John Day (dramatist)
John Day was an English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 dramatist of the Elizabethan
Elizabethan era
The Elizabethan era was the epoch in English history of Queen Elizabeth I's reign . Historians often depict it as the golden age in English history...

 and Jacobean periods.


He was born at Cawston, Norfolk
Cawston, Norfolk
Cawston is a small village located approximately North of Norwich, off the B1149 main road to Holt. Nearby villages are Reepham and Aylsham.-Church of St Agnes:...

, and educated at Ely
Ely, Cambridgeshire
Ely is a cathedral city in Cambridgeshire, England, 14 miles north-northeast of Cambridge and about by road from London. It is built on a Lower Greensand island, which at a maximum elevation of is the highest land in the Fens...

. He became a sizar
At Trinity College, Dublin and the University of Cambridge, a sizar is a student who receives some form of assistance such as meals, lower fees or lodging during his or her period of study, in some cases in return for doing a defined job....

 of Caius College, Cambridge, in 1592, but was expelled in the next year for stealing a book. He became one of Philip Henslowe
Philip Henslowe
Philip Henslowe was an Elizabethan theatrical entrepreneur and impresario. Henslowe's modern reputation rests on the survival of his diary, a primary source for information about the theatrical world of Renaissance London...

's playwrights, collaborating with Henry Chettle
Henry Chettle
Henry Chettle was an English dramatist and miscellaneous writer of the Elizabethan era.The son of Robert Chettle, a London dyer, he was apprenticed in 1577 and became a member of the Stationer's Company in 1584, traveling to Cambridge on their behalf in 1588. His career as a printer and author is...

, William Haughton
William Haughton
William Haughton was an English playwright in the age of English Renaissance theatre. During the years 1597 to 1602 he collaborated in many plays with Henry Chettle, Thomas Dekker, John Day, Richard Hathwaye and Wentworth Smith....

, Thomas Dekker, Richard Hathwaye
Richard Hathwaye
Richard Hathwaye , was an English dramatist. Little is known about Hathwaye's life. There is no evidence that he was related to his namesake Richard Hathaway, the father of Shakespeare's wife, Anne Hathaway. Hathwaye is not heard of after 1603....

 and Wentworth Smith
Wentworth Smith
Wentworth Smith , was a minor English dramatist of the Elizabethan period who may have been responsible for some of the plays in the Shakespeare Apocrypha, though no work known to be his is extant.-Life and career:...

. There are 22 plays to which he is linked.

However his almost incessant activity does not seem to have paid, to judge by the small loans, of five shilling
The shilling is a unit of currency used in some current and former British Commonwealth countries. The word shilling comes from scilling, an accounting term that dates back to Anglo-Saxon times where it was deemed to be the value of a cow in Kent or a sheep elsewhere. The word is thought to derive...

s and even two shillings, that he obtained from Henslowe. Little is known of his life beyond these small details, and disparaging references by Ben Jonson in 1618/19, describing him, (with Dekker and Edward Sharpham) as a “rogue” and (with Thomas Middleton
Thomas Middleton
Thomas Middleton was an English Jacobean playwright and poet. Middleton stands with John Fletcher and Ben Jonson as among the most successful and prolific of playwrights who wrote their best plays during the Jacobean period. He was one of the few Renaissance dramatists to achieve equal success in...

 and Gervase Markham
Gervase Markham
Gervase Markham was an English poet and writer, best known for his work The English Huswife, Containing the Inward and Outward Virtues Which Ought to Be in a Complete Woman first published in London in 1615.-Life:Markham was the third son of Sir Robert Markham of Cotham, Nottinghamshire, and was...

) as a “base fellow”. It may be indicative of his abilities that of all the writers who did a substantial amount of work for Henslowe’s companies Day is one of only two not mentioned and praised by Francis Meres
Francis Meres
Francis Meres was an English churchman and author.He was born at Kirton in the Holland division of Lincolnshire in 1565. He was educated at Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he received a B.A. in 1587 and an M.A. in 1591. Two years later he was incorporated an M.A. of Oxford...

 in his lists of the “the best” writers in 1598. In Peregrinatio Scholastica, or Learning's Pilgrimage, a collection of 22 morall Tractes written towards the end of his life, but not published until 1881, he laments that “notwithstanding . . . Industry . . . he was forct to take a napp at Beggars Bushe”, and elsewhere he refers to “being becalmde in a fogg of necessity” having been passed over by “Credit” and “Opinion”. It seems likely that he was the “John Daye, yeoman” who killed fellow dramatist Henry Porter in Southwark 1599. If so it does not seem have to interrupted his career; he continued to collaborate with writers such as Henry Chettle, who had written with Porter.


The first play in which Day appears as part-author is The Conquest of Brute, with the finding of the Bath (1598), which, with most of his early work, is lost. Day's earliest extant work, written in collaboration with Chettle, is The Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green (acted 1600, printed 1659), a drama dealing with the early years of the reign of Henry VI
Henry VI of England
Henry VI was King of England from 1422 to 1461 and again from 1470 to 1471, and disputed King of France from 1422 to 1453. Until 1437, his realm was governed by regents. Contemporaneous accounts described him as peaceful and pious, not suited for the violent dynastic civil wars, known as the Wars...

. It bore the sub-title of The Merry Humor of Tom Strowd, the Norfolk Yeoman, and was so popular that second and third parts, by Day and Haughton, were produced in the next year. The Isle of Gulls
The Isle of Gulls
The Isle of Gulls is a Jacobean era stage play written by John Day, a comedy that caused a scandal upon its premiere in 1606.The play was most likely written in 1605; it was acted by the Children of the Revels at the Blackfriars Theatre in February 1606. It was published later in 1606, in a quarto...

(printed 1606), a prose comedy founded upon Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia, contains in its light dialogue much satire to which the key is now lost, but Algernon Charles Swinburne
Algernon Charles Swinburne
Algernon Charles Swinburne was an English poet, playwright, novelist, and critic. He invented the roundel form, wrote several novels, and contributed to the famous Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica...

 notes in Manasses's burlesque of a Puritan
The Puritans were a significant grouping of English Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries. Puritanism in this sense was founded by some Marian exiles from the clergy shortly after the accession of Elizabeth I of England in 1558, as an activist movement within the Church of England...

 sermon is a curious anticipation of the eloquence of Mr. Chadband in Bleak House
Bleak House
Bleak House is the ninth novel by Charles Dickens, published in twenty monthly installments between March 1852 and September 1853. It is held to be one of Dickens's finest novels, containing one of the most vast, complex and engaging arrays of minor characters and sub-plots in his entire canon...

. In 1607 Day produced, in conjunction with William Rowley
William Rowley
William Rowley was an English Jacobean dramatist, best known for works written in collaboration with more successful writers. His date of birth is estimated to have been c. 1585; he was buried on 11 February 1626...

 and George Wilkins
George Wilkins
George Wilkins was an English dramatist and pamphleteer best known for his probable collaboration with Shakespeare on the play Pericles, Prince of Tyre. By profession he was an inn-keeper, but he was also apparently involved in criminal activities.-Life:Wilkins was an inn-keeper in Cow-Cross,...

, The Travels of the Three English Brothers
The Travels of the Three English Brothers
The Travels of the Three English Brothers is an early Jacobean era stage play, an adventure drama written in 1607 by John Day, William Rowley, and George Wilkins. The drama was based on the true-life experiences of the three Shirley brothers, Sir Anthony Shirley, Sir Thomas Shirley, and Robert...

, which detailed the adventures of Sir Thomas
Thomas Shirley
Sir Thomas Shirley was an English adventurer.The son of Sir Thomas Shirley and elder brother of Sir Anthony Shirley, he was educated at Hart Hall, Oxford. He served in the English forces in the Low Countries, and was knighted in 1589 while serving in Ireland under Sir William Fitz-William...

, Sir Anthony
Anthony Shirley
Sir Anthony Shirley was an English traveller, whose imprisonment in 1603 by King James I was an important event because it caused the British House of Commons to assert one of its privileges—freedom of its members from arrest—in a document known as The Form of Apology and Satisfaction.He was the...

 and Robert Shirley
Robert Shirley
Sir Robert Shirley was an English traveler and adventurer, younger brother of Sir Anthony Shirley and of the adventurer Sir Thomas.-Diplomatic Activities:Robert went with his brother Anthony to Persia in 1598...

. This play is a dramatic romance
Romance (genre)
As a literary genre of high culture, romance or chivalric romance is a style of heroic prose and verse narrative that was popular in the aristocratic circles of High Medieval and Early Modern Europe. They were fantastic stories about marvel-filled adventures, often of a knight errant portrayed as...

 of a type that hearkened back to the early decades of the public stage in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

. In 1608 Day published two comedies, Law Tricks, or Who Would have Thought it? and Humour out of Breath.

The Parliament of Bees
The Parliament of Bees
The Parliament of Bees is the best-known of the works of the Elizabethan dramatist, John Day. It was probably written sometime between 1608 and 1616, but not published till 1641....

is the work on which Day's reputation chiefly rests. The piece contains much for which parallel passages are found in Thomas Dekker's Wonder of a Kingdom (1636) and The Noble Spanish Soldier
The Noble Spanish Soldier
The Noble Spanish Soldier is a Jacobean play written by English author Thomas Dekker.-Dramatic characters:*King of Spain*Cardinal, advisor to the King*Count Malateste of Florence, confidant of the Queen...

(printed 1634). The passages which echo The Noble Spanish Soldier include references to speaking Spanish which are only meaningful in the context of Dekker's play; this suggests that the Dekker play is the original, a possibility reinforced by the consideration that there is no earlier known edition of The Parliament of Bees than 1641.

The six dramas by Day which we possess show a delicate fancy and dainty inventiveness all his own. He preserved, in a great measure, the dramatic tradition of John Lyly
John Lyly
John Lyly was an English writer, best known for his books Euphues,The Anatomy of Wit and Euphues and His England. Lyly's linguistic style, originating in his first books, is known as Euphuism.-Biography:John Lyly was born in Kent, England, in 1553/1554...

, and affected a kind of subdued euphuism
Euphuism is a peculiar mannered style of English prose. It takes its name from a prose romance by John Lyly. It consists of a preciously ornate and sophisticated style, employing in deliberate excess a wide range of literary devices such as antitheses, alliterations, repetitions and rhetorical...

. Without ever wholly abandoning these characteristics, Day's comedy also reveals some influence of early Jacobean satirists such as John Marston
John Marston
John Marston was an English poet, playwright and satirist during the late Elizabethan and Jacobean periods...

, who like Day wrote for the children's companies. The Maid's Metamorphosis
The Maid's Metamorphosis
The Maid's Metamorphosis is a late Elizabethan stage play, a pastoral first published in 1600. The play, "a comedy of considerable merit," was published anonymously, and its authorship has been a long-standing point of dispute among scholars....

(1600), once supposed to be a posthumous work of Lyly's, may be an early work of Day's. It possesses, at all events, many of his marked characteristics. His prose Peregrinatio Scholastica or Learninges Pilgrimage, dating from his later years, was printed by A. H. Bullen from a manuscript of Day's. Considerations partly based on this work have suggested that he had a share in the anonymous The Pilgrimage to Parnassus and the Return from Parnassus. The beauty and ingenuity of The Parliament of Bees were noted and warmly extolled by Charles Lamb; and Day's work has since found many admirers.
The date of his death is unknown, but an elegy on him by John Tatham
John Tatham
John Tatham was an English dramatist of the mid-seventeenth century.Little is known of him. He was a Cavalier who hated the Puritans — and the Scots;he invented a dialect which he claimed was their vernacular tongue...

, the city poet, was published in 1640.


His works, edited by Bullen, were printed at the Chiswick Press in 1881. The same editor included The Maid's Metamorphosis
The Maid's Metamorphosis
The Maid's Metamorphosis is a late Elizabethan stage play, a pastoral first published in 1600. The play, "a comedy of considerable merit," was published anonymously, and its authorship has been a long-standing point of dispute among scholars....

in Vol. 1 of his Collection of Old Plays. The Parliament of Bees and Humour out of Breath were printed in Nero and other Plays (Mermaid Series
Mermaid Series
The Mermaid Series was a major collection of reprints of texts from English Elizabethan, Jacobean and Restoration drama. It was published in the years around 1900 by the London firm of T. Fisher Unwin, with many well-known literary figures editing or introducing the texts...

, 1888), with an introduction by Arthur Symons
Arthur Symons
Arthur William Symons , was a British poet, critic and magazine editor.-Life:Born in Milford Haven, Wales, of Cornish parents, Symons was educated privately, spending much of his time in France and Italy...

. An appreciation by Algernon Charles Swinburne
Algernon Charles Swinburne
Algernon Charles Swinburne was an English poet, playwright, novelist, and critic. He invented the roundel form, wrote several novels, and contributed to the famous Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica...

appeared in The Nineteenth Century (October 1897).
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