‘Interlaced with sundry histories’
The open structure of The Silver Age
in Thomas Heywood and the classical tradition
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The Ages plays are remarkable for their dramatisation of classical myth and lavish use of spectacle. However, Thomas Heywood did not consider that they should be reduced to a show. From his peculiar combination of William Caxton and the classics, myth and mythography, he meant to draw a coherent poetic design. Of the five plays, The Silver Age seems the most heterogeneously assembled and provides a field to test the plausibility of some unifying design based on Heywood’s understanding of classical myth. This chapter looks at the play from the perspective of Heywood’s interest in mythographic compendia such as Natale Conti’s Mythologia, and traces how he interwove their multiple versions of individual myths (Hercules, Proserpina) with material from Ovid, Claudian and other classical authors. It shows how a seemingly episodic assembling of diversified material harbours a mesh of echoes, ironic associations and startling collisions that bear evidence of a polyphonic imaginative pattern.

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