A ‘glorious Greek’?
Thomas Heywood and Hercules
in Thomas Heywood and the classical tradition
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This chapter investigates Thomas Heywood’s ambivalent approach to the mythical figure of Hercules, from his admiring eye-witness encounters with this definitive exemplar of martial prowess in plays staged at the Rose playhouse in the 1590s, to his flippant references to the hero in his poetry of the 1630s. In particular, this chapter explores Heywood’s most sustained portrayal of Hercules, in his Jacobean play for the Red Bull Theatre, The Brazen Age (1613). It traces how, for this play, as so often, Heywood lifts material from a formidable array of sources (Ovid, the Punica of Silius Italicus, the pseudo-Senecan Hercules Oetaeus) and yet abandons fidelity to all of them when it comes to depicting the female victims of Hercules’ sexual violence and challenging, through the depiction of rape, his character’s masculinity. The chapter also suggests that Heywood’s knowledge of Sophocles, and especially The Trachiniae, may have been more extensive than previously imagined.

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