‘'[T]ween two Currents': The Triumph of Domestic Tragedy in Heywood’s The English Traveller

Ezra Horbury


Thomas Heywood has long been praised (and criticised) for his generic experimentation. The English Traveller is emblematic of such innovation, a play that combines domestic tragedy with prodigal son comedy and, in doing so, deconstructs the ethical structures that had long been essential to prodigal son drama. The parable of the prodigal son dominated early modern culture, saturating drama, sermons, poetry, and prose, and became emblematic of Protestant repentance; however, some playwrights (notably Jonson, Chapman, Marston, Middleton, Shakespeare) questioned the lasting relevance of the genre to seventeenth century England. Heywood’s The English Traveller exploits these anxieties by transposing the narrative into the genre of domestic tragedy. This article demonstrates how Heywood utilises the pessimistic universe of domestic tragedy to deconstruct the parable and the themes it had so long enforced, including the supremacy of paternal authority, the sacredness of the domestic space, the utility of Aristotelian ethics in proto-capitalism, and the redemptive capabilities of women. For Heywood, who played the parable straight in 2 If You Know Not Me You Know Nobody, the genre of domestic tragedy facilitates a uniquely incisive criticism and deconstruction of those themes that had dominated Reformation theatre. In The English Traveller, domestic tragedy has usurped prodigal son comedy as the most apposite genre to represent religious and domestic ethics in seventeenth century England.


Thomas Heywood; prodigality; prodigal son; domestic tragedy

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