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His Lack of Sustained Power
“A Prose Shakespeare
stand with Heywood, after Shakespeare, as a delineator of grief and tenderness and as an interpreter of the feminine heart.
Where Heywood failed was in sustained dramatic art. He could not follow the gradual unfolding of character. His personages act often without sufficient motive: the wife of Frankford, a faithful and charming creature, yields suddenly to crime for no apparent reason.
The plays are extremely uneven. Often through a whole drama, as in The Wise Woman of Hogsden, we find nothing that moves us. We are interested; the story is well told, but there is no passion, no appeal to the deeper emotions. The poetry has been omitted; we think of Lamb's criticism of Heywood as “ a sort of prose Shakespeare.” Had the poet been able to maintain himself at the heights that he sometimes reached; had he studied more carefully the heart-life of his characters at every point as the play developed, instead of only at the periods of crisis; had he striven more for unity of plot and characterization,-he might have raised himself far above the minor figures among
whom he now moves. Despite his defects, however, despite the blots that ever and anon disfigure his work, Heywood is a thoroughly enjoyable writer. It is often a sore task to read Jonson; one positively rebels before some of Chapman's work,—but no one can despise Heywood. Whatever he does, he never fails to interest. He has a dash of romance and adventure, a collection of interesting characters, a touch of pathos and of sentiment that are irresistible. We come to love the man and to name his plays among our favorite books to be read more than once. To the average reader, who cares nothing for the critics, The
The Fair Maid
of the West
Fair Maid of the West, despite its defects, is worth more than Jonson's whole repertory. REQUIRED READING. A Woman Killed with Kindness is Heywood's strongest play, but many will find more delightful the first part of The Fair Maid of the West (Mermaid Series).
THE DECLINE OF THE DRAMA
OTHING in English literary history is more marvel
ous than the story of the sudden rise, the rapid maturity, the transcendent achievements, and the quick decay of the Elizabethan drama. It was a period of scarce fifty years, sharply defined at its beginning by the earliest work of Marlowe and at its end by the sudden cessation of all dramatic work in 1642 when the theaters were closed by the Puritans. It was a period of enormous production. The crowd of playwrights and the mass of plays that meet the investigator are almost bewildering. It is like the enormous flood of novels that has filled our present era, with the important difference that only a comparatively small number of the Elizabethan dramas were ever printed. Heywood's extant works comprise some twenty-three plays, but we have his own word in the introduction to his English Traveller that the play was one out of two hundred and twenty in which he had
had either an entire hand or at least a whole finger.” Many plays disappeared even during the lifetime of their authors.
True it is [declares Heywood] 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 have 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 volumi. nously read.
The Frequency of Collaboration
Four Distinct Dramatic Periods
Many plays have come to us in a garbled and fragmentary condition. Reporters were often sent to the theater to take down for publication as best they could the words of a successful but closely guarded play. Many excellent dramas are anonymous, preserved by accident or by the tradition that they were the work of Shakespeare. Arden of Faversham, Edward III., and The Merry Devil of Edmonton are conspicuous examples.
A large number of the plays are collaborations. We are seldom sure that a play was the individual work of a single writer. Often three or four worked in unison. The greater part of Dekker's productions bear evidence of other hands; Ford and Webster constantly assisted other playwrights; Fletcher worked with Shakespeare on Henry VIII., and perhaps on Two Noble Kinsmen; Marlowe helped compose Henry VI., and Beaumont and Fletcher worked together until they became “the twin stars of the English literary firmament." This practice of collaboration gives a surprising uniformity to the Elizabethan drama. The constant revision of older works, often by several playwrights, the constant dwelling together of dramatists, the frequency of joint production, and the surprising lack of interest which writers took in their own creations tended to bring the drama to a dead level of excellence.
Notwithstanding the shortness of the era four distinct phases may be detected in it: first, the period of transition from the old types of tragedy and comedy to the new forms of Shakespeare and Jonson; second, the period of culmination, the golden era of spontaneous and lavish production; third, the period of premeditated creation, of dramatic art which was the result of a careful study of
The National Decline under James
The Puritans and the Drama
models from the earlier school; and last, the period of rapid decline.
In reality the decadence began during the lifetime of Shakespeare. The first rapturous outburst of creative energy which so filled the last years of Elizabeth subsided almost as suddenly as it began.
Reaction was inevitable. The rank growth of immorality, of superficiality in all things, of inordinate vanity, and of ruinous luxury was beginning to bear abundant fruit. There was a marked decline in the national life, and the new sovereign, who had inherited the Tudor ideals without the Tudor force to animate them, was partly responsible. Narrow, pedantic, cowardly, he did not impress, as Elizabeth had done, the national imagination. He was immeasurably inferior to her at almost every point. He was weak and wavering; his foreign policy lost for England nearly all that had been gained during the preceding reign; he was bigoted and intolerant; his religious policy stirred again the old passions of the nation. The people were divided more and more into two sharply differentiated factions: the gay Cavaliers, the remnant of the Tudor courtiers, the embodiment of all the luxury and display, the brightness and joyousness, the worldliness and vice, of the Elizabethan age; and the grim Puritans, the heirs of Langland and of Wyclif, of Tyndale and Latimer, with their intense hatred of all sensuous beauty and mere art and their loud condemnation of the vanity and immorality of the age.
The Puritans from the first had fought against the theaters. They were the “ devil's chapels,” and stage plays were the devil's litanies. Under the intolerant hand of James both parties soon went to extremes. The