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(1) Jasper Heywood

A poet and translator; born 1535 in London ; died 1598 at Naples. As a boy he was page of honour to Princess (afterwards Queen) Elizabeth. In 1547 he was sent to Oxford, and took the degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1553, and of Master in 1558. In 1554 he was elected probationary fellow of Merton College where he distinguished himself in public and private disputations, in writing verse translations of Seneca's dramas, and in acting as Lord of Misrule at the Christmas festivities. He and his brother are said by Anthony à Wood to have been "for a time very wild", and he resigned his fellowship to prevent expulsion in 1558. Later on, however, in the same year he was elected fellow of All Souls, but before long had to resign on account of his non-compliance with the new religious order of things under Elizabeth. Having been ordained priest he was admitted to the Society of Jesus at Rome in 1562. After two years at the Roman College he was made professor of moral philosophy and controversy at the Jesuit College of Dillingen in Bavaria where he stayed for seventeen years. In 1570 he took the full Jesuit vows. In 1581 he came to England as a missionary with Father William Holt, and together they were the means of numerous conversions to the Catholic Faith. Father Heywood was appointed superior of the English Mission in succession to Father Parsons. In the controversy then rife concerning the observance by English Catholics of the severe ancient fasts, Heywood opposed the rigid party. He was considered by the authorities to have erred on the side of laxity, and was therefore recalled from England by his superiors. On this return journey he was arrested as a suspected priest, brought back to London and imprisoned. Several times he was examined by the Privy Council and strongly urged to conform, but neither bribes nor threats moved him, and he was brought up for trial at Westminster with other priests. Before the trial finished, however, he was taken to the Tower and closely imprisoned for seventeen months. Finally, he was exiled with others to the coast of France, and forbidden under pain of death to return. He then went to the Jesuit College at Dôle in Burgundy, and in 1589 was sent to Rome and afterwards to Naples, where, worn out by the sufferings and hardships he had undergone, he died at the age of sixty-three. His authentic literary work consists of:

  • (1) translations into English verse of three of Seneca's tragedies (the "Troas", "Thyestes", and "Hercules Furens"). He was the first to translate these into English. He takes liberties with the Latin text and occasionally introduces original matter.
  • (2) Four poems in the Elizabethan collection known as the "Paradise of Dainty Devices", three didactic and one upon Easter Day. None is of much poetical value. He is known to have written many other verses not preserved.
  • (3) According to Wood's statement, he also wrote "A Compendium of Hebrew Grammar".

No edition of his Senecan translations has been issued since 1591. The "Paradise of Dainty Devices" is reprinted in "Collier's Seven English Miscellanies" (London, 1867).

(2) John Heywood

Father of the above, dramatist and epigrammatist; born probably c. 1497; died about 1580. The first certain record of him is in 1515 as one of the king's singing men, receiving the wages of eightpence per day. He would seem to have been first a choir boy and afterwards retained as a singer at the Chapel Royal. He was perhaps also engaged to train companies of boy actors for court performances. Tradition says that he was a member of Broadgates Hall, now Pembroke College, Oxford, but nothing further is known of his college life. His wit and his musical gifts seem to have led to his promotion and general prosperity. He received an annuity of ten marks as king's servant in 1521, and in 1526 he was paid a sum as "player of the Virginals", while in 1538 he again received payment for "playing an interlude with his children" before the Princess Mary. It was through Sir Thomas More, whose niece Eliza Rastell he had married, that he was introduced to the princess. It is probable that Heywood became attached to her retinue. He was a sincere Catholic and would seem to have got into trouble in Edward VI's reign for denying the king's spiritual supremacy. Unfortunately there is some proof, though not perhaps quite conclusive, that he publicly recanted this denial.

At the coronation of Queen Mary, however, he delivered a Latin oration and he was undoubtedly "in complete sympathy with her policy in Church and State ". There is evidence that he was a favourite with Mary, who could take, as Dr. A. W. Ward says "an intelligent delight" in his accomplishments and his wit. He wrote poems in her honour and is said to have been present at her last moments. Anthony à Wood quaintly tells us that "after her decease he left the nation for religion sake, and settled at Mechlin in Brabant, which is a wonder to some who will allow no religion in poets, that this person should above all of his profession be a voluntary exile, for it". He probably lived at Mechlin till his death.

Heywood's chief writings consist of:

  • (1) three interludes (i.e. "short comic pieces containing an element of action that entitles them to be called dramatic") of which the most famous is "The Four P's". These pieces form a dramatic link between the morality plays and comedy proper, the personified abstractions of the morality being superseded by personal types;
  • (2) "The Play of the Weather", a kind of mythological morality;
  • (3) "The Play of Love ", a disputation between four characters, with slight dramatic action;
  • (4) "The Dialogue of Wit and Folly";
  • (5) "Proverbs and Epigrams". All the above are comprised in the edition of Heywood's works issued by the Early English Drama Society (2 volumes, London, 1905-6);
  • (6) "An Allegory of the Spider and the Fly", in which the flies are the Catholics and the spiders Protestants, and Queen Mary the maid with a broom sweeping away cobwebs (not reprinted since 1556).

All the works of Heywood show wit and humour with some underlying pathos. His humour has been defined by Dr. Ward as "of a kind peculiarly characteristic of those minds which, while strongly conservative at bottom, claim a wide personal liberty in the expression of opinion, and are radically adverse to all shams". A devout Catholic, Heywood did not hesitate to satirize the folly or vice of unworthy members of the Church. Some of his wit is marked with the coarseness of his age, though less so than that of many other sixteenth-century writers. To judge justly of the literary quality of his work it must be viewed with its own background of the "dull and tedious" dramatic literature of the time. Certain judges have even gone so far as to regard him in wit and satire as a not altogether unworthy follower of Chaucer.


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