Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Heywood, Thomas
HEYWOOD, Thomas, a voluminous dramatist and miscellaneous author of the 16th and 17th centuries, was born in Lincolnshire and was educated at Cambridge, where he became a fellow of Peterhouse. The dates of his birth and death are alike unknown, and the few facts of his life that are preserved have been gleaned chiefly from his own writings. He is mentioned in the MS. book of Henslowe as having written a book or play for the Lord Admiral’s Company in October 1596; and from the same source we learn that in 1598 he was regularly engaged as a player and a sharer in that company. In the preface to The English Traveller, written in 1633, he describes himself as having had “an entire hand or at least a main-finger in two hundred and twenty plays.” Of this number, which probably afterwards was considerably exceeded (for we find him still writing in 1640, and indeed his last published piece did not appear until 1655), only three and twenty survive; but they amply attest that had he chosen to concentrate his powers, he might easily have ranked with the Massingers, Fords, and others of his great contemporaries. “Heywood,” says Charles Lamb, “is a sort of prose Shakespeare; his scenes are to the full as natural and affecting.” His facility and variety are almost without a parallel, his fancy was inexhaustible, and his invention never at a loss; but he delighted to excess in what he called “merry accidents, intermixed with apt and witty jests,” or in other words, in the broadest and coarsest farce. His best pieces, such as A Woman Killed with Kindness, Fortune by Land and Sea, The English Traveller, and The Fair Maid of the West, lie chiefly in the department of what has been called the domestic drama.
Besides his dramatic works, which were partly reprinted by the “Shakespeare Society,” and were published in a complete edition of six vols, with notes and illustrations in 1874, he was the author of Troia Britannica or Great Britain’s Troy (1609), a poem in seventeen cantos “intermixed with many pleasant poetical tales” and “concluding with an universal chronicle from the creation until the present time;” An Apology for Actors, containing three brief treatises (1612); Γυναικεῑον or nine books of various history concerning women (1624); England’s Elizabeth, her Life and Troubles during her minority from the Cradle to the Crown (1681); The Hierarchy of the Blessed Angels (1685); Pleasant Dialogues and Dramas selected out of Lucian, &c. (1687); and The Life of Merlin surnamed Ambrosius (1641).