dramatist John Day was born at Cawston, Norfolk, in 1574, and
educated at Ely. He became a sizar of Caius College, Cambridge,
in 1592, but was expelled in the next year for stealing a book.
He became one of Henslowe's
playwrights, collaborating with Henry Chettle, William Haughton,
Thomas Dekker, Richard Hathway
and Wentworth Smith, but his almost incessant activity seems
to have left him poor enough, to judge by the small loans, of
five shillings and even two shillings, that he obtained from
Henslowe. 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 journeyman's work, is lost. A
drama dealing with the early years of the reign of Henry VI,
The Blind Beggar of Bednal Green (acted 1600, printed
1659), written in collaboration with Chettle, is his earliest
extant work. 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 the next
year. The Ile of Guls (Isle of Gulls) (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 Mr. Swinburne notes in Manasses' burlesque of a
Puritan sermon a curious anticipation of the eloquence of Mr.
Chadband in Bleak House. In 1607, Day produced, in conjunction
with William Rowley and George Wilkins, The Travailes of the
Three English Brothers, which detailed the adventures of
Sir Thomas, Sir Anthony and Robert Shirley.
The Parliament of Bees is the work on which Day's reputation chiefly
rests. This exquisite and unique drama, or rather masque, is
entirely occupied with "the doings, the births, the wars,
the wooings" of bees, expressed in a style at once most
singular and most charming. The bees hold a parliament under
Prorex, the Master Bee, and various complaints are preferred
against the humble-bee, the wasp, the drone and other offenders.
This satirical allegory of affairs ends with a royal progress
of Oberon, who distributes justice to all. The piece contains
much for which parallel passages are found in Dekker's Wonder
of a Kingdom (1636) and Samuel Rowley's (or Dekker's)
Noble Soldier (printed 1634). There is no earlier known
edition of The Parliament of Bees than that in 1641,
but a persistent tradition has assigned the piece to 1607. In
1608, Day published two comedies, Law Trickes, or Who Would
have Thought it? and Humour out of Breath. The date
of his death is unknown, but an elegy on him by John Tatham,
the city poet, was published in 1640. The six dramas by John
Day which we possess show a delicate fancy and dainty inventiveness
all his own. He preserved, in great measure, the dramatic tradition
Lyly, and affected a kind of subdued euphuism. The Maydes
Metamorphosis (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 Peregrinatic
Scholastica or Learninges Pilgrimage, dating from his later
years, was printed by Mr. 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 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.
This article was originally
published in Encyclopedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition.
Cambridge: University Press, 1911.
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