1. Elsewhere in the Philological Museum there is a detailed description of the1592 controversy that brewed up at Oxford between the poet-playwright William Gager and Dr. John Rainolds about the legitimacy of academic dramatics. Gager had written a short afterpiece following his doctored version of Seneca’s Phaedra in which Momus, the ancient god of captious criticism, denounced dramatics by offering a list of talking-points, and then a nameless respondent (doubtless representing Gager himself) answered them all seriatim. Both Momus’ points and the speaker’s responses closely follow a section in the 1588 commentary on Aristotle’s Politics, Sphaera Civitatis by the Oxford philosopher John Case (V.viii.12), but Rainolds, an exceedingly “low church” Anglican but not an actual Puritan, rightly or wrongly chose to take “Momus” as a personal attack on himself. He responded with an open letter setting forth his anti-theater position, illustrated by specific references to some of Gager’s plays. Gager answered him with an open letter of his own in which he offered a defense of the dignity and worth of university dramatics. Gager had recently received his law doctorate and was on the verge of leaving Oxford, and so was in a position where he could afford to make enemies there. Hence it is not unlikely that he was acting as a “front man” for a group of Oxford faculty who did not enjoy that particular luxury: there identities can be gathered from the roster of senior academics who contributed gratulatory epigrams to the front of the 1592 volume in which Momus was printed. Among these were the Regius Professor of Divinity (who was also Master of a college) and Alberico Gentili, the Regius Professor of Civil Law. The idea may have been to provoke the predictably combative Rainolds into some sort of public outburst that would oblige Thomas Sackville Lord Buckhurst, the current Chancellor of the university, to issue a public statement supporting university dramatics. If so, the plan worked out far better than this pro-theater cabal could ever have anticipated. 1592 was a bad plague year at London, and a hastily arranged visitation to Oxford was selected as a face-saving means of removing Elizabeth from the city. In the course of her visit she learned about the dispute, and in a departing speech made some remarks that amounted to an unambiguous rebuke of Rainolds.
2. Gager went down from Oxford soon thereafter, whereupon the cudgels were taken up by Alberico Gentili. A series of letters back and forth between him and Rainolds exists NOTE 1 in which the debate is continued. It eventually tailed off, but then in 1599, for some inexplicable reason, Rainolds saw fit to publish his original letter to Gager under the title Th’ Overthrow of Stage-Plays, NOTE 2 printed at Middelburg, Holland. This in turn provoked Gentili to publish his own response, Disputationes Duae de Actoribus et Spectatoribus Fabularum non Notandis, issued at Hanau in the same year (both writers presumably chose publication abroad so as to avoid Elizabeth’s wrath).
3. But both Rainolds and Gentili largely restricted their debate to haggling over technicalities and heaping up huge amounts of legal, scriptural and classical references allegedly supportive of their respective positions, in terms that a layman would quickly find barely comprehensible and extremely tedious. Here was an opening for a pro-theater manifesto setting forth the case in terms any reasonably educated Englishman could understand, and Thomas Heywood came forward to satisfy this need with his 1612 pamphlet An Apology for Actors. From a remark in his prefatory address To the Judiciall Reader, “a kinde of necessity enjoyned me to so sudden a businesse,” it would seem that he did so in response to some particular stimulus, the nature of which seems unknown to us. That Heywood was fully aware of the history of the debate into which he was now injecting himself is shown by something said in his address To My Good Friends and Fellows, the Citty-Actors, “instancing my selfe by famous Scalliger, learned Doctor Gager, Doctor Gentiles, and others, whose opinions and approved arguments on our part I have in my briefe discourse altogether omitted. because I am loath to bee taxed in borrowing from others: and besides, their workes, being extant to the world.” NOTE 3 But, clearly, his object was to transform the debate from a narrowly academic one into a national one, and to enlist public support for the pro-theater position.
4. In framing a rebuttal to Puritanical detractors he took his cue especially from one passage in Gager’s 1592 open letter (para. 12):
Neyther doe I see what evill affections could be stirred up by owre playes, but rather good, for in Vlysse Reduce, whoe did not love the fidelyte of Eumaeus and Philoetiustowardes their Master; and hate the contrary in Melanthius? Whoe was not moved to compassion to see Vlysses a great Lorde dryvne so hardly as that he was fayne too be a begger in his owne house? Whoe did not wisshe hym well, and all ill to the wooers, and thinke them wortheley slayne, for their bluddye purpose agaynst Telemachus and other dissolute behaviour, not so muche expressed on the Stage as imagined to be done within? Whoe did not admyre the constancye of Penelope, and disprayse the lytenes, and bad nature in Melantho, and thinke her justly hanged for it? Whoe did not prayse the patience, wisdome, and secrecye of Vlysses and Telemachus his sonne? Lastly whoe was not glad to see Vlysses restored to his wife and his goods, and his mortall enemyes overthrowne and punished? In Riuales, what Cato might not be delyted to see the fonde behaviour of cuntrye wooinge, expressed by cyvill men, or the vanytye of a bragginge soldier? By the spectacle of the drunken mariners, if there were any drunkard there, why might he not the rather detest drunkennes, by seeing the deformytye of drunken actions represented? Possible it was not that any man should be provoked to drunkenes therby. The Lacedaemonians are commended for causinge their slaves, being drunke in deed, to be brought before their children, that thay, seeinge the beastly vsage of suche men, myght the more lothe that vyce; but we, much better expressing the same intent, not with drunken, but with sober men, counterfettinge suche vnseemly manners, are the lesse therfor to be reprehended. InHippolytus, what younge man did not wisshe hym selfe to be as chast as Hippolytus, if he weare not so allready? Whoe did not detest the love of Phaedra? Whoe did not approve the grave counsayle of the Nurse to her in secrett? Or who coulde be the worse for her wooinge Hippolytus, in so generall termes? The drift wherof, if it had byn to procure an honest honorable marriage, as it was covertly to allure hym to inceste, he might very well have listned to it. Whoe wisshethe not that Theseus had not byn so credulus? Whoe was not sorrye for the crwell deathe of Hippolytus? Thes and suche like weare the passions that weare, or might be, moved in owre Playes, withowte hurte, at the leste, to any man, as in other Tragedyes; whoe dothe not hate the furye of Medea, the revenge of Atreus, the treason of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, and the cruelty of Nero? Contraryewise, whoe doth not pittye the rage and the death of Hercules, the calamytie of Hecuba and her children, the infortunate valure of Oedipus, the murder of Agamemnon, the bannishment of Octavia, and such like? And yet no man is to be reproched for eyther affection.
5. Here Gager was building on a passage in Sir Philip Sidney’s Defence of Poesie (III.14f. Fueillerat):
Let us but heare old Anchises, speaking in the middest of Troies flames, or see Ulisses in the fulnesse of all Calipsoes delights, bewaile his absence from barraine and beggerly Ithaca. Anger, the Stoikes said, was a short madnesse: let but Sophocles bring you Ajax on a stage, killing and whipping sheepe and oxen, thinking them the Army of Greekes, with their Cheiftaines Agamemnon and Menelaus: and tell me if you have not a more familiar insight into Anger then finding in the schoolmen his Genus and Difference. See whether wisdom and temperance in Ulisses and Diomedes, valure in Achilles, friendship in Nisus and Eurialas, even to an ignorant man carry not an apparent shining; and contrarily, the remorse of conscience in Oedipus; the soone reprenting pride in Agamemnon; the selfe devouring crueltie in his father Atreus; the violence of ambition in the two Theban brothers; the sower sweetnesse of revenge in Medea; and to fall lower, the Terentian Gnatho, and our Chawcers Pander so exprest, that we now use their names to signifie their Trades. And finally, all vertues, vices, and passions, so in their owne naturall states, laide to the view, that we seeme not to heare of them, but clearly to see through them.
So poetry and plays serve a useful purpose by providing us with positive examples of good behavior for our imitation and bad for our avoidance. In short, they have the capacity to improve morals and character, and so serve a salutary social purpose. Heywood realized that basing his case on this consideration would have great public appeal, and so the first and third sections (rather pretentiously called “Bookes”) of his treatise are essentially an elaboration of the line marked out by Gager.
6. Sometimes his resemblance to Gager is strikingly close. For example, Gager defended his lost 1582 comedy Rivales by writing:
In Riuales, what Cato might not be delyted to see the fonde behaviour of cuntrye wooinge, expressed by cyvill men, or the vanytye of a bragginge soldier? By the spectacle of the drunken mariners, if there were any drunkard there, why might he not the rather detest drunkennes, by seeing the deformytye of drunken actions represented?
And at III.6 Heywood has:
Either in the shape of a clowne to shew others their slovenly and unhansome behaviour that they may reforme that simplicity in themselve, which others make their sport, lest they happen to become the like subject of generall scorne to an auditory]; else it intreates of love, deriding foolish inamorates who spend their ages, their spirits, nay themselves in the servile and ridiculous imployments of their mistresses.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Heywood was a close student of Gager, and that his intent was to render his predecessor’s argument suitable for a wider audience. In order to make his treatise attractive to the average reader, he tricked it out with plenty of poetry and colorful anecdotes. At the same time, like any good Humanist he used his Apology as a vehicle for displaying his own not inconsiderable erudition. But even here there is a cogent subtext: actors cannot always be dismissed as low-down members of the rabble.
7. Like Gager before him, Heywood was obliged to come to terms with one point made by Rainolds. Largely he had argued that dramatics were a waste of time that could be put to better purposes, but what he found specifically odious was the use of boys and men to play female roles, a transgression of the prohibition against cross-dressing at Deuteronomy 22:5 (with an obvious insinuation that such a theatrical practice somehow promoted homosexuality). NOTE 4 Gager countered this objection (para. 11) by writing:
I answere that we are not offendinge aganyst the trwe vnderstandinge of the Text, because we doe not so of any ill intent, or any suche mynd, or that any suche effecte hathe followed in vs thereof, or may in deede be sayde at all to weare weemens apparell, because wearinge implyes a custome, and a common vse of so dooeinge, whereas we doe it for an howre or twoe, or three, to represent an others person, by one that is openly knowne to be as he is in deed; it is not ill in vs to doe so, thoughe it be both in myrthe and to delyte.
Again, Heywood’s deflection of this criticism (I.15) is similar:
To do as the Sodomites did, use preposterous lusts in preposterous habits, is in that text flatly and severely forbidden, nor can I imagine any man that hath in him any taste of relish of Christianity to be guilty of so abhorred a sinne. Besides, it is not probable that playes were meant in that text, because we read not of any playes knowne in that time that Deuteronomie was writ among the Children of Israel, nor do I hold it lawfull to beguile the eyes of the world in confounding the shapes of either sex, as to keepe any youth in the habit of a virgin, or any virgin in the shape of a lad, to shroud them from the eyes of their fathers, tutors, or protectors, or to any other sinister intent whatsoever. But to see our youths attired in the habit of women, who knowes not what their intents be? Who cannot distinguish them by their names, assuredly knowing they are but to represent such a lady at such a time appoynted?
8. Although he took no degrees, Heywood had attended the University of Cambridge, belonging either to Peterhouse or Emmanuel College, NOTE 5 and the learning displayed in his Apology abundantly shows how much he had profited from this experience. At the same he was supremely a man of the London theater, functioning as an actor, prolific playwright and theater manager. As a citizen of both worlds, he was excellently situated to bridge the gap between the university and the wider audience outside, and to express himself in terms equally comprehensible to both.
9. Beginning with Sir Walter Scott’s Collection of Scarce and Valuable Tracts of the most Interesting and Entertaining Subjects (London, 1810) pp. 574 - 600, Heywood’s Apology has been repeatedly reprinted, and now electronic texts are available on the Web from a number sources. The Apology is very familiar to modern scholarship and is endlessly quoted in secondary scholarship. Therefore it comes as a surprise that no genuine edition of Heywood’s pamphlet has ever been attempted, if by “edition” you mean a version purged of misprints and accompanied by a comprehensive running commentary elucidating what is author has to say and identifying his numerous quotations and allusions. In addition, the modern reader requires two aids in the interest of full comprehension: translation of the book’s rather plentiful Latin (and occasional snatches of Greek) and the imposition of something at least approaching modern conventions of punctuation. While is true that, like everybody after him, Scott printed a simple and uncritical transcription of the 1612 original, he did contribute a few valuable observations in individual footnotes. The version issued by The Shakespeare Society at London in 1841 is likewise a mechanical reproduction of the 1612 original, but has the merit of possessing a number of appended commentary notes annotating various passages and at a very few points suggesting corrections to what their author regarded as printing errors. Evidently this is the work of John Payne Collier, although his name appears nowhere in the volume. I must record my gratitude to both Scott and Collier for what I have happily been able borrow from them. NOTE 6
10. Scholars who have written about this debate in England have generally failed to appreciate that a similiar one transpired on the Continent. A useful conspectus is provided by Johann Ludwig Fabricius in his four-part essay De ludis scenicis (1698 Zurich edition available here).
NOTE 1 See J. W. Binns, “Alberico Gentili in Defense of Poetry and Acting,” Studies in the Renaissance 19 (1972) 224 - 72 and John Marcowicz, Latin Correspondence by Alberico Gentili and John Rainolds on Academic Drama (Salzburg Studies in English Literature: Elizabethan and Renaissance Studies 68, Salzburg, 1977)/
NOTE 2 A modern photographic reproduction has been issued with an Introduction by Arthur Freeman (New York, 1974).
NOTE 3 This probably refers to a remark by Joseph Scaliger in his Poetices Libri Septem (Lyons, 1561), p. 903:
Docet affectus poeta per actiones: ut bonos amplectamur atque imitemur ad agendum, malos aspernemur ob abstitendum. Est igitur actio docendi modus. [“A poet teaches us dispositions by means of actions, so that we embrace good men and imitate them in what we do, and scorn bad ones for the sake of abstention. Action is therefore a form of instruction.”
I am incompetent to calculate the chances that Sir Philip Sidney had read these words.
When Heywood writes about Gager’s letter “being extant to the world,” he very likely means that it circulated widely in manuscript form, and the Oxford antiquarian Anthony à Wood expressed doubt that it had been printed (Athenae OxoniensesII.88 Bliss), although he did not completely deny the possibilityBut some of the early volumes issued by Joseph Barnes, printer to the University of Oxford, survive in such small numbers that it may not be impossible that Barnes printed it. Be this as it may, the memory of the Gager-Rainolds controversy lingered on for a long time, and is replicated in the debate between Fucus and Ingenium in Act I, scene vi of Robert Ward’s 1623 Cambridge comedy Fucus sive Histriomastix, a play devoted to the ridicule of anti-theatrical Puritans.
NOTE 4 This objection to male actors playing female roles has been studied by J. W. Binns, “Women or Transvestites on the Elizabethan Stage?: An Oxford Controversy,” Sixteenth Century Journal 5 no. 2 (1974) 95 - 120, and Stephen Orgel, “Nobody’s Perfect: On Why Did the English Stage Take Boys for Women,” South Atlantic Quarterly 88 (1989) 7 - 29. A contemporary rule against actors playing female roles in dramas produced at Jesuit educational institutions very likely had the same motivation.
NOTE 5 What little is known about his time at Cambridge is recorded by John and J. A. Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses (Cambridge 1922) II.344. It is striking that no evidence for his participation in college dramatics in any capacity is contained in Alan H. Nelson, Cambridge (Records of Early English Drama series, Toronto, 1989).
NOTE 6 It should be added that in 1615 a certain John Green or Greene (who signed himself “I. G.”) issued A Refutation of the Apology for Actors a rebuttal which, as they say, contributes more heat than light to the ongoing debate. This and Heywood’s Apology were issued as photographic reprints introduced by Richard H. Perkinson (New York, 1941).