Heywood alludes to the Garden of Eden to accentuate Psyche's precarious situation. Astioche reminds her of Apollo's oracle, in which he declared that Psyche would marry a “husband not of human race,” and one whose “serpent face / If she behold, she must see Hell,” She then closes the trap on the unwitting Psyche by saying,

Last night, when we went hence laden with gold,
We spied a serpent gliding on the mead,
Who at the sight of us, writhing his head
Proudly into the air, first hissed at heaven,
Because it did not shade him from our eyes …
In at these gates he rolled.

(ii. iv. 46-50)

Like a Miltonic toad at Psyche's ear, Astioche offers her counsel to relieve her sister's anxiety, promising that if she “behold his horrid shape, / And with the razor cut his scaly throat,” she will “by death gain life.”

In Act iii, the Christian myth is fused with the classical, as Psyche pries into forbidden mysteries, against divine commandment, in the vain anticipation of a new life. When she beholds the divine shape of Cupid for the first time, like Eve, she is intoxicated with her discovery:

Malicious sisters, I your envy see:
This is no serpent, but a deity.
What pretty loves like silken slumbers lie,
Closing the covers of each crystal eye.
Hence, thou prepared instrument of death,
Whilst Psyche sucks new life from his sweet breath.
Churl beauty, beauteous niggard, thus I'll chide;
Why didst thou from mine eyes this glory hide?

(iii. i. 22-29)

As Apuleius had explained before, “Celestial raptures” are “Subject unto no weak and fleshly eye,” and those who transgress these bounds of human understanding must be punished, be the sentence metamorphosis or condemnation to hell. Cupid discovers Psyche's violation of his “dread command” when she accidentally spills some burning oil from her lamp on him as he sleeps; whereupon, to use Midas' description, he “wakes and chafes, / And flings house out at windows,” and proceeds to ravage his own palatial grounds as well as his pregnant wife, bidding Boreas to:

Lay waste and barren this fair flow'ry grove,
And make this paradise a den of snakes.
For I will have it uglier than hell,
And none but ghastly screech-owls here shall dwell.
Breathe winter's storms upon the blushing cheeks
Of beauteous Psyche; with thy boisterous breath,
Rend off her silks, and clothe her in torn rags;
Hang on her loathed locks base deformity,
And bear her to her father; leave her there,
Barren of comfort, great with child of fear.

(iii. i. 66-75)

The Neo-platonic and Christian themes converge as the beauty of the Soul is deformed by the sin of her disobedience, and Psyche finally realizes her shame at the outward level of her physical corruption. As she is swept away from Cupid's ravaged grove by Boreas, Psyche is aware of her metamorphosis in both body and spirit: “Where shall I hide me? Let no human eye / Behold me thus disfigured and ashamed.” Again, the reference to Genesis is appropriate, since Psyche now sees her true “nakedness.”

Psyche's transformation into a “bare anatomy of grief” results in her being scorned by her family and banished from her father's court, but it also reflects her rejection of pride and high felicity in favour of an attitude of humility. Her former pride shifts to her sisters, as Astioche admits that her “great heart” joys in Psyche's fall; and when Petrea scorns their sisterhood, Psyche at last sees that “Pride will not look on base deformity.” Just in case the audience does not comprehend the allegorical framework, both Neo-platonic and Christian, underlying Psyche's fall, Cupid descends on a cloud to reiterate the moral to Psyche:

                                                  Did I not give thee charge
To taste the pleasures of immortal love,
But not to wade too deep in mystery?
Could not my heavenly company suffice
To cheer the soul? But thou with earthly eyes
Must see my face, and view my real beauty
Against my charge, thy love, and human duty.

(iii. ii. 200-206)

But being stripped of her pride is only the first step in Psyche's spiritual and physical rehabilitation. She must then undergo a savage beating and a series of Herculean tasks to appease the wrath of fickle Venus. Only when Psyche is finally sent to Hell to obtain a box of beauty from Proserpina, is the Apollonian oracle ultimately realized: “his serpent's face / If she behold, she must see Hell.” Bereft of all her pleasures and pride, she listens patiently to Cupid's instructions and finally departs submissively on her descent into the Underworld.

Psyche eventually receives the box of beauty and is dismissed from Inigo Jones' spectacle of Hell's “fearful court” with Pluto's observation that she is indeed “worthy to be Cupid's wife.” Psyche's trials are far from over, however, as she still must combat her own vain longing to pry into the hidden mysteries of the gods: in this case, disobey both Proserpina and Cupid by opening the box to gain heavenly beauty for herself (“'tis but the breach of duty, / And who'll not venture to get heavenly beauty?”) Psyche's urge to open the box, claiming “I shall die except I do't,” would appear seriously to undermine the allegorical significance of the cycle of her disobedience, fall, and redemption. But Heywood more or less successfully avoids a straight-forward response to the implications of her second disobedience by identifying her behaviour as typically female:

But, foolish girl! Alas, why blame I thee,
When all thy sex is guilty of like pride,
And ever was?

(v. ii. 35-37)

One of the most striking moments in the dramatic structure of this level of action in the play is Heywood's fusion of Apuleian and Ovidian themes of resurrection and new life, which he achieves by linking Psyche's return from her embassy to Hell with Proserpina's annual return from the Underworld to commemorate the coming of spring. The pregnant Psyche and the fertility goddess Proserpina represent, as they return from Hell, the triumphant conclusion of the Cupid and Psyche story, with its themes of new life after death, and its perpetual richness in physical and spiritual love. Ceres' sowing feast, which traditionally represents the return of fertility at the vernal equinox, is, at once, Psyche's wedding feast, and a celebration of her own fertility. As Cupid's Queen, she will be swept away by Jove and Phoebus to “plenty's bower,” and then to “the bright palace of Eternity,” where the wedding party will be feasted.

The harmony and resolution of the play, portrayed in the fertility-wedding feast, are ultimately realized in the elaborate masquing dance of Cupid, Psyche, the gods and goddesses. In Loues Triumph through Callipolis (1630), Ben Jonson had written, “Where Loue is mutuall, still / All things in order moue.” This order and harmony not only represent the allegorical love of Cupid and Psyche, but also reflect the entire dramatic structure of the play, to which the audience had previously been invited as judges, and are now invited by Cupid as participants:

In honour of our marriage, match yourselves,
And with a measure, grace our nuptials.
But such as do not love to be in motion,
View as spectators how our joy appears
Dancing to the sweet music of the spheres.

(v. iii. 117-21)


The third level of action in the play, Corydon and the swains, is not simply a series of comic interludes designed to divert the attention of Midas and the audience. Rather, it too has an integral part in the dramatic structure of Love's Mistress, thematically connected with the Apuleius-Midas debate, as well as with the Cupid and Psyche story. Through the character of Corydon, the Clown, a figure for whom the playwright owes nothing to Apuleius, Ovid, Virgil or Spenser, Heywood juxtaposes the artistic concepts of Love and Poetry with an ignorant rustic perspective. Corydon is, of course, intimately related to Midas' position in the debate of Art and Ignorance, since he happens to be his bastard son; and his passionate affair with the “she-swain,” Amaryllis, parallels the love conventions expressed in the Cupid and Psyche story. But Corydon's most important function in the play is structural: it is only through him that the three levels of action intersect, in those few and brief moments when Heywood dramatizes the humorous side of the clash between Ignorance and Art.

The Clown, for so he is called until we discover in Act v that his name is Corydon, brashly enters the stage for the first time in Act ii, itching for an encounter with the young gentleman swashbuckler “Cupid coxcomb!” He attempts to debase Cupid's reputation in the eyes of the swains by describing him as a perfect fop, a namby-pamby fellow who would shrink before any man armed with a sheep-hook. Anyone who arms himself with “bow and bird-bolts,” the Clown feels, could not present much of a physical threat, and is therefore deserving of little respect. Inspired by his own presence among the other “hoydes” and “illiterates,” the Clown determines to set out Cupid's “style in folio” with a litany of titles that progressively decline in merit:

he is King of cares, cogitations and coxcombs;
Viceroy of vows and vanities; Prince of passions,
prate-apaces, and pickled lovers; Duke of disasters,
dissemblers, and drowned eyes; Marquis of
melancholy and mad folks; Grand Signor of griefs
and groans; Lord of lamentations; Hero of heigh-hos;
Admiral of ay-mes; and Monsieur of mutton-laced.

(ii. iii. 21-27)

One can only respond with the second swain, that “Here's a stile I shall never be able to get over.” But the Clown's distress lies chiefly in “the company of pitiful fellows called Poets,” who “maintain this princox in his pontificalibus.” Heywood balances Apuleius' earlier comment to Midas, that “all true poet's raptures are divine,” with the Clown's description of the trifles from which all poets shape their work. With the same literal-mindedness as his father, who regarded Psyche as a “green-sickness baggage,” and Cupid as a “little ape-faced boy,” the Clown re-tells Homer's Iliad as “the tale of Troy”:

By this Troy ran a small brook that one might stride over. On the other side dwelt Menelaus, a farmer, who had a light wench to his wife called Helen, that kept his sheep, whom Paris, one of Priam's mad lads, seeing and liking, ticeth over the brook, and lies with her in despite of her husband's teeth; for which wrong, he sends for one Agamemnon, his brother, that was then high Constable of the Hundred, and complains to him; he sends to one Ulysses, a fair-spoken fellow, and town clerk, and to divers others, amongst whom was one stout fellow called Ajax, a butcher, who upon a holiday brings a pair of cudgels, and lays them down in the midst, where the two Hundreds were then met, which Hector, a baker, another bold lad of the other side, seeing, steps forth and takes them up; these two had a bout or two for a broken pate, and here was all the circumstance of the Trojan wars.

(ii. iii. 40-55)

The sense behind the word of the poet, as the transmitter of divine raptures, is obliterated as the Clown interprets the word, the phrase and the fable by his own literal and sensual response. Like his father's, the Clown's critical taste is based on simile: while Psyche may look like a “green-sickness baggage” to Midas, several phrases of so-called “deeper philosophy” sound to the Clown like very simple rustic expressions; hence titule tu patule is translated somewhat in the way that it sounds: “titles and pages”; propria que maribus becomes “a proper man loves marrow-bones”; and, best of all, feminno generi tribiuntur is simply the poetical way of saying, “the feminine gender is troublesome.” Unfortunately, though, for both the Clown and his idolizing swains, Cupid will not tolerate such impudence against his deity. And choosing a blunted, lead-tipped bolt, since neither gold nor silver could pierce the Clown's thick skin, Cupid gives him a blow that startles all within him. The Clown's immediate response is to cry foul for being attacked without warning, but Love's arrow quickly takes effect, and the Clown is transformed from an ignorant braggadocio into an ignorant braggadocio “mightily in love”:

The case is altered, for anyone may guess by the hugeness of the blow, that I am mightily in love. Ay-me, that any wench were here, whose name is Amy; now could I be in love with any Madge, though she were an howlet, or with any maid, though she looked like a Malkin. Oh poetry, I find that I am poisoned with thee too, for methinks I could say my prayers in blank verse; nay, let me see, I think I could rhyme for a need:

Cupid, I yield, since so I know thy will is,
And I'll go seek me out some Amaryllis.

(ii. iii. 110-19)

The Ovidian story of the singing contest between Pan and Apollo, as I have already noted, introduces Midas as audience-participant, outside his role of chorus. Midas' intrusion into the action of clowns, swains and gods inevitably carries with it all the implications of his position in the debate between Art and Ignorance. The important twist in the Ovidian framework of the episode lies in Heywood's substitution of the Clown for Pan, as the representative of Arcadian musical taste. This tampering with the original story, as we shall see, better suits the structure of the play, although the literal rationalization for the presence of the Clown is that “Pan hath got a cold, is hoarse, and hath lost his voice.” Apollo's champion, for the great god himself would “take no advantage” by competing with a clown, is the first contender, leaving Pan's representative to “come up with the catastrophe.” Midas regards the first song, an unpretentious ecomium (Phoebus unto thee we sing, / Oh thou great Idalian King.), as “somewhat to th' purpose,” reserving his most learned praise for Pan's champion, his own bastard son. And the Clown's song clearly exceeds his own prediction of a catastrophe:

They call thee son of bright Latona,
But girt thee in thy torrid zona;
Sweat, baste and broil, as best thou can,
Thou art not like our Dripping Pan.

(iii. ii. 72-75)

Inspired by Cupid's bird-bolt, and reeling still in his love for Amaryllis, the poetical Clown reflects the critical judgment of Midas in his relationship with Apuleius, and the connection between these two levels of action is as intimate as father and son.

The Clown never recovers from his rude initiation into the role of the poet-lover. His unprecedented victory over Apollo's champion presses him on to soar even higher on the wings of poesie, and to “reconcile” himself with his new-found colleagues: Homer, Virgil and Ovid. He confides to his most devoted audience, the swains, that “since I played the last prize against Phoebus, in which I may say of myself, veni, vidi, vici, I have been so troubled with a poetical itch that I can scratch you out rhymes and ballads, songs and sonnets, odes and madrigals, till they bleed again” (iv.ii.5-9). The most remarkable effect of Cupid's arrow, however, is to blind him in his love for Amaryllis. Even the swains testify that she is “the veriest dowdy in all Arcadia,” but the Clown remains uncompromising in his devotion, extolling the merits of her every virtue: she is old, but “is not age reverend?” she is wrinkled, but “Doth not the earth show well when 'tis plowed, and the land best when it lies in furrows?” she has a horribly long nose, but “That's to defend her lips.” Blinded by love, he looks on Amaryllis “with the eyes of poetry,” which afford him little better vision than his former literal-minded associative perspective:

Her breasts are like two beds of bliss,
Or rather like two lean-cow's udders;
Which shows that she no changeling is,
Because, they say, such were her mother's.

(iv. ii. 63-66)

And his devoted swains can only respond, “All the Homers in Asia could never have come so near the business.”

The last instance of this structural cross-pollination in Love's Mistress illuminates the relationship between all three levels of action in the play; Apuleius and Midas, Cupid and Psyche, Corydon and the swains. When the Clown first overhears that Psyche has been sent to Hell for a box of beauty, he is determined to steal it from her: “for 'tis my duty, / My mistress being a blowse, to find her beauty.” He follows her when she returns from her mission, and at one point finding her “napping,” takes up the box; but his escape is foiled by Cupid, who charms him asleep, and places a counterfeit box by his side. When he awakens, however, it is interesting to note how quickly he forgets his “duty” to Amaryllis, as he announces to at least half the world, “Rejoice, all mortals that wear smocks, / For I have found rich beauty's box.” His outrageous pride assures him that he has “already got love from Cupid … poetry from Apollo,” and now, having gained beauty from Psyche, he dares to suggest that he should be the “white boy of Arcadia,” and take the place of Adonis as Venus' sweetheart. But as he thickly daubs on the contents of the counterfeit box (“In one cheek I'll plant lilies, in t'other roses.”), we are told that the box “is full of ugly painting.” His erstwhile adoring swains regard his “monstrous” transformation with great delight; but the Clown again remains unmoved, and gently admonishes them in our eyes for their undiscriminating remarks: “This 'tis to be mere mortals, and have no addition of learning or travel; their dull eyes cannot judge of celestial beauty.”

Like both Psyche and Apuleius, the Clown “pries into heaven's hidden mysteries / Further than leave, his dulness is increased, / Ceaseth to be a man, and so turns beast”; as Psyche is transformed into an “infectious strumpet,” and Apuleius metamorphosed into an ass, so the Clown undergoes a “monstrous” change in which he is made to “look like a devil already.” The structure is unified further in that the Clown not only pries into what he thinks is “celestial beauty,” but then proceeds to smear it on his body. This is a precise allusion to the events which immediately precede the transformation of Lucius in The Golden Ass:

And then I put off all my garments and greedily thrust my hand into the box and took out a good deal of ointment, and after that I had well rubbed every part and member of my body, I hovered with mine arms, and moved myself, looking still when I should be changed into a bird as Pamphile was; and behold neither feathers did burgeon out nor appearance of wings, but verily my hair did turn into ruggedness and my tender skin wore tough and hard; my fingers and toes leaving the number of five grew together into hooves, and from the end of my back grew a great tail, and now my face became monstrous and my mouth long and my nostrils wide, my lips hanging down, and mine ears exceedingly increased with the bristles … and so without all help … I perceived that I was no bird, but a plain ass.

(Apuleius, iii, 135, 137)

The most humorous part of the Clown's transformation is that, unlike both Apuleius and Psyche, he never achieves a sense of tragic self-awareness, never one moment of remorse or contrition for his foolishness. Blind, as usual, to sensitivity and good taste, and ignoring the protests of the swains, he immediately departs for his wedding with Amaryllis, assured that he will “dazzle all their eyes that shall look on [him].” His own rustic wedding, of course, parallels the nuptial ceremonies and festivities of Cupid and Psyche in “the bright palace of Eternity.”

As I have pointed out in dealing with the first level of action in Love's Mistress, Cupid's final arbitration in the strife between Apuleius and Midas transcends any pedantic condemnation of the more “ignorant” characters in the play. Instead, we are told that “both shall have their merits full: / Here's meed for either, both the apt and dull.” The “dull” will always be branded with their own foolish behaviour, and that is their meed. Hence, Midas must necessarily wear the ass's ears, for he is no more; while his bastard son, Corydon, must for a time appear as an absurdly painted princox, in as much as his exterior simply reflects his ignorant and aspiring vanity. There is no bitterness in Cupid's decree that Midas must keep the ass's ears while Apuleius is awarded the laurel. In many ways, “Ignorance” is pardoned at the end of the play in the same way that Psyche intercedes for her sisters, when, contrite and purified, she insists, “For had they not my happiness envied, / My love and patience had not so been tried.” So too, both Midas and Corydon, as well as all the antimasques, contribute to the structure of the play in dramatic juxtaposition to the “golden truth” of the Cupid and Psyche story. Through this contrast, as it is particularly manifested in the intersection of the three levels of action, the dialectic on Art and Ignorance reaches its inevitable conclusion in a masque with Cupid, Psyche, and all the gods and goddesses, “Dancing to the sweet music of the spheres.”

Love's Mistress offers “no supernatural music from the wings,” but it does yield an abundance of winsome, light and lyrical verse, some nice comic moments, and several insights on the “Neoplatonic craze” that burdened Court entertainments in the early 1630s. At the same time it reveals another aspect of Heywood's dramatic craftsmanship: a sustained symbiotic relationship of masque and play that is unique in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama.


  1. Thomas Heywood, Love's Mistress, or The Queen's Masque, edited by R. C. Shady (Salzburg, 1977).

  2. See C. V. Wedgwood, Poetry and Politics under the Stuarts (Cambridge, 1960), p. 15.

  3. An Apology for Actors (1612) (New York: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1941), sig. C1v—C2r.

  4. In the Ovidian account (Ovid, Metamorphoses, xi, 131ff.), Midas simply overhears the contest between Apollo and Pan, and disagrees with the sacred mountain god Tmolus, who chooses Apollo as the victor. For challenging the judgment of Tmolus, Apollo gives Midas the ass's ears.

  5. See Ovid, Metamorphoses, vi, 315.

  6. Apuleius' protests that, unlike the misunderstanding Midas, the audience surely understood the allegorical significance of the play, were, no doubt, treated as flattering to the Court. At the same time, however, it is interesting to note what Ben Jonson wrote regarding long-winded explication in The Masque of Queens (1609): “For, to haue made themselues theyr owne decipherers, and each one to haue told, vpon theyr entrance, what they were, and whether they would, had bene a most piteous hearing, and vtterly vnworthy any quality of a Poeme: wherein a Writer should alwayes trust somewhat to the capacity of the Spectator, especially at these Spectacles: Where Men, beside inquiring eyes, are vnderstood to bring quick eares, and not those sluggish ones of Porters, and Mechanicks, that must be bor'd through, at euery act, wth Narrations” (Ben Jonson, edited by C. H. Herford, and Percy and Evelyn Simpson [Oxford, 1961-67], vii, 287).

Diana E. Henderson (essay date spring 1986)

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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 action. The primary plot of Anne Frankford's seduction and her husband's “kind revenge” clearly invokes the Christian movement of fall from Edenic bliss into sin, allowing a spiritual homecoming only after sacrifice. The subplot develops the cycle of wandering and return in the more material realm of human society, as Charles Mountford is sent to prison and must redeem his family honor before regaining his family home. This narrative line unites the two plots even more comprehensively than do thematic links and local parallels between love triangles and moral temptations.

In order to locate and unify this narrative dramatically, Heywood emphasizes the actual house, represented on stage, as the place of identity—of secular family identity, and of sacred and secular marital identity. The equation of home and identity, explicitly and repeatedly made, thus links the world of social conflict with that of sacred fable. The plots are not exclusively sacred (Frankford story) versus secular (Mountford story); rather, one version dominates each plot, while the language and often the plotting draw on both versions. Perhaps the two versions of exile and homecoming are best regarded as providing the play with two axes of potential narrative movement: a vertical axis ranging from heaven to hell, providing a “setting” for Christian fall and salvation; and a horizontal axis of earthly locations measured by their distance from the home, providing a “setting” for property ownership, dispossession, and social judgment. These axes are presented through the play's figurative and descriptive language, and through localized onstage settings.

Were this a Tudor interlude, we might not have any sense of particular location—we would merely know that the characters were meeting, in an undefined space. But because by Heywood's time the public drama had developed methods of suggesting specific scenic locales and allowed flexibility in moving between those locales, Heywood could use the stage space to reinforce the “horizontal” movement of his narrative. In choosing not to represent vertical movement onstage except as metaphor, Heywood exploits staging to emphasize the material reality of his story, and to place Christian and secular issues in the same space. This setting not only invigorates a story devoid of much intrigue or violence (a “bare scene” indeed); it also encourages a more social portrayal of Christianity than had the morality plays, in which Everyman stood alone amidst Vices and Virtues. Since even the Christian story of Anne's fall occurs in and around a recognizable English home, the two axes clearly intersect in the main plot. It is only in the language and beliefs expressed in Heywood's text that the Christian fable dominates.3 Through these intersections of language and of place, the play links traditional Christian and new bourgeois social codes, and makes the realistic drama capable of containing a sacred fable without creating the stylistic jumble of an early Tudor morality.

The Christian dimension goes beyond more association of heaven and hell with good and bad—hardly an unusual pattern of imagery in Tudor drama. While it obviously does not extend as far as personification allegory, its method resembles that which Joseph Mazzeo sees in constructed allegories. A Woman Killed similarly “implies a central paradigmatic story as reference system, a story taken to be of permanent significance and archetypal in that it must be retold as reapplicable to the present.”4 Mazzeo notes that allegory as a principle of construction usually is cast as a journey, the “spatial delineation of nonspatial events” (p. 18). A Woman Killed includes the spatial delineation of such nonspatial and spatial events as well.

Thus in presentation the play refers to the typological tradition (more useful for plot construction than homilies were), but subordinates it to contemporary realization. This may be due to the ban on religious drama, but Heywood goes farther than many in his exclusion of all devils, spirits, and gods. He does not go so far, however, as the complete “secularization of space, the abolition of qualitative up and down” that Cassirer notes in Renaissance philosophy and Greenblatt finds in Marlowe's use of theatrical space.5 Heywood retains the vertical hierarchy in language and analogy, even as he uses secular staging.

An understanding of Heywood's plot, then, is of critical significance: “plot” as the ground upon which one constructs a home, “plot” as a sequence of events. Although Christian references abound in the Frankfords' story of temptation, fall, judgment, penance, and salvation, by themselves they do not account for the entire play's plotting—hence the criticism that the Mountford subplot is extraneous and distracting.6 In countering this view of the narrative as disconnected, I shall outline the play's references to the two axes of movement, first the sacred and then the secular. This method is necessarily misleading; it distorts the dynamics of the play, and, more to the point, it can disguise the very integration of the two axes which makes this play unique. Yet arguments require evidence, and I must first demonstrate that two realms of action are indeed crucial to interpreting the play's single narrative paradigm. As will become clearer as the evidence compounds, it is the interplay of these two realms which complicates Heywood's narrative, producing “problem scenes” and revising traditional boundaries of genre. The very artificiality of this analysis, separating the two realms for clarity, finally supports my central contention about Heywood's use of narrative space: for A Women Killed's artistry and importance lies in that well-tempered collusion of religious and realistic patterns.

The Christian analogues account for much of the play's scope and seriousness. Often criticized as unmotivated or unbelievable, the choices of the characters, especially in the main plot, make more sense if viewed in part as reenactments of the primary Christian plot. The Frankfords' connubial bliss, repeatedly lauded in the play's early scenes,7 is jarred by the entrance of Wendoll into their paradise, of whom the perspicacious servant Nicholas notes, “The Devil and he are all one in my eye” (iv.88). Wendoll briefly struggles against sin, swearing not to look at Frankford's bride:

And when I come by chance into her presence,
I'll hale these balls until my eyestrings crack
From being pulled and drawn to look that way.


Yet immediately as Anne Frankford passes across the stage, he is represented as succumbing to concupiscentia oculorum, which traditionally leads to concupiscentia carnis, lust of the flesh. As a devil figure looking through his worldly eyes to satisfy the desires of his flesh, Wendoll incarnates the infernal triad of temptation, and soon begins his seduction of Anne. Heywood reminds us of their relationship in the Christian hierarchy: “Anne: There is sedition in your countenance. Wendoll: And in my heart, fair angel, chaste and wise” (vi.105-106). When he has the presumption to swear his love and “call to record / The host of Heaven,” Anne properly retorts, “The host of Heaven forbid / Wendoll should hatch such a disloyal thought” (vi.109-11). Soon, however, his professions of love begin to work upon her ear. Wendoll's obvious rhetorical flourishes in his “I care not, I” speech echo the perverse use of language by another demidevil to woo another Anne in Richard III. His overwrought conceits stand out against the “bare scene” announced in the play's prologue; good or bad aesthetically, his imagery achieves its aim in moving his fictional audience. As Anne's brother, Sir Francis Acton, later laments, “'Twas his tongue / That did corrupt her” (xvii.12-13). Appropriately so, for it was the serpent's persuasive speech which led to the original Fall.

In the subplot, Sir Charles Mountford's fall into sin also calls attention to the state and place of his soul, especially as that conflicts with the concerns of earth and property. When the hunting party turns into a battle and he commits the unpremeditated murder of Sir Francis Acton's followers, his “soul lies drown'd” in the blood of those “Poor innocents” (iii.44). Charles asks his sister Susan to call a surgeon not for his body but for his soul, and soon after wishes to escape upwards where identity is immutable: “I would I were in Heaven, to inherit there / Th'immortal birthright which my Saviour keeps” (v.27-28).

Anne also comes to lament her distance from the home of God. The next portion of the Frankford plot focuses on the experience of sin and its discovery. Numerous references are made to the vertical axis of movement with increasing emphasis on the distance of the sinners from heaven. Frankford, unchanged from his original state, finds the idea of betrayal “as hard to enter my belief / As Dives into Heaven” (viii.63-64), even “should an angel from the heavens drop down / And preach this” (viii.83-84). His marital paradise, suspended between heaven and the human world of change and exchange, soon collapses. Anne is now Frankford's “saint turn'd devil” (viii.151), whose fall leads Frankford to “try two seeming angels” (xi.2). The discovery scene is a metaphorical descent into hell for him, carefully transferred into a mundane setting. Frankford sneaks home at “dead midnight” and unlocks his own front (hell) gate, proceeding to the bedroom door

Where the most hallowed order and true knot
Of nuptial sanctity hath been profan'd.
It leads to my polluted bedchamber,
Once my terrestial heaven, now my earth's hell.


He prays to the heavens that they keep his sight from betraying him into a murder of passion, for he

                                                            would not damn two precious souls
Bought with my Saviour's blood and send them laden
With all their scarlet sins upon their backs
Unto a fearful Judgement.


Fortunately, the maid “like the angel's hand / Hath stay'd [him] from a bloody sacrifice” (xiii.68-69), making way for a more acceptable Christian punishment. After Wendoll runs away “Judas-like” (xiii.77), Frankford constructs his own Judgment scene.

In asking his pardon, Anne acknowledges her distance from their former wedded integrity through an analogy with the first vertical plunge: “I am as far from hoping such sweet grace / As Lucifer from Heaven” (xiii.80-81).8 Ashamed in the presence of her lord, Anne gratefully accepts Frankford's judgment, the words of which he has “regist'red in Heaven already” (xiii.152). He will “torment thy soul / And kill thee even with kindness” (xiii.155-56). In exiling Anne from their paradise Frankford certainly has a precedent, although critics have questioned his authority to judge (Frankford having after all invited the serpent to enter his garden).9 Within Renaissance society, no man would have greater authority to punish a woman's violation of the marriage bond than her husband. Given the standard punishment supported by the Church (adultery being under the jurisdiction of ecclesiastical rather than civil courts, as a crime against God's law),10 Frankford is “kind,” demanding no public degradation. Nor does anyone else in the scene voice disapproval of his sentence, including Anne. Indeed, his refusal to kill Anne immediately and hence send her to damnation is later praised by Acton as exceptionally kind and patient. In his mercy, Frankford no longer echoes Adam in paradise, but instead follows the second Adam as an imitatio Christi. To give the judgment any greater moral sanction, Heywood would have to send a messenger from a higher position in the vertical hierarchy, not merely an angelic maid but an actual angel. This would make physical that vertical axis which the playwright had been at pains to create through narrative analogy and verbal allusion, rather than through direct onstage representation. Having adopted a contemporary and familiar setting in northern England for his action, Heywood had not the freedom to call on such supernatural intruders as appear in Shakespeare's romances (nor, one suspects, would he want them to come had he called). Frankford has as much moral authority within this setting as an author could give him. If one perceives Frankford's merciful judgment as properly analogous to God's, as the play encourages, and not as a usurpation or arrogant displacement of God's authority, the scene presents a consistent and logical extension of the Christian narrative line.11

Meanwhile, back in the subplot, the lustsick Acton has invoked the vertical hierarchy to give his object of desire a new pedigree, supplanting her less attractive identity and name of enemy; he argues that Susan “was an angel in a mortal's shape / And ne'er descended from old Mountford's line” (vii.100-101). Susan, unaware of Acton's plans and pleading with her Mountford relatives “For the name's sake, for Christianity” to help her brother Charles, finds no greater correspondence between God's world and this (ix.10). “O Charity, why art thou fled to Heaven / And left all things on this earth uneven?” she asks (ix.37-38). Charles too has reason to complain. Having been absolved of guilt in the hunting accident and freed from prison, he has only a brief respite living in innocence with his sister in their Edenic summer home. “He in whom first our gentle style began, / Dwelt here,” Charles reminisces of his noble roots, as he lives happily impoverished (vii.18-19). Soon, however, he is again in a “hellish dungeon,” this time for the purely civil crime of indebtedness (x.2). As the subplot develops, Charles's concerns are more secular, and social honor becomes all-important, placing the language of heaven and hell very much in the background. Nevertheless, the Christian context of Susan's dilemma cannot be disregarded, for feminine honor in the seventeenth century coincides with chastity, a Christian virtue as well as a bodily fact. Thus, when she allows Charles to repay his honorable debt by offering her body to Acton, she also plans to prevent her own dishonor by killing herself before Acton can violate her (see xiv.84-99). She will her “imprison'd soul set free” to fly to Heaven (xiv.99). Fortunately, Acton's decision to wed her resolves her dilemma and the subplot with a less painful relocation.

The final portion of the Frankford plot presents the wages of sin after judgment. Frankford's “thoughts are all in Hell” when he thinks of Anne's crime (xv.6). Anne, now repentant, finally sees Wendoll's true colors and flees him:

The Devil doth come to tempt me ere I die.
My coach! This sin that with an angel's face
Courted mine honour till he sought my wrack,
In my repentant eyes seems ugly black.


Wendoll leaves to “wander like a Cain” and like Cain cannot be destroyed; he promises, “I will return” (xvi.126, 133). Anne's final scene on the other hand is irreversible as well as redemptive. Frankford's forgiveness enables her to complete her vertical return to grace, so that she can die proclaiming “Pardon'd on earth, soul, thou in Heaven art free” (xvii.121). The play then contains a divine comedy of sorts, although the scene plays as anything but comedic. It has been labelled “sentimental tragedy rather than pure tragedy,” containing “bathos enough for the piously inclined”—but few have agreed with Peter Ure that the “triumphant flaring-up of the marriage theme is in key with the exaltation of the happy pair.”12 Perhaps in theory the marriage is happily restored, but on stage this divine homecoming is also an occasion for tears, most clearly illustrating the dramatic tension between the two axes of narrative pull in this play. The vertical Christian frame alone cannot account for the conclusion's affective power—nor for other problematic scenes. To understand A Woman Killed as a realistic, Christian, and tragic piece of theater, the secular or horizontal axis must receive equal attention.

Seen “horizontally,” the play's first scene is a celebration of marriage hosted by the newlyweds in their home, with praises of domestic union and harmony. All members of the household engage in gaiety in their proper spheres, including the servants who parody the festivities in debate over which dance to perform. They too end in harmony, dancing. If one examines the play's dynamic progressions from stasis towards a climactic “big scene” of upheaval, then the next two segments (sometimes edited as acts) similarly begin with a paean to the home, first by Frankford and then by the Mountfords (scenes iv and vii). In all these speeches, the home is analogous to happiness, both personal and social. While in some instances a Christian context appears in the language, always and dominantly the home in its material reality matters, both in language and as the drama's physical setting. A threat to the home develops as the play's chief danger and conflict, for such threats encompass all kinds of identity and order itself.

The story's scenic movement begins with the hawking wager between Sir Charles and Sir Francis, while still at the Frankfords' celebration. What seems like a harmless challenge in a home, however, results in death at Chevy Chase, an alien space belonging to neither party. Aptly, in this historical location of strife and personal heroism (recalling a very different ballad from “The Shaking of the Sheets” joked about in the play's first lines), the characters assume an anachronistic code of chivalric honor.13 With Pistol-like inflation but more dire results, the knights swagger and eventually fight (iii.34). In this first major conflict, the threat to the home remains metaphoric, as Acton draws his sword proclaiming “now I'll strike home” (iii.37). Charles's reply, “Thou shalt to thy long home / Or I will want my will,” foreshadows in small the play's focus on Charles's dispossession and Anne's journey to her long home, the grave (iii.37-38). What Charles uses as metaphor ironically becomes the price of passionate “sport.”

The actual house becomes a more powerful force as the subplot proceeds. In scene vii, Susan laments the changes “in our father's house” (line 6), but Charles remains content so long as he owns his home; indeed, deprived of wealth, home is all that remains of his identity except a name, a word—hence the place becomes essential. Charles observes that “To keep this place I have chang'd myself away,” acquiring personal debts (vii.55-56). This place, the family's summer home, ties Charles with his ancestors; in his words, Charles gives the family name and place priority over his particular honor as the basis for social identity. While the clan ethos might be regarded as medieval, this stress on the physical house sounds a note of special concern for Tudor nobility in an era of indebtedness, property transfers, and titles based solely on wealth. In the face of his “friend” Shafton's treacherous demand that Charles sell him the house, Mountford stresses that “if this were sold, our names should then be quite / Raz'd from the bead-role of gentility,” and its “virgin title” would be “deflower'd” (vii.36-37, 23). This latter claim gives the material home a symbolic power which should be recalled as the plot advances; it is not, as has been argued, a sign that Charles cares more about a summer retreat than he later will about his sister's honor. The threat is to both Mountfords here, to their very existence, and Charles's response is not one of greed or vanity alone. Without the house, both its place and its name, neither Charles nor Susan have a social identity.

Indeed, the play reinforces the validity of Charles's worries soon enough, as events remove him to prison. Charles dissolute is Charles dissolved, without substance. Hence he becomes a hollow name, dead on earth in his “long home” lamenting the unkindness of his relatives: “Mountfords all too base, / To let thy name lie fetter'd in disgrace. / A thousand deaths here in this grave I die” (x.6-8). The metonymy is telling. Susan's trip to plead with these flinty cousins reinforces the necessity of place to sustain conventional identity: “I knew you ere your brother sold his land,” she is told by cousin Sandy, “Then you were Mistress Sue” (ix.22-23). Old Mountford refuses help, claiming that Charles “lost my kindred when he fell to need” (ix.17). In the Tudor world of exchange, bonds of kindness were formed not by blood alone but by love or property as well. Charles's reliance on a politically and economically outmoded code of honor once again lands him in jail. At the nadir of the subplot, exile from the family home makes Charles and Susan nothing.

The Frankfords are also having problems at home. Wendoll is of course their houseguest, the invited intruder who usurps the husband's place only when Frankford roams away from home on business of a worldly sort. Wendoll follows his host's wish that he “be a present Frankford in his absence” a good bit farther than his host intended (vi.79). Whereas Charles must relocate to a hellish prison, Frankford's own home is transformed by the sin within it, so that when the supposedly absent Frankford returns to discover a present Frankford in his bed, the room itself converts from heaven to hell. Unlike the subplot's initial event in a neutral public space, the main plot's sinning begins at home, corrupting it, and making any “return” far more complicated spatially than a trip home.

In her seduction scene, Anne uses figures of movement to describe her fall: “My soul is wand'ring and hath lost her way”; “This maze I am in / I fear will prove the labyrinth of sin” (vi.151, 160-61). When her sin is discovered she must literally move. Like the Mountfords, she has lost her name by forfeiting her domestic identity, and realizes the loss in her first words onstage after the discovery:

O by what word, what title, or what name
Shall I entreat your pardon? Pardon! O
I am as far from hoping such sweet grace
As Lucifer from Heaven. To call you husband—
O me most wretched, I have lost that name;
I am no more your wife.


Anne wishes to obliterate her bodily identity along with her name, to become an absolute nothing with “no tongue, no ears, no eyes / No apprehension, no capacity” (xiii.90-91). The division in the Frankfords' marriage, caused by her fall which “cut two hearts out of one” (xiii.185), puts her in a postlapsarian quandary; her name and identity no longer match, the word no longer corresponds perfectly with the thing. Her social position only causes pain as she stands “in this place / Asham'd to look my servants in the face” (xiii.150-51); and she accepts exile passively.

Anne's banishment from the home, found in none of Heywood's novella sources, is the logical addition of a playwright transferring the Christian fall into realistic drama. In scene viii, when the faithful servant Nicholas first informs his master of the adultery, the startled Frankford threatens to “turn you with your base comparisons / Out of my doors” (47-48). Nicholas's appropriate response sounds like that of a semiliterate Hollywood cowboy: “Do, do. There's not room for Wendoll and me too both in one house” (viii.49-50). Once Nicholas's suspicions are vindicated, Frankford turns to his wife with the same punishment for evildoing. Frankford does not simply throw her out to wander; her torment, as the subplot has shown, will lie at least partially in the continued disjunction between her place and what must remain her name, however tainted. For the women, social status resides entirely in relationship to men, and honor in either complete or married chastity. Although Anne must

Leave nothing that did ever call thee mistress,
Or by whose sight being left here in the house
I may remember such a woman by,


she nominally remains Frankford's wife, estranged and sent to another house also nominally Frankford's. Merciful in neither killing nor abandoning his wife, Frankford still declares a rigorous sentence. It does not allow Anne a chance to renew her social identity through total relocation (as Wendoll intends to do), nor to return to her former state. Removed from her social world, she must go to a house which is a sterile double of her past home, where in solitude she will be unable to regenerate her name. Unlike Charles Mountford, whose male honor does not lie entirely in his “crime” and whose soul has not been seriously endangered with his body, Anne becomes an exile whose sin and whose sex bar her from any action to retrieve her status within human society.

Heywood emphasizes the contrast by resolving the subplot in the scene immediately following Anne's banishment. Charles's path is not so hopeless as Anne's, but he too faces a problem of honor. He cannot honorably claim his name and land until he has paid his debt to Acton, the enemy who has freed him. His heart “must lie bound / In more strict prison than thy stormy gaol” because of Acton's “kindness” (x.94-95). The debt must also be paid “in kind,” and because Acton's motivation was his desire to have Susan, Charles pleads with her to repair the wound to their name with her body. He clearly recognizes her honorable dilemma, though one must add that he does so inadequately. Partly out of embarrassment at his barbaric request, he tells her, “Nor do I woo you in a brother's name, / But in a stranger's”—but partly too out of accuracy, for he has not yet repossessed that name with his land (xiv.50-51).

Nothing can make Charles's behavior quite acceptable to a twentieth-century audience, no matter how well it fits the narrative scheme which develops home, family name, and identity; and indeed, Charles's request of Susan remains inherently contradictory. As she remarks, Acton would leap at the chance to bed her and “give the Mountfords' name so deep a wound” (xiv.44). Yet this is not cleansing the family name but merely transferring the shame to Susan. Charles argues that she should, as kindred, share the burden; she, noting that this would place her soul as well as body in the space he previously occupied as dishonored, finds a solution: she will kill herself before she actually loses her honor. One senses here an attempt more ingenious than successful to resolve both the sacred and secular demands of feminine honor. Juxtaposed with Charles's dominantly social motivations, the demand that Susan suffer in body and soul for him seems excessive. Yet it is not censured within the play, and does provide a neat contrast with Anne's weakness. Susan's offer is an alternative which moves Acton to true kindness and an honorable marriage.

Acton returns the Mountfords' identities by recognizing their honor and allowing them a socially respectable alliance rather than exploiting their vulnerability. He even renames the exiles (men first) in relation to himself: “I seal you my dear brother, her my wife” (xiv.146). After dramatic upheaval, then, this plot resolves in a homecoming which requires realignment and modification of the old family names and, at least for Susan, places of kinship. Only when place and name are harmoniously re-bound can the Mountfords find an acceptable identity within the social order.

Frankford's attempt to clean house is not so successful. Anne's exile was his attempt to obliterate the past, but as he encounters her forgotten lute, he remembers their former harmony and remains in torment. Movement through time, unlike space, is not reversible, as Frankford eloquently recognized in his soliloquy before awaking the guilty lovers; like so many other characters in Renaissance drama, Frankford cannot

                                                                                                    call back yesterday;
That time could turn up his swift sandy glass,
To untell the days, and to redeem these hours.


But by allowing Anne her life, Frankford has left open a path toward reconciliation, if not restoration, through a forward movement in space as well as time. Anne now has the time to repent (not merely to feel shame) and turn her soul back to heaven. By meeting again in a place which possesses their name yet is not the violated home, Anne's house of exile, the Frankfords can end their spiritual divorce—albeit briefly. Unlike the subplot, the cost here has been high, and renaming can only take place en route to another world. Anne had recognized this on the road: “So, now unto my coach, then to my home, / So to my deathbed” (xvi.100-101); and now we are reminded that she is “not of this world” (xvii.113). In terms of the horizontal narrative line, as well as in terms of the Christian line already examined, the final scene is a true re-placement for the married couple in which Frankford gives Anne her full name and identity along with forgiveness:

My wife, the mother to my pretty babes,
Both those lost names I do restore thee back,
And with this kiss I wed thee once again.


Though she is “wounded in thy honour'd name,” Frankford's forgiveness allows her to die “Honest in heart” (xvii.118, 120). And as in the subplot, Sir Francis Acton also gives Frankford a new name of relationship; having lost his sister Anne, Acton will replace her with a brother Frankford. Wendoll, meanwhile, has become the true exile wandering “In foreign countries and remoted climes” (xvi.127). Seeing Anne on the road, he laments:

O God, I have divorc'd the truest turtles
That ever liv'd together, and being divided
In several places, make their several moan;
She in the fields and he at home.


Yet he is on his way soon enough, neither repentant nor long daunted, in search of a new place to play the devil's advocate under another name.

The scene at Anne's death fulfills both the plots as an appropriate but ironic “homecoming.” The demands of the sacred make the secular reunion tragically brief. Penance cannot make Anne's body well, and indeed Frankford is compelled to visit only because she is penitently dying. The result is a comedy of the soul's progress, but only at the price of separating Anne's body and soul. Frankford is left with the corpse, and a “cold grave” to replace his “nuptial bed” (xvii.124). Because this is a play and we see the bodies, this image of loss evokes pity. Furthermore, because this is a secular drama in its stage setting, showing us only the horizontal range of movement visually, we recognize that even this brief “homecoming” remains incomplete, taking place not at home but in exile. We may believe in the soul's ascent but not see it; what we see onstage is death and separation. In terms of the theatrical presentation we have no image to replace them. We do have words, words of ascension and renaming, and it is this tension between language and image that saves the scene from bathos. The audience now experiences a disparity similar to that which the characters must face in their exiles. Without the Christian story, so dominant in the speech of A Woman Killed, the painful last scene would resemble the sentimental endings of many later melodramas, in which death seems gratuitous.14 Without the secular story and its power in presentation, we would have a throwback to earlier Christian morality plays, divine comedies rather than human tragedies. But in this moral work set in a mortal world, mistakes have a high price. The tension between the two realms of action remains powerful as Heywood emphasizes the necessity of earthly suffering and death.

In historical perspective, Heywood's combination of sources seems a predictable step in Renaissance drama. This was an age of genera mixta, particularly on the English stage. Yet despite the “relevance” of Heywood's dramaturgy, A Woman Killed did not spawn a school of Christian domestic tragedies. Contemporary issues and settings remained exceptions to the unwritten rules of writing tragedy, perhaps for both political and aesthetic reasons.

Immediacy in time and place were just two signs of Heywood's adherence to contemporary notions of realism, of particularity, in a play whose dominant mode is tragic. The signals of realism in Heywood's time have been aptly summarized as “a more carefully represented set of local conditions in narrative, a more accurate and discriminating depiction of social class, a narrative ear attuned to local speech, an attempt to record recognizable geographical places, an attention to national and regional custom.”15 These signs describe the conditions of narrative, not the narrative events themselves; therefore realistic technique would not in itself preclude a tragic story, even for a stronger adherent to formal rules than Thomas Heywood. But neither did this technique traditionally lend itself to the seriousness and scope of tragic drama, especially in an immediate location. By stressing the local and particular conditions in a tragedy, which was certainly a genre associated with the universal, one risked a parodic disjunction between the style of representation and “larger than life” events. Heywood's peculiar talent was to find a Christian and social conflict with serious symbolic resonance through patterns of metaphor, analogy, and narrative movement which for the most part do not clash with his local conditions (as grand passions, intrigue, and spectacle surely would).

Indeed, this act of combination seems the play's major endeavor—to realize the theological in the everyday, the material within the ethical. Doubtless this was more akin to the experience of Heywood's audience at the Rose than were the romantic or historical worlds rendered in many other plays. Within A Woman Killed, the old chivalric code of honor comes under attack, initiating the conflicts of the subplot beyond its adherents' control. Instead of such honor triumphing through successful violence, the connection of good Christianity with good homemaking is finally asserted in plot and language. It can be rendered visually onstage at this time in English theatrical history, given the flexible use of particular settings. The home provides the essential unifying emblem that the play needs: it is the origin and measure of movement in the secular realm, and a spatial analogy—a narrative replacement, as it were—for the theological progression in the sacred.

What we have, then, is an extreme case in an age of reinterpreted traditions, a case which not only alters its story line from the novellas and violent neo-Senecan tragedies by incorporating Christian traditions of stage and sermon; it revises the mode of presenting such a story onstage. The change is not merely formal. In finding a method to combine contemporary social structures with timeless truths, Heywood exploits genre as a way to structure experience in a communicable and apt form.16 Being an ideologically conservative play, in that it conserves rather than challenges the values of its time, A Woman Killed fittingly turns to traditional genres (tragedy, the morality play, homily) and conserves these “kinds” through contemporary techniques in language and stage usage.

The very appropriateness of Heywood's dramaturgy for his didactic purposes may explain the rarity of this kind of drama. The play's coherence is achieved only because the dramatic conflict has corresponding physical, social, and theological valences. The scarcity of possible plots like Heywood's in part accounts for the novelty of A Woman Killed.17 Of course, Elizabeth's reign also ended the year that A Woman Killed premiered, and under the Stuarts, theatrical energy moved in a different direction—also indoors, into the private theaters and palaces where plays were produced, but not into a fictional indoors world of serious drama about the home.

In moving Christian morality into a contemporary household, Heywood's play anticipated later bourgeois sentimental drama, in which the home and “intruder” figure prominently. Such drama, however, did not emerge until more than a century later and reflected a very different “reality”; when Heywood's play was then revised, the two axes of movement were conflated, erasing most of the narrative's logic and the conclusion's powerful tension. The energies motivating A Woman Killed had moved elsewhere. Before the drama regained a bourgeois following, a different combination of homiletic and realistic narrative was flourishing in what would become its most influential form, the novel.


  1. See Rick Bowers, “A Woman Killed with Kindness: Plausibility on a Smaller Scale,” SEL [Studies in English Literature 1500-1900] 24, 2 (Spring 1984):293-306. He discusses the smaller scale of “everyday human life” (p. 306), although he is not interested in the play's narrative patterns. Peter Ure, “Marriage and the Domestic Drama in Heywood and Ford,” ES [English Studies] 32 (1951):200-16, recapitulates earlier definitions and proposes that the focus of domestic tragedy is the marriage bond. Waldo F. McNeir, “Heywood's Sources for the Main Plot of A Woman Killed with Kindness,Studies in the English Renaissance Drama: In Memory of Karl Julius Holzknecht, ed. Josephine W. Bennett, et al. (New York: New York Univ. Press, 1959), p. 193, cites the “native rather than Renaissance spirit of thought and style in domestic tragedy,” but his focus is not on how this spirit functions in the narrative. Madeleine Doran, Endeavors of Art: A Study of Form in Elizabethan Drama (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1954), p. 350, mentions the moral intention of domestic tragedy, but also the thriller plot—A Woman Killed being the exception. I will examine how Heywood includes both sin and society without a thriller's unrelated narrative.

  2. McNeir, p. 198. Yves Bescou, “Thomas Heywood et le Probleme de l'Adultere dans Une Femme tuee par la Bonte,Revue Anglo-Americaine 9 (1931):139, briefly mentions that the home functions as a prinipal character. R. W. Van Fossen also notes the importance of marriage and the home in his introduction to the play: Thomas Heywood, A Woman Killed with Kindness (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1961). All citations of A Woman Killed will refer to his edition.

  3. Both Ure and Michel Grivelet, in Thomas Heywood et le Drame Domestique Elizabéthain (Paris: Librairie Marcel Didier, 1957), extend the work of H. H. Adams on homiletic tragedy; they regard the Christian framework as functional in the Frankford plot.

  4. Joseph A. Mazzeo, “Allegorical Interpretation and History,” CL [Comparative Literature] 30, 1 (Winter 1978):19.

  5. Stephen J. Greenblatt, “Marlowe and Renaissance Self-Fashioning,” in Two Renaissance Mythmakers: Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson, ed. Alvin Kernan (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1977), p. 44.

  6. Most critics before the 1940s saw no point in the subplot at all; see Freda L. Townsend's summary of the attacks in “The Artistry of Thomas Heywood's Double Plots,” PQ [Philological Quarterly] 25 (April 1946):100-19. Moody E. Prior, The Language of Tragedy (1947; rpt. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1966), p. 74, uses the play as an example of loose construction. Others have proposed thematic links between A Woman Killed's double plots (cf. Townsend and Ure, among others). M. C. Bradbrook, Themes and Conventions in Elizabethan Tragédy (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1957), p. 47, saw a link through moral antithesis but “no felt fusion.”

    Rather than accounting for A Woman Killed's narrative structure, more recent scholarship has defended the play through revisionary interpretation of characterization—neither Heywood's strong suit nor his focus of attention (see David Cook, “A Woman Killed with Kindness: An Unshakespearean Tragedy,” ES 45 [1964]:353-72). Cook does praise the structural rise and fall in general terms, as well; but the standard judgment of Heywood's narrative is harsh, from Arthur Melville Clark (“Nor is the plot, skilful as are some of the scenes, as carefully worked out as is required”; Thomas Heywood: Playwright and Miscellanist [Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1931], p. 231) to Robert Ornstein, who detects a “tinge of irony” lurking amidst the “facile plotting” (“Bourgeois Morality and Dramatic Convention in A Woman Killed with Kindness,English Renaissance Drama: Essays in Honor of Madeleine Doran and Mark Eccles, ed. Standish Henning, et al. [Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 1976], p. 128). The narrative remains more easily dismissed than explained.

  7. Charles says to Frankford: “She doth become you like a well-made suit”; “You both adorn each other, and your hands / Methinks are matches. There's equality / In this fair combination” (i.59, 65-67). This is a match of sympathies as well as ownership. See also Frankford's opening speech in scene iv.

  8. John Canuteson takes the vocabulary too literally. In sympathy for Anne he states, “We have to agree that according to custom her marriage is doomed, but we also have to correct her theology. No relationship among men can be compared to God's treatment of Lucifer” (“The Theme of Forgiveness in the Plot and Subplot of A Woman Killed with Kindness,RenD [Renaissance Drama] 2 [1969]:136). He does not recognize that Heywood is creating an analogy through a pattern of allusions; Anne's speech is figurative, and she is not making precise theological distinctions about her state.

  9. Canuteson complains, “The most galling use to which Frankford puts religious terms is when he repeatedly compares himself with the divine” (p. 133). Cook says that Frankford lacks the “great-hearted emancipation from emotional constraint which would allow him to forgive” and his “insufficiency” of passion drove Anne to adultery (pp. 360, 361). This explanation not only runs counter to the play's action and commentary, but also to Renaissance views of reason and passion.

  10. See Van Fossen on the adultery laws, pp. xxx-xxxi.

  11. This obviously does not mean that we have to like the ideology; it just means that the scene is consistent within the play's stated code, and not a subtly masked criticism. Ornstein and Patricia Meyer Spacks (“Honor and Perception in A Woman Killed with Kindness,MLQ [Modern Language Quarterly] 20 (1959):321-32) rightly point out problems with this code, although they sometimes imply that Heywood saw them too, which the play does not support.

    Also notable is a less attractive intersection between the axes here, in that Anne is Frankford's property, which he has the right to dispose of as he pleases. Christian charity qualifies this legal right.

  12. Otelia Cromwell, Thomas Heywood: A Study in the Elizabethan Drama of Everyday Life, Yale Studies in English 78 (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1928), p. 54; Ornstein, p. 139; Ure, pp. 209-10.

  13. Canuteson (p. 128) notes that the characters' “assumption of a knightly code archaic in terms of the play” leads to their troubles. A major difference from earlier treatments of honor is the play's recognition of exchange and the middle class; for more on the historical conditions that may inform this change, see Lawrence Stone, The Crisis of the Aristocracy, 1558-1641 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965).

  14. In the eighteenth-century version of this play, The Fatal Error by Benjamin Victor, it is Lady Frankford and she is raped, not seduced; her “error” is that she is too ashamed to tell her husband afterwards (see Hallett Smith, “A Woman Killed with Kindness,PMLA 53 [1938]: 138-47). Under these conditions, death indeed seems gratuitous and uses a woman—as Ornstein claims A Woman Killed does—as a scapegoat sacrificed at the altar of a double standard.

  15. Michael Seidel, Satiric Inheritance: Rabelais to Sterne (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1979), p. 80, in a discussion of the greater and more radical contemporary experiment in genera mixta, Don Quixote.

  16. This description of genre is derived from Rosalie Colie, The Resources of Kind: Genre-Theory in the Renaissance (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1973).

  17. Heywood's play is not the only one to unite theology and domesticity, of course. Othello was produced in the same year and examines many of the same concepts, but with a radically different focus. A few other domestic tragedies also attempt to unite these concerns “realistically,” but almost all of them allow intrigue and murder and thus subordinate rather than endorse doctrinal orthodoxy.

David M. Bergeron (essay date spring 1988)

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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.

In what follows I want to touch on some of the major groups that served as patrons of English drama and then move to the case of Thomas Heywood in the 1630s, the last full decade of dramatic activity before the theaters were closed in 1642 by an Act of Parliament, led by Puritan forces. One should first acknowledge theatergoing, paying audiences as major patrons of drama—the “London crowds” that Gundersheimer refers to. Numbers vary, depending on the time, but fairly reliable estimates suggest that 25-30,000 Londoners went to the theater in a given week at the peak of theatrical activity. Even allowing for slight exaggeration, we nevertheless know that the crowds had to go regularly in order to keep the several theaters operating. In a sense such audiences freed dramatists and actors from dependence on a single patron. That is certainly true but not the whole story.

With the advent of theater buildings, however, dramatists became beneficiaries of the support of thousands of people; and for several decades that system worked well, making it possible for the first time in English history to be a professional theater person—that is, one who made his living in the theater. What is more difficult to ascertain is how much these audiences influenced what dramatists and acting companies served up to them; that is, how directly did such patronage affect the art produced? Did dramatists try to create taste among such a large group of patrons, or did they often follow the path of least resistance and offer sure-fire dramas destined to please the audience? The answer to both questions is probably “yes.” Paying audiences may be the most obvious source of patronage of drama; but as we move along the list of possible patrons, matters get more complicated.

The court supported drama in various ways, from Elizabeth's royal patent to Leicester's Men in 1574 to James' placing all acting companies under royal patronage in 1603. Such actions by the sovereign offered one of the vital ingredients of patronage: protection. Such protection solidified the position of acting companies against ongoing attacks by Puritans and others. Only a vulnerable kingship under Charles I led to Puritan triumph in Parliament. Glynne Wickham suggests in one of his volumes of Early English Stages that the royal protection of James was the ultimate form of censorship.2 Perhaps, but I know of no evidence that truly bears out that assertion. Obviously any system of patronage could lead to the abuse of censorship, but that does not mean that it in fact did. James seems not to have interfered with or censured dramatic productions more than Elizabeth did. It was, after all, the function of the Master of the Revels to keep a wary eye on all dramatic activities.

In addition to protection, the court offered something equally valuable: money. Court performances added handsomely to the coffers of acting companies. The typical payment for a performance at court was £10, at least in the early seventeenth century. Based on records in Chambers' Elizabethan Stage, I calculate that the King's Men between 1603 and 1613 earned slightly over £1277 from the court—that is, nearly the amount of money that it took to rebuild the burned Globe Theatre in 1614.3 The Court not only paid for performances; it also paid the King's Men for not being able to perform in public because of the plague. At least three payments made during the 1603-1613 period helped sustain the company when it could earn no income from public audiences, as in the payment in February 1610 of £30 to John Heminges “for himselfe and the reste of his companie being restrayned from publique playinge Wthin the citie of London in the tyme of infeccon duringe the space of sixe weekes in which tyme they practised pryvately for his mates service” (Chambers, IV, 176). I can think of no more compelling evidence of patronage than such a payment: the Court makes up for lost income. The King's Men had much reason to be grateful that they were servants of the royal household: the Court protected and paid.

The twelve principal trade and craft guilds of London provided dramatists with employment and substantial pay for writing and producing Lord Mayor's Shows, one of the primary forms of civic pageants, designed to honor the new mayor on the occasion of his inauguration. Many other kinds of artists, such as painters, musicians, and even some well-known actors, also benefitted from the patronage of the guilds. Guild sponsorship of drama goes back at least to the fourteenth century and the beginnings of the great Corpus Christi drama and extends unbroken through the seventeenth century. The guilds' financial support of drama is a subject as yet inadequately treated. Because of records from places like York, Chester, and others, we know much about the financial arrangements between guild (patron) and dramatist (artist) in the period from the late fourteenth century through the sixteenth. London guild records offer a rather full account of payments and preparations for civic pageants, starting with the Midsummer Shows of the sixteenth century, eventually the annual Lord Mayor's Show in the middle of that century, and continuing until theater activities ceased in 1642. One could safely argue that patronage by the guilds reached a wider array of artists than did that of the court. In any case, dramatists and actors were not dependent on a paying audience in theater buildings; they benefitted from the largess of the court and the London guilds.

Typically, the dramatist appeared before a committee of the guild and presented his plan for the pageant. If accepted, the dramatist might then be in charge of a wide range of duties, sometimes including seeing that the text of the pageant got printed. On occasion the artist and the guild disagreed about the value of the services rendered. A few examples will suffice. The first Lord Mayor's Show of the Jacobean period was in 1604, the previous year's having been cancelled because of the plague. Although no text survives, details of expenditures from the Haberdashers' Guild accounts exist. Here we learn that Ben Jonson wrote the pageant and received £12 “for his device, and speech for the Children.”4 Anthony Munday received £2 “for his paines”—presumably a sketch for the pageant that lost out to Jonson in Jonson's only excursion into Lord Mayor's Shows. From this moment, Jonson moved into court entertainment, principally the masque, and Munday produced several civic pageants, starting with the 1605 Lord Mayor's Show. With the 1609 pageant Munday received payment of £20 (p. 77). But the records also show considerable disagreement between Munday and the Ironmongers Guild over the quality of the pageant, the guild refusing his request for an additional £5 (p. 77).

In the 1613 pageant, The Triumphs of Truth, the most costly of the mayoral shows, Thomas Middleton and Munday both received generous payments. Munday received £149 “for the devyse of the Pageant and other shewes, and for the appareling & fynding of all the personages in the sayd shewes (excepting the Pageant) and also for the Portage and Carryage both by land and by water” (p. 87). And Middleton got £40 “for the ordering overseeing and wryting of the whole Devyse & alsoe for the appareling the personage in the Pageant” (p. 87). In 1617 the Grocers again chose Middleton to write the pageant; but both Munday and Thomas Dekker received payments for their “paines”: Munday £5 and Dekker £4. Even if one lost in the competition, the pay from the guild was attractive. The records of Philip Henslowe show that dramatists received somewhere between £3 to £5 for their plays at the end of the sixteenth century. Thomas Dekker received a total of £8 for Old Fortunatus in 1599. the payments coming in four installments.5 Thus in the 1617 pageant Munday and Dekker received as much as many of their counterparts in the regular theater for full-scale plays. If one asks why so many of the major dramatists of the period wrote Lord Mayor's Shows, a ready answer is the attraction of money. The examples cited here could be multiplied many times, but the point remains: the guilds served effectively as patrons of drama, offering lucrative employment to dramatists and others associated with mounting these increasingly complex theatrical spectacles in the streets of London.

The final major group of drama's patrons that I want to single out is a relatively large number of noblemen or wealthy citizens who in various ways supported drama. In the Elizabethan period noblemen served as sponsors of the acting companies: the Earl of Leicester's company, for example, received the first royal patent in 1574. The precise relationship between noble patron and the actors is often difficult to determine, but we do know that protection provided by the noblemen was necessary. As I have pointed out elsewhere, at least fourteen women can be designated as patrons of drama, determined on the basis of dedications of dramatic texts to them.6 Shakespeare's fellow actors gathered the play texts for the great Folio edition of 1623; and they chose to dedicate the volume to William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, and his brother Philip, Earl of Montgomery. William was Lord Chamberlain in 1623, and Philip would shortly succeed him. The dedication makes clear their interest in and support of Shakespeare. William Herbert, we may recall, gave Jonson an annual stipend for books; and Jonson dedicated Catiline (1611) to him.

Text dedications provide one of the principal means for understanding patronage of drama by noblemen. Out of roughly 600 dramatic texts printed from Elizabeth's reign to 1642, some 200 contain dedications, the number of such dedications doubling with each successive reign. Dedications single out, for example, the earls of Hertford, Somerset, Dorset, Rutland, Middlesex, Holland, Carnarvan and Peterborough, as well as Pembroke and Montgomery. This partial list reflects the status and support that the dramatists sought.7 Even allowing for the sometimes formulaic nature of the dedications and granting that sometimes the dramatist clearly did not know the patron, I find impressive the number of noblemen sought out for recognition or gratitude. In a time of well-established traditions of paying audiences and solid court support, dramatists nevertheless reach out to another group, the nobility, for patronage. Instead of ending such a practice when James put all companies under royal patronage, dramatists increasingly sought out noble patrons, at least on the basis of text dedications. I doubt that the issue was primarily money, although occasionally it was; rather, dramatists probably desired status and legitimacy for their texts and themselves. With increasing numbers of play texts being printed, dramatists sought a status for them as literature. Having a noble dedicatee seems part of that pattern.

Having briefly examined paying audiences, the court, the guilds, and noblemen as patrons of drama, I turn finally to Thomas Heywood, and specifically to his drama of the 1630s. Here we will find evidence of all these groups, especially the guilds and noblemen. Heywood's career in the theater spanned a fifty-year period, from 1590 to 1640; 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. Because some of his plays were performed in the 1630s, he obviously received support from audiences. His play Love's Mistress had court performances, being first performed at court in 1634 to celebrate the king's birthday. Thus Heywood benefitted from these groups of patrons. Although enjoying the monetary rewards of theatergoing audiences, Heywood, like other dramatists, did not overlook other sources of patronage; dramatists thus did not radically depart from systems of patronage seen elsewhere in Renaissance societies.

In the 1630s Heywood wrote seven Lord Mayor's Shows, his only excursion into this form of civic pageantry. Guild records again reveal something about the negotiation between the dramatist and the guild committees. The proposals for the pageants were typically submitted jointly by Heywood and his artificer Gerard Christmas. Payment of £200 for the 1631 show, Londons Ius Honorarium, comes in fact to Christmas with no separate entry for Heywood. Presumably Christmas paid Heywood some portion of this handsome sum. In 1635, Heywood collaborated with John Christmas, Gerard's son, to underbid the team of John Taylor and Robert Norman who had insisted on a payment of £190. But Heywood and Christmas submitted a proposal for the pageant to the Ironmongers with a price tag of £180. So the negotiations went throughout the 1630s. The guilds provided lucrative incomes to dramatists and others involved in staging these pageants. The frustrating problem is that the guild records do not clearly show exactly what Heywood earned. One infers that it was obviously sufficient to keep him eager to have his projects accepted.8

If the records do not specify Heywood's income, his pageant texts do nevertheless reveal much about his dealings with the guilds, offering a useful perspective on how one dramatist dealt with his patron. For example, in the 1631 text Heywood praises the guild members for understanding what he proposed. He informs us that he appeared before the Masters, Wardens, and committees of the Haberdashers and made his proposal. In 1633 Heywood negotiated with the Clothworkers. In describing the working arrangement, Heywood commends the committee's “affability and courtesie, especially unto my selfe being at that time to them all a meere stranger, who when I read my (then unperfect) Papers, were as able to judge them, as attentively to heare them” (pp. 64-65). Because the guild had its own reputation to think about, as Heywood notes, they were inclined to be generous in expenditure and concerned about the dramatist's conception of the pageant. Apparently Heywood appeared before his prospective patrons with a sketch or outline (his “unperfect” papers); they heard him out and then decided to employ him for the mayoral pageant. In Heywood's pageant texts one catches a glimpse of the workaday world of a dramatist trying to sell his wares, secure a patron, and survive financially.

In the 1630s Heywood also sought the patronage of citizens and noblemen, although again it is impossible to know the precise form that such patronage may have taken. Six of Heywood's plays contain dedications to patrons. Fair Maid of the West, part 2 (1631), The Iron Age, part 1 (1632), and Heywood's additions to Marlowe's Jew of Malta (1633) have dedications to his friend Thomas Hammond of Gray's Inn. Heywood claims that Fair Maid has passed muster with everyone, including Charles I and his queen Henrietta Maria. He suggests that Hammond is willing to pay for the pleasure of this drama, unlike those whom Juvenal complains about who want to enjoy but do not want to pay.9 In a prefatory epistle to the Jew of Malta, Heywood writes of Hammond: “Sir, you have been pleased to grace some of mine owne workes with your curteous patronage; I hope this will not be the worse accepted; … none can clayme more power or priuiledge than your self [over me].”10 Similar ideas also prevail in The Iron Age. The implication seems fairly clear that Heywood may have received financial support from Hammond.

Heywood dedicates part 2 of The Iron Age to Thomas Mainwaring. Interestingly, Heywood comments on Mainwaring's presumed enjoyment of the play: “I much deceiue myselfe, if I heard you not once commend it, when you saw it Acted; if you persist in the same opinion, when you shall spare some sorted houres to heare it read, in your paynes, I shal hold my selfe much pleased.”11 Unlike the situation of patronage from guilds, this search for support comes after performances and focuses instead on publication of the play text as a book. The dedication of The English Traveller (1633) to Sir Henry Appleton includes recognition of apparently close family ties between the Heywoods and Appletons. Heywood writes: “Neither Sir, neede you thinke it any vnderualuing of your worth, to vndertake the patronage of a Poem in this nature, since the like hath beene done by Roman Laelius, Scipio, Macaenas, and many other mighty Princes and Captaines, Nay, euen by Augustus Caesar himselfe.”12

This conscious reference to earlier patterns of patronage puts Heywood squarely in line with well-established systems of patronage: the argument hinges on precedence. This point Heywood pursues in the dedication of Love's Mistresse (1636) to Edward Sackville, Earl of Dorset and Lord Chamberlain. Heywood begins by noting the favorable reaction that this play has enjoyed at court: “It having pleased Her Most Excellent Majestie to grace this (though unworthy) Poem so often with her Royal presence, I was imboldened the rather (though I dare not commend) yet to commit it to your Noble Patronage” (Heywood, V, 83). Having cited precedents for such patronage, Heywood concludes: “If your Honor shall dayne the acceptance of a playne mans love, an obseruance in this Presentment, as you grace the worke, so you shall much incourage the Author” (p. 84). Sackville, who had received dedications of other literary works from Camden, Davenant, Drayton, and Southwell, certainly represents an ambitious target for patronage. As Lord Chamberlain, Sackville presumably helped to get the play performed in the first place.

The nobleman who seemed to have the most to do with the final decade of Heywood's career was Henry Carey, Earl of Dover. Carey was the grandson of Elizabeth's Lord Chamberlain, made Baron of Hunsdon in 1619 and finally Earl of Dover in 1628. By 1641, he became Speaker of the House of Lords. Several writers, including Henry Peacham, dedicated books to Carey; Heywood dedicated Englands Elizabeth (1631) and Pleasant Dialogues and Drammas (1637) to him. The latter includes additional evidence of Heywood's connection to the Earl.

In dedicating Englands Elizabeth to the Earl, Heywood makes special mention of the earl's grandfather, “the most constant Friend and faithful Assistant in all her [Elizabeth's] troubles and dangers.”13 Heywood follows this statement with an exposition of the Lord Chamberlain's service. He says of the Earl of Dover: “It hath pleased your Lordship to censure fauourably of some of my weak labours not long since presented before you, which the rather encouraged mee, to make a free tender of this small peece of service” (sigs. A7v-A8). And he closes: “wishing to you and to all your Noble Family, not onely the long fruition of the blessings of this life present; but the eternall possession of the Ioyes future” (sig. A8v). Obviously some kind of knowledge of patron and artist precedes this 1631 publication, for this dedication seems both a statement of gratitude for past support and a plea for future patronage.

That curious collection entitled Pleasant Dialogues and Drammas (1637) contains a dedication to Henry Carey, an anagram on his name, and speeches spoken in his honor on the occasion of dramatic performances—including a masque. These items give ample testimony to Heywood's desire for patronage from the Earl. Heywood describes his collection as he dedicates the text to Carey: “This is a small Cabinent of many and choyse, of which none better than your Noble selfe can judge, some of them [the items] borrowing their luster from your own vertues, vouchsafe therefore (great lord) their perusall, being devoted to your sole patronage, whilst the presenter wishing unto you and all yours, a long fruition of terrestriall graces.”14 By 1637 Heywood enjoyed a well-established relationship with this patron. One may therefore readily understand the theme of the anagram on Carey's name: “Ever raigne rich … / … in your blest posterity / You shall raigne rich” (p. 264). This serviceable if undistinguished verse nevertheless makes its point: indebtedness to Carey and hope for future patronage.

Heywood also wrote prologues and epilogues to the performances of plays at the Earl of Dover's home in Broadstreet in London. One assumes that these took place sometime in the mid-1630s. Thus Heywood not only dedicates books to his patron; he also offers entertainment for some kind of dramatic performances. The first included in Pleasant Dialogues is a Prologue and Epilogue spoken at a play performed in the Christmas season, perhaps 1635. Hospitality speaks, “a frollick old fellow: A Coller of Brawne in one hand, and a deepe Bowle of Muscadel in the other” (p. 242). He complains about the decline of entertainment; fortunately, the earl's household welcomes all with generous society. Hospitality says: “But harke, a Cock crowd, and I heard a Swan / Ecchoing to him, that here did live a man, / Noble, and of that high and ancient straine, / To call back Hospitality againe” (p. 243). The Swan, Heywood notes, forms part of the earl's heraldry, and the Cock, the countess'. The Epilogue also describes the household as one where “hospitality hath grace.”

Similar themes pervade the Prologue and Epilogue, given at a dramatic performance at the Earl of Dover's London house on Candelmas night in an unspecified year. The speaker refers to the auspicious union of the Earl and Countess, and praises them:

In this blest state both of you, and yours, now stand
As first dispos'd, so strengthened by that hand
Which as it makes, protects; you have begun
To grace the City with your presence: run
That happy course still: you and your lov'd wife
Have to dead hospitality given new life.

(p. 244)

The Epilogue wishes that countless blessings “and the Courts best grace, / Attend the great Lord of this place.” Doubtless Heywood hopes that the Earl's bounty may extend to him, as presumably it already has.

For Henry Carey, Heywood on New Year's Day, probably 1637, prepared a masque, a fragment of which remains. This was Heywood's only attempt at this, another dramatic form. Given the speeches that Heywood had already written for the Earl and the dramatic performances, the preparation of a masque seems a logical extension. The performance took place at the Earl's house at Hunsdon; and the masque itself, we infer, contained the nine Muses. Once more alluding to the heraldry of the Earl and Countess, Heywood makes much of the swan and cock. The speaker says: “Long may your bounty last, and we rejoyce, / To heare both City and the Country voyce / Your hospitality” (p. 246). The figure Truth actually presents the masquers in a speech filled with mythological allusions. This fragmentary masque illustrates another way in which Heywood sought to serve his patron, Henry Carey.

The case of Thomas Heywood in the 1630s makes clear that systems of patronage, familiar in the Renaissance, remained intact; they had not been set aside by a paying theatergoing audience. Rather, here in the last decade before theatrical activity ceased, we find a dramatist reaching out to all the principal groups of patrons for support. Heywood's relationship with Henry Carey, Earl of Dover, intensifies and gives striking evidence of at least this dramatist's desire for noble patronage. Heywood's situation is not unique. Instead of radical departure from systems of patronage, the dramatists represent an expansion of those systems so that even with theaters established and flourishing and with occasional support from the court or guilds, dramatists nevertheless seek and secure the patronage of noblemen, the oldest pattern of patronage.


  1. “Patronage in the Renaissance: An Exploratory Approach,” in Patronage in the Renaissance, ed. Stephen Orgel and Guy Lytle (Princeton, N.J., 1981), p. 23. Gundersheimer's essay appears on pp. 3-23.

  2. Early English Stages 1300 to 1660 (New York and London, 1963), II, 94. Thomas Middleton's A Game of Chess (1624) shows how one dramatist, writing on topical matters, did not suffer prior censorship. Indeed, this highly controversial play about the proposed Spanish marriage of Prince Charles was licensed by Sir Henry Herbert. Only after several performances and protest from the Spanish Ambassador did James shut down the play. The King's Men under James's patronage successfully performed this play without government censorship; the forbidding of production came only after controversy and political pressure.

  3. E. K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage (Oxford, 1923), IV, Appendix B, pp. 168ff.

  4. A Calendar of Dramatic Records in the Books of the Livery Companies of London 1485-1640, ed. D. J. Gordon and Jean Robertson (Oxford, 1954), p. 63. All quotations of guild records will come from this Malone Society Collections III.

  5. Henslowe's Diary, ed. R. A. Foakes and R. T. Rickert (Cambridge, 1968), pp. 126-28.

  6. “Women as Patrons of English Renaissance Drama,” in Patronage in the Renaissance, pp. 274-90.

  7. See Virgil B. Hetzel, “The Dedication of Tudor and Stuart Plays,” Wiener Beiträge zur Englischen Philologie, 65 (1957), 74-86. Although as I make clear in my study of women patrons, Heltzel's view needs to be modified slightly, his study remains a good place to begin investigation of the topic.

  8. For further information see my Introduction in Thomas Heywood's Pageants: A Critical Edition (New York, 1986). Quotations will be from my edition.

  9. Heywood quotes Juvenal. See Fair Maid of the West, ed. Robert K. Turner, Jr. (Lincoln, Neb., 1967), p. 93.

  10. The Jew of Malta (1633), sig. A3v.

  11. The Iron Age (1632), sig. A3v.

  12. The Dramatic Works of Thomas Heywood, ed. R. H. Shepherd (1874; rpt., New York, 1964), IV, 3.

  13. Heywood, Englands Elizabeth (1631), sig. A5v-A6.

  14. Heywood, Pleasant Dialogues and Dramma's, ed. W. Bang, Materialien zur Kunde des älteren Englischen Dramas (Lovain, 1903). All quotations will be from this edition of Heywood's 1637 work.

Nancy A. Gutierrez (essay date fall 1989)

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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 meaning (a marriage of mimetic and didactic impulses), the latter is normally privileged at the expense of the former: the play is interpreted in light of its end, rather than the various means by which that end is attained.4 The two plots in the play depict members of the English gentry interacting with each other on an English country estate. The main plot shows the happy marriage of a country gentleman and his wife, which is destroyed by the wife's adultery with the husband's best friend. The subplot represents the decline of one man's fortunes after he kills two men in a fit of temper, and his subsequent rise in station because of another man's attraction to his sister. In neither plot are the main characters nobility, and they engage in leisure activities of the gentry—dancing, cardplaying, and hawking. The initial situations of both plots are also commonplace, and the realistic setting contributes to the overall impression that the play is offering a mirror of the life of the English gentry.

The contrived endings in both plots challenge this realism in representation. The subplot has a comic structure which, by definition, allows for improbable events and inconsistent characterization, and almost from the beginning loses its mimetic nature. The characters who abandon Mountford—his uncle, Old Mountford, and his cousin, Tydy; his former friend, Sandy; and his former tenant, Roder—are reminiscent of the personified characters who leave Everyman when he is confronted with Death, thus foregrounding a specific morality convention.5 Further, Acton's dramatic on-stage conversion from vengeful enemy to generous friend and lover is obviously an element of prescriptive literature. But the more explicit didacticism is in the ending of the main plot. Here Anne Frankford, the adulterous wife (who has already directly addressed the women in the audience, telling them to avoid her example of infidelity) is forgiven by her “kind” husband, just prior to her death by self-inflicted starvation. The critical history of the play is dominated by scholars' concern about this moralizing aspect of the ends of both these plots and its relationship to meaning and genre.

In his essay on Heywood, T. S. Eliot initiated the debate about A Woman Killed with Kindness with his statement that “Heywood's is a drama of common life, not, in the highest sense, tragedy at all.”6 Taking their cue from Eliot, later scholars have focused their discussions of A Woman Killed on precisely this issue of whether or not Heywood writes tragedy. Certainly, if the character of Anne Frankford is perceived as the protagonist, the play's structure shows her rise, her fatal action, and her fall—the classic tragic pattern.7 Even if the focus is shifted to John Frankford, the wronged husband, a kind of tragic structure is evident, since his actions in punishing his wife ultimately cause her to be taken away from him forever, and he thus loses an important reason for living.8

Sometimes elements other than its de casibus design determine the play as tragedy for its readers. Rick Bowers, making a virtue of necessity, sees the play's small scale as an essential element for its tragic effect,9 whereas Hardin Craig points to Elizabethan faculty psychology as the crucial element for tragic motivation in character.10 Leonora Leet Brodwin and Roger Stilling argue that the love element in A Woman Killed dominates the tragic effect, thus categorizing it in the subgenre of Elizabethan love tragedy.11

On the other hand, the seeming moralistic message of the play—that the world is rightly ordered by a Christian paradigm—convinces many critics that Heywood is writing a particular kind of tragedy with its own peculiar tragic effect. The most prominent proponent of this theory is Henry Hitch Adams, who argues that A Woman Killed is an excellent example of English domestic or homiletic tragedy.12 Most recently, Barbara Baines has argued that the peculiar effect of domestic tragedy in general, and A Woman Killed in particular, lies in “typological and emblematic amplification.”13 At least one critic, however, has argued that the domestic plot and the non-aristocratic setting of A Woman Killed are clear indications that the play is not tragedy: Moody Prior calls A Woman Killed a “drame,” that is, a play “in which the main characters face a trying situation and confront a difficult problem, any solution to which seems to involve them in possibly unhappy consequences.”14

Finally, some scholars, uncomfortable with the problematic characterization of Anne and Frankford, see the play as a kind of anti-tragedy. For example, John Canuteson views the play as an example of Renaissance skepticism, as the priggishness of Frankford deliberately undercuts the Christian allegory inherent in the lovers' triangle.15 George C. Herndl sees Anne's acquiescence to her seducer and her decision to kill herself by starvation as inconsistent with her virtuous character, and finds Frankford's cruel and kind judgment on Anne at the time of her sin ludicrous, given his later forgiveness on her deathbed.16 Another scholar finds a political message in Anne's extremity of behavior, asserting that the play offers a “prophetic” description of women's roles in later centuries, specifically in the “weak personality and weak morals” of Anne Frankford.17

These various interpretations of the play—traditional tragedy, domestic drama, anti-tragedy and political document—relying as they do on the assumption that the play is monolithic in meaning, are undercut by the psychological and sociological ambiguity of the character relationships in both the main plot and the subplot. The importance of social history for a critical understanding of A Woman Killed has recently been recognized by Laura G. Bromley, who argues that “Heywood intended to dramatize a code of gentlemanly behavior for an emerging middle-class audience eager for guidance in the business of living.”18 Although I agree with Bromley that Heywood's play is illuminated when examined in the context of domestic courtesy manuals, the frame of reference could be even further expanded to include the broader frame of family life. The adultery in the main plot and the question of honor in the subplot foreground the problematic role of women in a patriarchal society, particularly in the smaller family unit: in the main plot, the husband allows the hierarchical nature of the family to be disrupted by his introduction of a male outsider into the dyad of husband and wife; and in the subplot, the head of the family first wastes the family's fortune because of an impulsive act of violence and, second, makes his sister an object by which he can reconstitute the name of his family.

A second area of tension is that between family interrelationships and extra-familial bondings, as the conflicts in both plots arise out of the nuclear family's relationships with kinfolk, servants, and neighbors. Such indeterminacy within private and public affective relationships of necessity affects the play's genre. The models of traditional tragedy and domestic drama, which offer essentialist representations of human experience, skew the experience offered by the play, as do the models of anti-tragedy and the political document, since all of these privilege the play's emblematic meaning and ignore its sociological context. Although individual aspects of A Woman Killed might point to one of these models, a more accurate categorization of the play is melodrama, since it stretches to encompass a breadth of audience response in its depiction of the culture-specific problem of adultery. However, before we can come to any kind of conclusion about genre, it is necessary to understand the ideological tensions at work in the play's depiction of the family.


Modern historians of the family caution their readers and each other about picturing the family, in any period, as a static social unit, made up of the same kind of members who understand family relationships in the same way and who derive the same emotional value from such relationships. Family structure and meaning differ across cultures and between social classes. They are perceived differently by people of different sexes and of different ages; they are perceived differently by the same person at different times in his/her life. And finally, the modern historian's ability to understand and articulate this ever-shifting social phenomenon rests on limited records, and the validity of interpretation depends on a methodology that takes into account all such variables and qualifications. However, because the English gentry of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries was a literate class that left behind records of its existence, the outlines of its family make-up and character are more accessible to modern historians than family units of less literate classes.19A Woman Killed with Kindness focuses on three particular aspects of the family: power relations within the household, particularly between husband and wife; the situation of younger sons; and the relationship between the nuclear family and a larger community of neighbors and kinfolk.

The nuclear family seems to be the norm for the gentry, rather than the exception, that is, “the conjugal pair and their unmarried children.”20 This family unit is the core of the household, all “persons living under one roof.”21 People other than the nuclear family in the household would include servants primarily, although other kin might also be included—particularly grandparents or married children. The household was often described as “a little commonwealth,”22 with various value-laden levels:

[In this commonwealth], there are diuers societies and degrees, reciprocally relating, and mutually depending one vpon another. The highest degree or societie is between the husband and the wife; and this is as the first wheele of a clocke, that turneth about all the rest in order. The next societie, is betweene the Parents and the children. The third betweene the seruants one with another, and towards all other superiors in the familie. Into these three societies may a familie bee disposed.23

While the hierarchical pattern between each of these societies is relatively clear, the power relations within the conjugal pair is more complicated. Should the husband be his wife's superior (patriarchal model of marriage), or should the husband and wife be equal partners (mutuality model of marriage)?24

In arguing for the patriarchal model, contemporary authors claim that male domination is the natural and proper state of things: just as mankind owes love and worship to God, as citizens owe duty and allegiance to their king, wives owe love and obedience to their husbands. “Nature hath framed the lineaments of [a husband's] body to superiority, & set the print of gouernment in his face, which is more sterne, less delicate then the womans.”25 The husband “is a priest unto his wife … He is the highest in the family, and has both authority over all and the charge of all is committed to his charge; he is as a king in his own house.”26 Marriage is a reflection of universal order:

It standeth not, in what man and wife shal conclude vpon, that there may be peace & quietnes, but what order God hath prescribed them, to bee obeyed in their places: so that they must looke vnto Gods wisedom, order, & polity for oeconomical gouernment, and not what may seeme right and good in their owne eies. And that, if the man may not weare womans apparrell, nor the woman mans, how much lesse may the one vsurpe the others dignitie, or the other (to wit the husband) resigne or giue ouer his soueraigntie vnto his wife? but each must keepe their place, their order, and heauenly politie, wherto God hath called them.27

This patriarchal model of the family, grounded as it is in the ideological underpinnings that legitimate the cultural status quo, underscores the importance of the family as the foundation of political, social, and moral order.28

However, Renaissance and Reformation attitudes toward the nature of man offer another perspective of the husband and wife relationship—the idea of “mutuality,” where the wife is a companion, not a subordinate, to her husband. Advocates of this position point to the fact that Eve was created from Adam's side, so “that shee might walke joyntly with him, under the conduct and government of her head.”29 As Davies has pointed out in her work on Renaissance marriage literature, this conception of “mutuality” or “love” is basic to both Catholic and Protestant conceptions of marriage.30 Daniel Rogers provides a particularly good description of this model in his Matrimoniall Honour (1642):

Husbands and wives should be as two sweet friends, bred under one constellation, tempered by an influence from heaven, whereof neither can give any great reason, save that mercy and providence first made them so, and then made their match; Saying, see, God hath determined us, out of this vast world, each for other; perhaps many may deserve as well, but yet to me, and for my turne, thou excellest them all, and God hath made me to thinke so (not for formality sake to say) but because it is so.31

While a modern audience might see a contradiction between the patriarchal and the mutualistic views of marriage, Davies points out that the Renaissance commentators themselves “took the paradox in their stride.”32

Related to these differing views of marriage is the question of what kind of education a woman should be given. Although virtually all writers are agreed that women should be taught “religion, duty to parents, good manners, and the care and supervision of the household,”33 the question of further education in the arts and sciences is much debated. While opponents to this idea argue that knowledge makes a woman immoral as well as discontent with her role in the social hierarchy, proponents disagree and assert that such knowledge assists a woman in fulfilling her religious and domestic duties. Thomas Becon writes in 1564:

Is not the woman the creature of God, so well as the man? … Can that woman govern her house godly, which knoweth not one point of godlynes? … Who seeth not now then howe necessarye the vertuous education and bringinge up of the womankinde is?34

Arguers on both sides of this debate assume that a woman is defined solely by her roles as wife and mother, and education is valued or not valued in relation to this cultural given. Consequently, no matter what kind of marriage is advocated in domestic manuals, patriarchal determination prescribes women's social roles.

This patriarchal emphasis is evident in other kinds of discussions of marriage. Catherine Belsey, for example, characterizes the many versions of Alice Arden's adultery and murder of her husband (the subject of Arden of Feversham), from the time of its occurrence in 1551 through the first years of the seventeenth century, as society's attempt to make sense of a private insurrection within the family.35 The center of this insurrection is the wife—in particular, her violation of what is perceived to be the mark of her excellence, her chastity: “the flower of manners, the honour of the body, the ornament and splendour of the feminine sexe, the integrity of the bloud, the faith of their kinde, and the proclaimer of the sincerity and candour of a faire soule.”36 A woman's abuse of her chastity ranks as such a serious transgression because her chastity belongs, not to the woman herself, but to the woman's male overseer, either her father or her husband: “A woman hath no power of her own body, but her husband … thou dost the more wrong to give away that thing which is another body's without the owner's license.”37

This conception of a woman's honor as a male possession parallels the legal reality barring woman from any kind of ownership: at her marriage, all a woman's property—that is, all that she was given by her father—was transferred to her husband's ownership. A woman possessed nothing that her father, and then her husband, did not give her. Lévi-Strauss's thesis that the exchange of woman is the basis of culture is consequently applicable to early modern England. Because woman was no more than “a conduit of a relationship rather than a partner to it,”38 the patriarchal system is particularly defined as “relations between men, which have a material base, and which, though hierarchical, establish or create interdependence and solidarity among men that enable them to dominate women.”39 Women were objects, not subjects, in early modern England.

Because of the male ownership of a woman's honor, a wife's chastity effectively became the delicate foundation for the social institution of marriage. A husband was absolutely dependent upon his wife's sense of honor, given his inherent inability to insure her faithfulness.40 For this reason, a wife's adultery was considered a more heinous violation than was her husband's.41 But although a wife's adultery was a clearly perceivable wrong in Renaissance England, it was nevertheless a wrong difficult to categorize and thus to eradicate. Not only did adultery violate one of the Ten Commandments, and thus was a crime prosecuted in Church courts, but it was also a disruption of the social order. In spite of its nature as both moral and civil offense, however, offenders were punished only moderately, much less severely than in other European countries.42 Even when adultery was formally determined a felony against the state in 1650, when the Rump Parliament introduced the death penalty for the female adulterer, the law seems to have been virtually unenforceable.43 On the one hand, this perception of adultery as an offense against both Church and State shows the equation of private morality with public welfare, but on the other hand, the problem of enforcement also reveals a corresponding struggle between individual rights and institutional authority, a characteristic social tension of the age. Was adultery a crime against the state? Or was it exclusively a sin against God? Should it be punished by death? Was a less serious punishment advisable? Should the state be the judge? Or the church? Or the husband?

Besides the relations between husband and wife, A Woman Killed dramatizes the situation of Wendoll, a character who is identified as a member of the gentry, but who is apparently landless and explicitly without economic means. Although his family fortunes may simply be lost, he more probably is a younger son, unable to draw on family wealth. Modern historians have determined that, while primogeniture was the pervasive rule, it appears that many fathers tried to insure the future of younger sons, either by providing the sons with money during their lifetime for schooling or apprenticeship, or by willing the sons land that was not entailed, or by trying to instill in the eldest son a sense of responsibility for his younger brothers. Houlbrooke points out that it is difficult to chart the fortunes of younger sons, but he does note that “a high fertility and a dramatic expansion of the ranks of the gentry had sharpened competition for places of profit and honour” during the first part of the seventeenth century (when A Woman Killed was written), and that “perhaps … the situation of younger sons was worse at this time than it had been earlier or would be later.”44

Whatever the power relations within the marriage and nuclear family unit, the household existed as a social entity within a larger community of kinfolk and geographically important neighbors. In describing the relationship of the smaller social unit with the larger, Wrightson argues that, among the gentry, in general, “more vital social bonds were those … individually established and maintained not with an extended kinship group but within … the neighborhood.”45 While ties of blood were important in practical matters, such as choosing the executor of one's will, records seem to show that “kinsfolk were selected for certain purposes if they were locally available and all other things were equal.”46 The bonds of a family with those people who lived in geographical proximity, on the other hand, seem to be more significant. “Neighborliness” is the term used to describe a horizontal relationship, that is, a relationship of equality and mutuality among the members. Deference and paternalism are terms used to describe a vertical relationship between social unequals, such as between a landlord and his tenant. While affective bonds seem to rule “neighborliness,” mutual self-interest is the mark of a successful vertical relationship. One of Wrightson's more interesting observations is that such self-interest seems to rule kinship bonds as well, when geographical distance is involved. If this is true, then conflict between bonds of kinship and bonds of friendship may not have been uncommon.

This background of family history illuminates the various political and erotic power relations in A Woman Killed with Kindness: husband vs. wife; wife vs. husband's best friend; husband vs. friend; family head vs. kinfolk, friends and neighbors; family vs. community. The depiction of these relations, as well as their potential for conflict, controls the play's generic classification.


The sociological context of A Woman Killed is established in the first few scenes, with the wedding celebration of Frankford and Anne taking place in the confines of Frankford's Yorkshire estate and being witnessed by family relatives and servants. Husband and wife, members of the gentry, are identified immediately as the core of a family and the center of a large household. The presence of wedding guests of the same class as the wedding couple establishes a larger network of community outside the household. Further, the music and dancing, common Elizabethan metaphors for the orderliness of creation, establish the Edenic world in which the action begins.

The Frankfords' marriage is described in terms of both the patriarchal and the mutualistic models of marriage. Anne immediately demonstrates the proper humility and subservience of a wife when she asserts the importance to her of her husband's favor:

His sweet content is like a flattering glass,
To make my face seem fairer to mine eye:
But the least wrinkle from his stormy brow
Will blast the roses in my cheeks that grow.


And Mountford describes husband and wife as intellectual, as well as social, equals, signifying that Anne has probably received a more extensive education than many women:

You both adorn each other, and your hands
Methinks are matches. There's equality
In this fair combination; you are both scholars,
Both young, both descended nobly.
There's music in this sympathy …


Both these models rest on the excellent character of Anne, “beauty and perfection's eldest daughter” (23), paralleling the discussion of marriage in domestic handbooks: no matter whether the wife is described as a subordinate or as a companion to her husband, she bears the burden of making the marriage harmonious, since it is she who must be pliant and obedient to her husband, no matter what he demands. The success of the marriage—and thus of the household as well—depends on the acquiescence of the wife to the subordinate role that society prescribes for her.

What disrupts the family is the entry of another man into the husband-wife dyad. Frankford places his affective bond with Wendoll on a footing almost equal to his relationship with Anne,48 and it unsettles the marital harmony. The conjugal pair, bonded not only in terms of class, intellect, and mental compatibility, are also sexual partners. In effect, the entry of a man into this unit shakes up the erotic configuration, as both husband and wife form an intimate bond with this third party, in addition to the one that they have formed with each other. Male friendship, co-existing in the same affective space as the marital relationship, becomes a source of conflict between husband and wife.

Wendoll's entry into the household, on the surface, seems not at all disruptive, only a sign of Frankford's generosity. However, his place in the larger community signals his potential for disruption. Frankford describes Wendoll as “of small means, … somewhat pressed by want” (4.31-32), as having “mean possibilities” (64). This economic want is counterbalanced by Wendoll's class as “a gentleman / Of a good house” (32-33), “a gentleman / In all things” (63-64). It appears Wendoll is a younger son, a victim of primogeniture on the one hand, but also a potential source of social disorder on the other, since he has no place within the carefully prescribed social hierarchy. Further, Wendoll's participation in the hawking wager that results in Mountford's fit of passion—in spite of Wendoll's lack of resources—indicates his propensity for ill-conceived action.

That Wendoll is a threat to the marital union is implicit when Frankford welcomes Wendoll into his household on the day after his own wedding. He welcomes Wendoll “from this present day / … for ever” (4.83-84), an echo, certainly, of the marriage service. Wendoll has Frankford's “table and … purse” (64), and Frankford pays for his “man [and] gelding” (71): Wendoll's possessions are Frankford's possessions. Frankford asks his wife to “use [Wendoll] with all thy loving'st courtesy” (80) and Anne agrees to give him all that “modesty may well extend” (81). Prior to her acquiescing to Wendoll, Anne reports that her husband asks Wendoll to “be a present Frankford in his absence” (6.79). And Wendoll admits that Frankford

                                                                                cannot eat without me,
Nor laugh without me. I am to his body
As necessary as his digestion,
And equally do make him whole or sick.


Frankford does not, of course, extend to Wendoll his rights as husband, but he places Wendoll above the servants and shares with his friend some of the patriarch's privileges. Wendoll's role comes close to, but is not entirely, that of the master of the household. In the world of the family, this addition of another man in the position of paterfamilias disrupts the dyad of husband and wife.

The enactment of the seduction makes visible the ease by which adultery enters the apparently harmonious world of the family. In his soliloquy before he confronts Anne, Wendoll enlarges upon the closeness he enjoys with Frankford (6.38-43, partially quoted above), concluding with his understanding of what kind of outrage against the moral order he is contemplating:

Hast thou the power straight with thy gory hands
To rip thy image from his bleeding heart?
To scratch thy name from out the holy book
Of his remembrance, and to wound his name
That holds thy name so dear, or rend his heart
To whom thy heart was join'd and knit together?


Wendoll's recognition of the wrong he will be doing to Frankford persuades him not at all to resist his passion: “And yet I must” (51). He is conscious from the very beginning that he is violating both a personal and social code of behavior, but his appetite, which in effect has been endorsed by Frankford in Frankford's insistence that Wendoll use his home as if he were Frankford himself, is too strong for his reason to control.

What is also important about Wendoll's self-inspection and self-questioning—shallow though it is—is that he sees the seduction of his best friend's wife as an act that is relevant only to the best friend and not to the wife. Anne has no identity for Wendoll beyond her relationship with Frankford. Further, Anne herself defines who she is solely in terms of her role as Frankford's wife, responding to Wendoll's entreaties in the seduction scene only in relation to what such an act might mean to her husband, calling Wendoll disloyal, and reminding him that Frankford “esteems [Wendoll] / Even as his brain, his eyeball, or his heart” (6.114-15). But Wendoll asserts that his bond with Frankford, which he acknowledges willingly, does not preclude his desire for Anne: “Mistake me not, the augmentation / Of my sincere affection borne to you / Doth no whit lessen my regard of him” (144-46). Anne is bewildered, because Wendoll is telling her that her identity as Frankford's wife does not have the power to keep him in his socially prescribed place. And Anne has no other argument for him: “What shall I say? / My soul is wand'ring and hath lost her way” (150-51).

Anne's upbringing and education, the foundation for her chastity, are liabilities in this situation, for they have defined her only in terms of wife and mother, and have allowed her no internal resources with which to fight Wendoll's suggestion.49 She gives in to Wendoll, her only guide in the disordered new world in which she finds herself, a man who, in all ways but one, she has been treating as her husband:

                                                                                O Master Wendoll,
Pray God I be not born to curse your tongue,
That hath enchanted me. This maze(50) I am in
I fear will prove the labyrinth of sin.


Both Anne and Wendoll are moved to sin because fundamental family relationships have been upset: Wendoll has been acting like Frankford in all things but sexual access to Anne, and he now assumes this prerogative; Anne, denied her protective shield as Frankford's unapproachable wife, acquiesces to this “surrogate” husband she has known since the day after her marriage.

Frankford's situation differs from that of Anne and Wendoll because his is the only role in the family and household that has not been disrupted by the introduction of Wendoll. This is so because, as the source of all power, he alone can define function and position within the family and household structures. He has placed Wendoll second in his affections, and while this position results in catastrophe for Wendoll and Anne, it proves no such disaster for Frankford. Therefore, he suffers no identity crisis, no disruption of world view, no loss of private and public context, and he is able to control his grief and passion with reason. Like both other characters, he is presented with an idea that shatters his world and invites him to sin. However, unlike Wendoll, he maintains an anguished self-restraint:

                                                  No, I will loose these thoughts;
Distraction I will banish from my brow
And from my looks exile sad discontent.
Their wonted favours in my tongue shall flow;
Till I know all, I'll nothing seem to know.


And, in contrast with Anne, Frankford is able to assimilate the most hideous fact with what he knows to be true. Even though he wishes “it were possible / To undo things done, to call back yesterday,” he ultimately realizes that he “talk[s] of things impossible, / And cast[s] beyond the moon” (13.52-53, 63-64). When Frankford struggles against the temptation to kill, he prays to God for patience; he calls the servant girl's hand an “angel's hand” when she stops him from murdering; he treats his sinning wife with righteousness and dignity. His self-government sets him off dramatically from the lovers, who are unable to fight temptation successfully. But his singular lack of self-knowledge about the sexual confusion into which he has thrown both his wife and his best friend demonstrates a basic inadequacy about the effectiveness of patriarchal authority when two different affective bonds come into conflict.

The responses of the three principal characters to the presence of adultery in their lives demonstrate the ineffectuality of the family in reestablishing the order it has violated, and also call into question the effectiveness of patriarchal control. Wendoll repents his actions and feels guilt for destroying the home of his friends, yet his decision to go abroad and enter the world of the court does not preclude his ability—or even his proclivity—to be the agent for yet another adulterous liaison. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Anne's response. Acting like the “Puritant” that Wendoll calls her, Anne reveals her intense feelings of despair and guilt when Frankford discovers her in bed with Wendoll. She is unable to call Frankford by the name of “husband” because she has, in effect, destroyed the bond of marriage. She also expects drastic and irreversible punishment from his hands: “When do you spurn me like a dog? When tread me / Under your feet? When drag me by the hair?” (92-93) When Frankford's “kind” punishment finally is voiced—that Anne is banished forever from him and her children to a neighboring mansion—Anne's response is that it is “a mild sentence” (171). In fact, she later demonstrates that it is too mild, sentencing herself to death by starvation to erase the blot of her sin. Anne's deeply felt contrition affirms the masculine order that she has threatened by her marital infidelity, and her self-inflicted starvation, certainly a kind of self-violence, appears to be the physical punishment that her husband refuses to enact. From another perspective, however, it also seems like a kind of wayward individualism, an open challenge (albeit unconscious—Anne is the play's most fervent apologist for the patriarchal status quo) to the age's insistence on masculine authority.

If Wendoll's response to his part in the adultery demonstrates an ambiguous tension between repentance and retribution, and if Anne's response reflects her age's desire for harsh retribution for such a crime, Frankford's response to his wife's adultery seems to show a kind of mean. Not only does he free Wendoll, but he also uses no physical violence upon Anne and ultimately embraces her as his wife when she shows true contrition: “As freely from the low depth of my soul / As my Redeemer hath forgiven His death, / I pardon thee” (17.93-95). However, Frankford's self-restraint and non-violence are unusual responses to a wife's infidelity, as we see in Anne's initial expectations of the treatment she will receive at her husband's hands, and in Acton's comments upon his brother-in-law's action at his sister's deathbed (17.16-22). This difficulty on the part of both victim and one of the “oppressors,” to accept human compassion as a proper response, exposes the cruelty and oppression marking the patriarchy's treatment of women.

Thus, although the actions of each of the three main characters offer a condemnation of adultery—a transgression recognized as heinous by both the play's characters and its audience—they likewise reveal the virtual impossibility of correcting adultery in a way that is both satisfactory and complete: is adultery to be treated harshly, as a crime worthy of capital punishment, as the Puritan radicals desired; or is adultery, if not a lesser offense, at least a sin that is forgivable? The only clear point is that, just as Anne has served as the unknowing battleground for the civil war between Frankford and Wendoll, she also becomes society's scapegoat for the resulting confusion and disorder, as might be expected in a society which bases so much of its moral, social, and political structure upon the controlled sexuality of a woman.

The family unit's inability to solve the problem of adultery in the main plot finds a parallel in the subplot, as the problematic nature of the relationship between woman's chastity and family honor results in a woman's brutalization and victimization by the patriarchal system. The entry of passion into the family unit disrupts the family in the main plot of A Woman Killed; likewise, in the subplot, Mountford's passion, in the form of uncontrollable rage, disrupts his family. His rage not only results in the murder of two innocent men, but it also decimates his patrimony, making Mountford “the poorest knight in England” (5.17). Mountford is further victimized by both his friends and kinfolk, who refuse him aid (an interesting development, given Wrightson's assertion about the great strength of local ties), and by an usurer who seizes the last small family plot of land, the only mark of his rank as gentleman, and throws Mountford into jail for failure to repay his debts.

During all of these misfortunes, Mountford is supported by his loyal and loving sister, Susan, who becomes, at this lowest point in his fortunes, the key to his economic and social recovery. Acton, the engineer of Mountford's hardships, determines to seduce and abandon Susan as further revenge, but falls in love with her at first sight. He tries to give her the money for her brother's release from prison, but, when she refuses his offer, negotiates Mountford's release on his own. When Mountford realizes he owes his life to his enemy, he determines that family honor dictates that he give Susan to Acton as repayment, making all too explicit the patriarchy's attitude that a woman's chastity, in spite of the idealized descriptions of its value as a sign of worthiness and character, is a mere commodity, to be bought and sold at male discretion.

The play upon the concepts of “kind” (kindness) and “kin” (kinship) especially link the treatment of women in the two plots.51 Frankford's “kindness” impels Anne to the extremity of self-starvation in order to discharge the tremendous debt he places on her. Mountford's less than “kindly” behavior (that is, behavior inappropriate to one sharing “kindred”), on the other hand, in response to Acton's “kindness” in relieving Mountford of debt, results in the “happy” marriage of his sister to his former enemy. The irony inherent in these separate actions again foregrounds the problematic role of woman, and the consequent fragility of the family structure.

Acton is well aware that in paying Mountford's debts, he is saving his enemy's life, and that “such a kindness … fasten[ed] on [Susan]” (9.64-65) will require some payment. Mountford's appeal to Susan makes this fact even more explicit:

His kindness like a burden hath surcharged me,
And under his good deeds I stooping go. …
                                                                                                                        Shall the weight
Of all this heavy burden lean on me,
And will not you bear part? You did partake
The joy of my release; will you not stand
In joint-bond to satisfy the debt?
Shall I only be charged?

14.64-65, 71-76

Susan's chastity is the only possession of Mountford's that will satisfy Acton. However, Susan's voiced plan to give herself to Acton to satisfy family “honor,” and then to use a knife on herself to save her honor (14.85), problematizes this patriarchal control, for, if her plan were carried out, she would have effectively cheated on the deal, although the conditions of the trade would have been apparently satisfied. (Her brother's acquiescence to this plan [88-91] entangles this patriarchal quest for honor even further, if that's possible). In any case, even with Acton's magnanimity in marrying her instead of corrupting her, the subplot, like the main plot, presents the body of a woman as a battleground for male competition.


The questioning of the family in particular, and of the patriarchy in general, as a source of social order, is a significant element in determining the appropriate generic classification of A Woman Killed with Kindness. While tragedy and domestic drama, as particular dramatic modes, both account for certain aspects of the experience of the play, neither satisfactorily addresses the importance of this sociological content.

Because the main plot of A Woman Killed dramatizes a conflict within each of the three characters as they confront the problem of adultery in their lives,52 it may appear that one or all of these characters may accurately be termed a tragic hero, a man or woman whose nature and situation mark him or her as representative of the human condition.53 But close analysis of the action reveals no such kind of dramatic portrayal. The moral dilemma in tragedy, in which the protagonist must choose between two apparent goods, is not the case here. Wendoll is too weak to withstand the force of his passions; both Anne and Frankford are strongly conventional creatures and paragons of their class: neither wants to sin. All three characters realize they are faced with only one possible “right” choice.54 Nor is it the case that the protagonist, in the moment of decision, asserts his or her humanity in the face of a hostile universe: Anne's narrow conception of self limits her recognition; Frankford's conventionality is too much in line with the cultural status quo. In place of tragedy's moral questioning and existential isolation is an explicit cultural paradigm with carefully delineated parts and interrelationships—specifically, the family unit. And this social unit is delineated, not as a stable and rock-like determiner of authority, but as a fragile construct at best, at the mercy of tenuous human interdependences and mutual affective bondings. This shift in focus from the internalization of conflict within character to the external workings of family interrelationship as an arbiter of meaning takes the play out of the realm of tragedy.

However, domestic tragedy, the seemingly logical alternative to traditional tragedy, given the play's significant social context, is an inappropriate category for A Woman Killed as well. Madeleine Doran defines domestic tragedy as a uniquely English genre that

deals with the troubled affairs in the private lives of men of less than noble birth—gentlemen, farmers, merchants. … [T]he action is most frequently a murder, committed for greed or love, the setting is usually English and realistic, the basis for the story is nearly always an actual and fairly recent crime. … [Its] ethical pattern of temptation, sin, repentance, and punishment [tends to emphasize] pathos to the exclusion of more complicated feelings and of reflection.55

The resemblance of A Woman Killed to the main points of Doran's definition is self-evident: Frankford is a country gentleman and the setting of the play is his country estate.56 Anne is tempted by Wendoll to commit adultery and submits, but repents her crime, suffers a “kind” punishment at her husband's hands, and ultimately kills herself in the enormity of her own grief. Her reconciliation with Frankford on her deathbed is pure pathos, not the complex emotional turmoil that results in tragic catharsis. And finally, the action and the language in the play's final scenes suggest a specific interpretation of the characters: Anne is a type of mankind, Wendoll is the devil figure, and Frankford is the figure of a forgiving and merciful God.

However, as Doran points out, Heywood's play “suffer[s] distortion if viewed as [a] dramatized homil[y],”57 and in fact, A Woman Killed deviates from the genre of domestic tragedy in several important ways. First and most obvious, it enacts no violent crime (usually the woman's husband is murdered, with or without the wife's complicity). Second, it is a fictional story, not a dramatic account of a recent actual occurrence. These two clear departures from the normal criteria can be joined to other, more subtle, differences.

Whereas previous domestic tragedies depict the sensationalist situation of a female criminal who commits adultery and then murders her cuckolded husband, Heywood rather represents the problematic position of women in the family, especially in relation to male bonding outside the family unit. Such a focus suggests a fundamental precariousness in the culture's concept of marital and familial cohesiveness. Where the wife contracts her adulterous affair with an outsider in Arden of Feversham and A Warning for Fair Women, the two other domestic dramas most often compared with A Woman Killed, Anne's liaison arises out of the family unit, for Wendoll, her lover, is part of the Frankford household and has been such since the day after her wedding. She is unable to juggle the affective demands such a situation makes on her, when a man not her husband asserts his prerogative. Susan's chastity, which ideally should be a reflection of family honor, is—in all practical terms—bartered in order for the family's patriarch to recover the loss of the family name. This questioning of the family as a source of order challenges the conventional configurations of domestic drama.

Thus, the ethical pattern of sin, repentance, and punishment that is the framework of so many domestic tragedies is absent in A Woman Killed with Kindness. And so is the multi-faceted response of tragedy, the direct involvement of the audience's being with the protagonist's dilemma. Instead A Woman Killed with Kindness dramatizes the age's moral uncertainty about the role of women by focusing on the potentially catastrophic social trangression of adultery. In treating this culture-specific problem, the play assumes the role of historical document, as well as artful object. The aesthetic power and appeal of Heywood's A Woman Killed, as well as its documentary importance as historical artifact, emanates from this symbiosis between text and culture. Such a relationship more accurately defines the play as melodrama in opposition to both traditional tragedy and domestic tragedy.


In the past, the word melodrama has been used as a pejorative term to describe “popular machine-made entertainment,”58 probably the result of the first usage of the term in the nineteenth century to describe a particular kind of sensationalistic drama. In recent years, critical discussion has used the term in a more sophisticated and complex way, as a neutral description of a certain kind of drama. Eric Bentley and Robert Heilman, in particular, have demonstrated that melodrama “is drama in its elemental form”59 in which man reorders his relations, not with himself as in tragedy, but with others; and this reordering is often expressed by magnified and exaggerated situations, characters, and problems. Because the conflict is external, antithetical impulses are frequently concentrated in two antagonists, of whom one is obviously good while the other is obviously evil, and the resulting conflict is much like that of the good angels and Lucifer in morality plays—with this exception, that the characters in melodrama are provided with realistic names and histories. In any case, this struggle of opposing forces in melodrama approximates that of tragedy, while the clear realization that one of these forces is definitely “better” than the other is closer to moralistic drama. In other words, both mimetic and didactic impulses are intrinsic to the form.

The combining of mimetic and didactic impulses in melodrama works to distance the audience from the action of the play. Unlike tragedy, which reveals the mysterious and complex nature of the human condition, melodrama aims for clarity and directness of meaning within a cultural paradigm. Of necessity, it reflects the culture in which it is set. Its characters are figures specific to the time; its issues are those which the culture believes are important. This particularity of social and moral milieu has further implications: because of the playwright and audience's acceptance of a shared value system, the treatment of issues, either explicitly or implicitly, supports the status quo. In A Woman Killed, Frankford, Anne, and Wendoll are all in agreement that adultery is a violation of the social and moral order. This shared Christian value system is the rhetorical link between play and audience that allows for the power and appeal of the play.

Consequently, melodrama shows men and women acting in an idealized world where right and wrong appear uncomplicated absolutes. However, there is another dimension to this genre, which, in general, scholars have ignored, and this aspect more than anything else describes A Woman Killed as melodrama. Although there is no doubt that the conflict is simplified and the conclusion apparently satisfying, the actual complication and resolution of melodrama rather point to social problems about which the culture is ambivalent. In other words, while melodrama depicts an ideal resolution (social relationships and institutions are reinforced by a happy ending which establishes their desirability, or by a sad ending, which establishes their power of authority), it may nonetheless contain moral ambiguity, an ambiguity resulting from a dialectic between the ideal represented and the real that is suggested by its very absence. Easy solutions are only available in fiction. As Brooks points out,

melodrama offers us heroic confrontation, purgation, purification, recognition. But its recognition is essentially of the integers in combat and the need to choose sides.60

The recognition is not the tragic recognition of the hero about the nature of the human condition, only the “melodramatic” recognition on the part of the audience that it is best to be on the side of virtue, whether in victory or defeat. The fact of conflict, no matter what its resolution, asserts the presence of the abyss. The genre's demand that the audience choose sides “makes the abyss yield some of its content,”61 as Brooks states, but does not ultimately remove the threat.

In A Woman Killed with Kindness, a woman commits adultery and suffers a punishment that her community, as a whole, recognizes as proper and just, and her repentance reinforces this cultural affirmation of patriarchal domination. Further, the action of the play appears to be a paradigm of the fall of mankind, and the characters likewise typological or typical, rather than realistic and round. Nevertheless, this seeming stratification of reading into a monolithic mold—whether of cultural ideals or Christian dogma—is undercut by the sociological forces at work in intra- and inter-family relationships.62 The social situation that prompts Anne's adultery, her own response and that of her husband and lover, and the ironic parallels in the subplot's examination of a woman's honor—all demonstrate the inadequacy of the patriarchy to contain the problem satisfactorily. So, although the crime of adultery is punished and the authority of the patriarchal family reinforced, the process by which this ending is achieved makes equivocal the satisfying nature of the resolution.63 The seventeenth-century (or modern) audience may favor Frankford's Christian mercy, or Anne's strict justice, or Wendoll's ineffective self-control, as methods of handling adultery, but none of these is a “doomsday machine” that will finally and for all time eradicate adultery from English (or western) culture.

A Woman Killed with Kindness opposes the established forms of traditional tragedy (a kind of drama that challenges cultural norms) and domestic tragedy (a kind of drama that reinforces cultural ideals) with the cultural indeterminacy of melodrama (a kind of drama that is “part and parcel” of cultural ferment). The universal depiction of the human condition of tragedy, and the simplistic news story with a moral of domestic tragedy, are transmuted to the open-ended analysis of adultery, an inherently insoluble social problem.


  1. Clark Hulse, Metamorphic Verse: The Elizabethan Minor Epic (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), 14.

  2. Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 5. See also his introduction to the anthology, The Power of Forms in the English Renaissance (Norman: Pilgrim Books, 1982), in which he defines his method as the “new historicism,” and his “Towards a Poetics of Culture,” Southern Review 20 (March 1987): 3-15, which more fully describes this “practice” (3).

  3. Kate McLuskie, “‘Tis But a Woman's Jar’: Family and Kinship in Elizabethan Domestic Drama,” Literature and History 9 (1983): 238.

  4. An exception to this rule is Diane E. Henderson's discussion in “Many Mansions: Reconstructing A Woman Killed with Kindness,Studies in English Literature 26 (1986): 277-94, in which she charts the “collusion of religious and realistic patterns” (279) in A Woman Killed. Although Henderson recognizes the interdependence of mimetic and didactic impulses as a vital aspect of the play's aesthetic effect, she sees such interdependence as a mark of “domestic tragedy.” As I demonstrate later, I see such cooperation of apparently diverse impulses as a mark of melodrama. For discussions of the different powers and effects that distinguish mimetic from didactic drama, see Elder Olson, “William Empson, Contemporary Criticism, and Poetic Diction,” in Critics and Criticism: Essays in Method, ed. R. S. Crane, abr. ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 24-61; and Edgar Schell, Strangers and Pilgrims: From “The Castle of Perseverance” to “King Lear” (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), 7-8. But for a discussion arguing that mimetic and emblematic impulses result in “generic malformation,” see Robert Heilman, Tragedy and Melodrama: Versions of Experience (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1968), 214.

  5. I am grateful to Ira Clark for pointing out this parallelism to me.

  6. T. S. Eliot, Essays on Elizabethan Drama (1932; reprint, New York: Harcourt Brace and World, 1960), 109.

  7. Hallet D. Smith, in “A Woman Killed with Kindness,PMLA 53 (1938): 138-47, argues that Anne's tragedy is modelled after a type of Elizabethan fallen woman.

  8. David Cook, “A Woman Killed with Kindness: An UnShakespearean Tragedy,” English Studies 45 (1964): 353-72.

  9. Rick Bowers, “A Woman Killed with Kindness: Plausibility on a Smaller Scale,” Studies in English Literature 24 (1984): 293-306.

  10. Hardin Craig, The Enchanted Glass (New York: Oxford University Press, 1950), 128-36.

  11. Leonora Leet Brodwin, Elizabethan Love Tragedy (New York: New York University Press, 1971), 101-18; Roger Stilling, Love and Death in Renaissance Tragedy (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1976), 175-83.

  12. Henry Hitch Adams, English Domestic Or, Homiletic Tragedy 1575 to 1642 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1943), 144-59. See also Arthur Clark, Thomas Heywood: Playwright and Miscellanist (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1931), 234; Peter Ure, “Marriage and Domestic Drama in Heywood and Ford,” English Studies 32 (1951): 200-216; and Robert Ornstein, “Bourgeois Morality and Dramatic Convention in A Woman Killed with Kindness,” in Renaissance Drama: Essays in Honor of Madeleine Doran and Mark Eccles, ed. Standish Henning et al. (London: Feffer and Simon, 1976), 128-41.

  13. Barbara Baines, Thomas Heywood (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1984), 100.

  14. Moody Prior, The Language of Tragedy (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1947), 94-97, especially 96.

  15. John Canuteson, “The Theme of Forgiveness in the Plot and Subplot of A Woman Killed with Kindness,Renaissance Drama, n.s., 2 (1969): 123-47.

  16. George C. Herndl, The High Design: English Renaissance Tragedy and the Natural Law (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1970), 169-74.

  17. Bonnie Alexander, “Cracks in the Pedestal: A Reading of A Woman Killed with Kindness,Massachusetts Studies in English 7 (1978): 1-11.

  18. Laura G. Bromley, “Domestic Conduct in A Woman Killed with Kindness,Studies in English Literature 26 (1986): 260.

  19. I have relied on the following books for this discussion of family history: Peter Laslett, The World We Have Lost, 2nd ed. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973); Lawrence Stone, The Crisis of the Aristocracy 1558-1641 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965), and The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800 (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1977); Michael Anderson, Approaches to the History of the Western Family 1500-1914 (London: Macmillan Press, Ltd., 1980); Keith Wrightson, English Society 1580-1680 (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1982); Ralph A. Houlbrooke, The English Family 1450-1700 (London: Longman, 1984); Joyce Youings, Sixteenth-Century England (London: Penguin Books, Ltd., 1984); S. D. Amussen, “Gender, Family and the Social Order,” in Order and Disorder in Early Modern England, ed. Anthony Fletcher and John Stevenson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985).

  20. Stone, Family, 26.

  21. Ibid., 26. In The World We Have Lost, Laslett points out that “no sharp distinctions [were] made between [a person's] domestic and economic functions” (2). People who slept, ate, and worked under the same roof made up a single household. Therefore, the institutions of family and marriage were based on economic interdependence, as well as on ties of affection. The pervasive use of economic metaphors in A Woman Killed (and other domestic drama), noted by such critics as Baines and Alexander, is apparently grounded in the actual living conditions of the day. See also Leonore Lieblin, “The Context of Murder in English Domestic Plays, 1590-1610,” Studies in English Literature 23 (1983): 190 and note.

  22. William Gouge, Of Domesticall Duties (London, 1622), as quoted by Amussen, 200.

  23. Ste. B., Covnsel to the Hvsband: To the Wife Instruction (London, 1608), 40-41.

  24. See particularly Kathleen M. Davies, “Continuity and Change in Literary Advice on Marriage,” in Marriage and Society: Studies in the Social History of Marriage, ed. R. B. Outhwaite (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1981), 58-80.

    For the following discussion of the relationship of the husband and wife in marriage, I have consulted the following marriage handbooks and conduct manuals: William Harrington, [T]he comendacions of matrymony (London, 1528); Richard Whytforde, A Werke for housholders (London, 1530); Johannes Ludovicus Vives, A very frutefull and pleasant boke called the Instructio[n] of a Christen woma[n], trans. T. Hyrde (London, 1541); [Heinrich Bullinger], The Christen state of matrimony (London, 1546); Ste. B.; William Heale, An Apologie for VVomen (London, 1609); The Araignment of Lewd, Idle, and Froward, and vnconstant women … VVith a Commendation of wise, vertuous, and honest VVomen (London, 1616); Gouge; Daniel Rogers, Matrimoniall Honour (London, 1642).

    I have also consulted the following secondary works: Carroll Camden, The Elizabethan Woman, rev. ed. (Mamaroneck: Paul P. Appel, 1975); Stone, The Family, Sex, and Marriage; McLuskie; Lieblin; Linda T. Fitz, “‘What Says the Married Woman?’: Marriage Theory and Feminism in the English Renaissance,” Mosaic 13 (1980): 1-22; Keith Thomas, “The Double Standard,” Journal of the History of Ideas 20 (1959): 195-216; W. and M. Haller, “The Puritan Art of Love,” Huntington Library Quarterly 5 (1941-42): 235-72; and Roland Mushat Frye, “The Teachings of Classical Puritanism on Conjugal Love,” Studies in the Renaissance 2 (1955): 148-59. Although the articles by the Hallers and Frye are somewhat dated, their review of the literature remains helpful.

  25. Quoted in Camden, 112.

  26. Gouge, 138.

  27. Ste. B., 42.

  28. See on this subject Gordon J. Schochet, Patriarchalism in Political Thought (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1975); and Lena Cowen Orlin, “Man's House as His Castle in Arden of Feversham,Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 2 (1985): 64-67. For a discussion concerning the extent of a husband's real authority over his wife, see Amussen, note 19 above.

  29. R. C., as quoted in Wrightson, 91.

  30. See note 24 above.

  31. Rogers, 245.

  32. Davies, 60.

  33. Camden, 44.

  34. Quoted in Betty Travitsky, The Paradise of Women (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1981), 7. See also pp. 6-10; Camden, chapter II; Elaine V. Beilin, Redeeming Eve (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987), 3-15. The most thorough discussion of the history of women's education during the Renaissance is Retha M. Warnicke, Women of the English Renaissance and Reformation (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1983).

  35. Catherine Belsey, The Subject of Tragedy: Identity and Difference in Renaissance Drama (London: Methuen, 1985), 129-48.

  36. Quoted in Camden, 41.

  37. Vives, sig. 66r.

  38. Gayle Rubin, “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the ‘Political Economy’ of Sex,” in Toward an Anthropology of Women, ed. Rayna R. Reiter (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975), 174.

  39. Heidi Hartmann, “The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism: Towards a More Progressive Union,” in Women and Revolution: A Discussion of the Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism, ed. Lydia Sargent (Boston: South End Press, 1981), 14, as quoted in Eve Konofsky Sedgwick, “The Beast in the Closet: James and the Writing of Homosexual Panic,” in Sex, Politics, and Science in the Nineteenth-Century Novel, ed. Ruth Bernard Yeazell (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), 150 (Sedgwick's emphasis).

  40. Such a situation results in giving the woman a kind of “passive” or “negative” power. Social anthropologists recognize that this kind of “power” is inherent in such dominated groups. See, for example, Sherry B. Ortner and Harriet Whitehead, “Introduction,” in Sexual Meanings: The Cultural Contribution of Gender and Sexuality, ed. Sherry B. Ortner and Harriet Whitehead (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 18-21.

  41. The double standard was, of course, part of Elizabethan culture. A husband's adultery was not deemed as heinous, either socially or morally, as a wife's adultery, although there were dissenters. See also Fitz, note 24 above.

  42. For a succinct summary discussion of the history of the lenient attitude toward adultery in England, see Alan Macfarlane, Marriage and Love in England 1300-1840 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd., 1986), 239-44.

  43. J. A. Sharpe, Crime in Seventeenth-Century England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 60-62. For a discussion of the complicated political, legal, social, and religious trends that culminated in the 1650 act of Parliament, see Keith Thomas, “The Puritans and Adultery: The Act of 1650 Reconsidered,” in Puritans and Revolutionaries: Essays in Seventeenth-Century History presented to Christopher Hill, ed. Donald Pennington and Keith Thomas (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), 257-82.

  44. Houlbrooke, 237.

  45. Wrightson, 51.

  46. Ibid., 50.

  47. All quotations are from the Revels Plays edition of A Woman Killed with Kindness, ed. R. W. Van Fossen (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1961).

  48. To be fair to Frankford, he never treats Wendoll as Anne's equal in his affections, but says he “[prefers] him to a second place / In [his] opinion and [his] best regard” (4.34-35). However, this tension that I am describing between homosocial and heterosexual bonding, a theme in a number of Renaissance plays (for example, Two Gentlemen of Verona) suggests that this play might be further illuminated by Eve Konofsky Sedgwick's work on homophobia. See her Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), and note 39 above.

  49. Stilling anticipates me in this explanation of Anne's “hamartia” (179). See also Baines, 91 and Cook, 356-58. The chronology of the play also suggests that Anne's “lapse” is very brief. First of all, it is likely that only a short amount of time elapses between scene vi and scene viii, primarily because Nick, who discovers Anne's infidelity at the end of scene vi, is a character who has already proven to be quick in decision and action. His report to Frankford is, therefore, logically immediate. Likewise, Frankford himself quickly moves to prove or disprove Nick's observation.

  50. Otto Rauchbauer reminds us, in “Visual and Rhetorical Imagery in Thomas Heywood's A Woman Killed with Kindness,English Studies 57 (1976): 200-210, that the concept of “maze” had allegorical implications in the Middle Ages as a symbol of the vita Christiana, that is, man caught between sin and God. He cites several iconographic examples of this metaphor, but fails to note a striking parallel application in Samuel Daniel's Complaint of Rosamond (1592), which went through numerous revisions and reprintings in Heywood's lifetime. Rosamond, after giving in to King Henry, is enclosed in a labyrinth, as much to keep Rosamond in as to keep the world out. Daniel's language significantly, even heavy-handedly, describes the maze as a symbol of human sinfulness (I quote from the 1592 edition of Delia):

    A stately Pallace he foorthwith did buylde,
    Whose intricate innumerable wayes,
    With such confused errors so beguil'd
    Th'vnguided entrers with vncertaine strayes,
    And doubtfull turnings kept them in delayes,
              With bootlesse labor leading them about,
              Able to finde no way, nor in, nor out.

    sig. L2

    This maze, a concrete image of Rosamond's psychological and spiritual turmoil, has obvious parallels to the “maze” that Anne Frankford finds herself in.

  51. Ure and Baines have been especially helpful for this part of my discussion.

  52. Fredson Bowers, Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy (1940; reprint, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966), 225.

  53. I have relied on the following works for this discussion of tragedy: O. B. Hardison, “Commentary,” in Aristotle's “Poetics”, trans. Leon Golden (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968); Elder Olson, Tragedy and the Theory of Drama (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1961); Heilman, 3-73; and Richard B. Sewall, The Vision of Tragedy, enl. ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980).

  54. In his article, “A Woman Killed with Kindness as Subtext for Othello,Renaissance Drama, n.s., 14 (1983): 112-13, Peter Rudnytsky makes a similar point in relation to Anne's address to the audience in 13.141-44.

  55. Madeleine Doran, Endeavors of Art (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1954), 143, 145-46. For the most extensive discussions of domestic drama, see Adams, and Andrew Clark, Domestic Drama: A Survey of the Origins, Antecedents, and Nature of the Domestic Play in England 1500-1640, 2 vols., Jacobean Drama Studies, no. 49 (Salzburg: University of Salzburg, 1975); Orlin's work, however, demonstrates a need for further reassessment. See note 56 below.

  56. A commonplace about domestic tragedy is that it focuses on the middle class, on common men. Consequently, scholars have often used the terms “domestic” tragedy and “bourgeois” or “middle-class” tragedy interchangeably. For example, Henry Hitch Adams includes in the full title of his English Domestic Or, Homiletic Tragedy 1575 to 1642, the following enlargement, “Being an Account of the Development of the Tragedy of the Common Man …” See also Louis B. Wright, Middle-Class Culture in Elizabethan England (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1935), 631-36. Other scholars confuse the terms “middle class” and “gentry” or “gentleman.” See Doran, 142-47; Ornstein; Clark; and more recently, the articles by Bowers and Bromley.

    In her seminal article on Arden of Feversham (note 28 above), Orlin redefines domestic tragedy, not as exhibiting “middle-class” or “bourgeois” values, but as portraying the “gentle status” of gentlemen, with particular emphasis on the role of the protagonist as landholder and householder: “He is located in the arena where he has full responsibility for and final authority over family, servants, and guests. It is in his house that the gentleman is king, and that house is seen by the Elizabethan playwright as a little kingdom, a microcosm in which tragic action can ensue” (82).

    Orlin's thesis relies on the revisionist attitude toward the power of the gentry as argued by recent English historians. Briefly, the terms “bourgeois” and “middle class” are considered anachronistic in this period, primarily because of the fluidity of the social classes and because rank depended, not on economics necessarily, but on status and degree. See the list of modern family histories in note 19 above, but see also, for an interesting analysis of the Elizabethan attitude toward making money, Laura C. Stevenson, Praise and Paradox (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 11-39. Orlin's reassessment of the protagonist's class in English domestic drama has been long overdue. However, as will become clear, I believe that melodrama is a more accurate term than tragedy to describe what is going on in this kind of play.

  57. Doran, 143.

  58. Heilman, 75.

  59. Eric Bentley, The Life of the Drama (1946; reprint, New York: Atheneum, 1979), 216. For the following discussion of melodrama, I rely on Heilman, 74-87; Bentley, 195-218; and Peter Brooks, The Melodramatic Imagination: Balzac, Henry James, Melodrama, and the Mode of Excess (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976), especially his introduction and conclusion.

  60. Brooks, 205.

  61. Ibid. For an analysis directly opposed to my own, see Sharon Kaehele Shaw, “Medea on Pegasus: Some Speculations on the Parallel Rise of Women and Melodrama on the Jacobean Stage,” Ball State University Forum 14 (1973): 13-21. Shaw argues that the rise of the simplified woman on the stage, “who might be Laura-like in her charm, Eve-like in her cunning innocence, Magdaline-like [sic] in her sin, but never the complex woman who is a mixture of all of these” (14) is linked to melodrama, because both “served the same need in the Jacobean mind: both fed the desire to simplify the world in order to understand it and gain at least a spurious sense of control over one's universe” (15). Shaw's discussion does not go far enough. The plays might ostensibly simplify moral problems, but they also exhibit common social tensions: Anne dies for her sin, but her judge, the method of punishment, and her tempter remain morally ambiguous.

  62. Although she approaches the play from a different critical perspective than my own, Baines points out that the characters in A Woman Killed “[function] on both a literal, realistic level and on a typological, mythic level” (95).

  63. As Belsey states, “the family is emblematically restored by the self-elimination of the offending wife” (178).

Edward T. Bonahue, Jr. (essay date 1993)

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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 manage to preserve itself, then, along essentially medieval geographic and social boundaries as long as it did, especially when facing the problems coincident with a burgeoning free market? Just what cultural forces were at work to contain, or at least to mitigate, every new danger?

Many historians have explored those official mechanisms of the city, ward, parish, and precinct that provided occasional public relief during periods of extreme destitution and that offered Londoners some modicum of political participation. Yet to a significant degree, social tension was also contained through more informal means, including public debate in those public spheres of discourse “where gentry, shopkeepers and artisans not yet segregated into separate clubs, mingled freely,”4 including the public theatre. Specifically, in his exploration of the idea of the marketplace and its ideological interpenetration with the London theatre, Jean-Christophe Agnew argues persuasively that London's recently established permanent playhouses became important vehicles for all kinds of social negotiations, especially because they provided a discursive stage on which an anxious London could interrogate and, if possible, recuperate new proto-capitalist economic realities, among them, high profits, monetary exchange, and impersonal transaction.

What rhetorical devices or forms of address could accommodate the new and unsettling confusion over personal distance and intimacy that perplexed those brought together in commodity transactions? What image of the individual could take adequate measure of a self no longer, or at least not fully, authorized within the traditional religious, familial, or class frame? And if such conventions, devices, and imagery were available, where might they develop freely enough to coalesce into an intelligible, formal analogue of the increasingly fugitive and abstract social relations of a burgeoning market society?5

The answer, Agnew proposes, is the public theatre, that marginal institution whose ambiguous relation to official authority licensed a certain freedom for debating the most controversial, even dangerous, issues circulating throughout the city.6

As a text overtly concerned with representations of commercial activity, Thomas Heywood's If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody, Part 2 (1605), an unwieldy congregation of vaguely related dramatic scenes, holds an important position within the discourse of London's struggle to describe and legitimize new social and economic realities. Like many city comedies, 2 If You Know Not Me is vitally concerned to reconcile disparities between the alienating effects of the new commerce and inherited notions of communal organization and obligation. The play engages not with the sprawling geographic and demographic expansion of London itself, which was clear to all Londoners, but rather with “economic change that called older social assumptions into question.”7 As certain London citizens began to see vast increases in wealth and power, Heywood's play attempts not only to show merchants and mercantilism in the best possible light but also to legitimize and celebrate their activities and existence within the city. The play constructs a hierarchy of London citizens and attaches a specific economic problem to each character in order to stage the possibility of some crisis at each level, and then to show that crisis averted. By delving beneath Heywood's celebratory moments, however, we can uncover those strategies of containment in the play that not only mask the problems of London's new economic order but also rewrite English economic and social history.

Let us begin where the play would least have us begin, at the bottom of the hierarchy, with the working-class figure of John Tawnycoat, who appears first as a poor country peddler and then as an urban laborer. His most bitter speech, near the end of the play, depicts far more miserable conditions, and a far more mercenary society, than the rest of the play admits.

Hard world, when men dig liuing out of stones,
As wretched miserable I am inforc't:
And yet there liues more pittie in the earth,
Then in the flinty-bosomes of her children,
For shee's content to haue her aged brest
Mangled with matrocks, rent and torne with spades,
To giue her children and their children bread,
When man more flinty then her stonie Ribbes
That was their mother, neither by intreates,
Teares, nor complaints will yeeld them sustenance,
But tis our ages fault the mightier,
Teare liuing out of vs, we out of her.

(ll. 1577-88)8

In his account, the “flinty-bosomed” Londoners are devoid of community and of generosity. The “mightier” extract or “tear living” out of the “enforced” laboring poor, yet return nothing. Moreover, this is “our age's fault,” a problem of a contemporary society estranged from the natural world, “their mother.” And the peddler's plea for “bread” resonates within the context both of England's successive crop failures in the 1590s and of London's consequent food riots, which reached their height in 1595, threatening civic stability with famine and mob violence.9

Tawnycoat's complaint cries out from the world If You Know Not Me is taking pains to silence. The presence of poverty and starvation within the environs of London, if allowed to go unchecked, would imply the failure of its wealthy inhabitants to meet their neighborly duties. Although the administration of poor relief was assumed regularly by both the city and its parishes, London's highly visible poor were a source of serious concern and an additional financial burden on all rate-payers.10 The play therefore quickly devises a remedy for this scene of misery, as it does for almost all of the play's moments of class conflict and disparate wealth. In this scene, the rich haberdasher Hobson vows to alleviate the poverty that drives men to such wretched circumstances.

Alas the while, poore soule I pittie them,
And in thy words as in a looking-glasse,
I see the toyle and trauell of the countrey,
And quiet gaine of citties blessedness. …
No God forbid, Old Hobson nere will eate,
Rather then surfet vpon poore mens sweat.

(ll. 1678-94)

While Hobson's speech would seem to demonstrate his sympathy with the poor, his concern is highly ironic because, distancing himself from the immediate sight of Tawnicoat, he attempts to locate such “toil and travail” in the country, preserving for the city a life of “quiet gain.” Commenting on the “morbid growth” of England's capital city, F. J. Fisher argues that Tudor and Stuart social observes largely believed that “London waxed fat at the expense of the outports, and grew rich only by sucking the wealth of the country to itself.”11 So the play does not actually deny the presence in the city either of poverty or of the “flinty” rich who refuse to render aid. But it displays fine examples of the conscientious rich, who come sympathetically and voluntarily to the aid of the poor, in compliance with conscience and Christian charity.

Moving from the impoverished Tawnycoat to his benefactor, Hobson, takes us up the socio-economic hierarchy to the level of the well-to-do London citizen. Like Simon Eyre in Dekker's The Shoemaker's Holiday, Hobson is a blustery but likeable shopkeeper who makes good, and his colorful speech and demeanor make him the play's most comic figure. The problem figured within his character is that his commercial interests at times outweight his concern for the well-being of his community and neighbors. For example, when Sir Thomas Gresham asks him to employ a prodigal nephew, Hobson cagily replies that he will do so “partly for your love, / And chiefly to supply my present want” (ll. 297-98, my emphasis), skillfully combining his personal and professional relationships, and actually placing the commercial above the social. That is, his duty to his neighbor is dictated only incidentally by neighborly “love,” and mostly by economics, the law of “supply” and “want.”

Hobson also mentions that he has undertaken some opportunistic price gouging, yet the context is designed to be humorous, not threatening:

                                                            in Edwards dayes,
When Poperie went downe, I did ingrosse
Most of the Beades that were within the Kingdome,
That when Queene Marie, had renewed that Church,
They that would pray on Beades were forc't to me:
I made them stretch their purse-strings, grew rich thereby,
Beads were to me a good commoditie.

(ll. 458-64)12

Although the play is clearly taking this opportunity to poke fun at the lavish Catholics, it is equally significant that Hobson brings the profit motive even to religious artifacts. And, again, the problematic fact that Hobson's religious commodity might well have proven sacred to the “golden world” of his father, so recently idealized as a more honest and carefree milieu (ll. 266-69), is covered beneath the citizen's charming bluster.

At the top of the play's socio-economic hierarchy sits its hero, Sir Thomas Gresham, a fictionalized version of the actual Elizabethan merchant, whose lavish wealth and commercial profits the play transforms into public beneficence and religious philanthropy.13 Although Brian Gibbons finds the play's portrait of Gresham “a piece of banal mercantile hagiography,” this character nonetheless carries the specific socio-economic burden of legitimizing both the accumulation of wealth and the desire for more.14 Like the actual Gresham, Heywood's hero is fabulously rich, and the play's first scene shows him negotiating a patent to the Barbary sugar trade for sixty thousand pounds (an immense sum, given the calculation that the income of titular peers in 1602 averaged just over £1,600, and by 1641 had risen only to about £5,000).15 Gresham provides the play's most revealing touchstone, in an exchange with a foreign merchant who tries to sell him a wondrous pearl. Priced at fifteen hundred pounds, the gem proves too expensive for either a Russian prince or even the King of France. But when the fantastically wealthy Gresham asks the merchant whether his price is firm, the merchant responds, significantly, “I cannot bate one crowne and gaine by it” (l. 1481). It is the rationale of “gain,” here, and Gresham's tacit endorsement of the merchant's motive, that embodies the controlling ethos of the entire play. When the merchant declares his need for profit, he suggests not only that it is a just need, but that a merchant of Gresham's stature will approve of his gain. Thus the profit motive, the drive to accumulate greater and greater riches, although historically viewed with some anxiety and suspicion,16 is here reconstituted through Gresham as one of honor and distinction.

As Laura Stevenson notes, 2 If You Know Not Me praises Gresham not for his business acumen, diligence, or thrift, but rather for his “ability to spend, even to lose, money”; “Gresham can make extravagant gestures in the best tradition of aristocratic conspicuous expenditure.”17 For example, when confronted first with the floundering of a fleet of his ships and next with the loss of his sixty thousand pounds on Barbary sugar, Gresham mutters, “Birlady a deare bargaine,” and the play builds suspense toward his likely financial and emotional collapse. An anonymous lord believe that “this will plague him” and wonders, “how will he take this newes, losse vpon losse” (ll. 1523-25). But to everyone's immense surprise, Gresham calls again for the jeweler and his pearl, pays him for it, and orders it ground into dust, so that he may drink it in his wine. Everyone is amazed at his extravagance, but Gresham quickly reassures the company, “I doe not this as prodigall of my wealth,” but simply to show how “A London Marchant / Thus tread on a kings present” (ll. 1559, 1561-62). Of course, such larger-than-life tales of extravagance were not uncommon amid a society whose wealthy elite were growing more and more conspicuous in their consumption, but the play wants to assure us that this particular rich man is simply making a gesture of citizen class pride.18 Any wastefulness in his gesture is immediately hidden under the praise of Lady Ramsay, who declares him “an honour to all English Merchants[,] / As bountifull as rich, as Charitable / As rich[,] as renowned as any” (ll. 1556-58). In order to make his wealth less imposing and less threatening, the play prudently attempts to describe Gresham, the ideal London merchant, as an honor to the nation, both bountiful and charitable. Yet the emphasized word, which is repeated twice and which defines his other characteristics, names him “rich.”

We have seen, then, that 2 If You Know Not Me constructs a social and commercial hierarchy that poses the possibility of a major crisis—poverty in general, the exploitation of the poor, the uncertainty of impersonal transaction, the commodification of religious articles, the excesses of the rich—and then demonstrates the problem solved, the crisis contained. All of the play's problematic social dynamics come together at London's new Royal Exchange, one of the early modern capital's most prominent landmarks and the center of its domestic and foreign trade.19 Figures from every level of the play's hierarchy congregate here, from the laborers who build it, to the citizens and merchants who occupy it, all the way up to the monarch who sanctions its operation. Historically, one of the most important and visible of London's new commercial sites, the Royal Exchange was constructed from 1566 to 1568 and was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth in 1570. The Exchange, or Burse, as it was also called, provided English commerce with a new forum, geographically and conceptually, for the transaction of business. It would gradually replace Lombard Street and St. Paul's as England's chief business center, where merchants and foreign traders conducted international commerce, while shopkeepers and peddlers attended to domestic trade.

The actual Royal Exchange of London offers itself as a site of real, historical social and economic conflict, both in its building and in its reception. To begin with, the minutes of the London Court of Aldermen for 1566 report that Gresham was determined to employ “strangers,” or foreigners, in the construction of the Exchange.20 Foreign workers had been present in London for years—a thriving cloth trade brought immigrants from Holland and France—and Gresham evidently sought to make use of this cheap labor. The minutes report that on 13 June 1566, six days after construction began, the London aldermen, most likely under pressure from the citizens, resolved “to petition [Gresham] in favour of the English workmen.”21 Evidently, Gresham ignored them, because the minutes from 13 September 1566 further report that “the bricklayers of the city had been guilty of many misdemeanors, ‘both in words and deeds,’ towards Sir Thomas Gresham,” jealous, no doubt, of the foreigners working on his project.22 Whether or not English labor was finally employed is not clear, but it probably didn't much help the case of the English that the bricklayer William Crow was cited for “very lewde demeanour towards Henrick, the said Sir Thomas Gresham's chief workman.”23

In the play, as construction of the building begins, there is no mention of any contested foreign labor, but rather a celebration of Gresham's generosity. Gresham himself is present to lay the first stone, and on it he places a gold sovereign, asking other wealthy citizens to do the same and declaring, “the gold we lay, due to the workemen is” (l. 1194). Since Gresham has agreed to build the Exchange “at [his] owne charges” (l. 1179) and consistently refers to the workmen as “my worke men” (l. 1182), the pieces of gold could represent his payment for labor; yet the drama of the gesture and the ceremony surrounding the action push this remuneration toward the category of a gift, as if the gold were more than was expected. In their surprise, the grateful workmen cry out, “O God blesse M. Gresham, God blesse M. Gresham” (l. 1195), invoking divine benediction upon the honorable philanthropist. In this interesting scene, mentioned in Stow's Survey but generally deemed fictional,24 Heywood covers over a revealing moment in actual history, an episode of economic as well as civic conflict.

After its completion, the real Exchange did not immediately become a symbol of national pride, and may actually have met with a fair amount of ambivalence. Agnew asserts that London's anxiety regarding notions of a cash economy and profit-taking were projected onto the marketplace, and, indeed, there may have been some cause, since the Exchange evidently became a common haunt of London's idle riff-raff. The inquest book of Cornhill Ward, a neighborhood where poverty and wealth were closely intermingled, reflects in 1574 some trepidation regarding the influence of the Exchange on the neighborhood, especially on days when Christian citizens ought to be minding their God:

The Exchange was presented that uppon the Sondaies and holy daies there mete greate number of boyes and children, and younge roges; who, as well in the forenoone as in the afternoone, make such shoutinge and hollowinge, that neither the honest citizens who walke there for theire recreation can quietly walke, nor one heere another speake: neither can the parishioners in the church of St. Bartholomewe, neer adjoyninge to the Exchange, or such others as come to the sermands.25

If we look for twentieth-century parallels, our best counterpart for the Exchange might be the modern shopping mall, complete with “boys, children, and young rogues,” not the dignified financial brokerage.

In Heywood's play, however, the completed Exchange is consistently troped as an emblem of England's national pride and a symbol of God's blessings upon the country. Two anonymous lords enter with the sole purpose of positioning the Exchange among the great European landmarks; as they say, “all the world has not his fellow,” even in Constantinople, Rome, Frankfort, the Venetian Rialto, and Antwerp (ll. 1350-72). Gresham predicts that his work will be praised not only by the City, but by two other important coteries of English society: “I dare say both the Countrey and the Court, / For wares shall be beholding to this worke” (ll. 1159-60). (Although “country” sometimes denotes the nation as a whole, it probably indicates here the country gentry and squirearchy, while “court” signifies the aristocracy and the royal officers surrounding the queen.) Whereas Hobson points out the schism between country and city life, Heywood here connects them in order to invoke the praise of the whole nation.

Moreover, Gresham declares that his philanthropy constitutes a pious response to the generosity of Divine Providence. After learning how previous rich London citizens donated generously to the betterment of their city, he meditates:

Why should not all of vs being wealthy men,
And by Gods blessing onely rais'd, but
Cast in our mindes how we might them exceed
In Godly workes, helping of them that need.

(ll. 846-49)

The Exchange is quickly subsumed within the ideal of charity, not a profit-making venture for merchants so much as a “Godly work” to help “them that need.” Gresham asserts that his building will be “like a parish for good Cittizens / And their faire wiues to dwell in” (ll. 1231-32), a Christian community for London's tradesmen, founded as a pious response to God's material blessings. In fact, the Exchange is clothed in a vestment of religious veneration from its inception, when Gresham was spurred on to the deed by the Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral. In the same way that Queen Elizabeth created and preserved political power through the quasi-religious ceremonies that Roy Strong calls the “liturgy of state,” the rhetoric surrounding the Exchange surely constitutes some contribution toward a liturgy of the market.26

The play celebrates the Exchange in one more way, deploying an equally powerful legitimizing force, namely, the mythical power of the late Queen Elizabeth, who arrives ceremoniously toward the end of the play to preside at the Exchange's opening and nominate it the “Royal” Exchange.27 Roy Strong reminds us that during Elizabeth's reign, the liturgical calendar of public holidays gradually came to include celebrations of the queen's accession, birthday, and other important events in her reign. He notes that the myth that “started as propaganda became, in time, a reality,” a reality so potent that Heywood could still invoke it in 1605 for its political and religious strength.28 And this is why the founding of the city's chief financial and business center is contained within the two-part hagiographic review of Elizabethan success stories that comprises both Part 2 and Part 1 of If You Know Not Me.

The customary location of marketplaces near places of worship, the seasonal cycle of festive celebration, and the eventual development of religious processional, civic pageantry, and guild ceremony are all testimony, of course, to the importance of ceremonial and redistributive gestures to the legitimation of class power and authority. But these practices bear witness as well to the felt powers of that social and spatial construction which required such expansive and expensive rites to contain it: the market.29

The exchange of commodities and money, the rationale for and workings of a market, dominate 2 If You Know Not Me but also point to the need for the Elizabethan myth. The opening of the actual Royal Exchange certainly marked a significant milestone in the slow and tortuous development of English proto-capitalism, one which, as we have seen, was not without its coincident conflicts and tensions. But when recast under the legitimizing auspices of charity and of the monarch, the event becomes a triumph equal to the other great accomplishments of 1 & 2 If You Know Not Me: the accession of the Queen, the extinction of Catholicism, and the defeat of the Spanish Armada.

The juxtaposition of Heywood's play against actual history, then, raises an important point for scholars entering the debate over crisis and order in early modern London. Specifically, revisionist historians attempting to show a consistent pattern of stability, like their forebears who focused exclusively on crisis, must not ignore the local aberrations that permeate both trends. If London actually did maintain a general pattern of stability over half a century, such a trend precludes the presence of neither real pressure on older social institutions nor popular anxiety over new cultural and economic formations. Similarly, an addiction to twentieth-century arguments that London's theatres worked exclusively either to “contain” or to “subvert” dominant forms of power will invariably polarize our historical and literary scholarship into absolute narratives so static and rigid that they lose their value as reliable studies of the culture.30 Researchers concerned with the details of London's social and cultural formations, then, if they are to make truly useful distinctions about the emergence of London as a proto-capitalist metropolis and to read those distinctions back into its cultural productions, need to engage in careful microhistories of specific cultural sites, including the marketplace and the theatre.

Certainly those two institutions are closely linked in the case of 2 If You Know Not Me. That the play's celebration of Elizabethan history was devised as a palatable lozenge for citizen consumption seems undeniable. Andrew Gurr reminds us that this play, together with Rowley's roughly contemporary When You See Me You Know Me (1604?) and Dekker and Webster's Sir Thomas Wyatt (1604?), amounted to a calculated celebration and endorsement of citizen values.31 Although both 1 & 2 If You Know Not Me may amount to aesthetic failures by conventional measures of dramatic prowess, to dismiss them as imperfect literary artifacts is to miss an extraordinary opportunity to observe how the city wanted very badly to see itself and its activities.

In light of this desire, Laura Stevenson proposes that early modern English writers constantly “found themselves running into clashes between theory and reality … as their fiction explored economic and social ideas they could not quite articulate.”32 As a text confronted with problems that continually disrupt or question the celebration of commerce and wealth, 2 If You Know Not Me attempts to revise history in such a way that masks problems of the present. Heywood's play rewrites the historical narrative of the Exchange's founding while simultaneously erasing the social problems most often associated with the wealth and transactions of the city. As a response to London's burgeoning free market, the conflicted purpose of 2 If You Know Not Me is to celebrate commercial success, while containing the consequent problems. To do so, it deploys the rhetoric of nationalism and charity, and even conjures the legitimizing ghost of Gloriana, in an attempt to ritualize commerce within civic celebration, and to reconcile Tawnycoat's poverty and Gresham's pearl.


  1. Modern views of London's (and England's) early modern history as a series of crises began with Sir Walter Besant's London in the Time of the Tudors (London: A. & C. Black, 1904) and continued with E. P. Cheyney's A History of England from the Defeat of the Armada to the Death of Elizabeth (New York: P. Smith, 1948). Recent studies embracing the “crisis” model include those of Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas during the English Revolution (New York: Viking, 1972); Lawrence Stone, The Causes of the English Revolution, 1529-1642 (New York: Harper & Row, 1972); Peter Clark and Paul Slack, eds., Crisis and Order in English Towns, 1500-1700: Essays in Urban History (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972), esp. pp. 1-56; Peter Clark and Paul Slack, eds., English Towns in Transition 1500-1700 (Oxford: Oxford Univ. press, 1976); A. L. Beier, “Social Problems in Elizabethan London,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 9 (1989), 203-221.

  2. The first study to challenge the “crisis” narrative was Valerie Pearl's “Change and Stability in Seventeenth-Century London,” London Journal 5 (1979), 3-34, which was soon followed by Steve Rappaport, “Social Structure and Mobility in Sixteenth-Century London: Part I,” London Journal 9 (1983), 107-135; Rappaport, “Social Structure and Mobility in Sixteenth-Century London: Part II,” London Journal 10 (1984), 107-134; M. J. Power, “London and Control of the ‘Crisis’ of the 1590s,” History 70 (1985), 371-85; Power, “A ‘Crisis’ Reconsidered: Social and Demographic Dislocation in London in the 1590s,” London Journal 12 (1986), 134-45; and Ian W. Archer, The Pursuit of Stability: Social Relations in Elizabethan London (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1991).

  3. Rappaport, “Social Structure and Mobility: Part I,” 108. See also Rappaport, Worlds Within Worlds: Structure of Life in Sixteenth-Century London (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1989).

  4. Pearl, p. 6.

  5. Jean-Christophe Agnew, Worlds Apart: The Market and the Theatre in Anglo-American Thought, 1550-1750 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1986), p. 10. “The theatre,” writes Agnew, “quickly became the terrain on which this struggle to redefine the grounds of exchange relations was most vividly and vigorously joined. Separated, like the market, from its ritual and hierarchical aegis, the Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre furnished a laboratory of representational possibilities for a society perplexed by the cultural consequences of its own liquidity” (p. 54).

  6. See Steven Mullaney's The Place of the Stage: License, Play, and Power in Renaissance England (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1988), pp. 1-25. The ambivalent “margins” of the city, Mullaney proposes, provided a forum “where the contradictions of the community, its incontinent hopes and fears, were prominently and dramatically set on stage” (p. 22).

  7. Laura Carolina Stevenson, Praise and Paradox: Merchants and Craftsmen in Elizabethan Popular Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1984), p. 37.

  8. The only complete edition of Heywood's dramatic works dates from the mid-nineteenth century; for the sake of accuracy and consistency, all citations to the play are from the Malone Society edition, ed. Madeleine Doran, 2 If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody (Oxford: Malone Society, 1935).

  9. On England's crop failures, see Rappaport, Worlds Within Worlds, pp. 14, 136-37; on the food riots of the same period, see ibid., pp. 11-15. On the general topic of rioting and disorder in the 1590s, see Archer, pp. 1-14.

  10. For a description of London's poor laws and poor relief efforts, see Paul Slack, Poverty and Policy in Tudor and Stuart England (London and New York: Longman, 1988).

  11. F. J. Fisher, “The Development of London as a Centre of Conspicuous Consumption in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 4th series, 30 (1948), 37-50, esp. pp. 37-38.

  12. This anecdote may be loosely based on an actual historical model. Raymond de Roover (Gresham on Foreign Exchange [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press; London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1949]), measuring Thomas Gresham's impact on English international trade policy and practice, notes that his father, Sir Richard Gresham, Lord Mayor of London in 1537, had “enriched himself considerably with the spoils of the monasteries” (p. 18). Since such mercenary maneuvering would be unseemly, of course, in the hero of the play, Heywood rewrites this bit of history so as to attach it to the lower caste figure of Hobson.

  13. John William Burgon's nineteenth-century biography, The Life and Times of Sir Thomas Gresham, 2 vols. (London: Robert Jennings, 1839) remains the most thorough, if laudatory, source of information on the Elizabethan courtier and diplomat.

  14. Brian Gibbons, Jacobean City Comedy, 2nd ed. (London: Methuen, 1980), p. 118.

  15. Lawrence Stone, The Crisis of the Aristocracy, 1558-1641 (London: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 68. Stone proposes that “in the Early Stuart period, the wealth of the London merchants was dwarfing that of all but the richest peers and officials, their self-confidence and willingness to take risks were increasing” (p. 177).

  16. See Agnew, pp. 18-56.

  17. Stevenson, p. 145.

  18. Alexander Leggatt accurately but understatedly characterized such special pleading as “slightly defensive” (Citizen Comedy in the Age of Shakespeare [Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1973], p. 10).

  19. Wenceslaus Hollar's engraving from 1644 gives some sense of the grandiosity surrounding this institution. While the merchants conduct their thriving business below, angels declare the edifice to be “the Modell of Magnificence.”

  20. The minutes from the London Court of Aldermen are located in the Corporation of London Record Office but remain unpublished. The relevant material is found in Burgon, 2:500.

  21. Burgon, 2:503. Andrew Pettegree finds that City authorities were often pressured to limit the economic activities of foreigners (Foreign Protestant Communities in Sixteenth-Century London [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986], pp. 262-95, esp. pp. 286-87, 293).

  22. Burgon, 2:503.

  23. Burgon, 2:503.

  24. See Stow's Survey of London, ed. H. B. Wheatley, rev. ed. (London: Dent; New York: Dutton, 1956), p. 173.

  25. The Cornhill Ward Inquest Book is located in the Guildhall Library (GLMS #4069/1) but remains unpublished. The relevant material is found in Burgon, 2:355.

  26. See Roy Strong, The Cult of Elizabeth: Elizabethan Portraiture and Pageantry (London: Thames and Hudson, 1977), p. 115.

  27. Elizabeth actually did preside at the official opening of the Exchange, and Stow provides a few details about her visit: “after dinner [at Gresham's] her majesty returning through Cornehill, entered the burse on the south side; and after that she had viewed every part thereof above the ground, especially the pawn, which was richly furnished with all sorts of the finest wares in the city, she caused the same burse by an herald and trumpet to be proclaimed the Royal Exchange, and so to be called from thenceforth, and not otherwise” (Stow's Survey, p. 173).

  28. Strong, pp. 114-15.

  29. Agnew, p. 26.

  30. Louis A. Montrose, “Professing the Renaissance: The Poetics and Politics of Culture,” The New Historicism, ed. H. Aram Veeser (New York and London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 15-36, esp. p. 22.

  31. Andrew Gurr, Playgoing in Shakespeare's London (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1987), p. 148. In testament to the popularity of the subject material with its citizen audience, it was reprinted four times between 1605 and 1633.

  32. Stevenson, p. 38.

Richard Rowland (essay date 1994)

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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 veneration but lust, and ‘real’ violence masquerades as tragic fiction. It is the contention of this essay that Heywood's own most theatrically self-conscious play, The English Traveller, might be considered as a thoughtful response to Massinger's scepticism, conducted on two fronts: first, when he composed and brought the play to the stage of the Cockpit, probably in the following year; and second, when he decided to publish it six years later, at a time when the theatre was again under attack, and when ideological divisions in the literary world were edging Heywood closer to Massinger himself.

To suggest that Heywood ever made a considered response to anything is of course to fly in the face of a tradition of critical abuse which began, while Heywood was still alive to read it, when the compiler of Witts Recreations (1640) urged him to refrain from ‘groveling on the stage’.3 Some thirty years later the charmless cataloguer Francis Kirkman, anticipating Dryden's ‘Mac Flecknoe’ by more than a decade, wrote contemptuously about the ‘mean’ quality of plays which, he added unpleasantly, were all composed ‘in Taverns’.4 Interestingly, the piece of Heywood's writing which above all aroused Kirkman's antipathy, and which has incurred the ridicule of theatre historians ever since, occurs in the preface to The English Traveller: Heywood's nonchalant boast that he has ‘had either an entire hand, or at the least a maine finger’ in two hundred and twenty plays.5 While this probably outrageous claim has achieved a certain notoriety, and while posterity has been scrupulous in affording Heywood his wish, expressed later in the same ‘address’, that he should not be ‘Volumniously [sic] read’, the remarkable play which follows has received little attention, and most of that has been derisive.6

Although the play was probably written when the Queen Henrietta's company was in its infancy (1626-7) it remained, like much of Heywood's earlier work, unprinted until 1633. By this time the adornment of playtexts with dedications, and with definitions or castigations of current theatrical tastes had become almost obligatory but Heywood's preliminaries here are unusually suggestive about the kind of achievement he believed The English Traveller to be. He hopes, for instance, that the ‘bare Lines’ of his verse will sustain a play in which he has, unusually for him, deployed neither ‘Drum, nor Trumpet, nor Dumbe show’, and which even eschews ‘Song, Dance’ and ‘Masque’ (Prologue, a3v). The printed text, moreover, Heywood now sees as an appropriate gesture of defiance to that ‘Separisticall humorist’ William Prynne, and his recent scurrilous attack on playwrights and players.7 Lastly, the reader is told, the play is a ‘Tragi-Comedy’, containing ‘Some Mirth, some Matter, and perhaps some Wit’.

For Heywood to classify his play generically in this way is in itself a new departure. He knew the theory underpinning the genre thoroughly; the Apology has an informed discussion of the commentaries of ‘Donatus’, which praised Terence for his mediation between the extremes of low comedy and high tragedy, and there are also the requisite obeisances to Aristotle's strictures on style and decorum. Heywood's own theatrical practice, however, had rarely observed prescriptive controls of this kind. Plays like The Royal King and the Loyal Subject (c. 1602) and The Rape of Lucrece (1608) had violently juxtaposed the serious and the farcical, and had also shown a growing fascination with the ways in which each of these tones might collapse into its opposite. This is crucially the case with The English Traveller, with its two plots, ostensibly tragic and comic respectively, which seem to be self-contained. It is customary, though neither helpful nor accurate, to see the Caroline Heywood limping helplessly after whichever bandwagon happened to be passing; but this drama owes little to Fletcherian tragicomedy with its Guarini-derived sense of providential closure, and its strict (and increasingly influential) separation of the low comic material from the high and grave. The English Traveller is rather—like The Roman Actor—a play concerned with the instability of generic conventions, and yet it is also one which confidently insists on its capacity to amuse and disturb in the same breath.

The exchange which opens the first scene introduces the protagonists of the serious plot, a story of deception and sexual betrayal which Heywood had not only told but declared to be true in an earlier prose work (Gunaikeon, 1624). Two intellectuals in early manhood, Young Geraldine and Dalavill, enter comparing experience acquired through the active life of travel with the knowledge to be gained merely by reading. Dalavill, though effortlessly conversant with the most recent developments in cartography and archaeology, claims to value ‘Practicke’ over ‘Theoricke’ and flatters his much travelled companion accordingly:

                                                                                                                                  what I
Haue by relation onely, knowledge by trauell
Which still makes vp a compleat Gentleman,
Prooues eminent in you.


These men seem casually familiar with fashionable travel writers like Sandys (A Relation of a Journey, 1615) and Moryson (Itinerary, 1617) and Heywood may also allow Dalavill a gesture here towards the first or second of the many editions of Henry Peacham's The Compleat Gentleman (1622, 1627).8 In so doing Heywood establishes a rank and a social style for his characters: these are sophisticated if self-conscious young gentlemen, but the only hint of strain between them arises from the way in which the effusive friendliness of Dalavill is met by the rather stiff modesty of Young Geraldine. Heywood, however, is thus far giving little or nothing away in terms of plot and even this minor distinction disappears as ‘Roger the Clowne’, servant at the Wincott household towards which they are heading, makes his first appearance.

As so often in Heywood there is a frisson of tension when the witty and articulate servant confronts characters who are of higher social rank and who are insistent upon their status being acknowledged. This is particularly the case in the later works, when ‘clowns’ who are essentially Elizabethan throwbacks intrude into a rarefied world of Caroline aestheticism, pitting their earthy semantic quibbles against the ‘sprezzatura’ of their masters: Corydon in Loves Mistresse (1634) is a fine example.9 Yet, in spite of their irreverence, Heywood's clowns rarely exhibit the amoral opportunism or the prurience so common to the Elizabethan tradition.10 Here, for instance, it is Roger's task to arouse the audience's anticipation of a conventional comedy of cuckoldry. He does so with a proverbial reference to the marriage between the ageing Wincott (‘cold Ianuary’) and his young wife (‘lusty May’). It is noticeable, however, that his remarks are quite free of the goatish voyeurism that had coloured, for example, the presentation of similar tales, from Robert Armin's jests of the 1590s through to Robert Davenport's recent comedy for the same Cockpit theatre, The City Night-Cap (1624-5).11

The clown invites the young men to dinner and leaves them. Expectations of marital discord are momentarily defused by Dalavill's sensitive encomium of the perfect match between ‘age and gouernment’ and ‘modesty and chaste respect’, only to be reanimated by the arrival of the Wincotts themselves, accompanied by Roger and the Wife's sister Prudentilla. So great is old Wincott's affection for Young Geraldine that he makes him an extraordinary offer:

                                                                      I would haue you
Thinke this your home, free as your Fathers house,
And to command it, as the Master on't


This may have sounded ominous to spectators old enough to remember Heywood's own A Woman Killed with Kindness (1603), in which a similar invitation leads to adultery and tragedy; equally it might have evoked a sense of amused anticipation for a younger generation of Cockpit devotees, recalling the supremely misplaced confidence of Lodovico in The City Night-Cap. When Wincott goes on to invite Dalavill to stand on a similarly intimate footing in his household it does at least seem clear that he is embarked on a systematic flouting of the most urgent advice that contemporary marriage treatises could offer: ‘The mixing of gouernors in an houshold, or subordinating or vniting of two Masters … vnder one roofe, doth fall out most times, to be a matter of much vnquietness to all parties: Youth and Age are so far distant in their constitutions, that they wil hardly accord in their conditions …’12

The scene as a whole carefully sustains a generic instability. The tone of Wincott's enthusiastic myopia is curiously at odds with the sophisticated repartee of the younger generation who resume and expand on the opening dialogue about travel. Like Dalavill, Mrs Wincott has been reading 1.3 of Fynes Moryson's Itinerary with considerable attention, whereas her husband prefers his stories to be read aloud. Prudentilla, meanwhile, seems more attuned to Thomas Coryate's titillating tales of erotic Venetian encounters (Coryats Crudities, 1611), and she turns the conversation to the consideration of female beauty and its regional variations. Her contributions are full of tacit assumptions about the sexual proclivities of young Englishmen abroad and she flirts elaborately with Young Geraldine. Since the dialogue has established that Mrs Wincott's intimacy with the young traveller has flourished since childhood, her unease about the familiarity with which her sister treats Young Geraldine would appear to be for structurally obvious reasons. And yet Young Geraldine's responses—to all—are consistently chilly and aloof. As Prudentilla is provoked into ridicule of what she perceives as prim posturing her teasing merely prompts him to a more portentous (and Hamlet-like) seriousness:

                                                            I should be loath
Professe in outward shew to be one Man
And prooue my selfe another


The dynamics of the relationships between the genders and the generations have apparently rendered the ‘comedy’ of cuckoldry inevitable but the individual roles do not yet fit. The carefully polite Dalavill is a largely unknown quantity, but unless a spectator takes the radical view that the gratuitous acquisition of education and ‘experience’ cultivates only a flair for hypocrisy—and Young Geraldine has not and will not reveal any motive for his journeying—the returned traveller appears to be singularly unsuitable for the mandatory role of seducer.13

In order for anything to develop out of this scene some of these characters must prove other than they seem, but beyond an indication that the naive husband is the least capable of duplicity Heywood thwarts an audience's (and a director's) desire for clarification. The scene also closes in bizarre fashion. Hosts and guests depart for dinner and the Clown, alone on stage, steps forward to offer some proverbial wisdom and a little homily on the subject of hospitality: ‘as you loue goodnesse, be sure to keepe good meat and drinke in your houses, and so you shall be called good men, and nothing can come on't but good, I warrant you’ (b3r). The last phrase clearly has a double function: in terms of what we have already seen, it serves as a wryly disingenuous hint to the audience that, in fact, no good will come of the old man's generosity. The tone is light but the implication clear, that Wincott is a gullible fool whose ‘horning’, comic or otherwise, we are about to witness.

Roger is also gently but not innocently introducing the controversial topic of hospitality, around which contemporary debate was protracted and acrimonious. The traditional concept that the Clown urges here was frequently invoked by purveyors of nostalgia as a stick with which to chastise the supposedly growing miserliness of the landowning classes, but it was also a concept under sustained attack from those who deemed it a specious substitute for the serious and year-long business of relieving the poor: ‘Hospitalitie falsly so called is the keeping of a good table, at which seldome or never any other are entertained then kinsfolks, friends and able neighbours, merry companions, parasites, jesters … This is no hospitalitie, though it be commonly graced with that title, but it is good fellowship or some such like thing …’14 Heywood teases his audience—they shall be ‘called’ good men but not necessarily be so—and deftly prepares the way for his subplot. For, as Roger cosily retires to the Wincott kitchen dresser, the rival factions in the debate he alludes to come out fighting.

Two servants of a long absent merchant, Old Lionel, enter exchanging blows and a range of insults which have their origins in the opening scene of the Mostellaria of Plautus. Stock situations and characters from Roman comedy would have been familiar to English audiences of all kinds. Those who had attended grammar schools or institutions of higher education would have read and occasionally acted in the Latin plays and, indeed, as The English Traveller appeared, Thomas Newman was producing new English acting versions of Terence for schools. Professional playwrights too—Shakespeare, Jonson and Middleton among them—were indebted to the scenarios of New Comedy, but Heywood was unique in that twice in the 1620s he produced for the commercial stage works which were less adaptations than free translations of Plautine originals. The main plot of The Captives (1624) was a rendering of the Rudens and here Heywood annexes the whole of the tightly constructed Mostellaria for his subplot. At once, however, the distinctive flavour of the ‘translation’ is apparent; the shape of Plautus's dialogue is precisely preserved but the language is redolent of Nashe at his most idiosyncratic (in Lenten Stuffe), or John Taylor, the Water Poet, at his most carnivalesque (in Iack-a-Lent).

Reignald, Heywood's version of Plautus's ingenious ‘servus’ Tranio, is banishing the honest but dull Robin to the countryside. Robin is considerably more hapless than his Roman prototype Grumio and is on the defensive from the first line in which Reignald endows him with the extra and unwanted generic title of ‘Corridon’.15 Robin claims the protection of his seafaring master but Reignald insists ‘wee are Lords amongst our Selues’ and proclaims himself ‘the mighty Lord and Seneschall / Of this great house and Castle’ (b3r); this is a nice anglicism for which Heywood's rather serious friend Richard Brathwait might have provided a prophetic gloss: ‘As every mans house is his Castle, so is his family a private Common-wealth, wherein if due government be not observed, nothing but confusion is to be expected.’16

At least as inclined to the homiletic strain as his friend Roger, Reignald is devout in the pursuit and justification of his misrule, and Heywood has invested his trickster with hedonistic traits picked up from Plautine precursors besides Tranio. The exuberant slave Sagaristo in the Persa, for example, plays, as does Reignald, on the word ‘boues’ (oxen) when he characteristically plans that all the money intended by his employers for investment in a cattle market should instead be blown on ‘one crowded day of glorious life’.17

The Mostellaria opens with the clash between City and Country. Heywood faithfully translates this polarisation into his own play, simultaneously extending the analogous contrast between the mercurial role-playing of Reignald and the dour stolidity of Robin. More importantly, he makes the struggle urgently contemporary by locating it as the politically and theologically sensitive opposition between—to borrow Michael Bristol's categorisation—the Carnivalesque and the Lenten.18 Thus, to Robin's accusation that Reignald aspires to ‘Keepe Christmasse all yeere long, and blot leane Lent / Out of the Calender’ the trickster responds with a sardonic lecture on labouring in one's calling, concluding ‘our seuerall lots are cast, / And both must be contented’ (b3v).

The modernisation of the discourse is comprehensive and the anachronisms, often regarded as examples of Heywood's ineptitude, are purposeful. Heywood offers the audience its conventional alliances with the festive and the anarchic but by carefully keying the language into contested areas of Caroline social policy the balance of the Plautine comic structure is disturbed and those alliances have to be re-examined. This is also the case as Heywood goes on to subject Plautus's play to a more explicitly political updating. As the defeated Robin retreats, his exit line identifies Reignald as the dissolute courtier: ‘Farewell, Musk-Cat’. His insult coincides exactly with the arrival of the travelling merchant's prodigal son, Young Lionel, self-proclaimed ‘Lord’ of this new luxurious court. He thoroughly approves Robin's banishment:

Let such keepe the Countrey where their charge is …
And visit vs when we command them thence,
Not search into our counsels.


This echoes, in content and form, the repeated attempts of the Crown to banish the gentry to the countryside. James had issued several persistently ignored proclamations to this effect, culminating in an exasperated ‘absolute and peremptorie command’ in October, 1624; Charles followed suit in November, 1626, and again a year later, when ‘Noblemen, Knights and Gentlemen of qualitie’ were ordered to ‘their severall Countreys to attend their Services there, and to keepe Hospitality, as appertaineth to their degree and calling’.19

It is far from surprising to find such politicised material in plays of the mid 1620s. Drue at the Fortune, Middleton at the Globe, and Massinger at the same Cockpit theatre had all been more overtly provocative than this in the previous couple of years.20 The effect here, however, is complex. The confrontation we have just witnessed between Reignald and Robin was essentially an archetypal one, reproducing an opposition as old as recorded comedy. Like Chremylus's defeat of the sober logic and grave eloquence of Poverty in the Plutus of Aristophanes, the more arbitrary the victory—‘Persuade me you may, but I won't be persuaded!’—the more splendid the sense of release as the audience enthusiastically endorses the comic hero's assertion of abundance and physical gratification. But Heywood, despite his veneration for Aristophanes, has never made his comedy this simple and he doesn't now.21 Reignald's tempting an audience to enjoy a vicarious prodigality and perhaps a secret thrill at hearing the Homilies travestied is not quite the same as Young Lionel's justifying his authority with the language of monarchical prerogative.22 An intriguing complexity begins to emerge: this play does have two comic heroes but Young Lionel, supposed patron of misrule, is not one of them.

Robin's dismissal signifies, to return to Dalechamp's distinction, the victory of ‘good fellowship’ over ‘hospitalitie’. The endless party Reignald envisages promises to be a joyous and expansive affair; Young Lionel, however, is mostly concerned that it should be an expensive one. So anxious is he to throw off all restraints on his profligacy that he wishes his father dead. This impulse derives from his model in the Mostellaria (though Philolaches is a little less blunt) but again Heywood has grafted on features from other Plautine protagonists: the ruthlessness of the parricidal Strabax from the Truculentus and the exotic aestheticism of Olympio in the Casina. As in the main plot, the Plautine adaptation involves the ‘vniting of two Masters … vnder one roofe’, and as soon as Young Lionel has dispatched Reignald to fetch whatever is ‘rare and costly’ for the evening's revels the fragility of the accord between them becomes clear.

At this point in Plautus, Philolaches addresses the audience alone, delivering a halting and rueful analogy between his own life and a nobly proportioned house, now ruined by a combination of indolence and a consuming love affair. Heywood follows his source quite closely but does a number of additional things with the soliloquy. Firstly, he makes the speech serve a function structurally similar to Prince Henry's ‘I know you all’ monologue in Henry IV, Part i: this indulgence in festive misrule is a kind of self-conscious role-playing and, it is suggested, it will be of short duration. Secondly, the tone of the speech, far from being uncertain, recalls that of Mrs Wincott and Dalavill; this is a connoisseur of interior design, who contrives to sound as if he is reading from Henry Wotton's stylish Elements of Architecture (1624). The final deviation from the Plautine original is the unctuous way in which Young Lionel seeks to displace all responsibility for his current degradation onto his mistress, Blanda. And, right on cue, as the soliloquy ends, enters the ‘Haile, Shower, Tempest, Storme, and Gust, / That shatter'd hath this building’ (C1r).

Again, though, Heywood diverges immediately and significantly from his source, for Blanda is obviously not the vain, sophisticated, if affectionate courtesan that Philematium had been. She is, rather, and to the old bawd Scapha's acute irritation, unalterably devoted to Young Lionel. The prodigal eavesdrops with comically mounting indignation as the older woman advises Blanda to play the field. With a pragmatic sense of conviction that the play's resolution will render prophetic, Scapha warns her young friend: ‘Confine thy selfe to one Garment, and vse no varietie, and see how soone it will Rot, and turne to Raggs’ (c1v). Although it is clear that the bawd is wasting her breath, Young Lionel is unable to contain his rage, and steps forward to wreak his vengeance on Scapha and her ‘Erronious Doctrine’:

Hencefoorth, I will confine thee to one Garment,
And that shall be a cast one, Like thy selfe,
Iust, past all Wearing, as thou past all Vse.


An audience is, of course, expected to laugh at Scapha's discomfiture, especially when she faints away on hearing the injunction denying her further alcoholic refreshment. But here, in the opening scene of the comic subplot, the carefree expansiveness of Reignald's ascendancy has been sourced. Despite Blanda's protests on her companion's behalf, the inclusiveness of the ‘fellowship’ is to be strictly circumscribed by the appetites of the young heir, and his mistress's pleas for leniency are swept aside in the whispered arrangements that Young Lionel is making for some other ‘Wenches’ to be present at the evening's debauch. Act i ends, then, with Blanda, who has overheard the whispers, being comforted by a cheerful drunk who is reductively, if accurately named ‘Rioter’.

Already, Heywood has disconcertingly transformed essentially familiar material. There is a pervasive sense in Plautus that the period of holiday license is coterminous with the duration of the performance itself. The audience knows that Tranio will only escape retribution at the hands of the blocking ‘senex’ who owns the house by conceding that the next day—the everpresent ‘cras’—will see a complete restoration of hierarchical relationships. When Jonson borrowed from the same play, the unexpected nature of Face's eventual triumph had been dependent on the confounding of the same conventions. But in the subplot of The English Traveller the figure that instigates the time of comic inversion is also the one who ensures from the outset that the holiday will be a short one. In both plots rich young people playing mysterious games are forcing an audience to qualify its responses at every step.

In terms of plot the second act arrests such momentum as the first had generated, although the characterisation is developed in intriguing ways. Old Wincott and his wife discuss Dalavill, the former anxious that the newcomer's attentions might obstruct the match he desires between Young Geraldine and his sister-in-law, Prudentilla. Given the hints that the Wife is reserving the young traveller's services for herself, the reasons for her objections to this alliance are apparently obvious, though she nonetheless manages to project a certain moral authority with her short diatribe on the miseries of enforced marriage. Honest Roger interrupts them with a lurid account of the goings on at the Lionel household. To the Clown's tale of a massacre (admirably lifted from Athenaeus), Mrs. Wincott responds with cool amusement, her husband with terror. Although Wincott is painfully slow to register that the mutilated limbs are joints of meat, the servant's mockery is characteristically gentle at the moment of illumination: ‘Your grauity hath gest aright’ (c4r).

More news of their neighbours' festivities arrives. Reignald and his crew have apparently drunk themselves into an imaginary shipwreck. The details of this escapade had recently appeared in a weighty treatise by Camerarius on the evils of alcohol but even Young Geraldine, after suitable disclaimers about his aptitude for the task, delivers a spirited rendition. This is fine comic writing but this episode too may be obliquely topical. The revellers' tempestuous disarray is quieted by the arrival of a constable wielding his staff of office, a figure the seriously inebriated partygoers proceed to worship as Neptune, arising to calm the seas with his trident. Both the mixing of culinary and militaristic metaphors from Athenaeus, and the allegorically restorative figure of Neptune (King James) had recently featured in Jonson's abortive celebration for the return of those two most famous of English travellers, Charles and Buckingham, from the equally abortive Spanish marriage expedition.23 One of the preface's promises has, then, been broken. As Young Lionel's friends are depicted as antimasquers, the myth by which they are delivered and controlled is imaged as an absurd drunken fantasy of their own making. The masque, after all, has surreptitiously entered this text.

The same actors now turn abruptly from mirth to matter. Old Wincott retires to bed, Dalavill and Prudentilla exit exchanging titillating whispers and Young Geraldine and the Wife are left alone. The much delayed adulterous coupling now seems inescapable but what actually occurs is more remarkable. The pair rehearse their long-standing mutual attraction, confess that only his still unexplained but now ‘vnfortunate’ travels prevented their marriage, and vow to resurrect that thwarted engagement as soon after the unwished for but inevitable death of Old Wincott as is decently possible. Once again, 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 passion. This confrontation, despite strenuous protestations of virtue on both sides, does generate considerable emotional tension: the midnight encounter, right up to the final ‘fraternal’ kiss, could always collapse into the expected sexual betrayal. The fact that it doesn't, moreover, would seem to have edged the narrative into a cul-de-sac.

If, after almost two acts of exposition, the narrative direction remains obscure, the social definition of the protagonists is increasingly clarified. Financial imagery is pervasive in Plautus and so it is in Heywood's adaptation for the subplot; in the main plot it is, and will continue to be obsessive. It obtrudes jarringly into Mrs. Wincott's aforementioned panegyric to the unforced love which brings forth ‘an Vsurious Crop of timely Fruit’ (c3r). In the exchange with her once and future suitor, the Wife is wistfully remembered by Young Geraldine as ‘th' Exchequer’ of his love, and she responds that she would indeed have proved a ‘trusty Treasurer’ (d2r). Early in the third act Young Geraldine's father reminds his son that loss of reputation might also entail forfeiture of any ‘interest that thy Soule might claime aboue, / In yon blest City’ (f1r). So impenetrable is this shared nexus of interests among the landed gentry that Heywood even allows Dalavill a unique and momentary complicity with the audience, when, in a Vice-like aside, he illustrates the inability of this group to think or speak about relationships without resorting to commercial metaphor:

What strange felicitie these Rich men take,
To talke of borrowing, lending, and of Vse;
The vsurers language right.


The second act concludes with the ‘unexpected’ return of the last member of this wealthy circle, the prodigal's father Old Lionel. And, as his gulling begins, there appears one striking deviation from the emergent sense in the play that all actions are motivated by self-interest: Reignald decides to protect Young Lionel, prompted purely by ‘a seruants loue’ (d4r).

There is, from the opening of the third act, a noticeable acceleration in the presentation of both plots. The resourceful Reignald embarks on a precarious scheme to persuade Old Lionel firstly that his presumably wrecked house is now deserted save for the avenging spirit of the previous owner's murdered guest (another, though this time fictional violation of hospitality). Secondly, when confronted with an unforgiving moneylender demanding repayment, Reignald brilliantly turns Old Lionel's fury at his son's profligate spending into smug satisfaction; shrewdly assessing the merchant's priorities, he improvises the superbly appropriate fantasy that the money has been used to purchase their neighbour Ricott's property.

Meanwhile, the equally ingenious Dalavill insinuates to Old Geraldine (with several reiterations of Iago's ‘I thinke they both are honest’, e3r-v) that his son's intimacy with Mrs. Wincott is incurring widespread notoriety. The old man confronts Young Geraldine who can appease his father only with an assurance to abjure the Wincott household. During this enforced absence Young Geraldine is angered by Mrs. Wincott's serving-maid Bess, who attempts to convince him that Dalavill is sleeping with her mistress. It is a thankless task and, despite the girl's intelligently couching her information in the apposite language of her social superiors—‘You beare the name of Land-lord, but another / Inioyes the rent’ (f4v-g1r)—a hopeless one. Young Geraldine's agitated musings are interrupted by a summons from Old Wincott who urgently requires an explanation of his young friend's truancy.

The messenger once more is honest Roger and Young Geraldine is again perplexed by the servant's indeterminate status, and that he should be so ‘well acquainted with his Masters mind’ (a4v). What mystifies Young Geraldine, of course, is precisely what an audience would find most engaging about this structurally vital character. Like most of Heywood's clowns Roger is an enthusiastic drinker, although he is not in the tradition of perpetually drunken cretins (from Hance in Like Will to Like to Adam in A Looking Glasse for London and England), nor that of perverse theorists like Bosse (Everie Woman In Her Humor), who is prone to demonstrations of how drunkenness ‘ingenders with two of the morall vertues and sixe of the lyberall sciences’.24 Instead, on finding Young Geraldine in his favourite Barnet ordinary Roger displays an affectionate intimacy with all the drinking vessels there which is akin to the manner he adopts in his own household. The familiarity with which Roger treats persons of higher rank has, though, a more complex appeal than the gratification of levelling fantasies common to much Elizabethan clowning. When Roger conducts Young Geraldine to his secret midnight rendezvous with Old Wincott the scene closely resembles one in the recent The City Night-Cap. But where Davenport's clown Pambo had been playing the nocturnal bawd, assisting in the seduction of his master's wife, Roger is organising an innocent reconciliation between two friends. It is, therefore, rather moving as well as funny when the Clown brings the two deluded and estranged men together, and then leaves them with the instruction ‘Talke you by your selues’ (g4v).

The outcome of the conversation that follows is satisfactory to both parties but the upshot of this nightly visitation as a whole proves profoundly shocking to Young Geraldine and only a little less so for the audience. When Wincott retires the young man is restless and decides to pay the Wife a secret visit too. As before, Heywood screws up the emotional tension—Young Geraldine's dark path is illuminated by his ‘fiery loue’ (h2r)—only for the passion to explode into anger as he finds Mrs. Wincott in bed with Dalavill. Like Frankford in A Woman Killed with Kindness, the betrayed man represses his instinct for revenge and he resolves to become the perpetual traveller again. The adulterers emerge in ‘Night-tyre’, congratulating themselves on the success of their stratagems. It is notable that even in this state of post-coital satisfaction their discourse is still that of financial monopolists, as when Dalavill, with a grimly ironic but precise echo of Wincott's possessive approach to Young Geraldine, boasts to the Wife how he has been ‘studdying to engross you to my selfe’ (h2v).

Meanwhile, what the indulgent neighbour Ricott terms the ‘golden age’ of Reignald's rule is nearing an end. With the previous owner of the house vehemently and understandably denying that he has murdered anyone in it, with Ricott himself refusing to acknowledge payment for the house he hasn't sold, and with the return of the banished Robin, Reignald's inventiveness is finally exhausted. Old Lionel is not the man to repress his instincts for vengeance and Reignald's other ‘victims’ are also mobilising. When the ambush is finally sprung and ‘all the hellish rabble are broke loose, / Of Seriants, Sheriffes, and Baliffes’ (h3r), only one dissenting voice is heard amidst the clamour for punishment. Roger has arrived to announce a general summons to the farewell party Wincott is throwing for Young Geraldine and, besides refusing to ‘doe the least hurt to my old friend Reignald’ (iiv), he attempts to deflect Old Lionel's spleen away from Reignald's fellow revellers by issuing individual invitations to all of them.

The prospect of rapprochement held out by the Clown fades, nonetheless, almost from the moment it is offered. The turning point is the entirely predictable ‘reformation’ of Young Lionel, an episode that signals, for both plots, the resumption of normal power relations. Just before his son's confession we saw Old Lionel furiously insisting on the details of the sale supposedly struck with the amiable Ricott. In so doing he had redefined justice as financial expediency but at that stage Reignald had still been sufficiently in control to ensure that such acquisitive mania should rebound humiliatingly into the merchant's lap. Now, the conventions of Plautine closure demand that the subversive threat of Reignald is marginalized, but Heywood prolongs the transition from ‘misrule’ to the gentry's closing of ranks, capturing the process in a striking tableau. Reignald clings tenaciously to the gallery of the theatre, representing an unreachable part of the Lionel household, and claims of the house that ‘It hath bin my Harbour long, and now it must bee my Sanctuary’ (i2v). As a ‘live-in’ servant who owes his master the same obedience that offspring owe parents, Reignald is still joyously turning the patriarchal codes which govern such relationships inside out. But this final gesture is suggestive in other ways too. Reignald's conception of the house as a home is quite distinct from Young Lionel's preoccupation with the ‘costliest hangings’ and ‘beautious Symbols’ (c1r) of interiors which bespeak their possessor's social rank. It is this badge of status that Young Lionel has risked losing and so, while his cornered aide still perches aloft, the penitent, in visual contrast, successfully kneels to reclaim his own.

He does so by wisely explaining his misconduct as a long-term investment. Treacherously protesting that ‘Best Natures are Soonest wrought on’ he disowns the pleasures and companions that have entertained the audience so well as mere ‘Shaddowes, Toyes and Dreames’ (i3v). This repentance is not the expedient shamming of the Middletonian heir, nor does it involve the gradual awakening of filial affection depicted in Jonson's recent The Staple of Newes, and still less does it resemble the marvellously absurd conversion of Eastward Ho's Quicksilver. Rather Young Lionel's return to the real world of business deals and inheritances is unequivocally earnest and utterly depressing. Blanda, whom we have recently seen in a touchingly simple leavetaking with Reignald, is nonchalantly discarded as the negligible price of an assured patrimony. The text pays only sporadic attention to stage directions but this, the fourth act, should surely close with the entire cast of the subplot heading for the Wincott feast, leaving Blanda to exit alone, her loyalty rewarded exactly as Scapha had predicted it would be.

From this moment onwards mercantilism assumes the same kind of control over the action of the play that it has consistently held over the language. Even if we accept that the business world of Plautine Rome is kept strictly outside the space and time of the plays themselves Heywood has another act of his play still to run once he has completed his adaptation of the Mostellaria and economic pragmatism invades the final act of The English Traveller with such force that the spirit of comedy is almost, but not quite extinguished.25

En route for Wincott's feast Old Geraldine tries to dissuade his son from a journey which might jeopardise the young man's position as principal beneficiary of Wincott's will. At the house Mrs. Wincott gets Young Geraldine alone and her perversely brilliant performance as the virtuous and concerned friend breaks down his resolution to remain silent. As Wincott and his guests approach, the cumulative force of Young Geraldine's denunciations shatters her resistance and she faints under the weight of her remorse. It should be remembered at this point that Heywood—at least Heywood the overseer of the printed text—has promised us a tragicomedy. Readers—and, I think, audiences—would thus have been entitled to expect the thrills but not the spills of tragedy: protagonists, as Guarini (or Fletcher) would have it, will come near to death but emerge, emboldened or chastened by their experience, to survive the play's denouement in one piece. But Mrs. Wincott's collapse, unlike the bawd Scapha's, proves fatal. The extent and the calculated nature of the Wife's betrayals do little to engage an audience's sympathy but her death still comes as a shock. On-stage reactions to her death, however, are shocking in ways that go beyond mere breaches of theatrical convention. Young Lionel's interpretation of Mrs. Wincott's swoon is inept, supercilious and therefore not entirely unpredictable:

                                        A Womans qualme,
Frailties that are inherent to her sex,
Soone sicke, and soone recouer'd.


But after this piece of fatuous misogyny, the summation of the prodigal's ‘wit deere bought’ (13r), comes Young Geraldine's smug acknowledgement that the Wife's death has granted him ‘a free release, / Of all the debts I owed her’. Honest Roger's anguished cry ‘My Sweet Mistresse’ is the simplest but most eloquent of reproofs to this callousness and it is the Clown who acquires an unusual dignity as he carries the body away.26

Heywood's experiments with the proprieties of genre extend to the very last lines of the play. The drama ends, in fact, with a piece of almost conventional clowning but the performance of it belongs to neither Reignald nor Roger. To jest in the presence of death, to turn from spurious lamentation to defiant laughter, had been the prerogative of clowns, particularly in mongrel tragicomedies, at least since the days of Ambidexter in Cambises (1561). But here, in an extraordinary final twist, the role becomes Wincott's. Having offered his wife a perfunctory forgiveness he attempts to reconvene his neighbourhood feast. With a grotesque parody of Hamlet—which reverses the denunciation of hypocrisy piously intoned by Young Geraldine in the first act—the bereaved widower exhorts his guests to behave like the parricidal prodigals of citizen comedy:

                                                            Wee'le like some Gallants
That Bury thrifty Fathers, think't no sinne,
To weare Blacks without, but other Thoughts within.


As the breathless Roger returns from his fruitless pursuit of Dalavill the gentry are settling to the serious business of land distribution. It would be difficult for an audience to escape the feeling that this prestigious social gathering promises to be a distinctly less salubrious event than Reignald's party with its nameless drunk hiccupping on his allusions to the Metamorphoses. It is not simply that the cameraderie, the effrontery and even the drunkenness of the clowns and their friends are more entertaining than the pomposity and hypocrisy of the landed families. Like another Plautine trickster, Chrysalus in the Bacchides, Reignald had compared himself favourably with Alexander, Agathocles and Caesar; where they commanded only their subjects, ‘I my Master, / And euery way his equalls, where I please, / Lead by the nose along’ (g3r). But both he and Roger do more than that. When Old Lionel, at one stage in his gulling, is obliged to tell Reignald that ‘Thou teachest me Humanitie’ (g3v), he speaks, albeit unwittingly, no more than the truth.

Montaigne, a man much given to discovering absurdity in the solemn and profundity in the comic, once asked what was wrong with a horseboy calling himself Pompey the Great. Berowne and his aristocratic companions found the idea derisory. Webster's Flamineo inverted the proposition, imagining the Pompey as a tailor's apprentice. Heywood habitually, but in this play in particular, sided with the essayist. The English Traveller uncovers wisdom, generosity and loyalty in the unlikeliest places. The separation of ‘low’ comedy from ‘high’ seriousness has been deliberately overturned. The Aristotelian equation of elevated social rank with moral stature, affirmed so forcefully by Heywood the theorist, had never had much appeal for Heywood the dramatist; in this play he relinquishes it for good.

In the 1620s Heywood may have been stung by watching Massinger's deconstruction of the naive optimism about the theatre which he had espoused in the Apology, but he did not succumb to Massinger's pessimism. He produced a drama which demanded a careful scrutiny of what comedy was and what it was not. He did, nonetheless, manage to write a play in which the comic spirit and moral stature, haphazardly colliding in Reignald but embodied in Honest Roger, were found to be mutually indispensable. To stand in contrast to his ‘clowns’ Heywood also delivered a gallery of figures who constitute a self-appointed elite: characters who construct elaborate codes of ethics to mask adultery, pretenders to wit whose sense of comedy (and hospitality) is governed by the drive for gain, people who are cultured but complacent or vicious. By the time he came to publish The English Traveller, Heywood felt that the theatre which he had served for so long was being appropriated by just such talentless but condescending aristocrats, and he, like Massinger, reacted angrily.27 And so it is possible, after all, that the tortuous syntax of the Apology did leave at least a trace of what Heywood now conceived to be a viable purpose for clowning and comedy: ‘to shew others their slouenly and vnhansome behauiour …’28 And perhaps that is why in 1633 he chose, hastily but wisely and from a presumably huge stock, The English Traveller as the play with which to answer not only Prynne, but also the fashionable and unscrupulous literati of the Caroline court.


  1. Anne Barton, ‘The Distinctive Voice of Massinger’, TLS [Times Literary Supplement] (1977), 624.

  2. See Martin Garrett, ‘A Diamond, Though Set in Horn’: Philip Massinger's Attitude to Spectacle (Salzburg, 1984), 70 n. 4; Jonas Barish, The Antitheatrical Prejudice (Berkeley, 1981), 117-21.

  3. Witts Recreations (London, 1640), b8v.

  4. W. W. Greg, A Bibliography of the English Printed Drama to the Restoration Oxford, 1970), iii, 1353.

  5. The English Traveller (London, 1633), a3r. All references are to this edition. Heywood's ‘ghost’ did attempt a belated retraction, appearing in conversation with the ‘Songster’ Thomas Durfey, and insisting that his canon should properly comprise a modest twenty-five ‘Dramatic Peeces’, but the damage was done. Visits From The Shades, Part II; or, Dialogues Serious, Comical and Political, Calculated for these Times (London, 1705), 75. I am grateful to Jeremy Maule for alerting me to this book.

  6. A notable exception is Norman Rabkin's characteristically sensitive essay, ‘Dramatic Deception in Heywood's The English Traveller’, Studies in English Literature, i (1961); our readings of the play, however, have little in common.

  7. Histrio-mastix; The Players Scourge (London, 1633). Prynne lost his ears for equating actresses with whores—shortly after the queen's debut on the court stage.

  8. Peacham concluded his opening chapter, a definition of true nobility, with an attack on the complacency of sections of the traditional aristocracy who resentfully railed at the emergence of a new meritocracy. He insists, ‘to these and such I oppose Marius and that stout reply of his in Sallust’ and goes on to quote a famous speech which Heywood had translated fourteen years earlier: ‘Now … compare me, scarce yet a Gentleman, with their presumptious and proud arrogancie: what they have either heard or read, I have partly seene, partly put in execution, and what they from written volumes have gathered, I have abroad … purchased by experience.’ The Complete Gentleman, ed. V. B. Heltzel (Ithaca, 1962), 27; Heywood's Sallust, Tudor Translations (London, 1924), 210-11.

  9. Jaques in The Captives (1624), and the clown in A Maydenhead Well Lost (c. 1625), are further examples. A fine examination of the clash between Elizabethan and Caroline aesthetics is, of course, Anne Barton's essay, ‘Harking Back to Elizabeth: Ben Jonson and Caroline Nostalgia’, ELH, 48 (1981), 706-31.

  10. The unnamed clown of Heywood's early The Four Prentises of London (c. 1594), a distinctly unfunny failed murderer and rapist, is the most notable exception to his usual practice; Thersites in 2 The Iron Age is similarly and indiscriminately vicious but in that play more characteristically Heywoodian comic deflation is performed by Mars's hapless squire Gallus.

  11. Robert Armin, Tarltons Newes out of Purgatorie (London, 1590), d3v.

  12. William Whately, A Care-cloth: or a Treatise of the Cumbers and Troubles of Marriage (London, 1624), no pagination (10th page of the address to the reader). The advice was not new; cf. Edmund Tilney's warning: ‘a man may showe his wife, and his sworde to his friende, but not farre to trust them. For if thereby grow vnto him any infamie, let him not blame his wife, but his owne negligence.’ A Briefe and Pleasant Discourse of Duties in Mariage, called the Flower of Friendshippe (London, 1568), c5v-c6r.

  13. Such reservations are discussed throughout John Morgan's Godly Learning: Puritan Attitudes towards Reason, Learning and Education, 1560-1640 (Cambridge, 1986); see particularly ch. 4. The title of the play may have suggested another (misleading) clue as to Young Geraldine's intentions; ‘Traveller’, with a pun on ‘travailer’, commonly indicated someone engaged in (usually illicit) sexual activity; see, for instance, Webster's The White Devil, 1.2.49, and The Devil's Law-Case, 1.2.210-21.

  14. Caleb Dalechamp, Christian Hospitalitie Handled Common-Place-Wise (London, 1632), 6-7. See also Felicity Heal's comprehensive study, Hospitality in Early Modern England (Oxford, 1990). Heywood worried persistently at the issue; see, for instance, The Late Lancashire Witches (1634), the prologue addressed to the Earl of Dorset (8352-8362), and the elegy for Sir George Saint Poole (8567-8576), both from Pleasant Dialogues and Drammas (1637), ed. W. Bang (Louvain, 1914).

  15. The name recalls the treacherous and cowardly shepherd of Book vi of The Faerie Queene but Corydons made cameo appearances as guileless rustics from A Knack to Know an Honest Man (1594) to the Cockpit's The Seven Champions of Christendom.

  16. Richard Brathwait, The English Gentleman (London, 1630), 155.

  17. Line 264. References to Plautus are to the Loeb texts and translations, ed. P. Nixon, 5 vols. (London, 1965).

  18. Michael Bristol, Carnival and Theater: Plebeian Culture and the Structure of Authority in Renaissance England (London, 1985).

  19. Stuart Royal Proclamations, eds. J. F. Larkin and P. L. Hughes (Oxford, 1983), ii, 571.

  20. See Jerzy Limon, Dangerous Matter: English Drama and Politics in 1623/24 (Cambridge, 1986). Heywood's A Maydenhead Well Lost is, I think, indebted to Drue's The Duchess of Suffolk.

  21. Heywood read Aristophanes in the parallel Greek and Latin text produced by Frischlin: Nicodami Frischlini, Aristophanes Veteris Comediae (Frankfurt, 1597). The Plutus reference (in Rogers's translation) is to line 600 (Frischlin, 110).

  22. Royal interventions in the countryside were contentious, though cultural historians are divided about their motivation. R. Malcolm Smuts improbably claims that they ‘reflect a deeply conservative determination to protect the provinces from contamination by corrupt urban and courtly influences’; Court Culture and the Origins of a Royalist Tradition in Early Stuart England (Philadelphia, 1987), 263. The more likely, and diametrically opposed view is argued by Leah Marcus, who suggests that the measures constituted ‘the export of a courtly mode to the countryside in a way that imprinted royal power on the rural landscape’; The Politics of Mirth (Chicago, 1986), 19.

  23. The Living Librarie … done into English by John Molle Esquire (London, 1621), 376-7. Heywood could have read the text of Neptunes Triumph for the Return of Albion in the quarto of 1624, where he would also have found the Cook's dish featuring Arion escaping on a dolphin's back, which is exactly how one of the drunks visualises himself in the play, fleeing astride his ‘gitterne’ (d1r).

  24. Everie Woman In Her Humor (London, 1609), g4v-h1r.

  25. Erich Segal's argument that Plautus's comedies are effectively sealed capsules of Saturnalian inversion (‘The Business of Roman Comedy’ in Perspectives of Roman Poetry, ed. G. K. Galinsky (Texas, 1974) has been questioned persuasively by David Konstan, Roman Comedy (Ithaca, 1983), 29-31. Segal's thesis clearly fails to account for the vindication of responsible trading and citizenship with which the Rudens (and Heywood's 1624 adaptation The Captives) is concerned.

  26. The clown Piston in Kyd's Soliman and Perseda did demonstrate similar qualities despite his insistence throughout the play on his own opportunism; Babulo in Dekker's Patient Grissil is likewise devoted to his mistress but also in love with her.

  27. See Heywood's The Hierarchie of the Blessed Angells (London, 1635), 205, 208; Peter Beal, ‘Massinger at Bay: Unpublished Verses in a War of the Theatres’, Yearbook of English Studies, 10 (1980). The attacks of both Heywood and Massinger were primarily directed at Thomas Carew and William Davenant.

  28. An Apology for Actors (London, 1612), f3v-f4r.

Theodora A. Jankowski (essay date 1995)

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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 awaited the much bruited successful return of Essex from Ireland, and some unspecified ancient Roman past when Caesars could look forward to enthusiastic welcomes from the populace after presumably remarkable conquests or further expansions of the Roman empire. The rhetoric of the speech is of empire and conquest, no matter how “un-historical” or anachronistic the empire or the conquests it suggests. The Roman allusion is, of course, nonspecific yet, being Roman, could remind an English audience of their national connection to Rome via Brut, legendary founder of Britain and great-grandson of Aeneas, founder of Rome.2 This speech from Henry V thus depends on the “general” acceptance of the “fact” of the Roman empire rather than upon any specific identifications of actual Caesars or their particular conquests. The specificity of the Chorus's speech refers to two moments when England was on the brink of achieving an empire similar to the legendary Roman model: the first moment is the Battle of Agincourt—though more specifically, perhaps, the Treaty of Troyes that ended it and named Henry V heir to the throne of France—which seemed to assure English acquisition of a geographically large realm on continental soil; the second moment lauds Essex's presumed conquest of Ireland which would also have led to the acquisition of a substantial piece of real estate, this time containing a wild and barbarous population that would (more easily than the French) fit the notion of those subhuman peoples empires are always at pains to subject.

Neither of these particular dreams of empire materialized for the English. Initial victories over the French in what would come to be called the Hundred Years' War turned to defeats through mismanagement of campaigns and the civil war (of the Roses) at home. Essex was equally unsuccessful in Ireland, for Tyrone and his supporters managed to keep control of the island; by September of 1599 Essex returned, unlike Harry, defeated and demoralized and was shortly after placed under house arrest. In a further lack of similarity, the earl led a rebellion against his own country, was defeated, and executed (1601). The hope of empire reflected in the words of Henry V quoted above never materialized—at least not in 1599, and not that kind of empire. Interestingly enough, 1599 also seems to mark the zenith of the history play as a genre with the production of this same Henry V.

The first English history play, John Bale's Kyng Johan, was written circa 1539, though the vogue for such plays is generally acknowledged as running from 1579 to about 1608. Although Shakespeare's last history play was written circa 1613, Henry VIII—and quite a number of post-1608 history plays by other authors—was considered “historical [romance] rather than history per se” (Rackin 11, 15, 30-31. Quote 31). The fact that the history play ceased being popular after Shakespeare's “abandonment” of it in 1599 adds to the evidence that the “genre is largely Shakespeare's creation” (Rackin 31). Although critics like James Winny have insisted that the histories “have been found to embody Shakespeare's considered views on government, order and degree” (9), and that they are of “an indeterminate [literary] kind, capable of extension towards either the comic or the tragic” (10), he also indicates that Shakespeare's histories present the king as an “archtypal figure” which is “not a political concept,” but an imaginative one, whose most persistent issue is “individual identity” (44-45).

Winny's preference for seeing the hero of the history play as an “individual” rather than a “political” figure is not so very different from the preferences of other critics who see the history play as a genre that reinforces a “providentialist” or “Tillyardian” view of Tudor history as governed by “divine providence.”3 It is against this providentialist view of history that Phyllis Rackin structures her definition of Shakespeare's history play genre in her recent work. Tudor theories of history, she indicates, saw the necessity of such study as a means of avoiding the mistakes of the past and preserving the peace and stability of the present (3). Further, in a time of changing dynasties and emerging nation states, the study of history could also “stabilize and legitimate … new identities” (4) both of rulers and states. Since chronicle histories—like Holinshed's and Hall's—were organized according to the reigns of the various kings, and therefore told the history of England through its monarchs (24-25), it is not surprising that the Shakespearean history play was organized according to monarchs and generally focused on how any given king achieved, expanded, or lost his kingdom, sometimes by clever diplomacy, but often on horseback at the head of his armies. Consequently, even though the character of the king may have been a political representation, it is easy to see why such critics as Winny valorized him as archetypally heroic.

An important part of Rackin's analysis of the history play is her examination of how both history/historiography and drama exist in ideology. She reminds us that “in the light of the contemporary revolution in historiography, the old positivist claims about an objectively ‘true’ history beyond the reach of ideology seem impossible to sustain” (x). This lack of an “ahistorical vantage point” allows us as readers and critics to focus more easily upon the “discursive exclusions of an elitist, patriarchal culture that marginalized the roles of women and of common men in Shakespeare's historical sources [and which] helped to transmit a legacy of oppression that can still be seen in contemporary histories” (Rackin xi). Thus, given his position as a subject interpellated within ideology, Shakespeare wrote history plays that reproduced his own sixteenth-century culture rather than the fifteenth-century past in which his plays were chronologically situated (Rackin 36). Yet to say that Shakespearere reproduced his own society is only part of the explanation of just how the/his history play(s) “worked.” As we, and Shakespeare's Tudor audience, recognize, history was/is “a field of ideological contention” (Rackin 59, n. 29) upon which hegemonic forces could/can project the vision of the past that most suit(ed) their purposes. That view is both the Tudor government's recasting of a medieval past to suit its own dynastic interests, as well as our own twentieth-century recasting of the “aims” of the sixteenth-century history play to suit our own notions of history and the hegemonic uses of drama as a means of control.4

Yet while Shakespeare abandoned the history play genre in 1599, Thomas Heywood began his playwriting career in that same year with the history play King Edward IV, Parts I and II.5 While many of the questions regarding history/historiography that Rackin raises in terms of Shakespeare are also valid as regards Heywood's plays—such as his reproduction of sixteenth-century culture in a play set in the fifteenth century—Edward IV is quite different from Shakespeare's histories in its refusal to focus upon the issues of rulership, battle, and conquest that are so important to a play like Henry V. While it does contain the obligatory battle and court scenes, this play differs radically as a history from Shakespeare's plays, which are often used as a “benchmark” of the genre. Yet despite its overall differences, which I will explore in detail below, it does address issues of “empire,” though also in a much different way than a play like Henry V. What I want to argue here is that the kind of “empire” Heywood visualizes in Edward IV is an internal empire of trade rather than a colonialist empire of conquered lands. It is an empire that requires the use of other lands as sources of raw materials and markets, rather than their acquisition, and the use of merchants and tradesmen, rather than soldiers, as the king's “army of conquest.” Heywood's later play If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody, Parts I and II6 further develops the notion of merchants as true “conquerors,” valorizes those merchant adventurers who expand trade and capital beyond England's boundaries, and shows how the rise of capitalist society eliminates social ills at home and supports the government economically while providing financial reward to the adventurous capitalists themselves. Further, it is a play that expands the connections only hinted at in Edward IV between government and capital that are necessary for establishing an empire of trade and, eventually, a full-scale colonialist/imperialist enterprise. In these two works, Heywood modifies the genre of the history play to show the seamless connection between capitalists and hegemonic powerbrokers and the interconnectedness of capital and government. In this essay I will negotiate between the three works I have already mentioned—two written in 1599 and one in 1605—to explore just how Heywood modified the history play—an elite genre—to record and validate the actions of an initially nonelite group of people who became inextricably bound up with the sources of hegemonic power at court.


Various political and social events of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries are reflected in Heywood's plays. While some events seem to be related to Essex's campaign in Ireland, valorized in Henry V, others reveal a more prevalent problem—the endemic and widespread poverty of the later sixteenth century (Hoffer and Hull 115; Underdown 1985a, 34).7 G. B. Harrison's Elizabethan Journal entry for 21 January 1599 indicates that many troops awaiting passage to Ireland from Bristol have deserted, “so that the Mayor of Bristol is commanded to supply their defective numbers from among the very many loose and idle persons in and about the city” (83). No actual number of deserters is given, but “very many” would indicate a substantial population of homeless and unemployed in that city. While it might make sense to recruit troops from among the poor—“taking the king's/queen's shilling” (or enlisting in the U.S. Army) being an almost proverbial way for poor men to earn a living—an entry for 18 February of the same year specifically militates against just such recruiting:

Notwithstanding that 3,000 men were of late demanded from the counties for service in Ireland, there are now to be levied a further 2,000. The choice is to be made of sufficient and serviceable men, not admitting any rogues or other idle and loose persons, wherein extraordinary pains are to be taken by the Justices to attend the service in person, and not to commit the charge (as the usual manner is) to the constables and other meaner officials.


(Presumably because, like Falstaff the recruiter in I Henry IV, they would take the unhealthiest and most destitute, those who could not pay for the privilege of not being pressed.)

Alan G. R. Smith sees “war, famine and plague” as the “three great scourges of early modern European society and England had to endure all three together during the 1590s” (234). A major outbreak of plague occurred in 1592-93 (Slack 226), which remained a serious problem, at least in Kent, until 1595. A more violent attack occurred in 1603 (Smith 235). These attacks disrupted economic activity and forced “hundreds of victims onto parish relief” (Slack 226). Exacerbating the poverty caused by the plague was the four-year run of very bad harvests from 1594-1597.8 Food prices rose from a composite index of 389 in 1581-90 to 530 in 1591-1600 while the purchasing power of agricultural laborers dropped from an index of 57 in 1580-89 to 49 in 1590-99. Purchasing power of building craftsmen dropped from 57 to 47 during the same periods (Smith 436-37).9 Generally, “food prices rose by over 35 per cent during the 1590s” (Smith 235) and, in the worst years, food riots occurred in many parts of the country.

This sudden, severe, and prolonged succession of bad harvests touched all sectors of English society, but those whose livings were already marginal or precarious obviously suffered the worst. Farmers with small holdings suffered more than owners of large farms; those with low-paying jobs were less able to bear rising food costs. These marginal folk were most apt to take to the roads as vagrants, that growing army of the unemployed and destitute poor, as times became harder and the years of dearth continued. These vagrants, like the current homeless population in the U.S., became a visible reminder of the failure of the economic system to accommodate them. Their numbers stretched to the limit—and eventually exceeded—the community and parish social welfare schemes that had previously been able to deal with smaller numbers of the poor. And, again like their twentieth-century homeless counterparts, the vagrants needed to be controlled/punished because they were a visual representation/reminder of the evils that should not be part of an ordered, (proto-)capitalist society.10

Throughout the Tudor period, “Poor Laws” were passed (1563, 1572, 1576, 1598, 1601) which aimed both to punish vagabonds and “regulate the lives and behaviour of the ‘commons’” (Slack 221). Clearly this legislation was geared towards making it appear that English society was ordered, was capable of controlling its unruly members. The basic Poor Law had three features: the first—“An Acte for the Reliefe of the Poore” (39 Eliz., c.3), also called the “poor rate”—was a compulsory assessment of each parish which was used to finance “deserving” indigent households.11 These rates were not willingly paid, however, and provisions for collection had to be strengthened in the 1572 legislation. By 1598 the responsibility for collection was shifted to the churchwardens and overseers of each parish. The second feature of the Poor Law—“An Acte for punyshment of Rogues Vagabonds and sturdy Beggars” (39 Eliz., c.4)—was a specific attempt to control vagrancy and begging. It was not until the 1598 act that “vagrants were to be summarily whipped and returned to their place of settlement by parish constables” (Slack 222). The third feature—“An Acte for erecting of Hospitalle or abiding and working Houses for the Poore” (39 Eliz., c.5)—was an attempt to provide work for the poor in each parish—by providing flax, hemp, or other materials upon which the poor could be employed—as well as houses of correction for those who refused to work (McDonald). Slack indicates that “in practice little was done before 1603” (223). Thus the Poor Law itself attempted to provide the legal mechanism for distinguishing between the impotent, or “deserving,”poor and rogues and vagabonds, who needed to be controlled/punished. Discharged soldiers, capable of being either deserving poor or vagrants, were considered a special category, and their problems were dealt with in a separate act (39 Eliz., cc. 21,17) (Smith 235). A special tax for the relief of maimed soldiers and sailors was levied in each parish. Discharged soldiers and sailors who had become vagrants were subjected to severe penalties. They were ordered to settle down to honest work and, if they did not, were subjected to execution. “The ferocity of this provision, so much harsher than that against ordinary rogues, clearly indicated the extent of the problem which former soldiers and sailors were posing to law and order”(Smith 235).

The Poor Law was only one of the often hideous legal attempts to “control” the victims of war, crop failure, and plague. In the parliamentary sessions of 1597-98, there were at least seventeen bills on poverty; thirteen bills on drunkenness, inns, and alehouses between 1576 and 1601; six bills on profanation of the sabbath between 1584 and 1601; and a bill on bastardy in 1597 (Slack 225). Records of Bridewell (in London) show that the number of vagrants punished there rose from 69 per year in 1560-61, to 209 in 1578-79, to 555 in 1600-1601. The migration of the poor generally from the northwest to the southeast (Underdown 1985a, 34-35) meant that London's population tripled during that period (Slack 229). Although poverty was not “an exclusively urban problem, … it was more visible and threatening in the towns” (Underdown 1985a, 36). In the early 1560s, only 16 percent of all offenders at Bridewell were vagrants; by 1600-1601; 62 percent were vagrants. These statistics could be (and were) made to show that the behavior of the lower classes was urgently in need of correction because of the “ineradicable commonplace prejudice that the mobile poor were a wilfully idle, deceitful and criminal class” (Slack 230). Yet it is important to remember, as Slack indicates, that many of the vagrants “had once been apprentices or servants; sometimes they had trades after their names” (230). Ultimately, Slack sees these effects resulting from an economy unable to employ a growing population (230).


The fact that the protagonist of the traditional history play is a monarch and its subject the deeds of the aristocracy would seem to preclude using this particular genre to record the deeds of, at best, members of the middle class. Yet Heywood's radical move in Edward IV, Part I is to use this elite genre (Rackin 218) to valorize (and validate) the deeds of men who would generally be considered far from elite—lacking the noble birth and blood that guarantees such a definition—in an attempt to create a new “aristocracy” based solely on capital or trading ability and vitally necessary to expanding the financial (if not directly political) aims of the English nation state. In Edward IV, Part I, the monarch is still the ostensible hero but, as Shakespeare did with Henry V, Heywood presents his kingly protagonist as a ruler beloved by the common people whose concern for them is paramount and often placed above his own pleasures. In so showing Edward, Heywood uses the tradition of the disguised king that Shakespeare would make much of before the Battle of Agincourt (IV.1) when his “mirror of Christian kings” tries to take the pulse of his troops as the commoner “Harry le Roy” (Rackin 226; Baines 17).12

Out hunting, Edward meets John Hobs, the Tanner of Tamworth (scene 11) and begins an extended acquaintance with the commoner that spans four scenes (11, 13, 14, 23). The interactions between the two are fairly predictable. Hobs does not recognize the king in his hunting clothes and accepts Edward's self-identification as “Ned, the king's butler.” “Ned” is remarkably unable to draw Hobs into treasonable utterances, since the tanner is quite happy to owe his allegiance to two kings, Edward IV, currently upon the throne, and the deposed Henry VI. While he has no use, generally, for kings or idle court hangabouts, Hobs extends hospitality to Ned and Tom (Lord Thomas Sellinger). Though he does not think much of people who are in service, Hobs proposes a marriage between his daughter, Nell, and Ned, implying that the latter could go into business with Hobs and learn to be a tanner. Although Hobs refuses Ned's offer to visit him in London, they part on good terms with Hobs remaining unaware of the true identities of his guests.

These scenes reveal Hobs as a blunt and outspoken but hard-working and essentially honest tradesman. Even though Hobs does not know that Ned is the king, his loyalty to his monarch is demonstrated when he comes to the king's financial aid. In scene 18, two justices out on a tax collecting mission to raise money for Edward to reclaim sovereignty in France meet with minimal success until Hobs helps. The tanner, knowing the financial circumstances of his neighbors, urges them to give what he knows they can afford and then himself gives “Twenty old angels and a score of hides; if that be too little, take twenty nobles more. While I haue it, my king shall spend of my store.”13 His ploy is successful, for after Hobs's gift Grudgen exclaims, “What giues the tanner? I am as able as he” (p. 72). This scene does not simply show the consequences of being a well-loved monarch, but serves the more important purpose of showing people how to be good subjects. The point is not that the monarch may well deserve the taxes he asks for, but that it is the duty of each citizen to give ungrudgingly whenever asked. Clearly government cannot function unless there is a useful working relationship between those who need money—the government—and those who have it to give—merchants and tradesmen. Yet I would go further to say that what this play is about is the necessary interconnectedness between the Crown and the major source(s) of revenues within the realm, the merchants and tradesmen. Thus the play, supposedly the history of a king, works to validate not only the sovereign, but those producers of capital who are necessary for maintaining the governmental status quo.

This incident with Hobs is even more interesting when read in connection with an entry from the Elizabethan Journal for 6 January 1599 which points out that

There is much backwardness amongst the citizens that have been nominated to furnish the money required at this time by her Majesty, and amongst them divers of good and sufficient ability which by their example of undutifulness do make others the more perverse. These are now summoned to make their appearance before the Council.


This is the kind of unwillingness to be taxed that is characteristic of the tradesmen approached by the justices in Edward IV, Part I. Presumably, had these subjects of Elizabeth been as willing to serve her as Hobs Edward, there would be no necessity for summoning them before council. We can thus see in scene 18 a public representation of the appropriate attitude of a citizen to Crown appeals for funding. Heywood makes this point even more strongly in his play about Elizabeth's reign, If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody, Part II.

In this play, a Pursevant comes to the merchant Hobson with the “fauour” that the queen has “sent to borrow a hundred pound” (sc. 7, p. 287). Hobson is completely surprised by the request, but at the same time delighted to be of service:

How! bones a me, Queene know Hobson, Queene know Hobson?
And send but for one hundred pound? Friend come in;
Come in, friend; shall haue two; Queene shall haue two.
If Queene know Hobson once, her Hobsons purse
Must be free for her; shee is Englands nurse.
Come in, good friend. Ha! Queene know Hobson?
Nay, come in, John; we'le dine together too.

(sc. 7, p. 287)

It is a well-known fact that Elizabeth borrowed often from her sometimes unwilling merchants. Here Hobson, like Hobs, represents the ideal subject, not only delighted to give, but willing to give twice what was requested. In focusing upon the merchants in both plays, Heywood flatters a group of men who were necessary for the economic support of Elizabeth's reign. Yet the character Hobson points out that the connection between the Crown and the merchants was a reciprocal one. He names Elizabeth “Englands nurse” (sc. 7, p. 287), the implication being that capitalism can only flourish in a country as carefully tended as the England of Elizabeth. A good nurse produces good, healthy, capitalist offspring who should be more than willing to demonstrate their devotion to their nurse should she ask for it.

In Edward IV, Part I, Heywood uses the traditional hero of the history play, the king, to introduce the commoners who will become the heroes of his “new” history plays. Hobs may be a blunt tradesman, but his innate honesty, loyalty, and willingness to pay taxes are the qualities that Heywood will continue to validate in his middle-class characters over the rank derived purely from birth that is the quality usualy validated in historical personages. That high birth is not necessary to a man's ultimate importance to the state is stressed in Heywood's portrait of Sir John Crosbie, the lord mayor of London. Before the king's formal thanks to the merchants of London for their help in defending the city, Crosbie describes his background and history in a soliloquy. Found by a poor shoemaker at Cow Crosse near Islington and “Calld … according to the place … John Crosbie, … [because he was found] so by a crosse” (sc. 16, p. 57), Crosbie was fostered at the Hospital of London. He was apprenticed by the Hospital Masters to a grocer and, once knowing this trade, was able to improve himself. He has “well requited” the shoemaker who found him and has made a perpetual gift of one hundred pounds per annum to the hospital. “All this,” states Crosbie, “declares I boast not of my birth; / But found on earth, I must returne to earth” (sc. 16, p. 57).

According to the sources I examined in Part 2 of this essay, legislation did nothing to eliminate the poor or raise their standard of living. Little opportunity existed for work, and when that was missing, the poor had to continue those illegal activities they could be prosecuted for—begging, stealing, whoring, for example—in order to eat. The presence of bastardy legislation within the Poor Laws—that is, legislation that made it illegal for a woman to produce a bastard child—led to infanticide (Hoffer and Hull, chapters 1-5) and also, most probably, to the abandoning of illegitimate children like John Crosbie. The future lord mayor of London was lucky that he was found by a man with charity in his heart—and probably also a job so he would not be placed under suspicion himself when he took the foundling to the Hospital of London. Crosbie was lucky also that he was apprenticed as a child and given the wherewithal to earn his living and eventually rise in his profession.

Heywood is careful to let this Horatio Alger story retain its magical properties of luck and Christian charity. The reason for Crosbie's abandonment goes unmentioned, as does the money that would necessarily have to be present if Crosbie were to pursue the life he details. In a country with more paupers than it knew what to do with, the chances of a foundling finding a place gratis at an overcrowded London hospital were slim. The Christian shoemaker probably had to pay for lodging his foundling. Also, no one became an apprentice without payment of a fee. Where did the young John Crosbie's fee come from? the hospital? his early benefactor? the government? The answer is suggested by Crosbie himself as he reveals that he has done his Christian duty by the hospital through a sizable endowment. Perhaps he, as a child, was the beneficiary of just such an endowment by another lucky boy who “made good.”14

Yet Heywood does not simply erase the poverty surrounding the character John Crosbie's beginnings, he erases the actual beginnings of the real John Crosby.15 The Dictionary of National Biography provides a history for Sir John Crosby (d. 1475) that is quite different from Heywood's (211-12). Instead of being a foundling, Crosby was probably the grandson of a Sir John Crosby, who may have been an alderman of London. Like his father and grandfather, Crosby held the manor of Hanworth—rather a different beginning from the man found at Cow Crosse. Thus, the three shillings four pence that was paid to the grocer's company upon Crosby's “being sworn a freeman of the company” (DNB, 5.211) most likely came from his family and not a foundling hospital or a charitable benefactor. Crosby was elected member of Parliament for London in 1466 and alderman of Broad Street ward in 1468. By the time of Falconbridge's attack he was sheriff, but was never to hold the office of mayor. Knighted in 1471, he also built the “sumptuous mansion in Bishopsgate Street”—Crosby Place—“which has chiefly made his name famous. … Besides many other legacies for pious and charitable purposes, Crosby left the large sum of 100 l. for the repairs of London Bridge, a similar sum for repairing Bishop's Gate, and 10 l. for the repairs of Rochester bridge” (DNB, 5.212).

We can speculate endlessly as to why Heywood chose to make his Crosbie begin life as a foundling when, historically, he came from a family of some substance. It seems to me, however, that the reason for the change lies in Heywood's desire to validate capitalism and the rising merchant/trading class. But capitalism could not be so completely validated if the lord mayor of London began life as the son of a man of property. The distance the historical Crosby traveled from privileged child to sheriff was not far and was almost inevitable. But if such a man began as a foundling and then became lord mayor, he not only validated his own attributes and hard work but also the economic system that gave him the wherewithal—fostering, apprentice fees, etc.—to achieve so much. It is not surprising, then, that Heywood both changes the historical background of Crosby and obscures aspects of the fictional background he gives his character.

The playwright's refusal to explain why John Crosbie came to be abandoned erases the entire economic situation of the late sixteenth century—a situation that led to such widespread poverty and the abandonment (and often murder) of poor children. Heywood's refusal to consider the financial arrangements necessary to foster children also erases the complicated—and unsuccessful—system of Poor Laws and social control legislation to which paupers were subjected. Christian charity is validated in the helpful shoemaker and the master of the hospital as well as in the helpful, successful merchants, like Crosbie himself, who have continued to endow the hospital. Erasing law, economy, and government make charity the operative motive for poor relief—even though it was often quite difficult to get solvent citizens to pay any of their assessments (Slack 222, 234; Harrison 80)—and grants the “greatest” of Christian virtues to the merchant/capitalist class. This class is shown to have no part in causing the poverty that exists; yet it charitably provides foundations to support the victims of economic disaster who fall through the cracks of governmental social welfare schemes.

Heywood develops this examination of mercantile charity further in the episode of Tawnie-coate the peddler in If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody. Tawnie-coate purchases goods from Hobson on credit, but the merchant's inept clerks do not record the debt correctly. When Tawnie-coate arrives to pay it, he is assured by the clerks that he owes nothing. His innate honesty makes him insist upon paying, and the resultant clamor brings Hobson in to collect his money and rebuke his lazy clerks. Later in the play, Tawnie-coate is unable to pay Hobson for merchandise he has had upon credit because business is so bad. Hobson agrees to call off the legal case against the peddler and loans him additional merchandise to tide him and his family over until better times. This charity is well placed, for Tawnie-coate is able to recover financially and ultimately becomes master of the hospital. Like Tawnie-coate, John Crosbie also goes on to become a valued member of society. As lord mayor of London, he organizes the defenses of the city against the rebel Falconbridge—the bastard who, interestingly, stresses his noble connections through his battle cry “A Neville!”—who poses a direct threat to government (the deposition of Edward) and an indirect threat to capital (the sacking of the merchants' shops). Although Crosbie claims a royal mandate for his defence of the city—

Nay, then, I tell thee, bastard Falconbridge,
My lord Maior bears his sword in his defence,
That put the sword into the arms of London,
Made the Lord Maiors for euer after knights,
Richard, depos'd by Henry Bolingbroke,
From whom the house of Yorke doth claime their right

(sc. 4, p. 5)—

his symbolic/actual position as leader of the merchants both reinforces the intrinsic power of the merchants/capitalists of London as well as the close connection between government and capital. That connection is further naturalized through the comment of the First Apprentice:

Nay, scorn vs not that we are prentices.
The Chronicles of England can report
What memorable actions we haue done,
To which this daies achieuement shall be knit,
To make the volume larger than it is.

(sc. 5, p. 18)

As Phyllis Rackin has cogently argued, history only records the deeds of men with a “name,” members of the noble, elite clases (esp. ch. 5). Yet this apprentice, a (literally, in this case) nameless commoner, claims that his participation in this defense will gain him a mention in the chronicles. What Heywood seems to be doing here is naturalizing an aristocratic power struggle by indicating that ordinary citizens, “everymen,” can inscribe themselves in it and, ultimately, in history. They may not be the “great men” that royalist (and, later, capitalist) history is about, but the presence of their names attached to deeds that are “great” in themselves, or that support those of “great men,” will guarantee them the kind of immortality reified by the power structure and usually completely out of their reach. Thus, supporting the power structure gives the normally voiceless/nameless members of the lower ranks of capitalism—the proletariat—the means by which they can achieve the recognition their class position necessarily denies them.

In the same way, a hard-working, honest peddler like Tawnie-coate can rise to an important, “named” position as master of a large hospital. And a foundling, John Crosbie, can, through luck and charity, lead a successful defense against a noble (though bastard) foe in support of his monarch. Unlike the apprentice, Crosbie and his supporters are, indeed, rewarded with “names” as they are knighted for their efforts. Yet the goldsmith Matthew Shore, also offered a knighthood for his pains, avoids reward by saying, “I haue enough, and I desire no more” (sc. 9, p. 33). Thus while there is clearly a symbiotic relationship between the Crown and the merchants, Shore's independence serves to deny that connection by presenting the wealthy merchant as a man who needs nothing from his sovereign because he does not serve him for gain.

Yet just as Heywood has obscured the “real” background of the historical John Crosby to present the merchant class as saviors of the poor, he also obscures the fact that these same merchants contributed directly to exacerbating the poverty they are so charitably shown to “eliminate.” I would like to examine briefly two areas in which mercantile capital directly contributed to increasing the poverty of citizens: starchmaking and the cloth trade. Starch was an important commodity in an age that set great store by ruffs and various other kinds of starched collars and cuffs. But starch, unfortunately, was made of grain. The use of grain to manufacture starch only becomes problematical during a time of bad harvests when a source of food is turned into a nonedible nonessential which both reduces the supply of food and raises the price of the amount remaining. Thus in October 1595, a disturbance occurred at the corner of Milk Street and Cheapside when a crowd forced a carman to unload a barrel of starch (Rappaport 13). This seemingly unimportant incident shows that capitalists do not necessarily have the interests of the people generally (and the poor in particular) at heart if a profit can be made.

A similar, though more dire, example of just how capitalism profits over time at the expense of workers can be seen in the legislation regarding cloth finishing. The export of cloth was one of the major sources of mercantile wealth in England. The 1530s began auspiciously with an export of 80,700 cloths16 per year, double the average for the last decade of the fifteenth century. This number increased by 34 percent to 108,100 cloths in the 1540s to reach a high of 133,000 cloths at the beginning of the 1550s. A 1551 glut on the Antwerp market led to a fall in exports, yet by 1554, a record 136,000 cloths were exported. The Antwerp market was again glutted by 1556 and by 1558 the boom had passed (Rappaport 89-90).

Although little cloth was woven in London, most finishing was done there and 90 percent of all exported cloth passed through the capital. However, finished English cloth was not highly regarded on the continent, so most cloth was shipped unfinished, a circumstance that led to unemployment in the cloth finishing industries. By 1536 there was a ban against the export of unfinished cloth worth at least four pounds, but merchants easily obtained licenses exempting them from the provisions of the statute. In 1566 the Privy Council passed an act stipulating that every tenth cloth exported must be finished. Oviously the act was not successful, since by 1568 the clothworkers complained of violations and in 1575 they petitioned the Privy Council again (Rappaport 93-100). The council agreed to hire searchers to inspect all packets of cloth to be exported. This measure seems pointless as individual merchants could obtain Crown licences which allowed them legally to export unfinished cloth—often in huge amounts. Such licences were also granted to courtiers who then transferred the license to the Merchant Adventurers, “who monopolised much of England's cloth export trade” (Rappaport 101), making their own arrangements with the merchants for remuneration. As an example, in 1578 Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth I's secretary of state, was given a license to export 30,000 unfinished cloths per year.17 At this time, the average number of cloths exported per year was 103,600 (Rappaport 101), making Walsingham's license good for about 29 percent of the entire yearly cloth export at that time.

Complaints against the Merchant Adventurers concerning the export of unfinished cloth were still being made in May of 1599. The specific “mischiefs to clothworkers” resulted from the fact that, in exercising their license to ship 30,000 undressed cloths annually, the Merchant Adventurers exported 56,000 cloths, of which only 300 were “dressed”/finished (CSP-D 204). The lord mayor of London, Sir Stephen Soame, intervened with the Merchant Adventurers to try to persuade them to accept more finished cloths, “but they refused, wanting liberty of trading themselves” (204). In fact, the Adventurers applied to the council to continue to ship as much unfinished cloth as they wished, and were allowed to, “so that clothiers, dyers, and dressers are now like to perish, for want of work” (CSP-D 205).

Two points need to be made here. The first is that the continual export of unfinished cloth contributed to unemployment among cloth workers in London (Rappaport 105). Thus the merchants who are represented in Heywood's plays as helping the poor out of poverty are, in fact, contributing, for their own profit, to an economic situation guaranteed to keep certain segments of the population in poverty, or at least unemployed in their own trades.18 The second point is that the licenses granted by the Crown to export unfinished cloth, in spite of the 1566 act restricting the amounts of such exports, show clearly how capital and government are joined. That the queen's secretary of state is a beneficiary of this exception demonstrates how participation by a representative of government in mercantile capitalism fosters unrestrained trade at the expense of the proletariat—here represented by the craftsmen of the cloth-finishing guilds. Not only does Heywood erase the collusion between government and capital, but also the price paid by the workers in the advancement/expansion of trade.


The imperialist enterprise in Ireland was not the only one the English state was engaged in at the end of the sixteenth century, and the failure of Essex does not represent the failure of the state to impress itself—as did that earlier Harry—upon other nations. However, unlike Henry V, the English state often chose not to impress itself upon other countries by means of military power. The political, economic, and social situation around 1599 was changing England irrevocably into an absolutist state, yet this transformation could only occur as a result of uniting state and capital by privileging the earned “nobility” of the bourgeoisie and trade over the inherited nobility of the feudal aristocracy.

The European absolutist state of the sixteenth century was seen by Engels as the result of a class equilibrium between the old feudal nobility and the new urban bourgeoisie (cited by Anderson 15). In fact, as Perry Anderson indicates, “the classification of absolutism as a political balancing-merchanism between nobility and bourgeoisie frequently glides toward an implicit or explicit designation of it as fundamentally a type of bourgeois state as such” (16).19 These monarchies are characterized by their introduction of standing armies, permanent bureaucracies,20 national taxation, codified laws, and “the beginning of a unified market” (17). Anderson sees this type of state beginning to develop in England under Henry VIII with the increase of the “state apparatuses of repression”—the Star Chamber (to prosecute riot and sedition) and increased treason legislation—and the development of the navy—a permanent Navy Board was created in 1546. The navy was vital to the expansion of the absolutist state, and its development points out the alliance necessary between state and mercantile capital for the development of this particular political configuration.

As a result, the 1590s saw the development of a privateering “industry,” financed by the merchants, of anywhere from one hundred to two hundred voyages per year (Wernham 61),21 which can be regarded as both military and commercial. The privateers harried Spanish shipping from the New World (Quinn and Ryan 84), capturing or destroying ships that could be used against the English during hostilities. However, the privateers also relieved the Spanish ships of their cargoes, which proved an important source of wealth to the English exchequer. These cargoes brought in between 100,000 and 200,000 pounds per annum as compared to the pre-1588 trade with Spain worth between 100,000 and 120,000 pounds per annum. Additionally, this expansion of the English merchant marine—the building of new ships as well as the experience in seamanship gained in the North Atlantic—was essential for launching such large-scale trading ventures as the East India and the Virginia companies (Smith 236; Quinn and Ryan 86, 148).

Hence, the privateering enterprise was at least as much commercial—despite the fact that the English did not establish markets in the traditional way—as it was military. Privateering reinforces the fact that, throughout the sixteenth century, the English navy “remained merchant ships temporarily converted for battle by the addition of cannon” (Anderson 134). It was these same commercial/war vessels that had destroyed the Armada, a situation which not only insured England's insular security, but laid the foundation for an imperialist future (Anderson 134). This interesting connection between the navy and trade reinforces Hecksher's argument that the “object of mercantilism was to increase the ‘power of the State’ rather than the ‘wealth of nations’, and that this meant a subordination … of ‘considerations of plenty’ to ‘considerations of power’” (cited in Anderson 35, n. 34).

Another manifestation of the close connection between the state and capitalism was the formation of the Chartered Companies (Anderson 36), essentially monopolistic colonial enterprises created with government approval to regulate trade in different regions such as the Muscovy Company (chartered 1555), the Eastland Company (1579), the Levant Company (1581), the Barbary Company (1585), the East India Company (1600), and the Virginia Company (1606) (Smith 178; Anderson 40). It may seem, initially, that the Crown had little to do with these private, speculative trading ventures that would eventually secure an empire in India and the Western Hemisphere. Yet from the first, the Crown and mercantile capital were even more inextricably connected than they were in privateering or the export of unfinished cloth. In 1566-67, for example, Humphrey Gylberte was engaged in trying to discover a route to Cathay (China). The Calendar for State Papers, Colonial Series for these years outlines the various negotiations between Gylberte and the Crown for the expedition. In 1566 Gylberte petitions the queen for permission “at his own cost and charges” (6) to try to reach Cathay. It may seem odd that Gylberte had to petition for this privilege and that the government might care about whether or not he went. Yet in that same petition, Gylberte askes as his reward “to have to his own use, for 99 years, a fifth part of the customs of merchandise returned by means of this discovery” (CSP-C 6). Here the true worth of such an enterprise reveals itself. Not only will Gylberte profit from whatever merchandise he brings out of China, but he will also profit—through customs duties—from all merchandise any merchant brings out of the country. And, if a fifth of all customs duties is a large enough amount to be negotiated, presumably the four-fifths the governement will take is an amount well worth the “support” of merchants exploring far-flung markets.22 Gylberte was to gain even more in the 1566 bill establishing the Corporation for the Discovery of New Trades, such as the use of two of the queen's ships for the first four voyages along with “commission to press mariners” and his own appointment to the government of all countries and territories discovered with the power to name a deputy (CSP-C 7). Obviously, the Crown stood to gain much revenue if it were willing to grant such powers to the discoverers of new lands.

But enterprises like the search for the Northwest Passage did not happen overnight. The Calendar for State papers, Colonial Series records the almost endless proceedings from the first notion to the final voyage. Each was an “adventure” on paper almost as exhausting as the actual adventure with ships. Those persons engaged in “venturing” capital in the enterprise were themselves called “adventurers,” and the status of and amounts ventured varied greatly from speculation to speculation. By April of 1579, the queen herself was an adventurer in one of the Northwest voyages to Cathay (CSP-C 54). Two other adventurers were Philip Sidney (who was 77 pounds in arrears as of 25 April 1579) and Martin Frobisher (270 pounds in arrears) (CSP-C 55).

The year 1599 marked the beginning of the largest venture so far—the East India Company. Its long list of adventurers begins with the lord mayor of London and includes several aldermen. The majority of adventurers are clearly merchants and the sums they venture range from a high of 3,000 pounds to a low of 100 pounds for a total of 30,133 pounds 6 shillings 8 pence (CSP-C 99-101).23 The charter of incorporation of the East India Company proposed to grant a “privilege” for fifteen years “to certain adventurers for the discovery of the trade for the East Indies” (CSP-C 115) and, like the North-West Company Charter, shows the mutual benefits accruing to the Crown and the company. The company was to be exempt from customs duties for the first four voyages with further privileges of customs to follow, and “[n]one of the Queen's subjects, but the Company, their servants, and assigns, [were] to resort to India without the Company's licence upon pain of forfeiting ships and cargoes, half to the Queen and half to the Company, with imprisonment till the offenders give 1,000 l. bond not to trade thither again” (CSP-C 117-18). This last provision again demonstrates how much the Crown had to gain from granting what was, essentially, a monopoly to the East India Company. In addition to customs and license to trade fees, both Crown and company stood to gain fines and merchandise from anyone who violated the monopoly—a rather large financial gain compared to the expenditure of time and money needed to establish the company itself, especially on the part of the government.


Thomas Heywood's later history play, If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody, continues the generic development begun with Edward IV and can be seen as a work that glorifies English capitalism and especially the movement of mercantile capitalism toward colonialism. The three main characters in the play are the merchants Gresham, Hobson, and Sir Thomas Ramsey, the lord mayor of London. Important secondary characters are John Gresham, the merchant's nephew, and Tawnie-coate, the peddler. The plots involving these characters all focus on trade, yet, as was evident in Edward IV, all point out the necessity for charity and cooperation between the merchants (Baines 32, 36). Charity is seen as something that allows trade to progress—Hobson's helping Tawnie-coate when he is down on his luck—as well as a necessary concern of wealthy merchants for their less-fortunate brethren. As in Edward IV, the importance of charity, as well as the charitable dealings of Gresham and Hobson, manages to naturalize the more rapacious aspects of mercantile capitalism and make it socially as well as economically desirable.

Gresham's nephew, John, is a combination prodigal son and con artist. Bailed out of one scrape by his uncle at the beginning of the play, he is given a position as Hobson's factor. Before he embarks upon his truly disastrous career in France—a career that involves buying the wrong goods, making bad deals, and spending most of his time in a bawdy house—John steals one hundred pounds from his uncle and places the blame on Gresham's honest servant, Tim. Even though Tim narrowly escapes hanging, John is pardoned by his uncle and his employer and even manages to get Lady Ramsey to pay his debts. Thus, despite his unfortunate career as a capitalist, the charitable camaraderie of the merchants saves him from personal ruin.

The inclusion of the character John Gresham, and his disastrous career as factor, might seem like an odd episode in a play whose characters are so strongly interpellated within the capitalist/mercantile system. Heywood's audience would know what a “factor” was—an agent for a particular merchant or mercantile enterprise who often lived in a foreign country where the merchant's (or enterprise's) major trade occurred. Yet while the audience might know this “definition” of the job, they might not know how the factor often worked to tie the government and capital together. The Calendar for State Papers, Colonial Series documents the process of one company's obtaining factors.

Early chartering arrangements for the East India Company indicate that factors had to abstain from private trade while they were employed by the company (CSP-C 112). Four grades of factors were determined of which three “principal” factors were of the first grade. The earnings of all factors were proportional to their rankings and the specific factors were elected, presumably based upon the candidates' experience, by a committee for that purpose (CSP-C 111-12). However, not everyone agreed with the elections. Exception was taken to William Brend (or Brund) being made a factor of “the second sort” for, “he being a grave and discreet merchant, and acquainted with the Arabian, Spanish, and Portuguese languages … better deserves to be a principal factor” (CSP-C 113). Brend/Brund himself refused to accept the position as second factor. The election was reexamined and he was made principal factor of the Ascension (CSP-C 114).

There were also men who were not elected to any position among the sixteen factors, and Roger Style was one of these. Consequently, on 22 November 1600 he asked to be employed—without salary—to succeed to a position should an elected factor die during the voyage. He further agreed “to be left in the East Indies until the return of the second voyage where he will apply himself to learn the language” (CSP-C 112). On 13 December 1600, Walter Poynter and William Martin also asked to be employed without salary and left in the Indies as resident factors (CSP-C 114). By 17 December 1600, a total of seven factors had been admitted to go without salary, to replace the deceased or to be left as resident factors. Roger Style was not one of these seven, for by 24 December 1600 he was made a factor of the third sort in place of Richard Collymore (CSP-C 115). This determination to be a factor even without salary—and the resolution not to settle for a position less than one was qualified for—indicates that the position of factor, despite its dangers, was an ultimately lucrative one to the individual concerned. However, the position of factor was also important to the government as well.

Although the point is not raised by Heywood in If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody, the historical Thomas Gresham—a merchant on the continent—often acted very much as a “factor.” He was involved with government from as early as 1545, when mercenaries at Calais were paid off with money “received from Gresham” (DNB, 8. 586). By June of 1548 he was acting for the king in the Low Countries and by December 1551, or the following January, was “royal agent or king's merchant” (586). Residing at Antwerp, his chief duties

were to negotiate loans for the crown with the wealthy merchants of Germany and the Netherlands, to supply the state with any foreign products that were required, especially with military stores, such as gunpowder, saltpetre, and arms, and to keep the privy council informed of all matters of importance passing abroad.

(586) (Emphasis added)

Consequently, Gresham kept agents who sent him intelligence from many parts of Europe. He also was able to raise the rate of exchange for the pound to its advantage (586). On friendly terms with Cecil, the secretary of state, Gresham suggested to Elizabeth I plans to improve royal finances. He remained in Antwerp for nine years into Elizabeth I's reign and continued to send Cecil letters full of political intelligence (588).

The merchant Gresham's “intelligence activities” were not unique, since apparently the Crown expected Englishmen abroad to serve the government while they were serving capital. The Calendar for State Papers, Domestic Series for 24 February 1599 records that William, earl of Bath, sent Cecil a letter written by “Thomas Bradshaw, an English lieger at St. Jean de Luz, saying that the King of Spain is preparing a great fleet against April. The writer seems to have a regard to his duty in discovering things concerning the Queen and State” (164). Yet Englishmen abroad did not simply pass on intelligence that came their way. The queen kept few ambassadors abroad—probably for reasons of economy—yet the government representative at Constantinople was paid from 1583 by the Turkey Company and from 1592 by the “then newly amalgamated Levant Company” (Wernham 58).

Thus factors were both mercantile agents and spies, often employing “agents” (in both areas) at their own expense. Thomas Gresham, both before and after he was employed by the Crown, and Thomas Bradshaw easily fit military/political intelligence into their need for economic/trade intelligence and passed necessary and important information back home to the queen. The connection between mercantile and political intelligence is even stronger (if possible) in the example of the “ambassador” at Constantinople financed entirely by Chartered Companies. It seems to me that these political/mercantile connections represent yet another degree of collusion between Crown and capital different from that between the Crown and the Chartered Companies examined above (see Part 4).

But how does Heywood's John Gresham—that inept merchant whose mind is more firmly occupied with bawdy houses than balance sheets—fit into this world of capitalist agents I have sketched above? Clearly not very well. This young Gresham would have a difficult time figuring out what “intelligence” was, much less devising a way to communicate it to his queen. So why include him in a play full of much more successful merchants? The foreign factor/agent was a very important figure to both government policies and the expansion of trade—and he was useful to them both as the protocapitalism of this period became inextricably entwined with government policy. Government was necessary to support trade just as trade was necessary to provide the financial support for the government. If the Tudor state wished to expand its political influence to other countries, it needed the “imperialist” mercantile desires of its traders and merchants to finance that move. Neither expansion could profit without the protection/support of the other. Imperialism cannot occur unless both government and capital are engaged in its pursuit—as I indicated in my earlier examination of the Merchant Adventurers and the East India Company. Historical Thomas Gresham, as well as historical Sir Francis Walsingham, were necessary for the imperial enterprise of England. Yet what was John Gresham doing pretending to be an agent in that enterprise? I would argue that this character is not there truly to represent what capital was up to in his period, but to reassure people that capital was not up to anything dangerous. No one in his/her right mind would take John Gresham seriously as a factor; therefore, no one would view him as a threat. No merchants (or politicians) concerned about free trade or worried about the growing monopolies of the Chartered Companies could view the inept John with anything but scorn. John may not be a character who valorizes the emerging capitalist class, but I would suggest that he is a character designed to take the heat off of it.

But the most important capitalist enterprise represented in this play is Thomas Gresham's building of the Royal Exchange. The event is valorized in the subtitle of Part II and leads to Gresham's being viewed as the “princely” (Cromwell 113) and “patriotic” (Boas 19) merchant who Ribner feels is the true subject of the play (210). As the building progresses, various lords comment upon it and exclaim that no other country has one to equal it. Interestingly, one of the lords reveals Gresham's plans for decoration that include the placing of pictures of “all the English kings” (sc. 9, p. 296) in the empty rooms. As if this form of interior decoration did not sufficiently make the point about the close connection between capitalism and government as I have already shown it to exist in the Chartered Companies, the second lord makes the connection even clearer:

I heard my Lord of Lecester to the Queene
Highly commend this worke, and she then promist
To come in person, and here christen it:
It cannot haue a better godmother.

(sc. 9, p. 296)

From being the monarch Hobson sees as England's nurse, Elizabeth becomes the godmother of capitalism.

The fact that the Chartered Companies were royally sanctioned monopolies posed various problems, as I indicated in my consideration of the problems arising between the cloth finishers and the Merchant Adventurers Company. But monopoly itself was not the only problem; many objected to the fact that England's overseas trade was centered on London, thus allowing “a small oligarchy of well-to-do … Merchant Adventurers” not only to dominate trade, but “to have a say” in matters of foreign policy (Wernham 15; Quinn and Ryan 145). Aware of the company's critics, John Wheeler, the secretary, published in 1601 A treatise of Commerce which was, essentially, a defense of monopoly trading companies that argued that they were beneficial to the state:

Since the erection of the company of Merchants Adventurers, and of other companies … the navigation of the realm is marvellously increased in number of good shipping, and of able and skilful masters and mariners, insomuch that whereas within these threescore years there were not above four ships, besides those in her majesty's navy royal, above the burden of one hundred and twenty tons within the river of Thames, there are now at this day to be found pertaining to London and other places lying upon the said river, a great number of very large and serviceable merchant ships, fit as well for the defence of the realm (if need be) as for traffic, whereof a good part are set to work by the said company of Merchant Adventurers.

(Cited in Quinn and Ryan 146)

Wheeler's point that the ships of the company are also “fit as well for the defence of the realm” reinforces Anderson's point regarding the interconnectedness of the navy, mercantile capitalism, and the absolutist state. The Levant Company was another monopoly trading company that increased fairly rapidly, growing from fifteen ships in 1595 to twenty by 1599. Like the ships of the Merchant Adventurers Company, those of the Levant Company were well-armed and built to withstand attack—this time by Algerian and other corsairs plying the Mediterranean—and, when sailing together, were “more than a match” for their potential enemies (Quinn and Ryan 147).

Like the Merchant Adventurers, both the Levant and the East India companies were organized and directed “by a small overlapping group of increasingly rich and powerful merchants” (Quinn and Ryan 158). Even though the Levant Company had to deal with pirates and phases of political unrest in the Levant (Quinn and Ryan 157), it still was exporting goods worth some 150,000 pounds by as early as 1587, six years after it was chartered (Quinn and Ryan 147). The East India Company proved to be a highly profitable concern whose annual imports were worth about 300,000 pounds by 1613 (Quinn and Ryan 158). The sheer amounts of goods brought into England through London by such companies caused outbursts of various sorts among other merchants. Port cities other than London felt the merchant cliques in the capital were depriving them of prosperity and “free traders”24—merchants who were not members of the Chartered Companies—felt they were being deprived of profitable trading opportunities (Quinn and Ryan 158). All of the trading companies ultimately came under attack by one or another of these factions and in 1604 there was a major “free trade” debate in the House of Commons (Smith 179).

The primary conflict within the trading world at the end of the sixteenth century was between the merchants who were members of the Chartered Companies and the so-called “free traders” who tried to make a profit on the edges of the monopolistic mercantile activities sanctioned by the Crown. Heywood's character Thomas Gresham represents a negotiation between the two positions. There is no evidence in the play (or in the Dictionary of National Biography) that Gresham was a shareholder in a chartered company. In fact, the only company in operation during the time the historical Gresham conceived the idea of the “bourse” (January 1564-65) to the time it was dedicated and named (January 1570-71) was the Muscovy Company (1555), operating in an area the character Gresham is not shown to trade in. However, the character's personal wealth—a wealth that allows him to build the Royal Exchange almost exclusively with his own funds—could suggest to an early seventeenth-century audience that he was a shareholder in one of the companies. Indeed, the incident in scene 10 where Gresham loses sixty thousand pounds as a result of a change in the Barbary government would also imply that the character is a member of either the Barbary Company (founded in 1585) or the Levant Company (founded in 1581), each of which traded with the north coast of Africa. Yet another incident in the scene—Gresham's purchase of the pearl costing fifteen hundred pounds and thus beyond the Russian ambassador's means—could suggest that Gresham's wealth is not tied to trade.

Both incidents, it seems to me, are designed to defuse any threat implicit in Heywood's representation of Gresham. The merchant may be politically and financially powerful, but he is also vulnerable to the loss of capital in his mercantile ventures. Consequently, Heywood seems to be demonstrating that the powerful mercantile interests of London are vulnerable and, as vulnerable, are not the sources of monopolistic/hegemonic power that the “free trade” debates in the House of Commons would suggest they are. Heywood's picture naturalizes the threat of capital by showing how vulnerable it is to loss or disaster. Thus Gresham's cavalier destruction of the costly pearl in a toast to Elizabeth—“his Queene and mistresse” (sc. 10, p. 301)—renders him a heroic figure under pressure. Also, pictured here as an individual capitalist, this character helps to erase the threat of organized companies of merchants constructing the economic and political destinies of England and reinforces the fact that individuals acting alone have the power to raise themselves to such financial heights as he has attained.

Gresham's grand gesture with the pearl also recalls Bassanio's technique of hazarding all for love of Portia in The Merchant of Venice (Moisan 195-96). And as Bassanio's gesture wins him Portia and her fortune, Gresham's insures him the concern of his mistress, the queen. Thomas Moisan raises many of the same questions regarding the interrelationships between the state and capitalism and capitalism and Christianity that this play does. According to him, Shakespeare's play “establishes the merchant in the figure of Antonio as a friend of the state …, it trots out a biblical precedent for the association of profit by ‘venture’ with the blessings of divine providence …, [and] it might well appear to subscribe to the notion that ‘Godlinesse is great riches’” (192). The above description of Antonio could just as well be applied to Gresham. Elizabeth I does, in fact, “reward” Gresham by knighting him during her dedication of the Royal Exchange (sc. 13).

Sir Thomas Gresham represents the “new man” who came to power as a result of the rise of capitalism. As Barbara J. Baines rightly indicates,

Gresham embodies the wealth, power, and growth of the middle class through prudent use of capital in trade and industry. Clearly Heywood's play is a celebration of this social and economic change; but it is also an affirmation of the medieval Christian values [like charity] that are endangered by the new profit motives of capitalism and the great wealth of the financiers.


I would go further and state that Gresham's building of the Royal Exchange not only symbolizes his charitable concern for other merchants that is not mitigated by his great wealth (a concern he shares with Crosbie and, to a lesser extent, with Hobson and Tawnie-coate), but also symbolizes the necessary symbiotic relationship that must exist between government and capitalism if both are to succeed and profit the state and all her citizens—capitalist and proletariat alike. All the capitalists portrayed in Heywood's plays are patriotic, charitable, and benevolent. They are either successful or unsuccessful capitalists, but they are not rapacious. John Gresham may be useless and cost Hobson money, but his personal charm allows him to escape serious punishment even though he almost gets Tim executed for his own theft. Hobson's servants are inept, but never threatening. The community Heywood represents in both plays is one of self-made men who give all they can to/in charity while they can and are often given to grand gestures such as Gresham's drinking the pearl. Such gestures may not be financially justifiable, but, like Bassanio's hazarding all for Portia or the English “sea dogs” privateering or searching for rich colonies in new worlds, they may just as easily prove successful as not. And the English government needed the steady financial gains of its new merchants while both needed the surprising discoveries of its explorers. The alliances between the Crown and the Chartered Companies were, after all, the first steps in empire building.


I began by invoking one aspect of James Winny's definition of the history play genre; I end by invoking another. The critic maintains that the later history plays use “the image of King to embody the natural sovereignty which Renaissance man believed himself to possess, and the chronicler's records as a dramatic field where this exalted identity could be put to the test” (47). By recalling this aspect of Winny's notion of the history play I do not wish to deprivilege any of the more contemporary notions of history (or genre) that Phyllis Rackin articulates. What I do wish to do with this somewhat reactionary critical notion is to look at it in light of the history play as a genre that records the deeds of capitalists, not traditional sovereigns. Winny's notion that the king was a man who embodied a “natural sovereignty” can easily be applied to the history play genre as Heywood uses it in Edward IV and If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody. The capitalist/merchant can easily be seen to be an “economic monarch” or “mercantilist prince” whose “natural sovereignty” is played out in the field that is most conducive to his abilities—trade.

The history play in the hands of Heywood, then, becomes rewritten as a genre to accommodate capitalists as heroes, as the “monarchs” whose deeds these plays are meant to chronicle. As the history play often records the efforts of sovereigns to obtain a throne, Heywood's histories record the Horatio Alger-like rise of merchants like John Crosbie or Thomas Gresham to quasi-governmental positions that are founded upon their mercantile skill. Yet while the traditional history play only records the deeds of men with “names” who are part of the historical record, this new genre records the deeds of merchants, traders, and apprentices whose names rarely appear on the historical record. And the capitalists Heywood creates act in “kingly” ways to better the lot of their fellow humans/“subjects” through extended examples of charity and philanthropy.

In order to present his merchant heroes in such an acceptable light, Heywood had to erase or severely downplay the ways that capitalism is complicitous with the government and exploits the poor worker. The philanthropic and charitable attitude of capitalism that allowed John Crosbie to rise to his position as lord mayor must be stressed and the deeds of starchmakers and cloth traders erased. Also, the collusion between government and the monopolistic Chartered Companies—that led to imperialist expansion and riches for a small percentage of London merchants—must be shown to profit all Englishmen. Hobs is used to show how necessary proper and timely contribution of taxes is to government and Gresham shows how the merchant—allied with government—serves all through his building of the Royal Exchange.

Finally, the collusion between government and capital can be seen in the production of Heywood's plays themselves. Steve Rappaport bases his entire analysis of the economic situation of Tudor London upon the fact that no major riots occurred there. Yet one can argue that the lack of major riots was due to the fact that some of the ideological state apparatuses—such as the theater—worked so well that the people did not feel they could riot, or that the whole notion of rioting was somehow “impossible.” The very sophisticated “selling” of the recent Gulf War to large segments of the U.S. population (many of whom should have realized how egregiously they were being manipulated) presents a parallel example of how valid reasons for protest and rebellion (even economic ones not directly related to the war) can be easily coopted by means of stringent governmental management of ideological apparatuses—network television as well as the news media—as sources of “truth.” Although Rappaport may deny that economic reasons for riot existed in Tudor times, many of the authors of antitheatrical tracts present a society that is disordered in some very essential way. Whether the tract writers were disturbed about the idle and vagabonds (Northbrooke), excesses in apparel that allow people to transgress the social order (Gosson and Stubbes), or independent women (Stubbes), the tracts as a whole “construct a picture of a beseiged society threatened by an array of groups and practices perceived as disturbing of the established order” (Howard 164). While Rappaport would use the lack of riot within London to disprove the picture of a “beseiged society” the various tract writers present, I would argue that his analysis refuses to consider the very things that prevent the occurrence of riots and attacks by the poor and dispossessed in Tudor England as well as in our current society—the power of ideological state apparatuses. By refusing to consider the existence (and effectiveness) of the theater as a means of social control, Rappaport becomes complicitous with Tudor ideology in presenting the period as one of stability and—if not plenty—at least adequacy.

It is this power of ideology to control the populace that I would argue is strongly in operation in Heywood's plays. In fact, in his An Apology for Actors (1612), Heywood defines the chronicle history play as one designed

to teach the subiects obedience to their King, to shew the people the vntimely ends as such as haue moued tumults, commotions, and insurrections, to present the[m] with the flourishing estate of such as liue in obedience, exhorting them to allegeance, dehorting them from trayterous and fellonious strategems.

(F4v. Cited in Baines 10)

Yet even if Heywood had not so obviously recorded his views that the history play should teach its audience to be “good” (that is, “obedient” and “law-abiding”) subjects, Jean Howard reminds us that the plays of the public theater were censored and that theater itself “constituted one of the chief ideological apparatuses of Elizabethan society, … [and] provided a popular institutional site for the dissemination of images and narratives through which imaginary relations to the real were represented and playgoers positioned in ideology” (164).25 I would argue that the power of the theater as an instrument for managing ideology can be seen very clearly in the two Heywood plays examined above. These plays represent the ideal relationship of rulers and merchants, capitalists and the poor. They show that poverty is something that can easily—and almost magically—be overcome and that the highest positions in City government or the mercantile world belong to those who work—and work hard—for them. Heywood's plays show that the capitalist world provides a place for all men who are willing to work for it. Those who remain poor do so at their own stubborn insistence, despite the potential riches to be found in both domestic and foreign trade. The government enters Heywood's plays as the organ that provides the “opportunity” for prosperity and wealth, rather than the legal means of control and punishment. Thus, what I see in Heywood's two plays is a sophisticated erasure of both the grinding poverty of the Tudor period and the complicity between government and capital that led to the beginning of England's mercantile empire. Erasing poverty allows Heywood to focus on the deeds of domestic merchants—such as John Crosbie—and validate their development of home industries and trades. Erasing the inextricable connection between capital and government allows Heywood to present the development of English imperialism as the amazing deeds of one or two “heroes”—like Thomas Gresham—whose personal wealth is used to reinforce the political glory of England at home and abroad.


  1. Shakespeare, 907. All further references to Shakespeare's plays will be to the edition in the bibliography.

  2. Rackin points out that the inclusion of the legendary founding of Britain by Brut was “standard practice among earlier Tudor historians” and that Henry VII used descent from Brut to justify his claim to the English throne while Henry VIII used it to justify his break with Rome (21).

  3. Rackin lists quite a number of providentialist critics, among them Lily B. Campbell, Irving Ribner, Andrew S. Cairncross, Robert B. Pierce, and Robert R. Reed, Jr. (40n1).

  4. The Tudors “used” the medieval past of England from Richard II to Richard III to “justify” their own claims as the dynasty that successfully unified the warring factions of Lancaster and York and achieved domestic harmony. One twentieth-century recasting of history could be the dichotomy between the Tillyardian/providentialist view of “true” history and the contrary view that acknowledges the impossibility of an “ahistorical” viewpoint. Another could be the dichotomy between the new historicist and cultural materialist reactions to the role of transgression/subversion on the stage and whether—and to what degree—it is produced or contained by the dominant discourse (Rackin 42). Slightly removed from a direct consideration of the history plays, though not of the drama itself, is the question of just how and to what degree works like the antitheatrical tracts reinforced hegemonic discourse. (See Howard, esp. 163-72.) I will have more to say about the antitheatrical tracts in my conclusion.

  5. Although Boas dates Edward IV as 1600 (17), Clark points out that it appears in the Stationers' Register—listed under its two subtitles—for 28 August 1599 (15-16). Baines also accepts the 1599 composition date.

  6. Part I was licensed on 5 July 1605. Part II appeared in the Stationers' Register on 14 September 1605 (Clark 32-34). Baines gives 1604-5 as a composition date for both parts (26). Though both parts of both plays were printed anonymously, they are generally accepted as Thomas Heywood's work (Boas, Clark, Baines).

  7. “Poverty was not a creation of the sixteenth century, but the scale of the problem intensified dramatically during the period. The drastic decline of real wages was not reversed until after 1600, and even then the improvement was slow and slight” (Amussen 25-26). “The sixteenth century as a whole was an unhappy time for the poorer members of society and one set of figures suggests that during the last decade of Elizabeth's reign the standard of living of working men in town and country reached its lowest level in the whole of recorded English history” (Smith 235).

    Steve Rappaport's recent study challenges the economic picture of England generally and London specifically put forth by such scholars as David Underdown, Paul Slack, Alan G. R. Smith, W. G. Hoskins, and A. L. Beier. Rappaport's work is particularly disturbing because it does not simply opt for that view of Tudor England as a “Golden Age” lauded by Tillyard and Laslett. Rather, it is a work that very skillfully uses many of the statistics generated by Hoskins, Slack, et al. to re-enforce a reactionary opinion that the poor were not “really” poor and that, despite drops in both real wages and purchasing power, they were able to get by quite well. Rappaport does acknowledge that the last years of the sixteenth century—from the bad harvest of 1594 on—had particularly devastating economic effects: the price of flour more than doubled and food prices generally rose by 50 percent, conditions which led to food riots in Gloucestershire, Somerset, Oxfordshire, Kent, Essex, and other parts of England. “Because of a decline in real income of nearly 25 per cent, the gap between rich and poor must have widened considerably …” (379). Yet while these above remarks are in line with the other critics I have examined, Rappaport is out of line when considering the economic situation during the Tudor period as a whole as it relates to London.

    Several critics, in fact, take Rappaport to task for various aspects of his position. Ronald Berger sees Rappaport's study as containing four major weaknesses:

    First, an explanation of social and political relations in sixteenth-century London society should not rely almost entirely upon a small sample of the City's freemen. … Second, Rappaport underestimates the ability of monarch, priest, and gildmaster together to reduce that hegemony which he confuses with harmony. Third, because of its robust and diversified economy London cannot be used as a yardstick to measure the English urban experience. Enclosure riots, religious conflicts and wage disputes, while seldom resulting in open hostility, produced instability in many towns. Fourth, Rappaport's reliance on a sociological model limits the scope of his research. … [Various other research choices further allow him] to neglect the working class and to minimize evidence of class conflict.


    Keith Lindley feels that Rappaport

    is insufficiently critical in his use of sources, and too ready to evade or underestimate evidence of conflict or tension in London society, for his conclusions to command complete confidence. … [He has a tendency to caricature his opponents' case] while at the same time he can be accused of being too partisan in the way in which he assembles evidence of harmony and consensus. … Moreover, Dr. Rappaport's sights are set upon the upwardly mobile and the successful while those who failed to reach the starting line or dropped out of the race are given scant treatment. … The fact that Tudor London was not rocked by instability is not at issue but that is not to deny that there was the potential for conflict and there has to be a more convincing explanation of how it was contained than that offered by this book.


    And Ian Archer indicates that

    Rappaport is also misleading about the quality of social relations in the Elizabethan metropolis because he underestimattes the extent to which the escalation of disturbances alarmed the elite, and contributed to a sense of perceived crisis. … Rappaport's preferred view of stability as lying in the opportunities for social mobility makes his analysis of the responses of company rulers to the demands of artisans somewhat superficial.

    (8, 16)

    Archer also takes issue with Rappaport's analysis of statistics (ex. 152, 208, 243). Since a major goal of his book is to “prove” statistically that Tudor poverty was not as overwhelming as had previously been computed, Archer's astute questioning of Rappaport's use of statistics must be considered in deciding whether—and to what degree—to accept his overall analysis.

    While Rappaport does agree that the late 1590s were a time of economic crisis and, as a result, accepts most “given” statistics for this period alone, his analysis overall must be regarded as, at best, dubious for the reasons indicated above. It is important to remember, though, that his work as a whole is based primarily upon previously unexamined-in-detail London guild records. There seems no reason to question the “factual” incidents he mentions, especially when they are along the lines of other scholars. I will have occasion to turn to some other aspects of his study later.

  8. W. G. Hoskins defines the 1596 and 1597 harvests as “dearth” with wheat prices 82.9 percent above the norm in 1596 and 64 percent above the norm in 1597. Using a price based on the average of three grains—wheat, barley, and oats—C. J. Harrison does not list 1597 as a year of “dearth” since prices were only 34 percent above the norm. Both Hoskins and Harrison list the years 1591-93 as having harvests that were good or better than average (cited in Smith 433-34). Slack lists 1595-97 as years of “harvest failures” (226) and even Rappaport indicates that the price of flour tripled from 1593 to 1597 (137).

  9. Food prices rose 700 percent in the 140 years between 1500 and 1640. In the same period, prices for industrial goods increased just over 300 percent. Between 1500 and 1650, the wages of agricultural workers were halved (Smith 168-69). The price of a composite unit of foodstuffs were set at 100 pounds for 1451-1475. The purchasing power of both agricultural laborers and building craftsmen in the south of England was set at 100 for 1450-1499; “… the purchasing power of a building craftsman's wage reached its lowest annual level during the whole period between the mid-thirteenth and the mid-twentieth centuries in 1597, when it stood at 29” (Smith 436-37. Quote 437).

  10. Several scholars have examined the “crisis of order” prevalent in late sixteenth-century society. Underdown challenges Laslett's view that English society of the period was stable and quotes Philip Stubbes (The Anatomie of Abuses [1595]) as an example of a contemporary writer who recorded the social anxieties he saw around him (1985b, 116). Underdown further indicates that “by the early seventeenth century … the orderly, vertically integrated society assumed by Tudor theorists was seriously diverging from reality” (1985a, 28). Because “dearth” led to vagrancy, an increase in crime, and grain riots, Amussen sees it as “one of the major problems faced by English governments … until after the Reformation. … Poverty was associated with disorder …” (31).

  11. “Deserving poor” were defined as “the aged and infirm poor and pauper children” (Smith 186).

  12. Baines maintains that Heywood chose to write of Edward IV “because he was traditionally associated with the middle class and with its achievement of a place in English history” (10). The focus on such middle-class characters as Hobs and the Shores reinforces the play's concern with the middle class and its values, heritage, and aspirations that Heywood upheld in this play and throughout his career (Baines 10-17).

  13. Heywood, sc. 18, p. 71. All further references to Heywood's plays will be to this edition. My references will be to Part I of Edward IV and Part II of If You Know Not Me. … I have added scene numbers and changed long “s” to conventional “s.”

  14. Rappaport has cited records from various guilds indicating that they often made provision for orphaned children of guild members. These children were sometimes put out to foster parents, had their living expenses provided, and often had their school fees and apprentice fees paid. Rappaport's point is that there was a safety net of charity ready to catch the destitute within London and that the guilds were often the source of the money necessary for that charity. I do not doubt his factual evidence; however, it does seem to me that the recipients of this charity were most often people who had some connections with the guilds themselves: unemployed and destitute members, widows and orphans of members (198-200).

  15. To minimize confusion, I will refer to the historical figure as “Crosby” and to Heywood's character as “Crosbie.”

  16. A “cloth” is a measure of cloth being exported and represents a constant amount.

  17. “… there was a new willingness to risk capital in novel projects which had at least a moderate chance of success. … Courtiers, encouraged by royal favour and the monopoly grants through which they battened on private industry, gentlemen and provincial merchants who had accumulated fortunes in privateering and war-contracting, along with a vigorous class of small investors, were all prepared to venture sums, small or large, in new ventures” (Quinn and Ryan 154). By 1579 much energy was directed toward a series of voyages to the East Indies, and Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, contributed greatly to the fitting out of three ships (CSP-C 98).

  18. The Levant Company (chartered 1581) was successful in selling “finished” English cloth in Asia Minor and Persia “and so helping greatly the fortunes of the troubled textile industry” (Quinn and Ryan 158-59).

  19. Althusser indicates that “the political regime of the absolutist monarchy is only the new political form needed for the maintenance of feudal domination and exploitation in the period of development of a commodity economy” (cited in Anderson 18-19). This capitalist state could, for the first time, become a “nation state.” Since capital is “internationally mobile,” its holders could be nationally fixed. In contrast, under feudalism, “land is nationally immobile, and nobles had to travel to take possession of it” (Anderson 32).

  20. Marx saw the absolutist state as particularly bourgeois and maintained that “under the absolute monarchy, bureaucracy was only the means of preparing the class rule of the bourgeoisie” (cited in Anderson 16). Monarchies in the absolutist state also “integrate[d] a growing number of arriviste bourgeois into the columns of State functionaries, which became increasingly professionalized, and … reorganize[d] the links between the nobility and the State apparatus itself” (Anderson 51). Interestingly, these arriviste functionaries can be seen throughout Henry VIII's reign. One could also make a case that Francis Walsingham fits this category in Elizabeth's reign, especially given his financially remunerative license to export unfinished cloth (see part 3).

  21. Wernham sees these “royal privateering” ventures as, mainly, a “commerce-destroying operation. … By the end of [this] war Spain's merchant navy—apart from the convoyed and protected American fleet—was virtually destroyed, and Spain's overseas trade, at least its trade to continental Europe, was increasingly in foreign hands” (63).

  22. Anderson indicates that English princes, because of their insular situation, “relied mainly on customs duties” as a source of revenue (45).

  23. Quinn and Ryan indicate that the merchants got together “an unprecedented capital” of 60,000 pounds in 1599 to launch the company (151).

  24. Naturally enough, the members of the chartered companies called the free traders “interlopers” (Quinn and Ryan 158).

  25. I do not mean to deny the arguments of such critics as Jean Howard, Jonathan Dollimore, Phyllis Rackin, and others that the Elizabethan theater does become a site of contestation and that the subversive elements of individual plays are never totally contained. This is a position I agree with. I simply want, in this essay, to argue that, instead of being viewed as ineffectual history plays by a minor dramatist, both Edward IV and If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody can be viewed as works that clearly reinforce state ideologies regarding the way out of poverty and the importance of mercantile capitalism to all members of the Elizabethan state. In this connection—and regarding Rappaport's reading of Tudor poverty and economics—it is important to call attention to Lynda Boose's recent commentary on ideology—“in the particular types of malfeasance that this society or any other seeks to proscribe and the specific groups it thereby implicitly seeks to stigmatize, one may read its ideology” (195)—and its repercussions—“in the twentieth century the social offenders who had four centuries earlier been signified by whoring, witchcraft, scolding, and being masterless men and women have been replaced by those whose identity may be similarly inferred from the fetishized criminality the state currently attached to abortion, AIDS, street drugs, and, most recently, subway panhandling (read homelessness)” (195n41).

This essay began as a paper for the 1991 Shakespeare Association of America seminar “1599” chaired by James Shapiro. I would like to thank participants of that seminar for their helpful comments which I used in revising this essay for publication. I would particularly like to thank Jim Shapiro and Peter Stallybrass for their helpful suggestions for background reading. A shorter version of my analysis of If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody appears in Chapter 7 of my book Women in Power in the Early Modern Drama, University of Illinois Press, 1992.

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Baines, Barbara J. Thomas Heywood. Boston: Twayne, 1984.

Berger, Ronald M. Rev. of Worlds Within Worlds: Structures of Life in Sixteenth-Century London, by Steve Rappaport. The Journal of Economic History 50 (1990): 457-459.

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Boose, Lynda E. “Scolding Brides and Bridling Scolds: Taming the Woman's Unruly Member.” Shakespeare Quarterly 42 (1991): 179-213.

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Heywood, Thomas. The Dramatic Works of Thomas Heywood Now First Collected With Illustrative Notes and a Memoir of the Author in Six Volumes. Vol. 1. 1874. Reprint. New York: Russell and Russell, 1964. (Scene divisions not indicated.)

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McDonald, Marcia A. “The Elizabethan Poor Laws and the Stage in 1599.” Unpublished manuscript.

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Rappaport, Steve. Worlds Within Worlds: Structures of Life in Seventeenth-Century London. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Ribner, Irving. The English History Play in the Age of Shakespeare. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957.

Shakespeare, William. The Life of King Henry the Fifth. In The Complete Works of Shakespeare. Edited by David Bevington. Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Forseman, 1980.

Slack, Paul. “Poverty and Social Regulation in Elizabethan England.” In The Reign of Elizabeth I, edited by Christopher Haigh, 221-41. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1985.

Smith, Alan G. R. The Emergence of a Nation State: The Commonwealth of England, 1529-1660. London and New York: Longman, 1984.

Quinn, David B., and A. N. Ryan. England's Sea Empire, 1550-1642. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1983.

Underdown, David. Revel, Riot, and Rebellion: Popular Politics and Culture in England 1603-1660). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985a.

———. “The Taming of the Scold: the Enforcement of Patriarchal Authority in Early Modern England.” In Order and Disorder in Early Modern England, edited by Anthony Fletcher and John Stevenson, 116-36. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985b.

Wernham, R. B. The Making of Elizabethan Foreign Policy, 1550-1603. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1980.

Winny, James. The Player King: A Theory of Shakespeare's Histories. London: Chatto and Windus, 1968.

Lindsay Davies (essay date 1995)

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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 significantly, the choice to represent prodigality as bigamy in The Wise-Woman also results in a representation of male promiscuity as enabled by ambiguities in the marriage laws of early modern England, a combination which in this play functions to delay and confuse the crucial transition women must make from maidenhood to marriage.

Heywood's play invites us to sympathize with three maids who are victimized by Chartley's promiscuity. At the beginning he is betrothed to Luce 2 but has deserted her on the eve of their church wedding in the country to begin a riotous existence in London with his friends, Boyster and Sencer. Boyster is in love with another Luce (Luce 1); and Chartley, once having seen her, determines to have her. Luce 1 insists on marriage, so Chartley agrees to a clandestine ceremony held at the wise-woman's house, a place where a variety of illicit practices are carried out. Meanwhile, Luce 2 has followed Chartley to London, disguised herself as a boy, and been employed as a servant by the wise-woman. Boyster begs the wise-woman to help him recover his love, so she and Luce 2 come up with a plan. On the appointed wedding day, Luce 1, Chartley, and Boyster arrive masked and disguised, as the wise-woman instructs. Luce 2, already masquerading as a boy, adopts a second “disguise” as a lady in order to complete a double wedding. Then, their faces covered to conceal their identities, the marriage partners are jumbled by the wise-woman. Thus Chartley marries Luce 2, his original contracted bride, assuming she is Luce 1, and Luce 1 marries Boyster, assuming he is Chartley.

This obviously irregular clandestine marriage nonetheless marries off the play's “correct” partners. However, it produces a kind of suspended resolution, for it takes place too early in the play to function as its ending. Instead of the characters removing their masks and disguises, the plot once more spins out of control. Chartley quickly moves from Luce 1 (whom he thinks is now his wife) to Gratiana, the daughter of a knight, to whom he is very publicly betrothed next. In other words, his compulsive bigamy suspends the pairing off of partners, and consequently also suspends both Luces between the states of maidenhood and marriage.

In early modern England, a highly structured process was supposed to control a woman's passage from the house of her father to the house of her husband. But in this play Chartley's prodigality delays and confuses this transition, so that the two Luces, as wives who are still maids, are neither in one place nor the other until the final scene. The ambiguity of their situation is stressed on several occasions. At one point, Luce 1 introduces herself to Luce 2 as “a maid and a wife,” and Luce 2 mutters in reply, thinking of herself, “that would grieue any wench to be so” (1710-13).4 Then, only a few lines later, Luce 2 laments:

Nor doth it grieue mee so much that I am a wife, but that I am a maid too; to carry one of them well is as much as any is bound to doe, but to be tide to both is more than flesh and blood can indure.


Luce 1's father also describes his child's problem in this way: “In private be it spoke, my Daughter tells me, / Shee's both a Wife and Maid” (1211). Thus, repeatedly, the dilemma of the two Luces is framed as a riddle (both a wife and a maid, neither a maid nor a wife) that it is the burden of the plot to solve.

Moreover, the Luces' shared indeterminancy of status can explain why they share the same name. The doubled name of these heroines is very odd (not to mention confusing); but, as part of the riddle, both the name and its repetition make sense. For while the translation of Luce into Light indicates their virtue, the name of these women also generates a very appropriate pun. Since they are unanchored from the gender roles approved by the patriarchy, the Luces are loose, unfixed, displaced.

For both Luces, their problems begin with betrothal to Chartley; they soon discover this contract to be a guarantee of nothing. John Gillis has argued that the period of betrothal in early modern England did temporarily situate a woman between the roles of “maid” and “wife,” and was an inherently unstable and unstructured moment of social identity for both women and men. As the puritan William Gouge pointed out in 1622, this transitional moment placed contracted persons in a “middle degree betwixt single persons and married persons; they [were] neither simply single nor actually married.”5 Indeed the temporary ambiguity of status conferred by betrothal can be likened to what Victor Turner has called liminality.6 As Turner defines it, liminality means

literally “being-on-a-threshold,” [which] means a state or process which is betwixt-and-between the normal, day-to-day cultural and social states and processes … a time of enchantment when anything might, even should, happen.7

For women in particular, betrothal could be a magic moment when they were the center of attention and thus able to make demands that were not possible for mere spinsters and wives.8 However, since its midway position implicitly acknowledged the right to a change of mind, betrothal could also be a period of particular risk for women. Under normal circumstances, this ambiguity of status and the accompanying instability of social identity ended with a church wedding. Yet for those women whose transition from maidenhood to marriage was delayed, complicated, or thwarted by spousals or clandestine marriages that somehow went wrong, who were victims of bigamy or broken promises, the temporary ambiguity of status associated with the period of betrothal could potentially become permanent. These women, “neither simply single nor actually married,” neither maids nor wives, were displaced and, especially if they had borne children, were likely to be branded as whores.9

Chartley's desertion of Luce 2 and his following betrothals to Luce 1 and Gratiana certainly emphasize the lack of security in such contracts, but in this play it is not only betrothals that cause matrimonial confusion and set the Luces adrift. Rather it is the combination of the betrothals and the clandestine marriage that prolongs their liminality; for, as far as Chartley the bigamist is concerned, a clandestine marriage is no more indissoluble than a betrothal. The outrageousness and significance of Chartley's exaggerated attitude can only be fully appreciated in the light of the contemporary marriage laws, which were almost as confusing as the mix ups in this play. Indeed, by representing prodigality as bigamy, and connecting bigamy to clandestine marriage, The Wise-Woman of Hogsdon points us to a structural ambiguity in the contemporary marriage laws which potentially hindered a woman's passage across the liminal terrain between maidenhood and marriage.

As Susan Amussen has remarked, early modern English law “made marriage a minefield for the unwary.”10 Until Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act of 1753, the church's position on marriage was designed to protect individual consent. Essentially, a marriage was formed simply by making a promise. A promise to marry made in the present tense (per verba de praesenti) immediately constituted a legally valid and indissoluble union. As Martin Ingram explains, “neither solemnization in church, nor the use of specifically prescribed phrases, nor even the presence of witnesses, was essential to an act of marriage.”11 These kinds of contracts were called in popular usage “spousals,” “hand-fastings,” or “troth-plight” marriages. But in addition to spousals de praesenti, canon law recognized two other forms of marriage contract which were not immediately binding. In spousals de futuro the couple promised to marry at a later date, but the contract could be dissolved by mutual consent. Similarly, in “conditional” contracts the marriage could only be finalized after the fulfillment of certain conditions (e.g., parental consent or financial settlement). Future and conditional contracts could be superseded by a subsequent de praesenti contract with someone else. But, if couples joined by future or conditional contracts had sexual intercourse, their betrothal immediately turned into a fully-binding marriage.12

The church's legal definition of a valid marriage, which had remained essentially unchanged since the twelfth century, inevitably led to uncertainty. So in an effort to reduce confusion and better control marriage formation, the church had for years been stressing that matrimonial intention, in the form of spousals de futuro, should be publicly declared; that banns should be called or a license obtained; that contracts should be witnessed; and, most importantly, that the marriage should be solemnized in church.13 And, as Susan Amussen notes, “one reason for reading the banns in Church was so that anyone who claimed a prior contract could speak up.”14 Still, there was often confusion over what constituted a legally binding promise.

According to Ralph Houlbrooke, by the early sixteenth century the vast majority of couples thought it necessary to solemnize their marriage in church.15 However, while this meant that any union which did not follow the prescribed regulations was considered irregular, and while extra-ecclesiastical marriages inevitably declined in number, they still did not disappear altogether. In fact, by the late sixteenth century the problem of unsolemnized and unwitnessed spousals was bolstered by the problem of clandestine marriage ceremonies, and it is at this time that real anxiety about irregular marriages surfaced. Clandestine marriages, unlike spousals, were solemnized insofar as they were conducted by ministers, usually in a church but sometimes in private houses, but they were performed without banns or license, at irregular hours, in some parish far from the couple's place of residence.16 Moreover, clandestine marriages shared with spousals a kind of instability and open-endedness. For, as John Gillis explains, clandestine marriage was considered “less binding than a big wedding … it was clearly regarded as conditional, an intermediate stage that could be terminated by consent of the parties.”17 Yet despite their secret and illicit character, both clandestine marriages and spousals de praesenti nonetheless created legally valid unions and thus provided an escape route for those whose marriages, for one reason or another, would not have been permitted otherwise.

Clandestine marriages were sought primarily to evade parental pressure in the choice of a partner,18 and the untidiness of the law seems to have reflected a concern to maintain a balance between parental and individual interests. In 1597, reacting against pressure to revise the marriage laws to ensure the power of parental wishes, the convocation of the Church of England reasserted the traditional principle that “consent in marriage is the matter specifically to be regarded and credit of kindred, honour, wealth, contentment and pleasure of friends be rather matters of conveniency than necessity in matrimony.”19 But in 1604, as concern over clandestine marriages increased, canons were issued which tightened procedures in the conduct of weddings and the granting of licenses, and thus probably also “strengthened the hand of parents who wished to influence their children's choice of marriage partner.”20Still, clandestine marriages could not be declared invalid, provided no basic impediment existed.

The issues swarming around this confusing state of affairs are strongly present in The Wise-Woman of Hogsdon. Chartley knows that in abandoning Luce 2 he has defied his father's wishes, so he tells Luce 1 that he must marry her secretly so that he does not lose his inheritance (see lines 359-63). Chartley's assumption that his clandestine marriage need not be considered quite as binding because of its irregularity also suggests the risks involved for those who took this path. If problems arose, as they do for Luce 1, clandestine marriages could be very hard to prove, especially in an atmosphere disposed to regard them as aberrant. As he entertains the thought of his next bigamous connection, Chartley is gleefully aware that his “marriage” to Luce 1 need not inhibit him:

Married! why who knowes it? Ile out-face the Priest, and then there is none but shee and her Father, and their evidence is not good in Law: and if they put mee in suite, the best is, they are poore, and cannot follow it.


Luce 1, when faced with the bad news of Chartley's desertion, also knows she has no ground to stand on.

I cannot prooue our marriage, it was secret,
And hee may find some cavell in the Law.
.....To claime a publicke marriage at his hands
Wee want sufficient proofe

(1658-59; 1664-65)

In other words, Chartley's promiscuity is aided by an ambiguous legal situation; and his prodigality, therefore, appears to be directly representative of the kind of behavior some feared the confusions in the marriage law would produce in real life. In particular, the potential for bigamy seems to have been on many people's minds. While concern about the undermining of parental influence was strong, more generally there was concern that “irregular marriages” enabled deceit and fraud. Lawrence Stone has rather sweepingly asserted that bigamy was both “easy and common.”21 Yet while this seems an exaggeration, there clearly was a fear that public morality and good order were at risk, for in 1597 a parliamentary committee identified bigamy as “one of the evils associated with clandestine marriage and the poorly regulated issue of marriage licences.”22 As a result, 1604 also saw the passage of the Bigamy Act which made it a felony to marry again during the lifetime of the first spouse, except in a few specific cases.23

The Wise-Woman of Hogsdon is dated 1604—the year of the matrimonial canons and the Bigamy Act—and can be considered topical insofar as its subject-matter covers both the confusions of matrimonial law and the threat of bigamy. However, it is important to emphasize that this play does not simply reflect contemporary concerns, but rather it makes use of current social and ideological materials in the construction of a comic narrative for the stage. In essence, the comedy here derives from an imagined situation in which women, victimized by a promiscuous and bigamous man who knowingly exploits the ambiguities of matrimonial law, are empowered to punish their victimizer and rescue themselves from the unhappy position in which he had put them. In order to do so they turn to the wise-woman, the title character, who provides both the method and the place for bringing down the villain.24

The wise-woman functions partly as an ironic substitute for providential influence for she professes to work magic, and, as far as the plot is concerned, her “magic” works. In addition to the healing arts, a wise-woman of early modern England was often employed in the finding of lost property, divination, prophecy, the detection of theft, the recovery of stolen goods, and love magic.25 Keith Thomas tells us that love magic sometimes involved the cunning folk “in attempts to find missing persons in the same way as [they] traced missing goods.”26 Significantly, in Heywood's play, the wise-woman of Hogsdon enables the two Luces to find their “missing” husbands and Sencer to find Gratiana, his wife. Moreover, for Boyster and Sencer, she recovers the “property” (their wives) stolen from them by Chartley.

However, if one of the functions of comedy is to project what is feared into an object of mirth, Heywood's wise-woman is a good example of such a process at work.27 For although she is what Alexander Leggatt would call the play's “agent of salvation,” at the same time she bristles with significations of deviance.28 For a start, she is a charlatan who makes a lucrative living from swindling those who believe she has the special powers of a white witch. As Luce 2 remarks, “This is a cunning woman; / neither hath shee her name for nothing” (887-88).

Heywood's choice to represent witchcraft as cozenage aligns his play, intentionally or not, with Reginald Scot's well-known and controversial exposé The Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584), which argued that all witches, black and white, were essentially cozeners. And since James I was a prominent and outspoken opponent of Scot's argument, there is potential here to see The Wise-Woman of Hogsdon as engaging in subtle mockery of the King's position on witchcraft.29 For the dynamic of magical cozenage, its manner of deception, is precisely and penetratingly recreated in the activities of Heywood's wise-woman. Her supernatural chicanery exemplifies Keith Thomas's observation that much of the popularity of the cunning folk rested on their ability to confirm suspicions already formed in the client's mind.30 Her “skill” lies in her ability to find out in advance what her clients' problems are by hiding in a small closet and eavesdropping on the conversations they have with her servant. She also exploits their credulity through crafty questioning which allows her to claim prior knowledge of things they themselves have just told her. In her first appearance on stage, her methods are revealed. A country man, jar of urine in hand, has come to find out how to treat his sick wife:

And where doth the paine hold her most?
Marry at her heart forsooth.
Ey, at her heart, shee hath a griping at her heart.
You have hit it right.
Nay, I can see so much in the Urine.
LUCE 2 [Aside.]:
Just so much as is told her.
Shee hath no paine in her head, hath shee?
No indeed, I never heard her complaine of her head.
I told you so, her paine lyes all at her heart.


However, in addition to her “magical” activities, the wise-woman runs her house as a brothel, and as a refuge for unwed mothers. Here the walls are hung with pictures of her girls, and illegitimate babies are brought into the world and then deposited on the doorsteps of the wealthy. In fact, her house is a gathering point for sexually deviant women. It is a place of witchcraft, not just because the old woman in charge poses as a white witch, for, in addition, the prostitutes and unwed mothers the wise-woman takes in can be linked with the popular conception of witches as sexually insatiable sorceresses. It is Chartley who makes the connection: sarcastically addressing the wise-woman as “Inchantresse,” “Shee-devill,” “Madam Hecate,” he goes on to say, “you are too old, you Hagge, now, for conjuring up Spirits [causing a penile erection31] your selfe; but you keep prettie yong Witches under your roofe, that can doe that” (515-18).

Although she is a comic character, the wise-woman nonetheless looms large as a transgressive presence; she is, to borrow a phrase from Christina Larner, patriarchy's “negative standard” for women.32 Existing outside the governance of men, she is necessarily linked with criminality, witchcraft, illegitimacy, and prostitution. Moreover, as the ally of displaced or marginalized women, she is the perfect helper for the Luces; because the Luces, loose from the structures of male domination, neither maids nor wives, are also not submitted to anyone. The play registers their displacement as threat by underscoring their proximity to the other “loose” women at the wise-woman's house.

Luce 2's displacement is represented by her migrant status and her disguise. From the moment she is deserted by Chartley, she determines to pursue him and finalize the marriage; and once having left her father's house, Luce 2 behaves independently and aggressively. Moreover, because of her disguise, she maintains a place of privileged knowledge over all the other characters, including the wise-woman. However, the disguise which marks Luce 2's independence and resourcefulness can also be seen as a mark of her deviance; for while her disguise obviously belongs to a convention with a long dramatic heritage, nevertheless women in breeches (both the real ones in the streets and the representative ones on stage) potentially signified insubordination and a rejection of the gender hierarchy. As Jean Howard has pointed out, “there were strong discursive linkages throughout the period between female crossdressing and the threat of female sexual incontinence.”33 In fact, Luce 2, unfixed from the rule of father or husband, and placed alongside other deviant women, is still, by early modern standards, a highly ambiguous figure of ideal womanhood (despite her obvious virtue). She is faithful to her love, but she also agressively pursues him; she is “A fayre, a modest, and a vertuous maide” (1954), but she is a maid who is not a maid, and a wife who is not a wife. Indeed, she signifies all at once the modest maid, the virtuous wife, and the displaced, masterless woman.

In contrast with Luce 2, Gratiana is never really displaced. The daughter of a knight, she is the play's representative aristocratic maid; since she is an heiress, her marital plans are controlled tightly by her father. Consequently, the ambiguities linked to the Luces do not attach to her. She remains firmly in her father's house until the final scene, when she is reunited with the man from whom Chartley had stolen her.

Luce 1 is also contrasted with her namesake, for she is noticeably “[t]he good daughter of the patriarchy”: passive, powerless, obedient.34 The play refuses Luce 1 the knowledge that Luce 2 possesses: Luce 1 is kept in the dark about her marriage to Boyster until the very end, and she is married off to him without her consent. Though the doubling of the Luces invites us to read them as opposites, it also invites us to recognize sameness. Furthermore, it is over the issue of female desire that the difference between the Luces breaks down. Luce 1's apparent passivity is contradicted by the fact that she desires Chartley as much as Luce 2 does. This is made evident early on when Luce 1 gladly entertains his courtship moments after she has resisted Boyster's (see 213-70 and 293-95). Indeed, Luce 1's desire to marry Chartley is so strong that she readily consents to an illicit secret wedding and even suggests how it can be arranged (376-85). Furthermore, in her ambiguous position as neither a maid nor a wife, Luce 1, like Luce 2, is also unequivocally identified with female deviance, since the part she plays in the taming of Chartley is precisely that of a prostitute. Acting as bait to lure Chartley to the scene of his final humiliation, Luce 1 writes a note that invites him, if he must marry Gratiana, to also exploit her as his mistress:

Though I disclaime the name of wife, of which I account my selfe altogether vnworthy, yet let mee claime some small interest in your loue. This night I lye at the house where wee were married, (the Wisewomans I meane) where my maiden-head is to bee rifled. Bid fayre for it, and injoy it. See me this night or never. So may you marrying Gratiana, and louing mee, have a sweete wife and a true friend. This night or never, your quondam wife. Here-after your poore sweet-heart no other: Luce.


Luce 1, then, temporarily adopts the role of one of the wise-woman's girls, a move which confirms an association between her displacement and uncontrolled female sexuality.

The triumph of this comedy, of course, is that the threat of female displacement is rendered as a riddle to be solved, and transgressive activity becomes a game to be played in order to restore patriarchal order. The Luces and the wise-woman beat Chartley at his own game, leaving him exposed and humiliated. In the process they force him to also experience the discomfort of displacement. Having been finally scorned by Luce 1 and Gratiana, and unaware that Luce 2 is waiting for her moment to claim him, Chartley laments:

Then neither married man, widdow nor batcheller, whats to bee done? Heeres even the proverbe verifi'd, betweene too stooles, the tayle goes to ground.


For this brief but significant moment we are allowed to glimpse the mutual dependence of gender roles within the paradigm of marriage. For just as all the acceptable gender roles for women in patriarchal society (maid, wife, widow) are defined by their relationship to men, so also it is women who enable men to be husbands, widowers, bachelors, and fathers. However, it needs to be stressed that Chartley's confusion of status is but brief; his sexual prodigality is quickly forgiven and forgotten as the play moves towards its happy ending. Chartley, unlike the voiceless prostitutes and unwed mothers in the margins of the play, is not doomed to forever live with the social consequences of his sexual license.

The play ends with the traditional feast of marriages: Gratiana is reunited with her former love; Boyster discovers that he is already married to Luce 1; and Luce 2, to the amazement of all (including the wise-woman), throws off her disguise and reinstates Chartley in the community by claiming him as her husband. With this concluding recognition of the marriages which had occurred much earlier in the play, the illegality of the clandestine ceremony is put to one side, for after all, it had created valid marriages between the play's destined partners. Chartley, who all along acted only to gratify his lust and defy his father, discovers that he has, quite unwittingly, done the right thing anyway. Thus, The Wise-Woman of Hogsdon fixes on the conundrum of the clandestine marriage, exploring all the ambiguities of its legal status, ultimately to provide the most utopian of disentanglements: what appeared to be the worst kind of clandestine union, motivated by lust and absolutely lacking in good intentions, turns out to be the very best kind, satisfying everyone, including the fathers.

Yet even though, in the end, we are undoubtedly supposed to celebrate the fact that the Luces find their husbands, their places, their “stools,” this closure is unsettled by the wise-woman's determination to remain a figure of transgression. Unlike Chartley, she does not turn from her wicked ways at the end but is instead anxious to protect her independence (2311-13). While she may be invited to be the chief guest at the triple wedding, to Chartley, and to everyone else, she is still “mother midnight” (2324), a name which indicates her ultimate difference from the two “Luces” who, no longer “loose,” have emerged from the darkness of displacement to reside in patriarchal daylight. From beginning to end, the wise-woman is the chief representative of a dark world of female deviance and transgression—a world of witches and prostitutes. However much this comedy attempts to manage patriarchal anxieties about unsubmitted and deviant women by making such a woman work for patriarchal ends, the multiple transgressive significations of the wise-woman remain to trouble and exceed the comedy's conservative closure. In the wise-woman, marginality is registered not as victimization but as preference—a preference for female independence. It is this preference for independence, this threatening autonomy, that Luce 2 relinquishes the moment she scatters her hair to reclaim her submissive female identity.

Luce 2 owes much to her Shakespearean romantic comedy counterparts. Rosalind of As You Like It (1599) and Viola of Twelfth Night (1601-2), for instance, also both assume a male identity to make themselves secure in a world hostile to unprotected maidens, and are granted a privileged perspective on the events because of their disguises. Moreover, The Wise-Woman of Hogsdon can be grouped with romantic comedies because of its festive ending. In fact, it is a good example of the triumph of comic form, which insists on a happy ending to be endorsed and celebrated despite its lack of credibility.35The Wise-Woman ends celebrating the taming of Chartley, and this celebration is not seriously threatened by the fact that Chartley is tricked into repentance and only ready to accept Luce 2 when all his other options have evaporated.

Perhaps the most serious threat to the happy ending of The Wise-Woman is the revelation that Luce 1 had been married without her consent to a man she pointedly did not want to marry earlier in the play. However, Luce 1 makes no noise of protest upon this discovery, so the play represses this inconsistency in favor of general celebration. Nevertheless, when given some thought, Luce 1's lack of autonomy in her choice of husband is in startling contrast to Luce 2's success in independently pursuing the man of her desires. In fact, the clandestine ceremony which marries Luce 1 to Boyster when she thinks she is being married to Chartley is strongly reminiscent of the bedtrick in Shakespeare's two so-called “problem” comedies, All's Well that Ends Well (1603-4) and Measure for Measure (1604), both notably close in date to Heywood's play.36 Furthermore, Chartley is forced to follow through on his original betrothal because of the clandestine marriage in much the same way as the bedtrick forces Bertram to follow through with Helena in All's Well and Angelo to follow through with Mariana in Measure for Measure.

Perhaps most interesting, however, is the shared emphasis in The Wise-Woman,All's Well, and Measure for Measure on irregular marriage contracts and the effect these contracts have on the statuses of the main female characters. Each play represents more than one maid whose transition from maidenhood to marriage has fallen afoul of both male promiscuity and ambiguities in matrimonial law. Each play also requires some kind of substitution trick (clandestine marriage or bedtrick) to ensure that each displaced maid will be successfully turned into a wife by the end.37

However, The Wise-Woman of Hogsdon is cheerful in a way that Shakespeare's problem comedies are not. Its merriness derives chiefly from the fact that, despite the wise-woman's brothel and Chartley's aggressive lust, and despite the association of deviance attached to the displaced Luces, the virginity of these heroines is never explicitly in question since no consummation or sexual act takes place within the play.38All's Well that Ends Well and Measure for Measure are darker comedies because the bedtricks in both, and the pre-nuptial fornication of Claudio and Julietta in Measure for Measure, introduce the sexual act itself as an added complication in the business of marriage formation. But that is another story.

For now, it is enough to recognize that concern about male prodigality and ambiguous matrimonial law was common enough to find its way into three stage plays from 1604. Both Heywood's and Shakespeare's plays reveal anxiety about the displacement of young women as a product of specific legal and social contradictions. Moreover, they suggest that concern over the ambiguous legislation was prompted not simply by fears that parental interests would be undermined or that immorality and deceit would abound, but by an increased awareness that such legal confusion could lead ultimately to uncertainty about female status—uncertainty which could have devastating consequences for real women of the period. For, as The Wise-Woman of Hogsdon testifies, if a woman could not be clearly placed as either a maid or a wife, if for some reason her passage from maidenhood to marriage went wrong, she may as well have been called a whore.


  1. The Wise-Woman of Hogsdon (1604) is usually assigned to a group of plays produced between 1601 and 1606 which all, in one way or another, dramatize the prodigal son/patient wife theme. In Michael Leonard's introduction to his edition of The Wise-Woman of Hogsdon (New York and London: Garland, 1980), the following plays are listed as all dealing with the prodigal son/patient wife material: Thomas Heywood, How a Man May Choose a Good Wife from a Bad (c.1601-2); William Shakespeare, All's Well that Ends Well (c.1601-4); The Fair Maid of Bristow (anon., 1603-4); John Marston, The Dutch Courtesan (1603-4); Thomas Heywood, The Wise-Woman of Hogsdon (1604); William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure (1603-4); George Wilkins, The Miseries of Enforced Marriage (1606).

  2. Barbara J. Baines, Thomas Heywood (Boston: Twayne, 1984), 68. See also Alexander Leggatt, Citizen Comedy in the Age of Shakespeare (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1973), 41.

  3. Robert Y. Turner, “Dramatic Conventions in All's Well that Ends Well,PMLA 75 (Dec. 1960): 498.

  4. All quotations from The Wise-Woman of Hogsdon are taken from Michael Leonard's edition (New York and London: Garland, 1980). Line numbers will be referred to parenthetically throughout.

  5. William Gouge, Of Domesticall Duties (London, 1622), 202.

  6. For further discussion of the liminal status of the betrothed maid, see John Gillis, For Better, For Worse: British Marriages, 1600 to the Present (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1985), 47.

  7. Victor Turner, “Frame, Flow, and Reflection: Ritual and Drama as Public Liminality” in Performance in Postmodern Culture, ed. Michel Benamou and Charles Caramello (Madison: Coda Press, 1977), 33. See also Victor Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1977), 95; and Drama, Fields, and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1974), chapter 6.

  8. See Gillis, 52.

  9. According to Keith Wrightson, public attitudes towards unwed mothers were harsh: “They were likely to be brought before the church courts, questioned and ordered to do penance in public. If there was a danger that their children would fall upon the parish poor rates, they might be brought before the Justices of the Peace, and perhaps committed to a house of correction. Dismissal of pregnant girls from service and callous hustling from parish to parish of those whose place of settlement was questionable was not uncommon.” Keith Wrightson, English Society, 1580-1680 (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1982), 86.

  10. Susan Dwyer Amussen, An Ordered Society: Gender and Class in Early Modern England (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988), 104.

  11. Martin Ingram, Church Courts, Sex and Marriage in England, 1570-1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1987), 132. See also Amussen, 104.

  12. For further discussion of the definition of marriage, see Martin Ingram, Church Courts, 190; and Martin Ingram, “Spousals Litigation in the English Ecclesiastical Courts c.1350-c.1640” in Marriage and Society: Studies in the Social History of Marriage, ed. R. B. Outhwaite (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1982), 35-57. See also Katherine O'Donovan, Sexual Divisions in Law (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1985), 42-43.

  13. Ingram, Church Courts, 190. See also by Martin Ingram, “The Reform of Popular Culture? Sex and Marriage in Early Modern England,” in Popular Culture in Seventeenth-Century England, ed. Barry Reay (London and Sydney: Croom Helm, 1985), 142 and “Spousals Litigation,” 38.

  14. Amussen, 104.

  15. Ralph Houlbrooke, Church Courts and the People During the English Reformation 1520-1570 (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1979), 56-57.

  16. Ingram, “The Reform of Popular Culture?” 143. Martin Ingram informs us that a marriage was considered clandestine if “it neglected one or more of the canonical regulations governing the solemnization of matrimony” (Ingram, Church Courts, 213). The canon of 1604 specifically defined this to mean: “A marriage without the threefold publication of banns or the issue of a valid license, a ceremony conducted outside the diocese in which the couple dwelt, or a marriage performed during certain prohibited seasons or outside certain set hours, or in any circumstances save within a lawful church or chapel and in the presence of a properly constituted minister of the Church of England” (Ingram, Church Courts, 213). For further discussion of the problem of clandestine ceremonies in particular, see Ingram, Church Courts, 134-36.

  17. Gillis, 97.

  18. See Ingram, “Spousals Litigation,” 56; and Gillis, 46.

  19. Quoted in Ingram, Church Courts, 135.

  20. Ingram, Church Courts, 212.

  21. Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England, 1500-1800 (New York: Harper and Row, 1977), 40.

  22. Ingram, Church Courts, 149.

  23. Ingram, Church Courts, 149-50. Ingram adds, “This measure made it a felony to marry again during the lifetime of the first spouse, unless the husband or wife had been absent for seven years, the parties to the first marriage had been under age, or the couple had been lawfully ‘divorced’ in an ecclesiastical court” (149-50).

  24. It is possible that Heywood was referring to an actual wise-woman of Hogsdon when he wrote this play. Ben Jonson also mentions a wise-woman of Hogsdon in the opening lines of The Devil is an Ass (1616; 1.1.16-18). This, however, could merely indicate Jonson's familiarity with Heywood's play.

  25. See Christina Larner, Enemies of God: The Witchhunt in Scotland (London: Chatto and Windus, 1981), 9; and Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (New York: Scribners, 1971), 212-52.

  26. Thomas, Religion, 234.

  27. For this theory of comedy, see Keith Thomas, “The Place of Laughter in Tudor and Stuart England,” Times Literary Supplement, 21 January 1977, 77-81.

  28. Leggatt, 34.

  29. For a description and discussion of Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584) see Sydney Anglo, “Reginald Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft: Scepticism and Sadduceeism”; and for a discussion of James I's response to Scot, see Stuart Clark, “King James' Daemonologie: Witchcraft and Kingship.” Both essays appear in Sydney Anglo, ed., The Damned Art: Essays in the Literature of Witchcraft (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1977).

  30. Thomas, Religion, 217-18.

  31. See Eric Partridge, Shakespeare's Bawdy (New York: E. P. Dutton, rev. ed., 1969), 25 and 189.

  32. Christina Larner, Witchcraft and Religion: The Politics of Popular Belief (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984), 62.

  33. Jean E. Howard, “Crossdressing, the Theatre, and Gender Struggle in Early Modern England,” Shakespeare Quarterly 39 (Winter 1988): 420.

  34. See Jean E. Howard's discussion of the Luces as opposites in “Scripts and/versus Playhouses: Ideological Production and the Renaissance Public Stage” in The Matter of Difference: Materialist Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, ed. Valerie Wayne (Ithaca and New York: Cornell Univ. Press, 1991), 231-32.

  35. My discussion of comic form as the imposition of a fictive resolution that is to be celebrated despite its incredibility owes much to David Scott Kastan's essay, “All's Well that Ends Well and the Limits of Comedy,” ELH 52 (1985): 575-89.

  36. The term “problem play” sees to have been first used by F. S. Boas, Shakespere and his Predecessors (London, 1896). See also W. W. Lawrence, Shakespeare's Problem Comedies (New York, Macmillan, 1931); E. M. W. Tillyard, Shakespeare's Problem Plays (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1949); and Ernest Schanzer, The Problem Plays of Shakespeare (New York: Schocken, 1963). J. W. Lever describes the “problem” comedy as one which is “charged with a weight of moral and social preoccupations, of explicit political theorizing and psychological probing, beyond the limits of what the comic form could easily support.” William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, ed. J. W. Lever (London and New York: Methuen, 1965), lv.

  37. Diana of All's Well and Isabella of Measure for Measure are exception here, for they remain unmarried as the plays end. However, they are nevertheless cleared of the questions previously raised about their chastity; and they are recognized once again, in the closing scene, as fully chaste and fully marriageable.

  38. In this, The Wise-Woman of Hogsdon again conforms to romantic comedy in which, according to Carol Thomas Neely, “the virginity of the heroines is taken for granted, and the consummation of the marriages is never enacted but merely anticipated at the ending.” Carol Thomas Neely, Broken Nuptials in Shakespeare's Plays (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1985), 58.

Joseph Courtland (essay date 2001)

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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 The Fair Maid: Part l and focuses on one aspect of the play's popular appeal previously overlooked: its relation to the spirt of colonialism prevalent during the latter years of Elizabeth's reign. The reading features an historical regrounding in the commercial crisis/Moroccan alliance of 1600; a cultural identification of colonial other and heroic self within that context; and, through textual analysis, an exploration of nationalism, orientalism, capital adventurism, and neo-chivalry: ideologies identified by the naming of other/self and reflective of the colonial mentality of late Elizabethan society.


As a literary work within the mode of fantasy, Heywood's The Fair Maid of the West: Part l must be grounded in the commercial crisis which occurred during the last years of Elizabeth's reign, as well as the special relationship which developed between England and the Barbary Kingdom of Fez/Morocco during the same period. The commercial crisis which unfolded during Elizabeth's final decade came about as a direct result of the Anglo-Spanish conflict. In dealing with this critical juncture in the economic life of Elizabethan England, it is important to be aware of two important details: first, that English foreign trade was, above all, intra-European;7 and second, that the bulk of the commodities exported (up to 90٪8) were woollen textiles: English broadcloth for the most part. In the earlier part of Elizabeth's reign, prior to the outbreak of war, trade with all of the major markets of Europe had flourished; the bullion, silk, sugar, spices, and other trade goods9 imported in exchange for English woollens had helped England attain a level of prosperity not previously known. But with the commencement of hostilities and the exclusion of English commerce from the lucrative Catholic markets of Iberia and northern France,10 it did not take long before the reduced demand for English cloth resulted in a severe slump in both textile manufacture and foreign trade.

One result of the lessened demand for finished English broadcloth was widespread unemployment. Since textile manufacturing was England's leading non-agricultural employer, as well as her major export industry,11 the reduced demand for trade goods impacted directly on the thousands12 of weavers, spinners, and other workers in the textile trade who were laid off from “that notable trade which of so long hath set a-work many thousands of poor people.”13 Hardest hit were the scores of clothiers who produced textiles in areas devoted exclusively to the manufacture of woollens for the overseas market such as the West, East Anglia and the West Riding.14

Another result of the crisis was the scarcity of mercantile capital necessary to keep the wheels of the textile industry spinning. During the palmy days of trade and prosperity preceding the Anglo-Spanish Conflict, the textile industry had proven an excellent investment for entrepreneurs of all stripes: peers, yeomen, and merchants alike had supplied the circulating capital necessary to keep the money-making industry in operation. But once conflict had disrupted the lucrative trade, the situation changed; disinvestment became the order of the day. Since workers, for the most part, owned the means of production (i.e. their looms) and used their own homes as work areas,15 it was relatively easy for employers/investors—not directly involved in the production process and unhampered by government regulations—to withdraw their capital for redeployment in other, more profitable ventures.16 With modern systems of commercial credit unavailable at that time, the withdrawal of such circulating capital caused production to plummet, adding further commercial instability to the already gloomy economic picture.

A third prominent feature of the economic crisis involved the appalling relations which developed between England and her chief trading partners as a result of wartime privateering. English privateering, which began in earnest following the outbreak of war in 1588, was originally seen as a way in which commissioned merchant craft could assist the Royal navy in blockading and destroying Iberian commercial traffic with Continental Europe. Soon however the “commerce-plundering”17 aspect of the scheme proved so remunerative that privateering ventures began to be organized as joint-stock companies.18 Such undertakings were readily subscribed to not only by the upper and merchant classes, but by admiralty and customs officials as well19: all eager for a share of the profits. Managed efficiently along proper business lines, such enterprises were relatively successful.20 But while English shareholders revelled in the healthy return on their pooled capital, a serious trade/political problem, due directly to the rapacity of the privateer fleet, was developing between England and her European trading partners.

Lured by easy pickings, Elizabeth's heavily armed merchant marine had gone beyond its original mandate and was attacking not only Iberian merchantmen, but also the commercial shipping of any nation believed to be trafficking with the enemy; Hanseatic fishing smacks laden with cod, Dutch hoys transporting corn, and Danish bottoms carrying timber were all considered fair game.21 Such attacks on the shipping of neutral and allied nations created a great deal of animosity toward English interests abroad.22

Fearful that English traders might be barred from the lucrative cloth trade with northern Europe through a Continental boycott of English textiles, Elizabeth, early in the 1590s, took measures to placate England's trading partners.23 While such measures helped smooth over some of the difficulties for a short period, they had little effect in the long haul since her plunder-oriented merchant marine continued to act as before. Finally, in 1597, fed up with the constant seizure of their ships and the maltreatment of their crews, the Hanseatic League, the largest importer of English textiles in Europe, revoked the right of the Merchant Adventurers, England's largest cloth exporter,24 to sell goods in the Hanse (i.e. Germany). The loss of the Hanseatic franchise came as a severe blow to the textile industry as a whole. Battered by lost continental markets, a shrinkage of circulating capital, cutbacks in the amount of cloth produced, and layoffs in the textile industry the English economy circa 1600 was in a state of crisis.

Balanced against this gloomy continental trading scenario, however, was the very lucrative foreign trading situation and diplomatic relationship which had blossomed between England and the Barbary Kingdom of Fez/Morocco during the same period. From the late 1540s, when London-based syndicates first began sending ships to the Barbary Coast on exploratory trading missions, English and Moroccan merchants had gotten along famously. This early amicability and mutual trust developed into a regular trade which proved lucrative for both groups.25 Building upon such good will, Edmund Hogan in 1577 headed a diplomatic mission to the court of el-Malek, Xeriffo of Barbary, which resulted in a set of capitulations between England and Morocco guaranteering the security of English citizens in Morocco, as well as the security of English ships, whether traders with cargoes or privateers with prizes, entering Barbary ports for trade or supply purposes.26 Under the direction of the capable el-Mansour who ascended the Moroccan throne in 1578, elements of this earlier agreement were eventually reaffirmed in the accord of 1585. Two additional elements were included in the new entente: the formation of the Barbary Company to better monitor the trade between the two countries; and the appointment of an accredited English ambassador to the Xeriffo's court. This special arrangement, which lasted until 1603, enabled both governments to obtain badly needed trade goods and military cooperation during the unsettling days of the Spanish conflict.

Central to the new spirit of cooperation was the increased commerce between England and Barbary. In addition to the official trade in broadcloth for sugar, molasses, gum arabic, raw silk, and gold which remained steady,27 the contraband trade in arms and munitions, which had formerly been carried on sotto voce due to Spanish disapproval, now not only became formalized but, for the balance of the war, comprised the bulk of the Moroccan trade.28 Under the auspices of the accord, the Barbary Company met Morocco's demand for modern weaponry, munitions, and timber, receiving in exchange needed gold bullion and an ample supply of saltpetre: an element essential for England's wartime manufacture of gunpowder.29

A third important aspect of the relationship was the way in which el-Mansour cooperated militarily with England throughout the Spanish conflict. While the Xeriffo never actually supplied either money or men for a direct attack on Spain, he did permit English privateers to utilize such coastal ports as Mamora, Azafi, and Magador30 as supply bases and depots for their prizes. Such well-situated Atlantic harbours, maintained by Moorish allies, afforded Elizabethan privateers secure bases from which to launch forays at the commercial sea routes of southern Iberia and the trans-Atlantic traffic passing through the Azores.31

In light of such cooperation, along with the excellent trade and diplomatic relations enjoyed by the two allies, it is no wonder that the Moroccan embassy of 1600 received such a warm welcome at court and excited such great interest among Elizabethans in general.


Having grounded Heywood's The Fair Maid in the trade crisis/Moroccan alliance which occurred during the last years of Elizabeth's reign, the reading proceeds to the next step in the investigation, the naming of colonial other and heroic self, since, as Rosemary Jackson has advised, such identifications in fantasy “betray the ideological assumptions of the author and of the culture in which they originate.”32 As reported by Warner G. Rice in his insightful essay “The Moroccan Episode in Thomas Heywood's The Fair Maid of the West,” one group of modern scholars, in an attempt to date Part I, tried to show a topical link between Heywood's chief colonial other, Mullisheg, and the historical entity of that name who ruled Fez in 1604.33 As Rice goes on to show, however, such attempts at topical identification are of little value since the term Mullisheg or Mulai Sheik is not actually used as a personal name but rather as a title (meaning children of the King34) and is applicable to not one but several sixteenth-century and seventeenth-century rulers of Fez/Morocco.

This investigation proposes instead a more general designation of colonial other as composite image mirroring what Elizabethan society knew of the various Moroccan rulers of their day. Important in the discussion is the information provided by Heywood's most probable source for the Moroccan episode as well as a textual analysis of remarks made by and about Mullisheg in acts 4 and 5 of the play.

The most likely historical source used by Heywood was the Historia de Bello Africano: In quo Sebastianus, Serenissimus Portugalliae Rex, periit … Ex Lusitano sermone primo in Gallicum: inde in Latinum translata per Joannem Thomam Freigium D. Noribergae (1580). Available in both Latin and French editions, the Historia de Bello Africano—known to have provided George Peele with background material35 for his tragedy The Battle of Alcazar (1588-1589)—would have given Heywood a detailed account of the battle and, in the Latin version, a genealogical table of the Moroccan royal house indicating the various participants in the conflict. A look at Table 5 reveals two items helpful in the present investigation: first, that all of the sheiks/rulers who descended from the Xeriffo, Mulai Mahamet Sheik, used the honorific, Muly, preceding their names; and second, that the names of the two Moroccan kings whose sequential rules coincided with that of Elizabeth from 1577 onwards were Muly Abdelmelec, known as el-Malek, and Muly Hamet, known as el-Mansour. Heywood's choice of the general royal Moroccan tag Muly Sheik or, as he cleverly compounded it, Mullisheg clearly shows the influence of contemporary colonial discourse like the Historia de Bello Africano and underscores his intention of identifying the play's chief Islamic other with a composite figure rather than a specific, historical personage. Textual analysis of selected passages from acts 4 and 5 helps substantiate this view.

One such passage which links the image of Mullisheg with that of the Moorish ruler from the initial part of Elizabeth's reign reads as follows:

GOODLACK [reads]:
“First, liberty for her and hers to leave the land at her pleasure.
Next, safe conduct to and from her ship at her own discretion.
Thirdly, to be free from all violence either by the king or any of his people.
Fourthly, to allow her mariners fresh victuals aboard
Fifthly, to offer no further violence to her person than what he seeks by kindly
usage and free entreaty.”
To these I vow and seal.(36)

For English-speaking audiences familiar with the rulers of Barbary either through dramas of the period, travel literature, or the word-of-mouth accounts of privateers/traders operating out of Atlantic coast ports such as Mamora, Mullisheg's signing of the agreement read by Goodlack would call to mind the Moroccan ruler, el-Malek, who in 1577 was the first to sign such a treaty with Elizabeth's representatives. As reflected in the above lines, the original agreement concluded with the Moorish ruler stipulating that English ships entering Barbary ports for supplies or to bring in prizes would be guaranteed security and that no English citizen would be taken captive or sold while in Fez/Morocco.37

But Heywood, as the following passage reveals, was also influenced by a second important Moroccan figure in shaping his fictional character:

Out of these bloody and intestine broils,
We have at length attain'd a fort'nate peace,
And now at last established in the throne
Of our great ancestors, and reign King
Of Fez and great Morocco.
                                                                                                                                                      Mighty Mullisheg,
Pride of our age and glory of the Moors,
By whose victorious hand all Barbary
Is conquer'd, aw'd, and sway'd, behold thy vassals
With loud applauses great thy victory.
Upon the slaughtered bodies of our foes,
We mount our high tribunal, and being sole,
Without competitor, we now have leisure
To 'stablish laws, first for our kingdom's safety,
The enriching of our public treasure,
And last our state and pleasure. Then give order
That all such Christian merchants as have traffic
And freedom in our country, that conceal
The least part of our custom due to us,
Shall forfeit ship and goods.


For Elizabethan playgoers the above lines could refer to none other than the reigning monarch of Barbary: the Xeriffo, el-Mansour. He was the sole Moorish warlord who had survived the “intestine broils” of the civil war which had culminated in the battle of Alcazar. And it was he alone who had “attain'd a fortunate peace” for his kingdom following that conflict (F.M., He was the entity who had restored the correct Saadian line of succession—usurped by the two previous kings38—and, as legitimate successor to the throne, was “at last establish'd in the throne / Of our great ancestors” (F.M.,1.4.3-4). Likewise, the accolade “By whose victorious hand all Barbary / Is conquer'd, aw'd, and sway'd …” (F.M., could only have referred to this colorful figure. Prior to his accession to the throne, Portuguese attempts to establish strongholds on the Atlantic coast were quite common and sometimes successful. As late as 1562, Pory advises in his addendum to Leo Africanus, Moorish forces under the Xeriffo Muly Abadala had been unable to dislodge Portuguese invaders from their base at Mazagan (LA 3:996). But with the Xeriffo's decisive victory in 1578, such Iberian incursions came to an abrupt end. With rival claimants eliminated and Portuguese colonial aspirations crushed, no other sixteenth-century Moroccan ruler can be said to have controlled as much of “Fez and great Morocco” (F.M., as el-Mansour. And certainly none were more worthy of the Alcade's commendatory salutation “Pride of our age and glory of the Moors” (F.M., As well, Mullisheg's promise to see to “The enriching of our public treasure” by collecting custom duties from “all such Christian merchants as have traffic / And freedom in our country” (F.M.,, tallies with what was known of the Xeriffo's strict control over custom duties and other revenues in his kingdom.39

As shown by the above analysis, Heywood's colonial other, the cooperative ruler and victorious warlord Mullisheg, can best be identified as a representational figure yoking the image of the two Moroccan rulers known to Englishmen during Elizabeth's last decade.

Of equal importance to the reading is the naming of Heywood's heroic self, the remarkable Bess Bridges. Over the years critics have bestowed a number of different labels on Bess: Robert K. Turner, Jr. labelled her a kind of roaring girl40 “kin to ballad and chapbook heroines”41 like Long Meg of Westminister; Louis B. Wright tagged her as the chaste, honest innkeeping maid of bourgeois virtue, sister in spirit to the heroine of Henry Willoby's Willobie His Avisa, or, The true Picture of a modest Maid, and of a chast and constant wife (1594);42 A. J. Hoenselaars and Jack D'Amico both designated her as a diplomatic representative for her royal namesake Elizabeth I;43 while Simon Shepherd identified her directly with Elizabeth herself.44 With the exception of Wright's brief social categorization, the above identifications are of limited value since each must be viewed in conjunction with a particular segment of the play and is therefore not sustainable throughout the entire fantasy. This investigation will focus rather on a more general naming of heroic self as representational figure, mirroring the characteristics of a particular group of citizens during the final decade of Elizabeth's reign.

Although Heywood's heroine, Bess Bridges, appears at first glance to be modelled on a tavern “tapstress” (F.M., or “drawer” (F.M., of the period—an occupation which would designate her as a member of the fourth estate and among the “have nots”45 of Elizabethan society—a closer look reveals that she bears a marked resemblance to a segment of the English merchant class. Except for one scene, the second scene of act 1, which shows Bess in a tavern serving wine to patrons of that Plymouth establishment, The Castle, she is never seen in such a subservient capacity. In fact, from the opening lines of act 1, scene 2, Heywood goes to great lengths to demonstrate Bess' merchant class pedigree. Theatregoers are informed that Bess has been bred to a higher estate, but forced into service due to the adversity of her “trade-fall'n” (i.e. bankrupt) father, a well-known tanner from Somersetshire (F.M., They are also advised that Bess' bourgeois virtues and beauty have helped to upgrade her station in life through her engagement to Mr. Spencer, “a gentleman of fortunes, means, / And well revenu'd …” (F.M.,, who will marry the lass on his return from the Islands' Voyage. But Heywood as well shows that Bess is worthy of merchant-class standing on her own merits. Having been given a tavern in Foy by her betrothed prior to his embarkation for the Azores, Bess, by dint of hard work and good management, is able to develop a clientele and make the place prosper. As Forset says of Bess' success: “And in that small time she hath almost undone all the other / taverns. The gallants make no rendezvous now but at the Windmill” (F.M., As seen by the many suitors of higher estate who wish to marry Bess (F.M.,, including the Mayor of Foy's son (F.M.,, Bess has been recognized as one of Foy's most prosperous citizens and a good catch to boot. But Heywood's heroic self is representative of much more than the retail merchants of southwest England.

Having successfully established Bess' merchant-class credentials, Heywood, as shown by a textual analysis of selected passages in acts 3-5, completes his naming of heroic self by identifying Bess with that select group of merchants, the “great merchants”46 who traded with and conducted voyages of reprisal out of Barbary during the final years of the Anglo-Spanish conflict.47 He does this by focusing attention on how several of the distinguishing characteristics of this important merchant group are manifested by Bess in the play.

First of the distinctive characteristics of this elite group manifested by Bess is that of the type of ship which she purchases for her mission to the Azores. While no tonnage is mentioned in the play, it is possible to speculate on the ship's burden based on information given in the passage below:

There's a prize
Brought into Falmouth Road, a good tight vessel.
The bottom will but cost eight hundred pound.
You shall have money; buy it.
                                                                                To what end?
That you shall know hereafter. Furnish her
With all provision needful—spare no cost—
And join with you a ging of lusty lads,
Such as will bravely man her. All the charge
I will commit to you; and when she's fitted,
Captain, she is thine own.


Using data garnered from contemporary sources, Kenneth R. Andrews in Elizabethan Privateering: English Privateering During the Spanish War 1585-1603 notes that a ship valued at £800 would be in the 200-ton range.48 This indicates that Bess' ship, the Negro, is one of the larger-sized (i.e. 200-400 tons), better-armed category of merchantmen favoured by merchants engaged in long distance trade with either Barbary or the Levant.49 Such a speculation is supported by the large number of crew, sixty-five in all (F.M.,, in Bess' ship, as well as by the Negro's superior defence capabilities—illustrated by her victory over the Spanish man-of-war (F.M., As Andrews observes, the devastating fire-power of such super-sized merchant craft “enabled them to attack large merchantmen with confidence and even to defend themselves successfully against men-of-war.”50 For Elizabethan theatregoers familiar with the many types of privateering craft moored along the four-mile stretch between London Bridge and Blackwall,51 Bess' ship, as depicted in the play, would accurately reflect the superior type of merchant vessel regularly used by London magnates involved in the Barbary trade.

A second distinguishing feature of this influential group displayed by Bess in the text below was its appetite for prize cargoes and ships:

Good morrow, Captain. Oh, this last sea fight
Was gallantly perform'd! It did me good
To see the Spanish carvel vail her top
Unto my maiden flag.


Like the barbary merchants who organized highly profitable voyages of reprisal concomitant with regular trading ventures, Bess shows that she is not averse to a bout of commerce plundering while on a loftier mission to Fayal. Subsequent privateering episodes such as Bess' capture of a Spanish warship and its English prey (F.M., prior to her arrival in Mamora further reinforce her identification with this select group of merchant princes who encouraged all ships' masters enroute to Morocco to engage in this lucrative sideline.52

A third recognizable characteristic was the hand in glove co-operation given by Barbary merchants to others within their elite circle.53 As seen in the following passage, Bess demonstrates this co-operative spirit not only by rescuing an English ship taken as prey by the Spanish but by offering to assist the merchant owner just released from captivity:

Whence are you, sir, and whither were you bound?
I am a' London, bound for Barbary,
But by this Spanish man-of-war surpris'd,
Pillag'd, and captiv'd.
                                                                                                                                                      We much pity you.
What loss you have sustain'd, this Spanish prey
Shall make good to you to the utmost farthing.
Our lives and all our fortunes whatsoever
Are wholly at your service.


Bess' unselfish offer to forgo the lucrative prize in order to help restore the fortunes of a fellow shipowner/merchant “Pillag'd, and captiv'd” by the enemy reflects the type of co-operation shown by the members of the close-knit merchant community for one another.

Viewed in conjunction with Bess' use of the Barbary port54 of Mamora as a victualling center (F.M., and her regal reception by and subsequent trade agreement with that country's ruler (F.M., 1.5.1), such distinguishing characteristics would, for Elizabethan playgoers, clearly designate Heywood's heroic self as a representational figure for that elite group of merchants engaged in trade with Barbary c.1600.


The cultural identification of colonial other and heroic self as composite/representational figures for two of the most prominent social groups involved in the commercial crisis/Moroccan alliance of the later war years points directly to a discussion of nationalism: one of the key ideological assumptions of Elizabethan society. As has already been noted in the previous chapter, dramatists incorporated nationalism into their “potboilers”55 by showing how their idealized heroes demonstrated the martial virtues of bravery, loyalty and victory56: the three national virtues most admired by the common man.

In The Fair Maid: Part l, Heywood follows this patriotic format and shows his English defender, Bess Bridges, as having the required credentials. She is, first of all, brave: an attribute of paramount importance for the rank-and-file audience.57 This quality comes to the fore in the short speech Bess makes prior to the naval battle with the Spanish man-of-war:

Then, for your country's honor, my revenge,
For your own fame and hope of golden spoil
Stand bravely to't.


Bess follows up this address, by answering Captain Goodlack, who has advised her to take shelter in her cabin, with the words:

Captain, you wrong me. I will face the fight,
And where the bullets sing loud'st 'bout mine ears,
There shall you find me cheering up my men.


Bess' rousing oration not only demonstrates her own courage, but also provides a model which elicits a like response in her followers. As an inspired Goodlack says of Bess, “This wench would of a coward make a Hercules” (F.M., But Bess does more than make militaristic speeches. In act 2, scene 3 she takes on the roaring boy, Roughman: a bully who has been intimidating her staff at the Windmill for a number of weeks. Disguised as a page boy, she bests the poltroon and makes him forego his cowardly ways. In a short address, Roughman attests to Bess' courage and vows to follow her spirited example:

                                                                                                                        She hath waken'd me
And kindled that dead fire of courage in me
Which all this while hath slept. To spare my flesh
And wound my fame, what is't. I will not rest
Till by some valiant deed I have made good
All my disgraces past.


But bravery was only one component in the patriotic design. English defenders had also to exhibit the martial virtue of loyalty. As a true defender, Heywood's heroine voices her allegiance to the national cause in a number of places throughout the text. Perhaps the best example of such an affirmation of loyalty is shown by the words Bess utters when she is urging her men to board the Spanish warship:

For every drop of blood that thou has shed,
I'll have a Spaniard's life—Advance your targets
And now cry all, “Board, board! amain for England!”


Bess' rousing words demonstrate her support for England's cause and her hatred for the Spanish foe. Her commitment is supported throughout the play by such acts of loyalty as:

  • The rigging out and manning of a privateer at her own expense
  • (F.M.,

  • Her capture of a number of Spanish prizes.
  • (F.M.,

  • Her release of captured Englishmen and her restoration of a captured merchantman to its English owner
  • (F.M.,

Bess' words and actions show that she has indeed made England's quarrel her own.

The next attribute in importance to physical courage and loyalty for Elizabethan playgoers was that of victory. Following the patriotic pattern of presenting English defenders as victors, superior in all respects to their continental counterparts, Heywood, in The Fair Maid, gave his public a defender of whom it could be proud. In act 4, scene 4 Bess, who has already enjoyed a virgin victory—“… It did me good / To see the Spanish carvel vail her top / Unto my maiden flag” (F.M.,—is put to the test when she comes face-to-face with a Spanish man-of-war. Outmanned and outgunned by the larger vessel, Bess orders her men to rescue the English merchantman being towed by the galleon, “Or perish in th' adventure” (F.M., Although the English are, as convention dictates58 up against impossible odds, Bess heartens her crew with a patriotic speech, while the Negro's guns begin their bombardment:

Trumpets, a charge; and with your whistles shrill,
Sound, boatswains, an alarum to your mates!
With music cheer up their astonish'd souls,
The whilst the thund'ring ordnance bear the bass.


As true English champions, Bess and her gang of stalwarts win the day. In victory they continue to show their superiority to the “Don Diegos” (F.M., who had earlier threatened to use “strappados, bolts” and other engines of torture (F.M., on their English captives, by freeing the Spanish captain and his crew. There is however one condition to the release: the Spaniards must “pray for English Bess” (F.M., Readily accepted by the Spanish captain, the agreed to stipulation provides a contrast to the usual scenario (as seen earlier in The Four Prentices) which depicts English victors proffering thanks on their own behalf to Providence for their win. In Heywood's innovative rendition of the customary scene, the English gain greater stature, since it is the losing Spanish side who offer thanks on their behalf:

I know not whom you mean, but be't your queen,
Famous Elizabeth, I shall report
She and her subjects both are merciful.


Heywood's portrayal of Bess Bridges as exhibiting the martial virtues of courage, loyalty, and victory has helped confirm the national self-image of the English defender as reflected in the citizen quest fantasies of Elizabeth's final decade.

Another cultural orientation of note mirrored in Heywood's quest fantasy was orientalism. Important for the way it helped shape English attitudes towards the Islamic peoples of Africa and the Near East, Elizabethan orientalism was the product of two distinct points of view: a traditional one, which regarded Islamics in light of a medieval inheritance; and an official one, which regarded Moors and Turks in light of the trade agreements and political considerations of late sixteenth century England. Capitalizing upon this “bifurcated”59 vision, dramatists60 writing exotic adventure plays during the latter part of Elizabeth's reign frequently incorporated both views into their portrayal of Islamic other. Heywood, as well, employed this approach in The Fair Maid, invoking both traditional and official notions of Islamic behaviour to depict his colonial other. Important in this respect is his use of the traditional attribute of lechery and the official attribute of civility to portray the image of Mullisheg, King of Fez/Morocco.

With regard to the first attribute, the vice of lechery, the statement in the playtext which best sums up the popular belief that Islamics were by nature sexually unrestrained61 is that made by Mullisheg in his introductory scene:

But what's the style of king
Without his pleasure? Find us concubines,
The fairest Christian damsels you can hire
Or buy for gold, the loveliest of the Moors
We can command, and Negroes everywhere.
Italians, French, and Dutch, choice Turkish girls
Must fill our Alkedavy, the great palace
Where Mullisheg now deigns to keep his court.
Who else are worthy to be libertines
But such as bear the sword?
                                                                                                                                                      Joffer, thou pleasest us.
If kings on earth be termed demigods,
Why should we not make here terrestrial heaven?
We can, we will; our god shall be our pleasure,
For so our Meccan prophet warrants us.


Expressed as an order to his bashaw, Joffer (F.M., 1.4.3. 28-30), the directive leaves no doubt as to what is on the tyrant's mind. As head of the new order which has been ushered in with the recent victory, Mullisheg sets out to satiate his carnal appetites in true Oriental fashion: “But what's the style of king / Without his pleasure?” (F.M., As the promiscuous potentate informs his subordinate, all available means, including the hire or purchase of concubines, are to be employed to achieve these ends. In the harem which he plans as an adjunct to his “great palace,” the Moorish ruler envisions a bevy of international beauties ready to indulge his every sexual whim (F.M., Supported in his plan by Joffer (F.M.,, Mullisheg invokes the teachings of Mahomet as a license for his lecherous designs: “For so our Meccan prophet warrants us” (F.M., Using the Islamic dispensation62 as an official sanction, the Moorish ruler vows to create a “terrestrial heaven” on earth filled with sexual enjoyment where “our god shall be our pleasure” (F.M.,

Heywood's portrayal of Mullisheg as exhibiting the attribute of lechery has reinforced audience assumptions regarding the sexual excess and promiscuity of Islamic/Moorish rulers.

But Heywood's citizen quest fantasy also reflects a different view of orientalism: one more in keeping with the hegemonic interests and political realities of Elizabeth's last decade. Utilizing the trope of the savage being tamed by the royal personage/courtly virgin: a convention omnipresent in medieval and Renaissance literature63 Heywood is able to re-present his colonial other, in act 5, as one who has put aside the negative attributes of traditional Islamic behaviour in exchange for the positive attribute of civility. Mullisheg's conversion begins the moment he lay eyes on the transfigured English virgin. The power of her gaze alone is enough to change the savage Moor from lustful warlord to loving servant and faithful ally:

                                                                                                              I am amazed!
This is no mortal creature I behold
But some bright angel that is dropped from heaven
Sent by our prophet


In the “loving relationship”64 which develops between the pair, Mullisheg demonstrates his newly acquired civility in two specific ways: first, by eschewing (what was believed to be) traditional Islamic (i.e. lustful) behaviour; and second, by defending English interests abroad.65

The following passage illustrates the radical change which civility has effected in the once lustful monarch:

Oh, show yourself, renowned King, the same
Fame blazons you. Bestow this maid on me;
'Tis such a gift as kingdoms cannot buy.
She is a precedent of all true love
And shall be register'd to after times,
That ne'er shall pattern her.
Heard you the story of their constant love,
'Twould move in you compassion.
Let not intemperate love sway you 'bove pity,
That foreign nations that ne'er heard your name
May chronicle your virtues
You have waken'd in me an heroic spirit;
Lust shall not conquer virtue.—Till this hour
We grac'd thee for thy beauty, Englishwoman,
But now we wonder at thy constancy.
Oh, were you of our faith, I'd swear great Mullisheg
To be a god on earth.


Having just been made aware of the true state of affairs between Bess and Spencer (F.M.,, Mullisheg, in the above quotation, is in the process of deciding how he will handle the matter. He can either mirror what English theatregoers thought was traditional Oriental conduct and seize the English virgin for his own lustful ends or he can show civility through sexual restraint and grant Spencer's request: “… Bestow this maid on me; 'Tis such a gift as kingdoms cannot buy” (F.M., Before making a decision, the Moor listens carefully to Goodlack's pleas for compassion and Roughman's argument for sexual restraint, “That foreign nations that ne'er heard your name / May chronicle your virtues” (F.M., Then, moved by such discussion as well as by Bess' beauty and faithfulness to her Spencer, “We grac'd thee for thy beauty, Englishwoman, / But now we wonder at thy constancy” (F.M.,, Mullisheg reveals his “heroic spirit” of civility by finding in favour of the two lovers. Bess' concluding remarks, which commend Mullisheg on his noble decision: “Oh, were you of our faith, I'd swear great Mullisheg / To be a god on earth.” (F.M.,, underscore for Elizabethan audiences the sexual restraint shown by the new Moorish ruler.

Mullisheg's civility is also manifested by the way in which he defends English interests abroad. Initially shown by the fact that Bess and her compatriots are allowed to put into Mamorah for supplies with their prizes in two (F.M.,, the King of Fez's goodwill is further demonstrated by the favourable accord (F.M., which he concludes with Bess. As seen by the terms of the agreement, Bess and her privateers are to be exempt from any violence when in port (F.M.,; are to be allowed the purchase of needed supplies (F.M.,; and, in addition to the right to come and go as they please, are to be allowed to weigh anchor at their own discretion (F.M., In agreeing to such a one-sided list of demands, Mullisheg shows that he has taken the rights and concerns of English citizens to heart.

A more striking example of his defense of English interests occurs when the Moorish ruler willingly sacrifices some of his judicial authority and invites Bess to sit as co-judge on cases involving English and other Christian (i.e. European) merchants:

Grant me this:
Tomorrow we supply our judgement seat
And sentence causes; sit with us in state,
And let your presence beautify our throne.


Placed in such a position, Bess, as the following selection shows, sees herself as a judge advocate for her fellow countrymen and other Christian litigants:

Sirrah, your men for outrage and contempt
Are doom'd unto the galleys.
A censure too severe for Christians.
Great King, I'll pay their ransom.
                                                                                          Thou, my Bess?
Thy word shall be their ransom; th'are discharg'd.


Persuaded by his co-judge to show clemency to all Christian merchants who have committed trade infractions, Mullisheg once again reveals his civility by pardoning all offenses and restoring to such suitors any ships or commodities initially seized:

Well, sirrah, for your lady's sake
His ship and goods shall be restor'd again.


Heywood's portrayal of Mullisheg as exhibiting the attribute of civility through his renunciation of lechery and his defence of English interests abroad has provided a clear indication of upper/merchant class English society's positive view of the trading and diplomatic alliance with Fez/Morocco which flourished throughout the latter part of Elizabeth I's reign.

Another important social orientation reflected in The Fair Maid—and one which characterized in great part England's maritime activities66 during the Spanish war—was capital adventurism. Voicing the desire by English venture capitalists to retaliate against Iberian shipping while profiting from prize ships and cargoes, Heywood focuses on two areas of particular concern to Elizabethans: the proper quarry of a voyage of reprisal and the profitability of such a voyage.

In dealing with the first area of concern, it is important to be aware of the legal justification for any such voyage. English privateers, for the most part, based the authorization for their ventures on letters of reprisal issued by the Lord Admiral, although other forms67 of licence were available. All such commissions indicated Spanish ships and trade goods as the legitimate objects of plunder.68 Reflecting public knowledge of the main target of reprisal ventures, the Presenter, in his remarks at the end of act 4, recounts how Bess and her crew have followed the letter of the law in their attack on foreign shipping:

                                                                                                                                  Much prize they have ta'en.
The French and Dutch she spares, only makes spoil
Of the rich Spaniard and the barbarous Turk


As seen in the above lines, Heywood's English champion, Bess, and her “ging of lusty lads” (F.M., have, since leaving the merchantman enroute to Mamora at the end of act 4, scene 4, “tracked a wilderness of seas,” preying on the proper object of a voyage of reprisal: Spanish shipping (F.M., In this endeavour they have, as noted, been quite successful: “Much prize they have ta'en” (F.M., 1.4.5). Bess as well upholds the spirit of a reprisal venture, and avoids future legal problems, by steering clear of neutral and allied vessels: “The French and Dutch she spares” (F.M., And “the barbarous Turk” of which she “makes spoil” (F.M., refers not to the Great Turk in Istanbul with whom England had a treaty, but to the dreaded Barbary corsairs—exiled Spanish Moors based in such Turkish-controlled ports as Tunis and Algiers69—who constantly preyed on any merchantman travelling through the Mediterranean.70 As such “the barbarous Turk” would be seen both as a rival and a fitting secondary target for any English defender worth his or her salt.

Also of concern to Elizabethans was the profitability of such a voyage. In this regard it is important to examine the following points: expenditures, value of prizes, and final returns. On any privateering venture the chief items of expense were the value of the ship, its armaments and ammunition (i.e. powder/shot), food supplies, other provisions (i.e. wood/candles), and repairs.71 While Heywood has indicated that the value of the first chief item, Bess' ship, is £800 (F.M.,, he has given no further information about any other expense except to note that Bess has placed all such matters in Goodlack's capable hands: “… Furnish her / With all provision needful—spare no cost—” (F.M., Additional information on the outlay for such a voyage is however available, thanks to Kenneth R. Andrew's comprehensive study Elizabethan Privateering. Based upon a wide variety of contemporary documents (including all relevant state and admiralty papers), Andrews' research shows that on average a 200-ton first-class privateer, valued at £800 and furnished for a period of six months, would incur the following costs: guns—£252, powder/shot—£249, victuals—£390, other provisions—£18, and repairs—£80.72 Of special note is the total cost of fitting out the ship—£737: a figure which indicates the amount needed to be recouped by the promoters to make “a saving (i.e. break-even) voyage.”73 Also important is the estimated total investment of £1789 which for Bess, as a novice promoter, represented an overall investment of about £9 per ton for a ship of the Negro's burden.

Balanced against this capital outlay is the value of the commerce plundered. First of the prizes taken by Bess is a Spanish carvel “… It did me good / To see the Spanish carvel vail her top / Unto my maiden flag” (F.M., While Heywood is derelict in mentioning either the burden or manifest of the seized ship, Andrews informs that carvels were the typical workhorses of the west European merchant marine and averaged 50 tons in capacity. Cargoes of such vessels were usually wine—but oftimes olives, oranges or other Iberian agricultural produce—and worth from £500 to £1000.74 Of Bess' second prey, the Spanish man-of-war, described in act 4 as “A gallant ship of war” (F.M.,, Heywood makes no mention of either her condition or contents upon capture. Given that privateers tried hard not to do serious harm to an intended prize,75 since little was to be gained from damaged goods, it is possible to speculate that one reason for Bess' release of the Spanish captain and crew: “Your ship is forfeit to us and your goods, / So live” (F.M.,, was finding the warship in good condition. While no burden is mentioned for the enemy ship, a vessel equivalent to the Negro's own tonnage, fully rigged out and sporting its proper complement of ordnance, would have brought £500 on the open market.76 Pertaining to Bess' final windfall “Much prize they have ta'en” (F.M.,, the Presenter provides no clue as to its type or lading except to say that it was spoil “Of the rich Spaniard and the barbarous Turk” (F.M., However, given the busy Spanish and Portuguese shipping lanes in which the Negro was cruising, it is possible to conjecture that such a prize—one obviously coverted by the corsairs—was of the lucrative sort frequently taken by privateers of the first rank. Of such possible prizes, two in particular deserve mention: the Brazilman and the West-Indiaman. Most common of all the sizeable merchantmen plundered was the Brazilman. With its characteristic cargo of brazilwood and sugar77 such a prize usually went for about £3,000.78 A second type also seized with surprising regularity was the West-Indiaman. Carrying in general a cargo comprised of hides and sugar, such a prize, like its Brazilian counterpart, vended for about £3,000.79 Based upon such moderate expectations, it is reasonable to assume that the value of the prizes taken by Bess on her first reprisal voyage would have totalled no less than £4,000.

Given such a valuation, a fair estimate of the profitability of the venture can be arrived at without difficulty. The first step in such a process is to deduct the Queen's custom duty (5٪) and the Lord Admiral's rate80 (10٪) from the gross amount, which leaves a balance of £3,400. Next, all additional charges—the cost of fitting out (i.e. £737) and the crew's one-third share (i.e. £1134)—are subtracted. With all accounts now settled, Bess, as sole promoter, is entitled to the remaining monies as her share of the venture: a net profit of £1529. Calculated as a percentage,81 Bess' profit works out to approximately 145٪: an excellent return considering that the average profit for promoters was about 60٪.82 For Elizabethan playgoers, familiar with the tremendous profits made on the resale of such prize goods, Bess' voyage, with its triple windfall, has been a highly profitable one. Heywood's commerce-plundering scenario has accurately reflected venture capital's concern about the proper quarry and profitability of a reprisal voyage during the years of the Anglo-Spanish conflict.

A final cultural orientation revealed by the identification of self and other in Heywood's exotic citizen fantasy was neo-chivalry. Endorsed by all levels of society when it made its reappearance c.1575, this revitalized tradition supplied the romantic framework which inspired Elizabeth's second generation of courtiers to win public acclaim by performing several noteworthy deeds of valour in the national cause. Reflecting public approval for the neo-chivalric exploits of such second generation courtiers, Heywood directs attention to two of this group's most notable achievements: the expeditions against the Spanish fleet and the Protestant Crusade against Catholic Spain.

Of the many chivalric feats accomplished by England's knight-errant courtiers, none were of greater significance than the “semi-official”83 forays launched against the Spanish fleet and its treasure ships. In the following passage Heywood focuses on two such campaigns: the Cadiz expedition of 1596 and the Islands' Voyage of 1597.

                                                                                                                                                      Most men think
The fleet's bound for the Islands [i.e. Azores].
                                                                                                                                                      Nay, 'tis like.
The great success at Cales [i.e. Cadiz] under the conduct
Of such a noble general [i.e. Essex] hath put heart
Into the English; they are all on fire
To purchase from the Spaniard. If their carracks
Come deeply laden, we shall tug with them
For golden spoil.


How Plymouth swells with gallants! How the streets
Glister with gold! You cannot meet a man
But trick'd in scarf and feather, that it seems
As if the pride of England's gallantry
Were harbor'd here. It doth appear, methinks,
A very court of soldiers.


As shown by Carrol's conversation with the two captains in act 1, scene 1, Robert Devereaux, the second Earl of Essex and one of the central figures84 in the neo-chivalric revival, has captured the imagination and hearts of the English people with his “great success at Cales” (F.M., which saw the Spanish fleet dispersed and Cadiz sacked. With almost reverential tones England's newest hero is described by Carrol as the “noble general” who has “put heart / Into the English” with his heroic exploits (F.M., Building upon the success of his initial expedition, Essex, as the first captain relates, is planning a follow-up campaign: this one “bound for the Islands” (F.M., To his standard have flocked chivalry's best and bravest, “the pride of England's gallants” who, along with a veritable “court of soldiers” (F.M.,, will attempt a second great venture: to waylay Spain's bullion-laden carracks at their customary victualling stop in the Azores and “tug with them / For golden spoil” (F.M., For Elizabethans caught up in the neo-chivalric temper of the times, such daring expeditions were indeed exploits worthy of renown.

Second of the group's notable achievements were its crusader-oriented activities. Aspiring to fight in the cause of religion, Elizabeth's “forward Noble men”85 viewed the Anglo-Spanish conflict as a Protestant Crusade against Catholic Spain and, in this regard, acted aggressively toward their enemy whenever possible. In the following selection Heywood focuses on one such incident which develops as a result of a conversation his English champion, Bess Bridges, has with some captured Spanish fishermen concerning the whereabouts of Spencer's body:

Was there not in the time of their abode
A gentleman call'd Spencer buried there
Within the church, whom some report was slain
Or perish'd by a wound?
                                                                                                    Indeed there was
And o'er him rais'd a goodly monument,
But when the English navy were sail'd thence
And that the Spaniards did possess the town,
Because they held him for an heretic,
They straight remov'd his body from the church.
And would the tyrants be so uncharitable
To wrong the dead? Where did they then bestow him.
They buried him i' th' fields.
Oh, still more cruel!
The man that ought the field, doubtful his corn
Would never prosper whilst an heretic's body
Lay there, he made petition to the Church
To ha' it digg'd up and burnt, and so it was.


Seeing the hand of Spanish Catholicism's Inquisition behind the tyranny of these local Church officials who have “censur'd so my Spencer” (F.M.,, “held him for an heretic” (F.M.,, and ordered his remains “digg'd up and burnt” (F.M.,; Bess reacts in true crusader fashion. Turning her “mourning … into revenge” (F.M.,, Heywood's heroic self orders her gunner to open fire on the source of the indignity—the Catholic Church: “Bestow upon the Church some few cast pieces.” (F.M., For Protestant audiences supportive of the crusader mandate of Elizabeth's fighting aristocrats, Bess' volatile response to perceived Spanish Catholic provocation has been a deed of valour. Heywood's focus on two of the main achievements of Elizabethan knight-errantry: daring raids against the Spanish fleet and the Protestant crusade, has clearly reflected the influence which this reborn ideology had on Elizabeth's second generation of courtiers as well as its popularity with aristocratic and non-aristocratic classes alike.

To conclude, then, the present rereading of The Fair Maid of the West: Part I demonstrates how Heywood has incorporated the spirit of colonialism, prevalent in late sixteenth-century English society, into his popular exotic citizen fantasy. Historically regrounding the play in the commercial crisis / Moroccan alliance c.1600 has allowed an identification of Heywood's colonial other and heroic self as composite / representational figures which mirror the characteristics of two particular social groups involved in the colonial trade and privateering activities of the war years: colonial other, the Xeriffo Mullisheg, representing what Elizabethan playgoers knew of the various Morocan rulers of their own day; and heroic self, the amazing Bess Bridges, representing what such a rank-and-file audience knew of that elite group of English merchants, the great merchants who engaged in trade with Barbary. As well, the textual exploration of nationalism, orientalism, privateering, and neo-chivalry—cultural orientations liberated by such a naming—provides further evidence of the colonial trade designs of Elizabethan society during the final decade of the reign.


  1. Frederick S. Boas, Thomas Heywood (London: Williams and Norgate, 1950) 36.

  2. Clark 213.

  3. Velte 80.

  4. Examples of such commentary include Velte 73-80, Boas 30-36, and Clark 110, 213.

  5. Part I even enjoyed a command performance for Charles I at Hampton Court in 1630. Turner xix.

  6. Warner G. Rice, “The Moroccan Episode” in Thomas Heywood's The Fair Maid of the West, Philological Quarterly IX (1930) 131-140; see also Velte's discussion of an early (circa 1600) date for the play. Velte 73-74.

  7. B. E. Supple, Commercial Crisis and Change in England 1600-1642: A Study in the Instability of Mercantile Economy (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1959) 6.

  8. Supple 6: cf. Wernham who advises that “as much as four-fifths” were woollen textiles. R. B. Wernham, After the Armada: Elizabethan England and the Struggle for Western Europe 1588-1595 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984) 252.

  9. Supple 7.

  10. Trade figures available for this period show no English or alien shipments going to Iberian markets. Supple 23-24.

  11. Supple 6-7.

  12. Based on contemporary sources as many as 24,000 workers were dependent on the textile industry. Supple 6.

  13. From the Acts of the Privy Council as quoted by Wernham. Wernham, After the Armada 252.

  14. Supple 6, 12-13; see also Wernham, After the Armada 252.

  15. Supple 8.

  16. Among those ventures were joint-stock trading/privateering ventures, the money-market, custom farming, and buying tracts of land. Supple 10, 29.

  17. The phrase is Wernham's. Wernham, After the Armada 274.

  18. R. B. Wernham, The Making of Elizabethan Foreign Policy 1558-1603 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980) 86.

  19. Wernham, After the Armada 246.

  20. Wernham notes that in the 1589-1591 period such ventures brought in 300 prizes worth an estimated £400,000. Wernham, After the Armada 236.

  21. Wernham, After the Armada, 250-251.

  22. Chapter 9 “The War at Sea: Queen's Ships and Privateers” provides an excellent summation of privateer activity and the ill will which it provoked on the Continent. Wernham, After the Armada 250-260.

  23. Among the measures taken were two diplomatic missions to Europe, and a return of 60 Hanseatic ships seized by Drake in 1589. Wernham, After the Armada 251-255; 258-259.

  24. Supple 24.

  25. Chapter 1 “England and the Moroccan Connection” gives an excellent summary of early English trading in Barbary. D'Amico 14-18.

  26. D'Amico speculates that an arms deal may well have been part of this entente. D'Amico 20-21.

  27. D'Amico 14-16; Supple 23; see also David Harris Sacks, The Widening Gate: Bristol and the Atlantic Economy, 1450-1700 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991) 46-47.

  28. As D'Amico underscores, throughout his first chapter, arms and munitions dealings were always a part of the overall trade picture. D'Amico 9-22.

  29. D'Amico 213.

  30. D'Amico 19-21; see also Dr. Robert Brown's endnote 12 in volume 2 which advises that Mamora was a thriving centre for English privateers until 1614. Brown, History 583.

  31. Wernham, After the Armada 248.

  32. Jackson 53.

  33. Rice 133-136; see also Turner xi-xiii.

  34. Turner 67.

  35. As noted by Bullen in his prefatory remarks to The Battle of Alcazar. George Peele, The Works of George Peele, ed. A. H. Bullen, vol. 1 (1888; Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1966) 221-223; see also W. W. Greg's introductory comments. George Peele, The Battle of Alcazar. 1597, ed. W. W. Greg (1594; London: Chiswick Press, 1907) v-vi.

  36. Thomas Heywood, The Fair Maid of the West: Part I and II, editor Robert K Turner (Lincoln: University of Nebraska P, 1967) 78. Subsequent references will be to this edition and cited parenthetically in the text, e.g. (F.M., 1.5.51-59).

  37. D'Amico 20.

  38. See D'Amico's explanation regarding the proper line of Moroccan succession. D'Amico (note 30) 211.

  39. Africanus 993-994.

  40. Turner xiii-xiv; see also Simon Shepherd's comments on Bess' “Meglike” qualities. Simon Shepherd, Amazons and Warrior Women: Varieties of Feminism in Seventeenth-Century Drama (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1981) 104-105.

  41. The expression is Turner's. Turner xiii.

  42. Wright 476.

  43. Hoenselaars 147; D'Amico 88.

  44. Shepherd 106.

  45. The term is Gregory King's as quoted by Richard S. Dunn. Dunn 123-124.

  46. The expression is Andrews'. Kenneth R. Andrews, Elizabethan Privateering: English Privateering During the Spanish War 1585-1603. (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1964) 100.

  47. See Chapter 6 “The Great Merchants” for a detailed account of the activities of this powerful group during the Anglo-Spanish conflict. Andrews 100-123.

  48. The above size is based on the value of a new ship given in Table 4. Prices, however, ranged from £1 to £5 depending on a ship's age. Andrews 47-49.

  49. Andrews 36-37.

  50. Andrews 38.

  51. Andrews 231.

  52. Andrews 102.

  53. Andrews 120.

  54. Such ports were also recognized as centers for the disposal of prize cargoes and ships. Andrews 42-43.

  55. The expression in Bevington's. Bevington 206.

  56. Lindabury 26-86; see also Hoenselaars 76-107.

  57. Hoenselaars observes that courage and valor were two of the most highly valued virtues of an Englishman. Hoenselaars 94.

  58. Hoenselaars 83.

  59. The term is Bartels'. Emily C. Bartels, Spectacles of Strangeness: Imperialism, Alienation, and Marlowe (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993) 31.

  60. In Chapter 3 “East of England: Imperialist Self-Construction in Tamburlaine, Parts l and 2” Bartels discusses how one such playwright, Christopher Marlowe incorporates both views into the character of Tamburlaine. Bartels 53-81.

  61. Said 62; see also D'Amico 81.

  62. Through travel literature of the period, Elizabethans were familiar with Islam's allowance of polygamy and concubinage. D'Amico 65.

  63. In Brown's detailed discussion of this important trope, he notes that it was frequently incorporated into the progresses, processions, and masques of Elizabeth's day. Brown, This Thing of Darkness, 53-54.

  64. The expression is Brown's. Brown, This Thing of Darkness, 54.

  65. Among the ways civility in Moors was recognized by Elizabethans are included: Moors were expected to allow the English safe passage through their territories, to sacrifice Africa' well-being for England's, and to defend English merchants at all costs. Bartels 33.

  66. Andrews 233.

  67. Other forms of authorization included: private notes signed by the Lord Admiral, letters patent, and commissions signed by the Portuguese pretender. Andrews 4-5.

  68. Andrews 3-5.

  69. Cawston and Keane 70; Africanus 1067; see also Chapter 8 “The Throne of Piracy” which gives a detailed account of these Moorish exiles from Spain who settled along the north-west coast of Africa and engaged in piratical activities. Chew 340-345.

  70. Cawston and Keane 72.

  71. Andrews 46.

  72. Andrews (see Table 4) 49.

  73. The expression is Andrews'. Andrews 50.

  74. Andrews 129.

  75. Andrews 39.

  76. Andrews (see Table 3) 47.

  77. Available records show that no less than 34 Brazilmen were seized between 1589 and 1591. Andrews 133.

  78. Andrews 133.

  79. Andrews 46, 134.

  80. Andrews 46, 134.

  81. Calculated on the basis of the promoter's capital assets (i.e. ship and guns). Andrews 134.

  82. Andrews 134.

  83. The term is Andrews'. Andrews 5.

  84. For further discussion regarding Essex's central place in the neo-chivalric movement see Richard McCoy's scholarly article “‘A dangerous image’: The Earl of Essex and Elizabethan chivalry.” Richard C. McCoy, “‘A dangerous image’: The Earl of Essex and Elizabethan chivalry,” The Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 13.2 (1983): 313-329.

  85. The expression is James Aske's as quoted by Richard C. McCoy. McCoy 320.

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Sir Clyomon and Sir Clamydes. Vol. 2 of The Works of George Peele. Ed. A. H. Bullen. 2 vols. 1888. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1966.

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