Authors: Thomas Heywood

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English playwright

Author Works


The Four Prentices of London, pr. c. 1594

Edward IV, Parts I and II, pr. 1599

The Royal King and the Loyal Subject, pr. c. 1602

A Woman Killed with Kindness, pr. 1603

The Wise Woman of Hogsdon, pr. c. 1604

If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody: Or, The Troubles of Queen Elizabeth, Part I, pr., pb. 1605, Part II, 1605

Fortune by Land and Sea, pr. c. 1609 (with William Rowley)

The Rape of Lucrece, pb. 1608

The Fair Maid of the West: Or, A Girl Worth Gold, Part I, pr. before 1610; Part II, pr. c. 1630

The Golden Age: Or, The Lives of Jupiter and Saturn, pr. before 1611

The Silver Age, pr. 1612

The Brazen Age, pr., pb. 1613

The Iron Age, Parts I and II, pr. c. 1613

The Captives: Or, The Lost Recovered, pr. 1624

A Maidenhead Well Lost, pr. c. 1625–1634

The English Traveler, pr. c. 1627

London’s Jus Honorarium, pr., pb. 1631 (masque)

Londini Artium et Scientiarum Scaturigo, pr., pb. 1632 (masque)

Londini Emporia: Or, London’s Mercatura, pr., pb. 1633

The Late Lancashire Witches, pr., pb. 1634 (with Richard Brome)

A Challenge for Beauty, pr. c. 1634

Love’s Mistress, pr. 1634

Londini Sinus Salutis: Or, London’s Harbour of Health and Happiness, pr., pb. 1635 (masque)

Londini Speculum: Or, London’s Mirror, pr., pb. 1637 (masque)

Porta Pietatis, pr., pb. 1638 (masque)

Londini Status Pacatus: Or, London’s Peaceable Estate, pr., pb. 1639 (masque)

The Dramatic Works of Thomas Heywood, pb. 1874


Troia Britannica, 1609

The Hierarchy of the Blessed Angels, 1635


Oenone and Paris, 1594

An Apology for Actors, 1612

Gunaikeion: Or, Nine Books of Various History Concerning Women, Inscribed by the Nine Muses, 1624

England’s Elizabeth, Her Life and Troubles During Her Minority from the Cradle to the Crown, 1632

Philocothonista: Or, The Drunkard, Open, Dissected, Anatomized, 1635

A Curtain Lecture, 1636

The Exemplary Lives and Memorable Acts of Nine of the Most Worthy Women of the World: Three Jews, Three Gentiles, Three Christians, 1640

The Life of Merlin, Surnamed Ambrosius, 1641


Although the most commonly quoted statement about Thomas Heywood is Charles Lamb’s characterization of him as “a sort of prose Shakespeare,” the most striking thing about him is his almost incredible productivity. In the epistle to The English Traveler, Heywood calls the play “one reserved amongst two hundred and twenty, in which I have had either an entire hand, or at least a main finger.” He also wrote many nondramatic works in verse and prose and was a prolific translator.{$I[AN]9810000474}{$I[A]Heywood, Thomas}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Heywood, Thomas}{$I[tim]1573;Heywood, Thomas}

Heywood claimed to be from Lincolnshire, and evidence suggests that his family had wealth and position. A 1623 lawsuit deposition gives his age in one place as “50 years or neare upon” and in another as “49 or thereabouts,” statements that would place his birth either in late 1573 or 1574. In An Apology for Actors, written about 1607 (though it was not published until 1612), he tells of having been in residence at Cambridge University, but it is not known which college he attended. He probably left without a degree, but while in residence at the university he saw “tragedies, comedies, histories, pastorals, and shows, publicly acted, in which graduates of good place and reputation have been specially parted.”

The first reference to Heywood in the diary of theater entrepreneur Philip Henslowe records payment for a play in 1596. In 1598 (the year in which Francis Meres called him one of the best writers of comedy in England), Heywood contractually bound himself to Henslowe’s Admiral Men as an actor while continuing to write plays for this company (until 1599) and others. Late in 1602 he became a shareholder in the earl of Worcester’s company and was soon its most prominent member, writing plays and acting at the Boar’s Head in the city and at the Rose across the Thames on the Bankside; performing at court before King James I and Queen Anne; and touring the provinces, particularly during visitations of the plague to London.

Perhaps because of the deleterious effect of the plague on London theatrical activity in the first decade of the seventeenth century, Heywood gave up acting, though he remained an owner of the company that had become the Queen’s Men. His association with this company continued through its ill-advised construction of the Red Bull in Clerkenwell and its subsequent decline. By 1624, he was writing for Lady Elizabeth’s Men, and with the accession of Charles I to the throne in 1625, Heywood gained favor with the new Queen, Henrietta Maria, and was likely instrumental in forming the Queen’s Men company.

As of the start of the century Heywood had increasingly gained a reputation as a general man of letters, for although he continued to write plays, he also became a prolific writer of nondramatic works, including epic poetry, biographies, translations, and a series of pageants for events given by the Lord Mayor of London. Heywood wrote his last plays in 1634 but produced prose works until the year of his death. The parish register of St. James’s Church, Clerkenwell, where he lived for almost three decades, records not only the births of five children who may have been his but also his burial on August 16, 1641.

At least three of Heywood’s dramatic works remain of interest almost four centuries after they were first presented on London stages. The Four Prentices of London is a heroic romance tailored to the attitudes and values of Heywood’s urban audience, an accomplishment that is undiminished by his later denigration of it as mere juvenilia and by Francis Beaumont’s burlesque of it in The Knight of the Burning Pestle (1608). A Woman Killed with Kindness, Heywood’s most memorable work, is a realistic drama of middle-class adultery, frequently anthologized as a representative domestic tragedy though it differs from others of this minor genre in that it is not a murder play, it stresses forgiveness rather than revenge, and it is not based (insofar as scholars can determine) upon an actual event. Despite inadequate character development, in part because of Heywood’s rare used of soliloquies, and too facile plotting, A Woman Killed with Kindness is a compelling work because of its verisimilitude, pervasive ambiance of domesticity, and moral sensitivity. Adultery is also a central motif in The English Traveler, which Heywood himself described as a tragicomedy; much of it has a Fletcherian quality, the subplot is decidedly comic, and the single death in the main plot occurs with troublesome suddenness and affects other persons of the action only slightly and temporarily. Perhaps Heywood’s main accomplishment in The English Traveler is his depiction of upper-middle-class people as purporting to be Christian but actually being materialistic and acquisitive to a fault. As his legacy, this consummate man of the theater left a pair of strikingly realistic and emotionally charged domestic tragedies that are stellar examples of this minor dramatic genre despite their atypicality.

BibliographyAdams, Henry Hitch. English Domestic: Or, Homiletic Tragedy, 1575 to 1642. New York: Columbia University Press, 1943. Adams analyzes the features of middle-class tragedy by exploring its backgrounds in morality plays and sixteenth and seventeenth century murder plays. A Woman Killed with Kindness gets a full chapter as the best-known example of the genre.Baines, Barbara J. Thomas Heywood. Boston: Twayne, 1984. A reliable introduction.Boas, Frederick S. Thomas Heywood. London: Williams and Norgate, 1950. Emphasizes the lesser-known works, including the early plays Edward IV and The Four Prentices of London, and places Heywood among a group of playwrights who were also actors. Boas admits that Heywood wrote far too much but judges him a master of lucid speech and perhaps the most typical of Elizabethan writers.Brown, Arthur. “Thomas Heywood’s Dramatic Art.” In Essays on Shakespeare and Elizabethan Drama in Honor of Hardin Craig, edited by Richard Hosley. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1962. Reliable introduction.Clark, Arthur Melville. Thomas Heywood: Playwright and Miscellanist. 1931. Reprint. New York: Russell & Russell, 1967. The fullest record of Heywood’s life and work available. The first two hundred pages fill in the career, one chapter studies Heywood the dramatist, and eight appendices scrutinize questions of style and authorship.Cook, David. “A Woman Killed with Kindness: An Unshakespearean Tragedy.” English Studies 45 (1964). Presents an untraditional and provocative approach to the play.Courtland, Joseph. A Cultural Studies Approach to Two Exotic Citizen Romances by Thomas Heywood. New York: Peter Lang, 2001. A study of The Four Prentices of London and The Fair Maid of the West.Eliot, T. S. “Thomas Heywood.” In Essays on Elizabethan Drama. 1934. Reprint. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1960. Eliot finds “no reality of moral synthesis” in Heywood’s plays and no vision informing the verse. Heywood’s verse is not highly poetic but can be highly dramatic, and he has “very little sense of humour.” The English Traveler, which contains Heywood’s best plot, and The Wise Woman of Hogsdon rank just below A Woman Killed with Kindness. Heywood writes dramas of common life, not tragedies.McLuskie, Kathleen E. Dekker and Heywood: Professional Dramatists. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993. Covers both Heywood and Thomas Dekker. Includes bibliographical references and an index.Rabkin, Norman. “Dramatic Deception in Heywood’s The English Traveller.” Studies in English Literature, 1961. Explains the means by which Heywood unifies his plots.Velte, Mowbray. The Bourgeois Elements in the Dramas of Thomas Heywood. New York: Haskell House, 1966. Velte sketches Heywood’s life, giving a concise list of extant plays and their dates. His other lists are “Lost Plays Ascribed to Heywood,” “Heywood’s City Pageants,” “Semi-Dramatic Works,” “Poetic Works,” and “Prose Works.” Divides the works into chronicles, classical dramatizations, romances, and dramas of contemporary life.Wentworth, Michael. “Thomas Heywood’s A Woman Killed with Kindness as Domestic Morality.” In Traditions and Innovations: Essays on British Literature of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, edited by David G. Allen and Robert A. White. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1990. Shows how A Woman Killed with Kindness can be “described as a repentance play or a domestic morality” descended from medieval morality plays such as Everyman. Wentworth also wrote Thomas Heywood: A Reference Guide (1986).
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