Lived in the reign of Queen Elizabeth
and King James I. He was an actor, as appears from
the evidence of Mr. Kirkman, and likewise from a piece
written by him called, The Actor’s Vindication.
Langbaine calls his plays second rate performances,
but the wits of his time would not permit them to
rank so high. He was according to his own confession,
one of the most voluminous writers, that ever attempted
dramatic poetry in any language, and none but the celebrated
Spaniard Lopez de Vega can vie with him. In his
preface to one of his plays he observes, that this
Tragicomedy is one preserved amongst two hundred
and twenty, “in which I have had either an entire
hand, or at least a main finger.” Of this
prodigious number, Winstanley, Langbaine, and Jacob
agree, that twentyfour only remain; the reason Heywood
himself gives is this; “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 profit to
have them come in print, and a third, that it was
never any great ambition in me to be voluminously
read.” These seem to be more plausible reasons
than Winstanley gives for their miscarriage; “It
is said that he not only acted himself every day,
but also wrote each day a sheet; and that he might
lose no time, many of his plays were composed in the
tavern, on the backside of tavern bills, which may
be the occasion that so many of them are lost.”
That many of our author’s plays might be plann’d,
and perhaps partly composed in a tavern is very probable,
but that any part of them was wrote on a tavern bill,
seems incredible, the tavern bill being seldom brought
upon the table till the guests are going to depart;
besides as there is no account of Heywood’s being
poor, and when his employment is considered, it is
almost impossible he could have been so; there is
no necessity to suppose this very strange account
to be true. A poet not long dead was often obliged
to study in the fields, and write upon scraps of paper,
which he occasionally borrowed; but his case was poverty,
and absolute want. Langbaine observes of our author,
that he was a general scholar, and a tolerable linguist,
as his several translations from Lucian, Erasmus, Texert,
Beza, Buchanan, and other Latin and Italian authors
sufficiently manifest. Nay, further, says he,
“in several of his plays, he has borrowed many
ornaments from the ancients, as more particularly in
his play called the Ages, he has interspersed several
things borrowed from Homer, Virgil, Ovid, Seneca,
Plautus, which extremely set them off.”
What opinion the wits of his age had of him, may appear
from the following verses, extracted from of one of
the poets of those times.
The squibbing Middleton, and Heywood sage,
Th’ apologetick Atlas of the stage;
Well of the golden age he could entreat,
But little of the metal he could get;
Threescore sweet babes he fashion’d
at a lump,
For he was christen’d in Parnassus
The Muses gossip to Aurora’s bed,
And ever since that time, his face was
We have no account how much our author
was distinguished as an actor, and it may be reasonably
conjectured that he did not shine in that light; if
he had, his biographers would scarce have omitted so
singular a circumstance, besides he seems to have addicted
himself too much to poetry, to study the art of playing,
which they who are votaries of the muses, or are favoured
by them, seldom think worth their while, and is indeed
beneath their genius.
The following is a particular account
of our author’s plays now extant:
1. Robert Earl of Huntingdon’s
downfall, an historical Play, 1601, acted by the Earl
of Nottingham’s servants.
2. Robert Earl of Huntingdon’s
Death; or Robin Hood of Merry Sherwood, with the tragedy
of chaste Matilda, 1601. The plots of these two
plays, are taken from Stow, Speed, and Baker’s
chronicles in the reign of King Richard I.
3. The Golden Age, or the Lives
of Jupiter and Saturn, an historical play, acted at
the Red Bull, by the Queen’s servants, 1611.
This play the author stiles the eldest Brother of
three Ages. For the story see Galtruchius’s
poetical history, Ross’s Mystagogus Poeticus;
Hollyoak, Littleton, and other dictionaries.
4. The Silver Age, 1613; including
the Love of Jupiter to Alcmena. The Birth of
Hercules, and the Rape of Proserpine; concluding with
the Arraignment of the Moon. See Plautus.
Ovid. Metamorph. Li.
5. The Brazen Age; an historical
play, 1613. This play contains the Death of Centaure
Nessus, the tragedy of Meleager, and of Jason and
Medea, the Death of Hercules, Vulcan’s Net, &c.
For the story see Ovid’s Metamorph. Li 7 8 9.
6. The Iron Age; the first part
a history containing the Rape of Helen, the Siege
of Troy, the Combat between Hector and Ajax. Hector
and Troilus slain by Achilles, the Death of Ajax, &.
7. Iron Age, the second part;
a History containing the Death of Penthesilea, Paris,
Priam, and Hecuba: the burning of Troy, the Deaths
of Agamemnon, Menelaus, Clytemnestra, Helena, Orestes,
Egistus, Pylades, King Diomede, Pyrrhus, Cethus, Synon,
Thersetus, 1632, which part is addressed to the author’s
much respected friend Thomas Manwaring, Esq; for the
plot of both parts, see Homer, Virgil, Dares Phrygius;
for the Episodes, Ovid’s Epistles, Metamorph,
Lucian’s Dialogues, &c.
8. A Woman kill’d with
Kindness, a comedy acted by the Queen’s Servants
with applause, 1617.
9. If you know not Me, you know
Nobody; or the Troubles of Queen Elizabeth, in Two
parts, 1623. The plot taken from Camden, Speed,
and other English Chronicles in the reign of Queen
10. The Royal King, and Loyal
Subject, a tragicomedy, 1627, taken partly from Fletcher’s
The Fair Maid of the West, or a Girl
worth Gold, 1631. This play was acted before
the King and Queen. Our author in his epistle
prefixed to this play, pleads modesty in not exposing
his plays to the public view of the world in numerous
sheets, and a large volume under the title of Works,
as others, by which he would seem tacitly to arraign
some of his cotemporaries for ostentation, and want
of modesty. Langbaine is of opinion, that Heywood
in this case levelled the accusation at Ben Johnson,
since no other poet, in those days, gave his plays
the pompous title of Works, of which Sir John Suckling
has taken notice in his session, of the poets.
The first that broke silence, was good
Prepar’d before with Canary wine;
And he told them plainly, that he deserved
For his were called works, where others
were but plays.
There was also a distich directed
by some poet of that age to Ben Johnson,
Pray tell me, Ben, where does the mystery
What others call a play, you call a work.
Which was thus answered by a friend of his,
The author’s friend, thus for the
Ben’s plays are works, when others
works are plays.
12. Fair Maid of the West, or
a Girl worth Gold, the second part; acted likewise
before the King and Queen with success, dedicated to
Thomas Hammond, of Gray’sInn, Esq;
13. The Dutchess of Suffolk,
an historical play 1631. For the play see Fox’s
14. The English Traveller, a
tragicomedy, acted at the Cockpit in Drurylane,
1633, dedicated to Sir Henry Appleton, the plot from
15. A Maidenhead well lost, a
comedy acted in Drurylane, 1634.
16. The Four London Apprentices,
with the Conquest of Jerusalem; an historical play,
acted by the Queen’s servants 1635. It is
founded on the history of Godfrey of Bulloign.
See Tasso, Fuller’s history of the holy war,
17. A Challenge for Beauty; a
tragicomedy, acted by the King’s servants in
18. The Fair Maid of the Exchance;
with the Merry Humours of the Cripple of Fenchurch,
a comedy, 1637.
19. The Wise Woman of Hogsden;
a comedy, acted with applause, 1638.
20. The Rape of Lucrece, a Roman
Tragedy, acted at the Red Bull, 1638. Plot from
21. Love’s Mistress, or
the Queen’s Mask; presented several times before
their Majesties, 1640. For the plot see Apuleius’s
22. Fortune by Land or Sea, a
comedy; acted by the Queen’s servants, 1653.
Mr. Rowley assisted in the composing of this play.
23. The Lancashire Witches, a
comedy; acted at the Globe by the King’s servants.
Mr. Brome joined with Mr. Heywood in writing this comedy.
This story is related by the author in his Hierarchy
24. Edward iv. an historical
play, in two parts. For the story see Speed,
Hollinshed and other chronicles.
This author has published several
other works in verse and prose, as his Hierarchy of
Angels, abovementioned; the Life and Troubles of
Queen Elizabeth; the General History of Women; An Apology
for Actors, &c.