When Thomas Heywood reflects on the theatre, his thoughts turn to the classical tradition, and especially to its Greek roots. In keeping with his practice of transplanting elite classical literary material into popular playhouses, he focuses his theatre history on the ephemeral realm of performance rather than the more familiar textual record. In An Apology for Actors (1612) Heywood looks to Greece for the origins of acting, which he locates especially in the charged figure of Hercules. By turning his attention to embodied performance, Heywood alters a familiar account of theatre’s Greek origins into a strange and unsettling model of imitation and its consequences.
Homer and Ausonius in Thomas Heywood’s Various History Concerninge Women
This chapter explores the innovative vernacular classicism of Heywood’s 1624 Gynaikeion. This miscellany of paradigmatic women from history and myth models itself on late antique historical compendia. It also mines diverse other ancient historians for material and intersperses its historical prose with short poetic inventions and translations. They include renditions of Ausonius, a late Roman virtuoso of concise poetics. Heywood pays attention to an unusual range of works by this popular poet, including his epitomes of Homer’s epics. He translates many of these, but is also prompted to include in Gynaikeion testimonies from ancient history that offer his readers a distinctive and haunting perspective on the legendary poet. Heywood’s reception of Homer in Gynaikeion, dismissed by older critics for its indirectness, affords an insight into the author’s very considerable, quirky scholarship, and into the fascinating moral aesthetic of this radically understudied work, which is dependent on juxtaposition, mixed messages and discursive remainders.
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.
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.
This chapter examines Oenone and Paris (1594), an epyllion attributed to T. H., and generally thought to be Thomas Heywood’s earliest published work. The poem is discussed in relation to circulating versions of the Trojan myth (Greek, Latin and vernacular) and to Heywood’s later Trojan works, Troia Britanica and 1 The Iron Age. The poem has received attention for its use of rhetorical devices, and its relationship to Virgilian and particularly Shakespearean antecedents. Rather than mimicking Venus and Adonis, T. H.’s adaptation reshapes his classical and early modern models, revealing his own expectations of his readership, and his commitment to entertaining and challenging these readers. The chapter posits Oenone and Paris as a complex experiment with the legend of Troy. Drawing on Ovid, Lucian and Colluthus, the poem signals Heywood’s attentiveness to literary fashion and his lifelong interest in the intertextuality of this mythic story.
This introduction reviews the critical state of play in the study of Thomas Heywood and the classical tradition, acknowledging the collection’s debt to the innovative work of M. L. Stapleton on Heywood’s translations of Ovid, Richard Rowland’s dedicated studies of the author and the edition of Troia Britanica coordinated by Yves Peyré. It also explores Heywood’s idiosyncratic classicism across his long career. A discussion of A Woman Killed with Kindness and The Rape of Lucrece shows that Heywood’s non-classical plays can be productively read through a classical lens, and suggests the crucial interaction between his classical and non-classical oeuvre. Heywood’s very diverse genres, we argue – translation, drama, poetry, compendia, pageants, panegyrics and pamphlets – are porous, and his classical creativity is a thread that runs through them. Classical interests also forge telling connections across Heywood’s different creative periods and offer an illuminating perspective on his authorial self-fashioning. Beginning by playing with myth in an epyllion (like many contemporaries), he increasingly turned himself into a distinctive vernacular humanist for whom myth became a way of thinking: educating a wider audience, moralising about society, writing about past and present, and perhaps above all sharing the pleasure of stories.
While Thomas Heywood was a fine classicist, his staging of the Trojan War in 1 Iron Age relied on non-Homeric sources, especially William Caxton’s The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye (1473/74). After considering mythological scholarship and literary historiography, the discussion focuses on Recuyell’s influence, providing a medieval, retrospective, pessimistic viewpoint on Troy that Heywood translated into the play’s obsession with predictions and posterity. Finally, the chapter traces how Heywood handled the contradictions arising both from within Caxton’s collection and from his combination of it with Homer’s Iliad and Ovid’s Heroides and Metamorphoses. While he reverted to classical sources to supplement Recuyell, his interweaving is not seamless. Heywood was both learned and experienced enough to have deliberately introduced such jarring juxtapositions, which were part of his poetics. In 1 Iron Age, they may also invite the spectator and reader to take a critical look at classical culture and heroism.
An experienced craftsman, Thomas Heywood was aware of generic requirements and expectations. Yet he also liked to confront different discourses, to fuse them or make them jolt against one another. When inspired by the stories of Antiquity, his writing involves acts of remembering, through dismembering and blending. This chapter considers how his composition, combining segmentation and selection with imaginative connexions, reflects reading experiences, which can be partly reconstituted from his system of borrowings and quotations in such works as Gynaikeion and The Hierarchie of the Blessed Angells (1635), as well as plays such as 1 Iron Age. Close readings of Heywood’s account of the Amazons, or the fate of Pyrene, reveal a knowledge of mythographic treatises, compilations and commonplace books, alongside classical authors and contemporaries. His mythographic readings structure his way of thinking about myth which, as his handling of themes like birth-giving suggests, is not devoid of empathy for women.
Several of the women Thomas Heywood writes about in Gynaikeion were familiar exemplars in the arts, but less frequently embodied on stage as characters in their own right. This chapter looks at what happens when Heywood lifts two victims of rape, Callisto and Lucrece, out of the realm of example to bring them on stage in The Golden Age and The Rape of Lucrece respectively. It explores what happens in the process of enacting familiar tales of seduction, and the possible impact on the expectations of spectators, to whom the ultimate outcome is known. Rather than try to resolve contradictions between the multiple versions he draws on, Heywood plays with the dynamics this allows him in a multigeneric, empathetic approach. Through the challenge of staging a rape, Heywood also explores the ethics and challenges of staging the mythographic process.
During the 1630s, his last creative decade before his death in 1641, Thomas Heywood published classical plays, a masque, compendia, and devised seven civic pageants. He also helped devise the iconological programme of the largest ship ever built until then, the Sovereign of the Seas, providing a written account in A True Description of his Majesties Royall Ship. The ship, which was launched in 1637 and remained in service until the late 1690s, has not survived. Visual evidence of what it looked like can be reconstituted from paintings, engravings, drawings and models, alongside Heywood’s own account, which also provides a historiographic and mythological rationale for a naval project that encountered opposition. Reading over Heywood’s shoulder as he writes, while looking at the iconography, this chapter investigates how his mastery of classical material in a variety of forms (which include Vincenzo Cartari’s and Cesare Ripa’s mythographies) materialises in a mytho-historiographic building programme.