THE MOST OUTSTANDING OF EARLY TUDOR PLAYWRIGHTS, John Heywood, has never been at ease in an English Zion. Not that he is an exotic. On the contrary he is a comfortably John Bullish author, ingenious but not disturbingly original, who might in our own day have been a popular after dinner speaker and perhaps a contributor to London Punch. His gusto, his geniality, his dependable sense, his ingrained moderation, make us feel in him, indeed, the homespun virtue of the true-born Englishman.
How, then, are we to account for Heywood's almost complete independence of the contemporary English theatre? The native quality of his mind seems undeniable, yet he acknowledges no English master and founds no English school. Without apparent effort he produces three or four novel types of drama, achieves several striking successes and a very considerable reputation, and leaves it to posterity to find a place in the history of drama for a man of whom it might almost be said, as Samuel Butler once said of Melchizedec: 'He was without father and without mother and without descent. He was an incarnate bachelor: he was a born orphan.'
That this curious isolation was due in some measure to foreign influence is plain enough. Two of his farces, John, Tyb and Sir John and Pardoner and friar, are generally admitted to be free adaptations from the French; and it is likely that Four PP and the dialogue Witty and Witless are in debt, though less heavily, to the French stage. These broad findings, however, which sum up all that is known of the subject, have been of slight service to critics. They have not been made safe from scepticism; they are too indefinite to give foothold to inference; and they cover only a part-- and that the less interesting part--of the field. This must be my excuse for reopening the questions explored in Dr. Karl Young's article of 1904 and expanding his couple of dozen pages into a short book.