Academic journal article Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England

"Speaking Some Words, but of No Importance"? Stage Directions, Thomas Heywood, and Edward IV

Academic journal article Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England

"Speaking Some Words, but of No Importance"? Stage Directions, Thomas Heywood, and Edward IV

Article excerpt

IN 1635, approaching the end of a career in the theater that had already spanned more than forty years, Thomas Hey wood interrupted the bizarre concoction of folklore and spiritual wisdom he called The Hierarchie of the Blessed Angells to deliver an uncharacteristically bitter attack on those who had, he felt, appropriated and undermined the native dramatic tradition. In this unlikely context, Heywood denounced writers who wished to restrict the play going public to an elite few-he has in his sights courtier poets like Carew and Davenant who "dare to measure mouthes for every bit / The Muse shall tast"-and insisted on the legitimacy of artistic judgments passed by "the populous Throng / Of Auditors." ' Two years later, in the pages of a very different kind of text, his pageant for the new lord mayor of London, Heywood expanded the constituency of people who had a right to be entertained to include those "who are better delighted with that which pleaseth the eye, than contenteth the eare," and he went on to defend this position with some vehemence: such "gesticulations, dances, and other Mimicke postures" were not, he insisted, "to be vilefied by the most supercilious, and censorious, especially in such a confluence, where all Degrees, Ages, and Sexes are assembled."2 It is with the visual dimension of Heywood's stagecraft that I want to engage here. I am going to argue that Heywood attempted, through the construction of elaborate stage directions, to control the movements and gestures of the players for whom he wrote, in a style-and to an extent-that was unusual, if not unique in the period. And I shall also explore the possibility that an examination of this evidence might shed some light on the identity of the playwright (or playwrights) who helped to create one of the most successful, most often printed, and most politically explosive plays to appear on the early modern stage.

None of the six early printed texts of Edward IV attributes the play to a named author.3 Yet, by the Restoration, the earliest historians of the English theater were designating the play unequivocally as the work of Thomas Heywood, and this attribution has gone more or less unquestioned ever since.4 The first writer to name Heywood as the creator of the play was also among the earliest of his detractors: Francis Kirkman, whose second Catalogue would ungraciously suggest that all Hey wood's plays were "written loosely in Taverns," ascribed Edward IV to him in his first Catalogue of 1661.5 In 1675 Edward Phillips continued the combination of attribution and denigration, including Edward IV in his Theatrum Poetarum among a list of "many but vulgar Comedies."6 In 1687 William Winstanley went one better than Kirkman, asserting that Heywood wrote his plays "on the back-side of Tavern Bills"; he also confidently categorized Edward IV as just such a composition.7 The cataloger and critic Gerard Langbaine followed suit in the playlist he published in 1688, and he went on to confirm the attribution in his seminal Account of the English Dramatick Poets three years later.8 Those eighteenthcentury critics who bothered with such issues at all reiterated Langbaine's assertion, and thus the situation remained until the late Victorian period, when the acerbic F. G. Fleay challenged virtually any unproven assumption about the Renaissance drama that he could find, including this one.9

At the beginning of the last century E. K. Chambers still expressed reservations about Heywood's authorship, partly because of the dramatist's authorization of Henslowe's payments to Chettle and Day for "the Booke of Shoare, now newly to be written for the Earle of worcesters players"; "if this was a revision of his own play," Chambers argued, "he would hardly have left it to others." '" But Sir Walter Greg regarded Edward IV "on internal evidence, as unquestionably Heywood's," and it is this view which has prevailed with critics up to the present day." A. M. Clark, the author of the first book devoted to Heywood, had "no hesitation in accepting Edward IV as at least in part his," F. …

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