John Heywood (c.1497-1578) – produced entertainments for a fairly large chunk of his life. Embedded in the court of Henry VIII, he wrote the plays that survive to us today, but following the Reformation his dramatic output didn’t continue in print. What we have is a snap shot of his work from the late 1520’s to the early 1533’s – showing us a writer developing from working just with himself and a couple of other actors (Witty and Witless et al – 3 actors, no set/costume required), to a producer of a large scale work but a few years later (The Play of the Weather – ten actors, costume and some setting much more important, nearly twice as long).
We’ve spent a year working (and in one case reworking) to produce all of John Heywood’s plays – here they are, with some additional notes. If you just want to listen to the full playlist – you can just press play in the list below. Or keep scrolling down.
We’ve also produced Exploring sessions of the plays on YouTube – full playlist below!
Having got this far, we want you, dear reader, to take up the John Heywood challenge – he’s really great to work on, especially for students or fringe performers starting their career. Most of the plays are short (30mins/45mins/1hr) and have small casts (mostly casts of three or four) – and even the large cast Weather can be scaled down and still work. There isn’t, yet, a good workable version of the works to use for productions. Some plays can be found in a well edited form online, some less so, but most are perfectly stagible, if not perfect. Some plays have a good modern performance history for you to be inspired by / ruthlessly steal from. Where possible we will include links below. If you’re thinking of staging some John Heywood (other Heywoods are available) contact us and we’ll give you all the help we can. Seriously, we’re here to help others do more.
Witty and Witless
Cast of Three: John, James, Jerome – running time, 45 minutes approx.
A debate play – or as we prefer to call it, an argument play. Two people – and if you’d like to stage it, though gendered pronouns do come up they are easily changed / ignored – argue a point, the question broadly is whether it’s better to live your life in ignorance or not. James convinces John that he is right, where upon Jerome stands up – from the audience – to tell John that he was actually right. James leaves, and the argument begins again and builds to a conclusion.
This isn’t as dry as it sounds – remember, this is an argument. If you try and stage it, your actors must want to win – that’s the driver of this and many of Heywood’s plays.
Links – the John S Farmer version is not perfect, there are a few minor errors – but it’s not as bad as we’ve heard tell. HERE.
Or if you really want to go to town – here is the original manuscript text.
Our audio version
Gentleness and Nobility – with John Rastell
Cast of Three (plus an Epilogue) – Merchant, Knight, Ploughman
In two acts, running time 1hr plus change.
A cracking play this one – a debate / argument that hasn’t got old. It’s all about class and status – who is more noble, a merchant, a knight or a ploughman? Do people deserve their status in society just because of their ancestors? Should property be inherited? It’s just brilliant – though the way the play ends is interesting. There’s a false ending with the exit of the Ploughman in Act Two, with another scene and then an epilogue appears at the end – all of which seems to be by a different hand, possibly John Rastell.
If you’re looking for a full evening of play – then uncut and with room to breathe, the play could last around 80 minutes, plus an interval. Otherwise, you could trim the break in the middle and the extra ending and get it down to under an hour for fringe or student production.
More on the play can be found via this link – the Tudor Plays project have produced both an original spelling version, and played around with a different modern approach. http://tudorplays.org/gentylnes-and-nobylyte/
The Exploring Session can be watched here – our full cast audio version can be heard below.
John John – or John John the Husband, Tyb his Wife, and Sir John the Priest
Cast of Three, see title for details. Running time, approx 30 minutes plus.
In a sense this is the best play to stage because it’s a really lively adaptation of a French farce and is gloriously rude. It’s also the most problematic, because it opens with a lengthy discussion with the audience by John John as to whether he should beat his wife. Now, we can gloss this with a knowledge of history, the importance of context, and the fact that John John wouldn’t say boo to a goose – but getting the audience on side for a comedy is important, and it’s not a comfortable opening. To make this work we suggest playing with the gender of casting and/or approaching the play with some kind of framing to make it work – because it is worth getting to the pie and the candle wax bit, it’s really funny.
Scripts – a fairly good version can be found online, and you can shop around a bit, it has had other printings.
Audio – we have two podcasts on the text, our live audience recording…
And… a recording of our first read through and rehearsal for that production – which we include because it’s the full text, whereas there were cuts to the live show.
The Pardoner and the Friar
Cast of Four – The Friar, the Pardoner, the Parson and Neighbour Prat.
Running time, approx 30 minutes plus. This is such a clever play – two professional church type people try to extort money from an audience at the same time. They mostly speak at the same time. For those of you who’ve worked with clowning and play, this play is a dream – because, though the dialogue does have content, the overlapping speeches are a game to be played between the two titular characters. It’s about rhythm, pace, tone, physical business and, as such, it is the most theatrical play ever written. Whilst we’ve done (we think) a good job on the audio (it was nominated for an award), it is impossible to play the games and interplay that this play demands. So it cries out for your attention. STAGE THIS PLAY!
NB: Lines. There’s a lot of long speeches / horrible overlappy speeches. Do not panic. The overlapping text can be cribbed, there is a hint in the play that the Pardoner is reading from his Papal bulls and the Friar is reading his written sermon – so you’d only need to learn/learn the opening speeches and the dialogue between the two. The set pieces can be… massaged. Otherwise you’ll spend hours in rehearsals just trying to get the words right, rather than playing the game. The game being to f*** over the other speaker.
Script – again, you can shop around a bit, but here’s the easiest to find.
Audio – our version can be enjoyed here. We may do more with this play in the future. Because we love it. You should do it too.
The Four PP – (we went with The Four P’s)
Cast of Four – The Palmer, the Pardoner, the Pothecary and the Peddler. Running time – an hour plus change – could stretch longer depending on playing style.
This is a play that pops up a lot – you can find it published in many a place and there’s a lot of interest in it. The play is in theory a debate / argument about who has the better direct line to heaven, between the Palmer (traveller who collects pilgrim sites), the Pardoner (seller of indulgences etc and refugee from the last play, with some of the same jokes!) and the Pothecary (who will happily sell you poisons to take you to the next life quicker). Presiding over the debate is the Peddler (who isn’t that fussed with the whole peddling business) who suggests, largely to pass the time, to hold a lying competition between the arguers. This leads to two rather fun tall tales, which are performable in their own right. The play has a similar game play feel, it’s all about keeping the audience interested, without worrying too much about the debate at hand or the contest – they sing for a bit, there’s some physical comedy with hopping – you need to have performers who take the opportunities the script suggests and run with them.
You can buy this play in collected editions – we’ll let you search that for yourself – but it’s also findable online in the usual places.
Our audio version is also available – and we may release our read through at some point. There is only one moderate cut to the play – it’s the hopping sequence, which is terrible audio.
A Play of Love
Cast of Four – (take a deep breath) the Lover not Loved, the Loved not Loving, the Loved Loved, No Lover nor Loved. Running time – orbiting 90 minutes, depending on performance style.
FIRST THING – if you want to read this play, download it, put it into a word processor and use find and replace to change all the names. We chose numbers, but you could call No Lover nor Loved – the Vice, for example. Basically, the script is really scary to read and impossible to rehearse with because of the names, your eyes just drop out and give up, they are too similar.
SECOND THING – the name issue is, we think, the reason why this play is overlooked. It’s such a clever idea, it’s really well written, it has depth, it has issues, and it has fireworks (literally); it is a proper grown up play by a writer who has figured out what he is doing. We want to stage this fully so bad it hurts – but we won’t hold it against you if you want to go first. Please do.
ACTUAL USEFUL NOTES – The play takes all the basic elements of love and throws them together. Two ‘good’ elements – the Lover Loved is in a happy reciprocated relationship, and the Vice character (he says) is perfectly happy not being in love. Meanwhile the ‘bad’ side to love is shown in the Lover not Loved, who wants someone who doesn’t return his affections, and the Loved not Loving (significantly, a female character) who is driven to distraction by someone who’s effectively stalking her. There were a lot of modern resonances to be had from her which we didn’t fully explore, but she is a character for whom the time has come.
The Vice character is mostly important because he has the longest speech, possibly, in all drama (outside one person shows). It is both brilliant and also unbalancing – in live performance we’d definitely semi stage the story as he tells it, because it throws the balance of the event off somewhat. The story is significant because it suggests that the Vice isn’t No Lover nor Loved, but actually someone who did love and was crushed. That his misanthropy is a defence. But you could cut the story if you wished, the play would (probably) survive.
Scripts – as per the above, it’s available online, and may be in collections.
Audio – we made a few minor cuts to the text, but 99% of it features in our adaptation.
The Play of the Weather
Cast of Ten (with adjustments could be done with fewer) –
The god Jupiter and his messenger Merry Report. Then there supplicants: The Gentleman, the Merchant, the Ranger, the Water Miller, the Wind Miller, the Gentlewoman, the Launder, and the Boy.
Running time – orbiting 75 to 90 minutes, depending on songs and business.
This is a shaggy dog story, in the best possible way. Jupiter, following an argument among the gods, decides to invite the people to lobby for the weather they want. Everyone asks for the weather that benefits themselves most, and in the end Jupiter just gives everyone alternating weather patterns – i.e. exactly as it was before. This means that a whole series of fun characters get paraded through to visit Jupiter and his intermediary Merry Report (a man who rises above his station in life). Jupiter, having handed out the job of meeting people is clearly not interested in the details, increasingly annoyed at being bothered. Everyone coming through has an appeal, but some lobbyists – the wind and water millers and the two women – are set up in active competition, so argue not just to Merry Report, but with each other. Songs are sung, business ensues, jokes are had. It’s great fun. Except for the final scene, the people lobbying only appear one or two at a time – so with a trim of some of the final dialogue (or some fancy footwork) you could get the cast size of ten down to around six, with reasonable doubling. Something which we have in mind for the future. Feel free to give us money to make that happen. Or have a go yourself.
Scripts – as per the above, it’s available online, and can be found in print in collections.
Video – there’s a whole host of video goodness from a production and research project – there are full recordings of the production in various ways. Enjoy!
Audio – and yes, here’s our version. Because of the above material we didn’t feel the pressure to do as much text as in the earlier adaptations – so there are a reasonable number of cuts here and there. But it’s quite fun.
And that’s it for the full plays but there is…
A Fragment – Reason
One of John Heywood’s students remembered and wrote down a speech from one of his plays – and we recorded it here…
There’s more audio in our archive yet to be release, and some is on our patreon page for our patrons – you can join for as little as $1 a month and get bonus content like our field recording of Gentleness and Nobility live. Join us today!
Additionally – we’ve had a couple of discussions with experts about Heywood and his circle. For a discussion mostly of the plays with Professor Greg Walker, there’s this…
And for a discussion of Heywood’s later life and writings there’s this…
And for a discussion of John Rastell, Heywood’s printer and collaborator, there’s this…