Heywood’s Epic Theater


Mark Bayer


Although many critics have noticed in Shakespeare’s history plays a precursor to Bertolt Brecht’s radical dramaturgical experiments in the twentieth century, few have extended this analysis to non-Shakespearean drama or to the specific playhouses where these plays were staged. In this essay, I will argue that the early modern theatre in several important ways resembled what Brecht would later call the “epic” theatre, but that we might more easily recognize that theatre’s contributions to a socially resonant dramatic praxis by looking beyond Shakespeare and the Globe to Thomas Heywood and the Red Bull. Specifically, I look at the five-part cycle of plays known as The Ages (c. 1609-1613) that literally draw on classical epic to trace Roman mythical history from the birth of Jupiter to the fall of Troy. Examining the Ages, and the venue at which they were staged, according to Brechtian precepts gives us a new way to appreciate these frequently disparaged plays while marking a significant contrast with Shakespeare’s much more acclaimed history plays.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.