Thomas Heywood was as prolific in other forms of writing as he was in the drama. Very little of his other work, however, has any particular literary merit. The long poem Troia Britannica (1609) was based on material that Heywood had earlier put into dramatic form, but the poetry is generally considered to be poor, Heywood having never shown a particular flair for verse. An Apology for Actors (1612), on the other hand, is an excellent critical work that defends the Jacobean stage on didactic grounds. Because Heywood so often used women as the protagonists of his plays, his Gunaikeion: Or, Nine Books of Various History Concerning Women, Inscribed by the Nine Muses (1624) is of interest to the modern reader because it suggests even further the degree to which Heywood was interested in the nature of women and their sufferings. None of these works, however, can lay claim to the merit of Heywood’s best plays, and they have received little critical attention.
In 1633, Thomas Heywood claimed to have written either all or most of some 220 plays, in addition to his volumes of poetry and prose. Yet only A Woman Killed with Kindness is well known or anthologized with any regularity. To measure Heywood’s significance in such terms would be to ignore the impact he had on the theater of his day and particularly on the development of the theater since the Restoration, both in England and in Europe. Heywood was the first English playwright to demonstrate consistently the potential of the sentimental drama, particularly the domestic tragedy, to produce effective theater. Restoration writers such as Nicholas Rowe and Thomas Otway followed Heywood’s use of the female protagonist in their “she-tragedies,” and George Lillo in The London Merchant: Or, The History of George Barnwell (pr., pb. 1731) employed the middle-class ethic of A Woman Killed with Kindness and The English Traveler to effect a similar pathos. Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Friedrich Schiller, and Denis Diderot also saw the potential of the sentimental drama as Heywood had used it, although they were more directly influenced by the Restoration dramatists. In Heywood, one can find the beginning of a type of drama that has had a profound impact on Western dramatic literature. Although he did not have the dramatic and artistic talents of those who developed his forms, his plays solidly established the notion that pathos built on a foundation of basically bourgeois morality has both popular appeal and literary merit.
Adams, Henry Hitch. English Domestic: Or, Homiletic Tragedy, 1575 to 1642. New York: Columbia University Press, 1943. Adams analyzes the features of middle-class tragedy by exploring its backgrounds in morality plays and sixteenth and seventeenth century murder plays. A Woman Killed with Kindness gets a full chapter as the best-known example of the genre.
Baines, Barbara J. Thomas Heywood. Boston: Twayne, 1984. A reliable introduction.
Boas, Frederick S. Thomas Heywood. London: Williams and Norgate, 1950. Emphasizes the lesser-known works, including the early plays Edward IV and The Four Prentices of London, and places Heywood among a group of playwrights who were also actors. Boas admits that Heywood wrote far too much but judges him a master of lucid speech and perhaps the most typical of Elizabethan writers.
Brown, Arthur. “Thomas Heywood’s Dramatic Art.” In Essays on Shakespeare and Elizabethan Drama in Honor of Hardin Craig, edited by Richard Hosley. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1962. Reliable introduction.
Clark, Arthur Melville. Thomas Heywood: Playwright and Miscellanist. 1931. Reprint. New York: Russell & Russell, 1967. The fullest record of Heywood’s life and work available. The first two hundred pages fill in...
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