THE CASE STATED
HEYWOOD HAS ALWAYS BEEN A LITTLE HARD TO ACCOUNT for. He made a bold break with contemporary practice; but, though his revolution appeared successful, he failed to establish a new dynasty. His work, despite its merit, remained strangely barren; and he is rather the great uncle than the grandfather of our comedy. Nor is it only in his theatrical relations that he is difficult to place. In his day he was a merry fellow, a wit and epigrammatist; but the modern reader who is fully alive to his verve and ingenuity is at a loss to account for his love of leaden argumentation. His farces still win frank laughter, and their humour is often neat as well as robust; but to his dialogues only a painful historical integrity can do justice.
Since the pieces commonly thought to be his fall into contrasting groups, it has sometimes been supposed that they are the work of more than one pen; but this simple solution, to which the defects of the canon have lent colour, can scarcely be accepted to-day. Dr. Reed has made it difficult to deny Heywood's claim to the plays, John, Pardoner and friar, Four PP and Weather, and the dialogues, Witty and Witless and Love; and the canonical pieces have enough in common to discount the barely hinted suspicion that some may be Sir Thomas More's.
In fact, the diversity and inequality of Heywood's dramatic work is readily explained by the different factors--individual, national, and foreign--that went to shape it. Stylistic clumsiness and tedious disputation were faults only too natural in his time; realism and comic gusto were to be expected in one who could appreciate and pilfer from Chaucer, and in whom broad common sense, alert observation and a jovial humour were plainly native; while his uncertain brilliance of style and technique, and his no less striking fertility in dramatic experiment, are what we should