Comedy and survival in Tudor England
496pp. Oxford University Press. 65 [pounds sterling].
On hearing the name John Heywood, Greg Walker admits, even literary scholars might be stumped. But Heywood's obscurity in our time stands in direct contrast to his popularity in his own, when he was known throughout England as a merry entertainer, a playwright, poet and lyricist. Walker seeks to address this disparity, but he does more than that, using Heywood's career, which spanned five monarchs and several religious upheavals, as a lens through which to view one of the most turbulent periods of English history.
Born around 1496 into a devout Catholic community, Heywood initially found employment as a singer in the court of Henry VIII, but soon left to pursue a career as a playwright. Heywood's plays were often dramatized debates, but Walker argues that they weren't just polished entertainment for the educated; they commented on the political events of the day. Gentleness and Nobility, for example, is on the surface a debate about the most noble profession, but the ploughman character voices a number of systemic problems in Tudor society, and a philosopher figure concludes that rulers should change laws...