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At one fairly inconspicuous moment in Heywood's play 1 The Fair Maid of the West, the Chorus to Act 5, the Chorus says, of a shipwreck scene,
Our stage so lamely can express a seaThat we are forc'd by Chorus to discourseWhat should have been in action.(4.5.1-3)
Our stage so lamely can express a sea
That we are forc'd by Chorus to discourse
What should have been in action.
The Fair Maid was moderately well known even before Heywood wrote a sequel for the Cockpit company who played it at Court in the early 1630s, when the two plays were first published.2 It was probably originally written in 1609-10, because The Roaring Girl refers to it, and that play can be dated precisely in 1611. The dating, very close to the time The Tempest was written, raises the question whether Shakespeare heard Heywood's lament before he wrote the shipwreck scene to open his play, or alternatively whether Heywood's Chorus was commenting on the failure of The Tempest's shipwreck scene. Either Shakespeare was showing Heywood what a different playhouse could do on its not-so-lame stage, or Heywood was disowning Shakespeare's failure.
Another play of Heywood's, written rather earlier, The Four Prentices of London, has a broadly similar display of modesty, this time prescribing exactly what he would have liked his stage to show.
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