John Heywood's The Spider and the Flie: Educating queen and country

Judith Rice Henderson. Studies in Philology. Chapel Hill: Summer 1999.Vol.96, Iss. 3; pg. 241, 34 pgs

Abstract (Document Summary)

John Heywood's "The Spider and the Flie" has been one of the least appreciated of many neglected poems of mid-Tudor England. Henderson claims that Heywood's purpose for writing the poem was not only to instruct but also to exhort commoners, professionals, magistrates and the monarch to fulfill their obligations to the commonwealth.

Full Text (11655   words)

Copyright University of North Carolina Press Summer 1999

DRAWING on evidence meticulously collected early this century by A. W. Reed, the editors of a 1991 edition of John Heywood's plays, Richard Axton and Peter Happe, have concluded that in the 1530s this court entertainer and kinsman by marriage of Sir Thomas More was publicly supporting Princess Mary through the divorce of her parents, King Henry VIII and Queen Katherine of Aragon.1 Axton and Happe observe that "Soon after the King's order that Mary was no longer to be styled 'Princess of England; Heywood dedicated to her his ballad, 'Give place ye ladies,'" and records of 1537 and 1538 suggest that he "was associated with Princess Mary's household."2 Reed and Axton and Happe all surmise that Heywood was one of her tutors.3 After Mary ascended the throne in 1553, Heywood published an apologue in rhyme royal, The Spider and the Flie (London, 1556), concluding it with a celebration of her recent marriage to King Philip II of Spain and a call for obedience to their rule. This "parable," as Heywood calls it, includes a rebellion of flies against their spider lords that glances at Kett's Rebellion in Norfolk in 1549 and no doubt would have reminded contemporaries of the threats to her sovereignty that Mary had survived: Northumberland's attempt to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne in 1553 and the rebellions against the Spanish marriage, including that led by Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger, in 1554. The rebel flies lose, yet surprisingly, the poem treats them more sympathetically than the spiders. The spiders' leader is killed and their webs are destroyed by the maid, that is, Queen Mary, who restores order.

Axton and Happe's suggestion may be a key to understanding Heywood's curious and neglected work. Heywood's conclusion begins:

I have, good readers, this parable here penned,

After old beginning newly brought to end.

The thing, years more than twenty since it begun,

To the thing years more than nineteen, nothing done.4

Critics have offered a variety of explanations for the long break in composition of a poem begun before 1536, but to my knowledge they have not suggested an obvious possibility. As published in 1556, Heywood's poem can be read as a textbook of ethics, law, politics, logic, and rhetoric, taking the form of a fable illustrated with woodcuts.5 Traditionally, fables were considered especially suitable for teaching morality to children, and the fables of Aesop were standard school texts in the sixteenth century. Sir Philip Sidney praises "a tale which holdeth children from play and old men from the chimney corner. And pretending no more, doth intend the winning of the mind from wickedness to virtue"; that such tales might disguise political counsel to the great has been amply demonstrated by Annabel Patterson.6 I suggest that Heywood began writing his insect fable to help prepare the teenage princess to rule her nation.7 He must have abandoned it sometime between 1533, when she was disinherited by the annulment of her parents' marriage and the birth of her half-sister Elizabeth, and 1537, when the birth of her legitimate half-brother Edward made her accession to the throne seem almost impossible. When, two decades later, Heywood's royal pupil became queen after all, he updated, completed, and published her verse textbook, tailoring it to the wider audience of a nation reeling from several recent rebellions. The revised poem is an allegory of class relations in Tudor England addressed to landlords, tenants, and the lawyers who negotiated between them.

Reaching print only a few years after Thomas Wilson's much-cited prose textbooks, The Rule of Reason (1551, rev. 1552, 1553) and The Arte of Rhetorique (1553, rev. 156o), Heywood's verse textbook deserves equal attention. Wilson publishes as a Protestant reformer and the former tutor of Henry and Charles Brandon, the recently deceased sons of the Duke of Suffolk, in the reign of Edward VI.8 Heywood publishes as a more conservative Roman Catholic in the reign of the queen who was once his pupil, Mary I. Both men offer the arts of discourse in the vernacular to commoners denied the humanist education in Latin and Greek of the ruling class. As Wilson teaches the lay Christian the tools of religious debate, so Heywood provides in rational argument under law an alternative to armed rebellion against social and economic oppression. Both are responding in their own way to the mid-Tudor crisis.9 While Wilson's textbooks, especially his rhetoric, are sometimes amusing, Heywood's didactic insect fable is often a comic joy, teaching by delighting. I do not pretend that it is flawless, and most certainly, it was not a success. Heywood's purpose was not only to instruct but also to exhort commoners, professionals, magistrates, and finally, the monarch to fulfill their mutual obligations within the commonwealth. History suggests that he failed to persuade his contemporaries. For that failure, I shall have to admit, some flaws in his rhetorical strategies for appealing to human nature could be held responsible, although I suspect that human nature itself must take most of the blame.

The Spider and the Flie has been one of the least appreciated of many neglected poems of mid-Tudor England, in its own time as well as in ours. William Harrison's complaint in The Description of England of the obscurity of its allegory has often been cited by later critics: "he dealeth so profoundly and beyond all measure of skill that neither he himself that made it, neither anyone that readeth it, can reach unto the meaning thereof."10 The poem was not reprinted until 1894.11 Today Heywood is known primarily for his other works-his epigrams, proverbs, and especially interludes-rather than for this mock-heroic fable "almost as long as Paradise Lost." 12 His most recent critical biographer, Edmund M. Hayes, typifies generations of critical contempt for the alleged artlessness, confusion, and disunity of the poem:

The Spider and the Fly is not a great work of art: the rhyme royal is often tedious, and the number of debates is excessive. Part of the problem with decoding the allegory is due to Heywood's putting the poem aside for nearly twenty years; when he resumed writing it he probably had different persons and events in mind than he had had when he started it.... The first seventy-eight chapters deal with secular issues, while the final twenty focus on religious concerns. In the early chapters the spiders represent the nobility and the flies the commoners; later the spiders represent the Protestants and the flies the Catholics. There is a piousness to the last books that is missing from the first two-thirds of the poem.13

Part of the reason for the unenviable reputation of The Spider and the Flie must be its support of the losing side in the religious conflicts of Tudor England. As Georges Edelen notes, Harrison's criticism probably reflects his Protestant bias against "Heywood's Roman Catholic sympathies."'4 Heywood served in the courts of four Tudor monarchs, achieving recognition as an entertainer, at least periodically, from 1519 to perhaps 1562, but England's break with Rome brought him After Thomas Cromwell's fall in 1540, Heywood joined the conspiracy against Archbishop Cranmer and escaped execution for treason only by a humiliating recantation at Paul's Cross on 6 July 1544.16 Subsequently he accommodated to the Reformation court of Edward VI, but he asserted his real views on religion in The Spider and the Flie. In "The conclusion with an exposition of the Author touching one piece of the latter part of this parable," Heywood identifies his dea ex machina, the maid who frees the fly from the web, executes the spider, and sweeps away the webs usurping the window, thus restoring "ancient order" (414). She is Queen Mary I (426), her master is Christ, and her mistress is "mother holy church catholical" (428). He ends with a blessing on his queen's marriage to King Philip II of Spain and a call for obedience to their rule (428-29). After his dream of the restoration of Roman Catholicism had been shattered by Mary's death and the Elizabethan Settlement, the aged Heywood left England on 20 July 1564 for an impoverished and sometimes endangered exile in the war-torn Low Countries. To posterity, he left the problem of reconciling his picture of the first Tudor queen as "merciful maiden" (426) with the "Bloody Mary" of Whig history.18

The poem's reputation has not been enhanced by the unsuccessful efforts of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century critics to find in it a consistent political allegory. The "flesh fly" (43) trapped in the web of the spider, pleading for its life, has reminded some critics of More.19 Reed concludes instead that the entrapped fly is John Rastell, Heywood's father-in-law, who broke with the More circle when he was converted by the reformer John Frith. For refusing to pay tithes he "was thrown into prison, where he died in 1536, impoverished and forsaken alike by his old and new friends."20 The spider has been identified as Wolsey, as Thomas Cromwell, as Northumberland, or as Cranmer.21 The recantation of the ant has been thought to figure Heywood's own at Paul's Cross.22 However, none of these readings seems to apply throughout the poem. Perhaps critics have persisted in attempting identifications out of a conviction that the small place the poem occupies in literary history is due, as Robert Carl Johnson asserts, to its "significant departure from the medieval tradition" in allegorizing "real political figures" rather than "vague abstractions and personifications." 23

Citing Heywood's claim of a break in the poem's composition, critics have related the army of flies that rebel against the spiders to several mid-sixteenth-century uprisings. David R. Hauser neatly sums up the two leading views of the poet's intent before rejecting both: "Heywood was either writing about the Pilgrimage of Grace of 1536, or he had begun by satirizing Wolsey's activities but was thwarted by the chief minister's death in 153o, and had allowed the manuscript to rest for nineteen years until the Rebellion of 1549" led by Kett in Norfolk.24 Hauser argues instead that Heywood's claim is intended to "veil his allegory" in a work recently composed. Hauser finds the poem timely and unified as a response to the 1549 Rebellion and subsequent events, such as Northumberland's "ill-fated coup of 1553," yet he concludes "that Heywood was not constructing a strictly historical allegory, but a dramatic presentation of social conditions and the lessons to be learned from history." Heywood portrays "the failures of the law courts, the economic grievances of agricultural workers, and the lack of any real temporal or spiritual authority."25

Hauser's argument largely avoids the mistake made by most critics of The Spider and the Flie in searching for "real political figures" behind the allegory. In the "Conclusion," Heywood does refer to a particular execution:

And as under that maid spider died but one,

So under this maid, save one, (in effect) none.26

In the rest of the poem, there are a few references to actual places or events. The fly has learned common law by buzzing around the courts of "Westminster Hall," where "never com'th cobweb" (ill).27 When flies' and spiders' respective rights to the window are debated in arbitration, the witnesses of ancient custom are an old spider born in "the leap year, before the ill May day" (159) and an old fly bred "in the year of the great frost, / Before the great sweat, when many flies were crossed, / Out of the book of life" (I62). The first reminds the reader of the London riot of 1517, in which More tried unsuccessfully to disperse the crowd.28 The second, although not so clear, is a companion allusion to a disaster endured by the poor, probably in 15o6 or 1517.29 The "Tree of Reformation" (222) on which the rebel flies threaten to hang the arbiter ant alludes to the Oak of Reformation on Mousehold Heath under which Kett held court, trying the landlords and lawyers he had captured.30 Having learned the costs of rebellion, the captain of the flies cites the failure of two previous uprisings, "For religion, with some other thing to that, / One sort by east, another by west" (262). This also seems to refer to rebellions of 1549.31 The phrase "captain cobblers" (232) has been thought to recall rebel leaders of 1536.32 On the other hand, the poem contains few clues to political allegory of the sort we find abundantly in Edmund Spenser or other accomplished Tudor writers. For instance, names are rarely given to the main characters and then seem to be merely comic. The spider chooses as his arbiter an ant, "Pierce pismire called Antony" (133). The entrapped fly chooses "My grandsire Bartilmew butterfly" (133). The fly's name, "Buz," becomes an occasion for the spider's sophistry in accusing the fly of being a ringleader, since the first word of any fly caught in the spider's web

Was buz, which is apparent evidence

That all flies have thee in great reverence,

Thinking the policy or power of thee

Shall set them all from hence at liberty.


In fact, Heywood himself guides our interpretation when he explains in his "Preface" his use of the biblical term "parable" for his poem.33 The allegory is moral, its purpose, didactic: to "teach the scanner good to take and tell" (3). The "Preface" tells a story of "fair women three" (3)-- Margaret, Margery, and Marian (4)-dressing before "one fair glass" (3). Each is so busy criticizing the other two that she fails to check her own appearance for faults. This emblem of vanity warns Heywood's contemporaries to see themselves, not others, in "spiders, flies, and eke th'ants' kind" (6). The insect characters, then, are Heywood's readers. The narrative associates them with three social classes: landlords, tenants, and professionals. The fourth woman of the allegory, the maid, is not mentioned until the final episodes or identified with Queen Mary until the "Conclusion." The monarch, of course, is not told to examine herself for faults, but the anaphora that links her name with those of the "fair women three" may imply that Mary, as well as her subjects of all classes, must take responsibility for the social problems that the poem allegorizes.

The narrative clearly identifies the insects with three estates. The spider has authority to hold the fly prisoner "In this my lordship" on mere suspicion of a crime (57). The flies-that is, the flesh fly Buz, his grandfather Bartilmew Butterfly, and the "Flesh flies, butterflies, land flies, water flies, / Bees, humblebees, wasps, hornets, gnats" who support them (221)-address the spiders as "sir" (40) and "Masters (or lords)" (158). The spiders call the flies "friend" (57) or "good fellow" (62) or "good man" (64) and use the pronouns "thou," "thy," "thee" in addressing them (40-41). When the spider's "fine cousin ant" (139) addresses Bartilmew as "master butterfly," the butterfly protests, "No master, sir; I am but a yeoman" (151). According to the fly, the ant is a "cunning clerk" (z48), better educated than the butterfly:

The ant hath gift of right good wit (no doubt)

And thereto (for an ant) learned excellently.


He tells the blunt, plain-spoken butterfly,

Let learned lawyers pipe up trumpets blown

Of rules in law to rule you as their own

Yet shall their reasons no whit make ye start

From that ground on your or on your friend's part.


The spider is at first impressed with the fly's speech: "I espy right well / Thy brain is much" (51). However, he soon becomes offended "To see a fly think himself presumptuously / Better seen in law and custom than I" (70). When war breaks out, the army of flies is a "scattered array" armed with "Staves, bats, clubs, pitchforks, most beggarly, most bold" (221), while the spiders, well armed and disciplined, fortify a castle. Clearly the flies are commoners, spiders, the ruling class. The ant is a professional, probably a lawyer rather than a member of the clergy as Johnson suggests.34

Hauser's argument that the poem addresses social issues throughout, especially the problem of rebellion, is sound. Jakob Haber compiles a veritable anthology of similar views in mid-Tudor literature, and R. J. Schoeck relates the poem to a proverb about law as a trap for the poor cited in Erasmus' The Education of a Christian Prince.35 Johnson claims that "no clear plan controlled the work from its inception," yet he notes the persistent concern of The Spider and the Flie with social and economic themes and relates it to More's Utopia.36 The historian Whitney R. D. Jones even uses the poem as a source of contemporary opinion concerning the "nature and duties of the Commonwealth" referred to in the subtitle of his book.37

The flaw in Hauser's argument, which he shares with other critics of his time, is the naive assumption that the work was written in order, without revision. In fact, the allusion to the Oak of Reformation could have been added later to a portion of the poem written long before Kett's Rebellion of 1549. We might imagine that the poem went through a process of addition, contraction, and polishing such as Annabel Patterson has traced in Holinshed's Chronicles. If only we had more evidence of that process, we could study how the forces of history affected the thought of a Tudor humanist. Lacking that evidence, we should still be able to accept Heywood's claim that some years elapsed between the periods in which he composed the work without assuming that the published work is really two different poems. In any case, his critics do not agree how to divide it. While Haber finds the supposed break in composition between chapters 27 and 28, Hayes places it between chapters 78 and 79.38 Actually, the poem has not just two divisions but several, each a part of a larger argument. Chapters 1-5 introduce the narrator and the story. In chapters 6-27, the spider tries the fly for various crimes (burglary, felony, trespass), while the fly defends himself and asserts his right to the window. In chapters 28-51, the ant and the butterfly arbitrate the issue of the rights of spiders and flies to windows but fail to reach an agreement. Abandoning law, in chapters 52-82 the spiders and flies fight a war and negotiate a peace. In chapters 83-88, the spider tricks the entrapped fly in debate and prepares to execute him. In chapters 89-97, the maid saves the fly, kills the spider, and cleans the house. In chapter 98, the narrator concludes the story. Heywood himself does not say how much of the work he had originally drafted, whether the whole or just parts of it, before he put it aside, but the metaphor he chooses is organic:

The fruit was green; I durst not gather it then,

For fear of rotting before riping began.

The loss (it on the fruiterer's hand lying)

Had (in that mystery) marred his occupying.


To have finished the work too hastily, he says, would have undermined his reputation as a poet.

Internal evidence suggests that Heywood continued his original design when he returned to the poem after an interval of at least nineteen years. After the war, the spider reviews the pattern of the debate:

Fly (quoth he), now hast thou in this matter seen

All kinds of trial that can be seen, I ween;

Reason, law, and custom, full reasoned and cast,

Arbitrament, and rebellion at last.


The readers, too, have been given lessons in "All kinds of trial." They may remember, though, that at the beginning of the debate, the spider establishes four grounds of argument, "reason, law, custom, and conscience":

Reason, to perceive man's great ground is vouched;

Law on ret must take gtd to agree;

Custom seth (or should) on reason's decree,

Conscience and:reason cona:h to withdraw

Th'extremities of custom and of law


Except when the flies and spiders are at war, one of these grounds is always the point of reference in the debate, with the notable exception of conscience. Several times, the fly tries to introduce conscience. For instance, he argues that since the window is his highway by custom, both law and conscience should convince the spider to "let me pass and make me recompense" for unjust imprisonment (97). The spider replies:

Time cometh not yet to bring conscience in

Of law and custom; to ease rigor's force

Conscience at last course procureth remorse.


Later, when the fly distinguishes among justice, mercy, and tyranny, the spider falls asleep. When the spider awakes and refuses to let the fly repeat the argument, the fly accuses him of ignoring both reason and conscience. At that point, the reader may have begun to anticipate the spider's response:

... since reason is sufficient this to try,

Let conscience (I say) stay till the last instant,

Lest narrow conscience reason's wide scope might scant.


Later the reader may recognize the spider's equivocation in agreeing to accept the ruling of arbiters:

If reason win thee this case every iote,

Conscience (by reason) must me straight constrain

T'obey reason's award at hand of these twain

And pass they with me, I promise mine assent

To use the gain as conscience yieldeth extent.

(139-40, italics mine)

At that "last instant" when the fly has exhausted all legal recourse and the war has ended, the spider, asserting his right to kill the fly by custom alone, stoutly refuses to be swayed by conscience. The maid then intervenes and passes judgment on the spider:

The fly held that all flies hold all holes in freehold;

You (for all spiders) held that freehold all yours.39

In reason, law, and custom, each to other told Your minds in this matter (at least) five long hours.

Custom granteth, and conscience not denieth,

Disturbing your cobwebs wrought in top post,

The fly (for th'offence) accustomable dieth.

But cobwebs upon cobwebs, purled in each cost,

All parts of windows to be so embossed

That no fly can pass without death's interruption,

Conscience construeth that custom corruption.


Bolwell concludes that "the final episode of the work does not appear to have been foreshadowed in previous situations." I disagree. The poem would surely have ended as a tragedy for the fly without the maid's intervention, but the reader is not prepared to see the spider win. Throughout this argument, the intelligent but unfortunate fly wins our sympathy. We follow the emotions of little Buz as he struggles to save his life. Thinking he has won the case,

the fly so far is overjoyed,

That by no manner mean he can sit still.

He stretched, and fet a hem right sharp and shrill.

Whereat the spider smirk and smoothly smiled,

To see the silly fly so far beguiled.


Momentarily outwitted by the spider,

The fly at this set such a piercing sigh

As made the heart in his poor carcass quake.


By contrast the spider appears a heartless sophist,. accused by the maid of greedy "usurpation" (415) of the window and executed for his "pride" (394).

In fact, the entire poem has been a sermon on two of the seven deadly sins, a "mirror" for all classes as the "Preface" suggests. The ant and the fly also succumb to covetousness and pride long enough to suffer temporary misfortunes. When, after his narrow escape, the ant tells his family the story of the arbitration and the war, he repents:

When the spider next summons him to oversee the peace agreement, he pretends to have broken his leg and singed his wing in a candle flame (352).

The fly becomes proud when the spider tricks him into changing places with him in the debate:

He was from the fly's part so carried away,

By being suddenly there thus elevate,

That all claim laid by the spider there that day,

The fly ruled for right of most lawful right rate.


Caught by his own argument, the fly confesses to the spider:

by vainlorious pride,

It stealing shy and suddenly me upon,

I was puffed up here so blindly myself to guide,

That I neither saw yours, nor yet my own side.

I, once but set in place of your authority,

Took myself straight in case of your prosperity.


Beyond the Christian admonitions is political warning: power corrupts. At the beginning the fly complains against "froward fortune" (29), but the conclusion of the poem s a tragedy of the overreaching spider in the de casibus tradition, a "mirror" (400) for magistrates.41

Although critics have assumed that both the final chapters and the "Conclusion" were added just before publication to compliment Queen Mary, the maid's appearance seems to me required by the narrative. Who else would we expect to free the fly from the web and punish the overreaching spider? What must have been written shortly before publication are those parts of the "Conclusion" that explicitly compare the maid's execution of the spider with a recent execution and recall the queen's marriage in 1554 to "our sovereign Lord Philip" (426-27). The mention of this royal marriage seems to jar with the insistence up to that point on the maidenliness of the maid. If we speculate about why Heywood "durst not" complete the poem for publication for at least nineteen years, several possibilities are obvious-the poem's length, Heywood's own difficult position in a Protestant court, perhaps the complexity of the social problems he was treating or disillusionment about solving them through art-but perhaps also the poem's fate was tied to that of the princess for whom it was begun.

In any case, the social problems addressed by the poem had been a concern of Sir Thomas More and his circle well before the 153os. As we have seen, the fly argues its traditional right of free passage through the window, now blocked by the spider's encroaching web. The spider's rightful manor, according to the fly, is at the top and sides of the window (137), where we see the spider lodged with his wife and children in the woodcuts that illustrate each chapter of the poem, but he has extended his domain to the middle of the window (see Figure 1). This private enclosure of common space allegorizes one of the problems that developed as England moved from a medieval to a modern economy. Not only by enclosing but by other means, such as engrossing, fines, and high rents, landlords had for a century been forcing farmers off the land in order to increase their own profit by raising sheep. The consequent depopulation of rural villages had occurred primarily ca. 1450-1520.42 More had protested in Utopia that England's sheep "are becoming so greedy and wild that they devour men themselves."43 When Heywood published The Spider and the Flie in 1556, these agrarian problems still outraged his contemporaries.44 The tactics of landlords were seen as one cause of inflation and shortage of food, especially for the rapidly growing population of London, in the crisis period of the IS and 1550s.45 They were also an important factor in mid-century rebellions.46

In Heywood's poem the problem is argued most hotly not by the protagonists of the tragedy, but by a "quarrelling spider and cocking fly" who first accuse each other of dishonesty and covetousness, then rush off to raise armies for war (191-201). The "cocking fly" recognizes that the main victims of "rents and wares raised" (196) are "all that on their pensions (or pence) live mere / . . . without land to let or ware to sell" (197). The allegory perhaps refers in part to England's growing number of wage-earning laborers, who were being squeezed between falling wages and rising prices.47 Lacking the community ties and support that had been provided by the medieval agrarian society, they might well be feared as potential rebels. The "cocking fly," who becomes an agitator, reveals that he is a political radical when he reminds the "quarrelling spider" of their common descent from the first parents:

When Adam dolve and Eve span,

Who was, in those golden days, a gentleman?48

If yeomen flies were put in authority,

We should rule as well as spiders gentlemen.


Heywood thus alludes to contemporary debates about the power structures of his society, but neither the dialogue nor the plot supports the radicalism of the "cocking fly." The narrator and the other insects, who have been seeking legal solutions, disapprove of both warmongers. The battle they begin proves bloody for both sides, since the spiders are better armed and trained but vastly outnumbered by the flies. When the poor ant is nearly lynched by the flies, he tries to save his life by explaining to both sides the consequences of war, but his counsel for peace bears no fruit. The ant does manage by his oratory to postpone his execution until he is saved by the spider's threat to kill Buz in retaliation if the ant is killed. He is released when he is needed to make peace. The dead number "Five thousand flies and five hundred spiders" (290), so as usual in the poem, the flies seem to suffer the most. The spiders hang the fly corpses on gibbets and agree to a truce in which the flies get half of the holes in the window, but since the flies are assigned only the small holes in the lattice at the bottom, they now have only one-sixth of the space.

Thus the flies learn the costs of rebellion and return to rule of law. However, the dialogue and plot have already questioned its efficacy in providing solutions. The debate between the protagonists about the rights of spiders and flies to the window (chapters 20-27) exposes "Corruption in laws, or ministers of laws" (129). The fly complains of the difficulty of getting an impartial trial in the spider's lordship:

I, being neither spider nor spider's peer,

Nor spider's tenant, nor spider's friend (ye say)

I may have quick speed and fail of good speed here.

. . . some say, sometime, that the law is ended

In some case, in some place, as folk are friended.


The fly claims that none of the spider's charges-burglary, felony, trespass-would stand up in a trial by jury under common law. The spider refuses to let the fly take his case to the common law courts of Westminster Hall because "Thou wouldst bring forth a thousand flies for thee, / Where no one spider for me may make show" (111):

Thou being abroad, every place

Thou may'st fid friendship, to int the quest

Of twelve such friendly flies as seem for thee best.


In addition to being partial, the courts are also slow. When the spider first objects to Westminster, the fly offers him the quicker alternative of judging the case himself and letting him go:

In less time (in manner) than myself could crave,

After I am brought here in prison to lie,

It standeth with your pleasure most charitably

To hear, yea, and determine out of hand

How my case standeth, and whereto myself shall stand.

Oh (master spider) the self deeds done in this

Commend you more than may pen or tongue of man,

Th'attached of suspicion or fact amiss,

Inquiry at full had, quickly as ye can,

As justice judgeth, straight to dispatch him than,

Not letting him lie till his limbs rot or lame,

Justice and mercy concur both the same.


The spider, too, complains of expense and delay in the common law courts, and he mistrusts ignorant juries:

Wise learned counsel costly fine pleas first devise,

With cost and pain long followed, and after that,

Twelve unlearned, rude, ignorant, corrupt flies

Shall strike the stroke, as blind affection doth rise.

By excellent wits law is ever begun,

And by ignorant wits end of law oft won.


After a long debate, the fly finally loses self control, complaining that if the trial takes place in the spider's own court (that is, the web), he will be "Plaintiff, pleader, juror, Judge, and jailor" of the unfortunate fly. The spider takes offense: "Stop, fly! (what!) from a reasoner to a railer?" The fly retracts and the spider pardons:

I cry you mercy, Sir, if this do displease,

I reverse and revoke it straight, for I have

As small appetite as I shall have small ease

To move you. Well, since thou forgiveness dost crave,

Stand up, fly, I forgive even as God forgave.


They do agree, finally, on "arbitrament" (132) to reach a "compromise" (133), but this alternative to trial by judge or jury proves equally useless. Because the arbiters are partial, they cannot resolve the quarrel. While planning to side with his "cousin" spider in hope of the reward he has been quietly promised, the ant does his best to trick the blunt, uneducated butterfly into agreeing that they should both be impartial.

However, the butterfly remains stubborn and unthinking in support of his grandson, the fly.

The debate of the spider and the fly about trial by judge or jury merges almost imperceptibly into a digression about the best form of commonwealth, "Of a king, of the peers, and of commons" (125). The protagonists compare at length government by a monarch or a senate of property owners, but they reach no conclusion, and the spider quickly disclaims any intention "To couple kings and peers with spiders and flies" (126). They also give no real consideration to democracy, but the war subsequently contrasts the democracy of the flies with the monarchy of the spiders, revealing the worst about both forms of government. The army of flies is a disordered rout, quick to rally for rebellion, equally quick to lose heart or to disperse. Overhearing the flies' "chirm in murmuring" (229) about the captive ant, the narrator comments, "Things are not wrought by wisdom in such a rout" (230), and so the trial of the captured ant demonstrates. The grounds of argument are familiar-reason, law, and conscience-and the case is carefully debated, but the captain refuses to pronounce judgment. Rather, the flies condemn the ant by majority vote. Two flies are surprised by the decision because "where forty flies irefully on th'ant frowned fast, / Three score piteously looked" (276). They blame it on "These indifferents (or neuters) that part most take / That strongest is, or strongest like to be" (276). They go on to complain of "False flattering followers" among both spiders and flies (279). A few pages later, the wife and children of the chief spider appeal to him to save them by stopping the war. The spider asks his council to advise him whether to make peace out of private pity or continue war out of public policy. The councillors devise elaborate arguments to flatter the spider and save their own lives, for, as one says,

The spider is of wit, wondrous dark and deep,

And double as double, as he is deep and dark.

Lover where he loveth, laugh where he hateth to creep

To bottom of bosom, for to spy what spark,

Kindled with or against him, he may there mark.

Much for which purpose he giveth us a bone

Of pity and policy to gnaw upon.


In each of the "flocks three" (298) of four councillors, one speaks and the others agree. In the earlier debate, the spider has observed that all three types of government-monarchy, oligarchy, and democracy-- have their "ill rulings":

In rule of a king, tyranny may blow blast;

In peers, usurping; in few commons governance,

All to be governors may themselves advance.

Now whose contrary is worst (saith he) that's best.

But tyranny is worst of these three, ergo,

Rule or reign of a king is best, manifest.


In his council the spider himself illustrates "tyranny. . . worst of these three."

Heywood's satire of the legal and political institutions of man's fallen world is as bitter as it is comic. As the "Preface" has suggested, all classes are to blame because all are guilty of greed and pride. In that respect, The Spider and the Flie teaches much the same lesson as Heywood's The Play of the Wether (London, 1533), in which human petitioners to Jupiter make conflicting demands for the weather they need. Axton and Happe argue that the play was written and performed not long before its publication, dating it primarily by what seem to be jokes about Anne Boleyn, Cardinal Wolsey, and the process of Henry VIII's divorce.50 That dating would make it contemporary with Heywood's first draft of The Spider and the Flie. In the wishful thinking of the play, Jupiter is an ideal monarch who has the prudence to look beyond individual self-interest and

So gyde the wether in course to you all

That eche wyth other ye shall hole remayne

In pleasure and plentyfull welth certayne.51

Likewise in The Spider and the Flie, only the maid/monarch seems to be able to restore the "ancient order" in which all classes work for the good of the whole.

Heywood's support of monarchy as a solution may seem surprising after the satire of the tyrant spider, but Jones shows that as the Reformation reduced the central authority of the church, the so-called Commonwealth Men increasingly looked to government intervention to solve social and economic problems.52 He identifies four groups of Commonwealth Men: radical Protestants such as Frith and Tyndale, "the More Group, the Cromwell Group, and the later 'Commonwealth Party' in which Somerset, Hales, and Latimer were outstanding figures"; he includes Heywood in the More Group.53 Certainly the ideal of commonwealth, in which all classes work for the good of the whole, lies behind both The Play of the Wether and The Spider and the Flie. In the poem, for instance, the cocking fly contrasts that ideal with the spiders' usurpation:

When you in tops and sides kept your estate,

And we in the holes, as stood with our degree,

Spiders and flies in all windows situate,

Dwelt each by other in wealth and unity.

(195) In their celebration of the medieval ideal of commonwealth, Jones finds little or no difference between Roman Catholics and Protestants.54 As for their support of the monarchy, he relates Tudor "loyalty to the Crown as a fundamental principle . . . not only to the arrogation by the Crown of headship of the Church, on the one hand, but also to the endemic memory and fear of rebellion and disorder on the other." 55

Haber long ago recognized that in spite of Heywood's reference to the maid as servant of "mother holy church catholical," the final episode of The Spider and the Flie is a restoration of order more than of Roman Catholicism.56 Of course, neither Roman Catholics nor Protestants separated religious from moral, economic, or political issues because they believed that God had established the social hierarchy. Those few Tudor writers who advocated passive disobedience or active resistence to secular authority could do so only by appeal to the higher authority of God. As we have seen, the "cocking fly" recalls the classless society of Eden. Less radically, Buz offers what Jones calls "a significant reservation in accepting the duty to reverence

All authority not against the great God,

In spiders under him placed as potentates,

and stressing it is the authority that is worshipped, not the person, especially if the latter 'lacketh honest use of authority.' "57 The "quarrelling spider" calls the "cocking fly" "an heretic" (201), using a label often applied in Tudor England to anyone considered seditious 58 The democratic tendencies of Anabaptists were feared by both Roman Catholics and Protestants, the Protestants no doubt feeling particular pressure to separate themselves from such radicalism 59 English ideas of resistance finally developed under the stress of the Marian exile, and when the tables were turned by the Elizabethan Settlement, Roman Catholics began to use similar arguments.59 Heywood himself had reason enough to support resistance during Elizabeth's reign, yet he asserted his loyalty in his epigram "Of Rebellion":

Against god I dayly offend by frailte:

But against my prince, or natiue countre,

With as much as bodkin, when I rebell,

The next daie after hang me vp faire and well.61

Ultimately he preferred exile to disobedience or sedition.

In The Spider and the Flie, Heywood's message to the commoners is a traditional one that rebellion is both immoral and foolhardy.62 In his oration against rebellion, Heywood has the ant tell the flies that even if they win, they will suffer in the anarchy that follows loss of the spiders' leadership (242). The disasters suffered by flies in previous rebellions show, the spider says, that even if their cause is just, they should not "Attempt t'attain matter right in manner wrong," because God has decreed

You base inferiors to work your lord's will,

Obey your superiors, be they good or ill.


The ant says that "Wellframed flies will suffer and not resist" (239). The plot of the poem implies the truth of these claims. At the end of the war, the captain of the flies concludes:

Better smooth woads sve than smart strite to take

Namely, where stripe nought and words may win al.


The suggestion that "words may win all" nevertheless offers an active alternative to passive endurance. Heywood is not content to accept the status quo. In addition to encouraging the intervention of the Crown, he instructs commoners in law and in rational debate. The Spider and the Flie demonstrates in the popular form of a fable the arts of effective argument: logic and rhetoric. Heywood writes with the faith in education and the Christian social conscience of the humanist circle that had, four decades earlier, produced More's Utopia and the satires of Erasmus. In offering aggrieved commoners the weapons of persuasion, no doubt Heywood hopes to prevent their taking up the staves and pitchforks of rebellion. Thus he upholds the social order. Yet there is a sincere compassion and a reforming spirit in the magnum opus of this old-fashioned champion of the medieval commonwealth: an agenda of undermining not the hierarchical social order but the corrupt rule of greedy self-interest and overweening pride that he found in the nascent capitalism of early modern society.

The art of persuasion that Heywood teaches adapts discourse to the realities of power in the social hierarchy. The fly must avoid both "cowardice and contention" (43) in dealing with the spider. He cannot hope for success without firm emotional and rational self-control:

The spider's ire the rather to assuage,

I temperately must temper mine invention,

To plead my right in reason, not in rage,

And since my body lieth in jail for gage,

My jailor fair and gently to beseech;

That is (in flies) no flattery but fair speech.


For the most part, the fly does beseech "fair and gently." When he loses self-control and angers the spider, as in the argument cited above over the place of the trial, he is forced to grovel to restore peace.

The fly knows how to manipulate the spider's emotions as well as to appeal to reason. Praise becomes an essential rhetorical tool, as in the argument quoted above that the spider should release him to avoid the cost and delay of a trial at Westminster. The fly has won a hearing in the first place by concluding a disquisition on justice with a statement of confidence in the spider's wisdom and honor that appeals to his adversary's vanity:

In mine account your wisdom is too much

To blot or blur your fame for any fly;

Whereby I stand in trust assuredly

Just judgment in this matter now to have,

And other thing than that I do none crave.


The spider having decided that "Full hearing . . . / . . . reason biddeth me grant" (51), the fly then asks for pardon if his speech should offend:

Sir (quoth the fly),I must you here beseech

To ratify your pardon my protection

In my behavior, namely in such speeeh

As may (by rudeness) rightly crave correction.


The spider grants this suit, also, provided "that thou rail not too far out of size" (54).

The debate is so tightly argued that the reader has to pay close attention to follow its logic. Most modern readers therefore have found Heywood's poem tedious until the war increases the dramatic tension and pace of the narrative, although Bolwell suggests that "even the parts which now might seem dull to some were in his time perhaps the brightest of the book-the long-drawn, fine-spun arguments burlesquing the jargon of lawyers and forensic schoolmen." Burlesque they certainly are at times; Bolwell notes the butterfly's "extraordinary malapropisms, and his sort of Latin, Audum, altum, paltum.' "63 They are also illustrations of good and bad judicial argument. For instance, the fly's argument employs what is effectively a syllogism against the charge of burglary: Those who enter the web at night are thieves. I entered by day. I am no thief. The spider replies by substituting a false minor premise:

Though it (at thy coming) were day with thee,

Yet was it night (quoth the spider) with me;

I was asleep, and no day yet had seen.

(60) 64

The fly easily dismisses the false premise. The spider then charges him with felony (that is breaking and entering). The fly argues intention: that he came against his will is clear, since every fly knows that "death or perpetual imprisonment" (61) is the consequence of entering a spider's web. The spider, granting his argument, turns it against him. It may excuse his entering the web, but is no reason to allow him to leave it. In fact the fly has condemned himself by admitting that death or perpetual imprisonment is the consequence of his action. The fly replies that his knowledge of the consequences of entering the web does not prove that the spider is right to kill him. If the spider may kill the fly because that is the custom, then thieves may also rob rightfully in places where it is customary to rob. The debate continues on a variety of legal and political issues, as we have seen.

If we read the fable as a verse textbook that might once have been intended for a princess, is overtly addressed to a queen and three estates of her realm, and shows particular sympathy for the unfortunate flies of Heywood's own world, the commoners, then the poem appears witty rather than tedious. Relying on lively example rather than dry precept, the poet, as "the right popular philosopher,"65 devises a narrative structure that can accommodate a veritable anthology of rhetorical genres in addition to the debates just described: lament, plea, courtesy, complaint, witness, invective. The arbitration involves hearings, deliberations, reports. The onset of rebellion gives occasion for exhortations from and to battle, councils of war, pleas, and negotiations for peace, to say nothing of demagoguery and treachery. The ant, the fly, and the spider all make orations of repentence and advice, drawing lessons from their experiences. Some of the examples show effective, some ineffective rhetorical as well as legal strategies. By cleverly working summaries into the narrative, Heywood helps his readers follow the arguments.

The Spider and the Flie might be called a kind of "Open University" for its age, and Heywood might be described as educating if not Rita, then at least Piers. I do not mean, however, to impose twentieth-century motives on a sixteenth-century courtier. He participates in what some scholars have described as the "radical humanism" of the More circle and shares their ambivalence.66 Competing with his humanist sense of social responsibility is his faith (or despair) that God created the natural order and that Providence controls it. Competing with his belief in the civilizing force of education is his conviction that "Will, and not wisdom" governs even the best of the crowd (230). Competing with a longing for equity is a cynicism about equality. Competing with his Christian compassion for the sufferings of the masses is the privileged man's fear of their numbers and their potentially uncontrollable anger, experienced in more than one Tudor rebellion. The ant warns the spider army:

Ten to one (in war), an unmeet matched match,

They will march on as thick as motes in the sun;

Ten thousand (in a moment) if ye dispatch,

Twenty thousand more upon spear point will run;

The desperate dreadeth neither bill, bow, nor gun.

And what gain you to kill flies thick as motes,

The rest entering on you straight, and cut your throats?


Heywood's revealing image for the flies' misorder is their "Blowing [laying eggs in] meat here (raw and roast)" (393).

The central image of the poem-the fly caught in the web of the spider-must have conveyed mixed messages to his contemporaries and remains multivalent for us. On the one hand, Heywood could have chosen no better symbol than this for the necessity of rhetorical skill (words are the fly's only hope of saving himself) in a world where the hierarchy of power is destructive and law is corrupt. The image recalls a commonplace cited by Erasmus in The Education of the Christian Prince, as Schoeck observed, or for that matter in Erasmus' collection of Parabolae sive similia:

As crows break through a spider's web while flies are caught fast, so the laws bear hard upon the common folk and are broken by the powerful with impunity.67

These associations, critical of the social order and sympathetic to the common people, must be weighed against others. In Lucian's Muias encomion ("praise of the fly"), the fly is an overly bold, irresponsible, talkative freeloader.68 Characterizations of this kind in classical literature as much as personal observation probably lie behind the fly as negative symbol in much Renaissance art and literature. In one of Andreas Alciatus's immensely popular emblems, the fly is associated with detractors.69 In Ben Jonson's Volpone, Mosca, whose name means "fly," is a parasite. In William Shakespeare's tragedies, sycophantic courtiers are described as flies. Hamlet calls Osric "this water-fly" (5.2.82) and Lear advises Cordelia to "laugh / At gilded butterflies" at court and "wear out / In a wall'd prison, pacts and sects of great ones, / That ebb and flow by th'moon" (5.3.12-13, 17-19).70 The imprudence of the fly is legendary: in contemporary proverbs and emblems it burns itself in the candle flame, as the ant claims to have done in Heywood's poem.71 Above all, it is the essence of triviality: "Not worth a fly."72

Heywood's attitude toward the common people is ambivalent, but at least it seems more positive than the views of some of his contemporaries. John Cheke's The Hurt of Sedition, written in response to the 1549 rebellions, refuses to acknowledge the rebels' legitimate grievances beyond asserting, with some justification, that the government of Somerset has been instituting reforms.73 Heywood, on the other hand, insists on the "matter right" of the rebel flies even while he laments their "manner wrong" of seeking redress. He offers the alternative of rhetoric to commoners to help them fight the injustices that drive them to rebellion. If the poem would prove a rhetorical failure in its effort to solve social problems, its own art may be partly to blame. Heywood tries to make the medicine more palatable by choosing the genre of the mock-epic insect fable, but his readers would no doubt be reluctant to identify themselves as spiders or ants or especially flies. Perhaps he tries to address too large an audience, for even if his satire of the economic, legal, and political corruption of lords and lawyers should strike home, it would only convince commoners that rhetoric is ineffectual as an alternative to armed rebellion. As for persuading his readers of the horrors of rebellion, Heywood's celebrated comic wit and narrative skill work against him. Nothing in the poem is more fun than the war of the spiders and the flies. Far from warning us of dire consequences, it appeals to our fallible human love of dramatic conflict.

The problem is exacerbated by the woodcuts that head each chapter. Throughout the long debates, Heywood is shown listening to the negotiations between the spider and the fly. As in Figure 1 above, he stands, or sometimes sits, at a table by the latticed window with the spider's usurping web at its center. He shifts his position and his attention as the insects participating in the debate come and go. Mysteriously, the number, size, and position of the webs on the window and the books on the table change from woodcut to woodcut, and even the latticework is not always the same, but these differences hardly seem to justify the seemingly endless repetition of the same scene. The illustrations of the long debates are even duller, while those of the war (Figures 2, 3, and 4) are even more lively, than the dialogue itself. Finally, the most negative images we are likely to remember are, after all, nothing more than a maid killing a spider (Figure 5) and a bunch of dead flies (Figure 6).

I have suggested an interpretation of the purpose and genre of The Spider and the Flie that answers attacks on its form as incoherent, excessively long, and too filled with debates. Heywood's verse, I must admit, is usually a little ragged (as in his more popular poems and interludes) and sometimes struggles like the fly in the web when it becomes the vehicle for a particularly difficult argument. In general, though, the form of The Spider and the Flie has deserved a better press. As for the poem's content, Haber is right that "haben wir es hier mit einem Werk von kulturhistorischer Bedeutung zu thun, das, abgesehen von seinem Werte fur die Literatur- und Sprachgeschichte, dem Juristen und Nationalokonomen wie dem Historiker interessante Aufschlusse uber eine verwickelte Epoche der englischen Geschichte an die Hand giebt."74 The poem addresses serious social problems and can certainly help us understand the mid-Tudor period. On the other hand, if we judge it by its effect as a mirror for magistrates and an instrument for beating swords into ploughshares in aid of common humanity, we may have to count it a failure. Far from eliciting the catharsis of tragedy, the narrative almost lapses into bathos. Perhaps for some of Heywood's contemporary readers attempting to survive the social, economic, and religious crises of Tudor England, the story achieved pathos. So too it may for us when, looking back on the reign of Mary, the unfortunate princess and queen that Heywood celebrates, and on his own miserable old age in exile, we explore his ambivalent, hopeless, but thoroughly humanist struggle against the greed and pride of early modern society.75

University of Saskatchewan

1 A. W. Reed, Early Tudor Drama: Medwall, the Rastells, Heywood, and the More Circle (London: Methuen, 1926; reprint, New York: Octagon Books, 1969), 54; Richard Axton and Peter Happe, eds., The Plays of John Heywood (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer), 6-7. Axton and Happe diagram the "Family Connections of John Heywood" on p. xvii. 2 Axton and Happe, eds., The Plays of John Heywood, 6, 7. 3 Reed, Early Tudor Drama, 58; Axton and Happe, eds., The Plays of John Heywood, 7.

4 John Heywood, The Spider and the Flie, ed. John S. Farmer (London: Early English Drama Society, 19o8; facsimile reprint, Guildford, England: Charles W. Traylen, 1966), 423. All citations will be to this edition.
5 John Walker McCain, Jr., rather dismisses than studies "Oratory, Rhetoric and Logic in the Writings of John Heywood," (Quarterly Journal of Speech 26 [1940]: 44-47), including The Spider and the Flie. He concludes, "Although The Spider and the Flie was full of lessons, there is no doubt that nearly all of Heywood's literary output was intended to please, touch, or move, rather than to teach" (47).

6 Sir Philip Sidney, An Apology for Poetry, ed. Forrest G. Robinson, The Library of Liberal Arts (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Educational Publishing, 1970), 38; Annabel Patterson, Fables of Power: Aesopian Writing and Political History (Durham: Duke University Press, 1991).
7 Her tutor Juan Luis Vives certainly wrote a book of moral instruction for Mary, De Institutione Feminae Christianae (Antwerp, 1523), translated by Richard Hyrde, a tutor in the More household, as A Very Fruitful and Pleasant Book Called the Instruction of a Christian Woman. See Joan Larson Klein, ed., Daughters, Wives, and Widows: Writings by Men about Women and Marriage in England, 1500-1640 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992), 97-122.

8 On Wilson, see Judith Rice Henderson, "Thomas Wilson (1523 or 1524-20 May Ig Bz)," in Dictionary of Literary Biography 132: Sixteenth-Century British Nondramatic Writers, First Series, ed. David A. Richardson (Detroit: Gale Research, 1993), 340-45
9 See Whitney R. D. Jones, The Mid-Tudor Crisis, 1539-1563 (London: Macmillan, 1973), and David Loades, The Mid-Tudor Crisis, 1545-1565 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992).

lo Georges Edelen, ed., The Description of England by William Harrison, Folger Documents of Tudor and Stuart Civilization (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1968), 338. Harrison is cited by Thomas Warton, The History of English Poetry from the Close of the Eleventh to the Commencement of the Eighteenth Century, rev. ed., 4 vols. (London, 1824), 3: 378So; A. W. Ward, introduction to The Spider and the Flie by John Heywood (Manchester, 894; reprint, New York: Burt Franklin, 1967), v-vii; John M. Berdan, Early Tudor Poetry 1485-1547, in Studies in Tudor Literature (New York: Macmillan, 1920), 104; Robert W. Bolwell, The Life and Works of John Heywood (New York: Columbia University Press, 1921), 137; Robert Carl Johnson, John Heywood, Twayne's English Author Series 92 (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1970), 64; and Edmund M. Hayes, "John Heywood (1497?-158o?),' in Dictionary of Literary Biography 136: Sixteenth-Century British Nondramatic Writers, Second Series, ed. David A. Richardson (Detroit: Gale Research, 1994), 211.
II Ed. A. W. Ward (see note lo above); the only other modern edition is Farmer's (see note 4 above).

Iz Johnson, John Heywood, 58. Jakob Haber counts 7399 verse lines in the poem, plus a foreword of 112 and a conclusion of 178 lines (John Heywood's "The Spider and the Flie": Ein Kulturbild aus dem 16. Jahrhundert, Litterarhistorische Forschungen, ed. Josef Schick and M. Frh. v. Waldberg, 15 [Berlin: Emil Felber, 1900], 3). 13 Hayes, "John Heywood (1497?-158o?)," 212-13. 14 Edelen, ed., The Description of England, 338 n. 17.

15 Axton and Happe have reinterpreted some of the evidence of Heywood's court service collected by Reed. See Axton and Happe, eds., The Plays of John Heywood, 1-52; Reed, Early Tudor Drama, 29-71.
16 Axton and Happe, eds., The Plays of John Heywood, 7; Reed, Early Tudor Drama, 62-63. 17 Axton and Happe, eds., The Plays of John Heywood, g-lo; Reed, Early Tudor Drama, 67-71

18 lB See, for example, Haber, John Heywood's "The Spider and the Flie,' 76. 19 See Bolwell, Life and Works, 143; Johnson, John Heywood, 66. Earlier, Haber (John Heywood's "The Spider and the Flie," 54-55, 97) and Berdan (Early Tudor Poetry, 2o6) had flirted with this reading of the allegory without actually adopting it. 20 Reed, Early Tudor Drama, 53-54.

21 For Wolsey, see Haber, John Heywood 's "The Spider and the Flie," 63-65; Berdan, Early Tudor Poetry, 2o5-6; and Johnson, John Heywood, 66. For Cromwell, see Johnson, John Heywood, 66. For Northumberland, see Ward, ed., The Spider and the Flie, ix; Haber, John Heywood's "The Spider and the Flie," 74-75; and Berdan, Early Tudor Poetry, 2o6. For Cranmer, see Bolwell, Life and Works, 145; Reed, Early Tudor Drama, 29-54; and Johnson, John Heywood, 63.
22 This is the opinion of R. de la Bere, John Heywood, Entertainer (London 1937), io8, as cited by Whitney R. D. Jones, The Tudor Commonwealth, 1529-2559: A Study of the Impact of the Social and Economic Developments of Mid-Tudor England upon Contemporary Concepts of the Nature and Duties of the Commonwealth (London: The Athlone Press, 1970), 27. 23 Johnson, John Heywood, 67.

24 David R. Hauser, "The Date of John Heywood's The Spider and the Flie," Modern Language Notes 70 (1955): 15-18, esp. 15.
25 Ibid., 17-18.

26 He may be referring to the execution of Northumberland, as Haber plausibly argues on the basis of the spider's "usurpation" (John Heywood's "The Spider and the Flie,' 75). Reed argues, rather, that the "one" is Cranmer (Early Tudor Drama, 53). The passage remains puzzling. Given the number of executions in Mary's reign, Heywood's allegory does not seem to be historical unless he means that only one of the persons executed was "in effect" a tyrannical spider.
27 The point is, perhaps, that spiders do not come to Westminster Hall because the common law courts in practice do not handle civil cases nisi prius (unless previously) they cannot be settled in the local, that is, the lord's, jurisdiction. On these courts, see Jones, The Tudor Commonwealth, 208-io, and G. R. Elton, The Tudor Constitution: Documents and Commentary, ad ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982),148-62.

zs See Haber, John Heywood's "The Spider and the Flie," 70, and Annabel Patterson, Reading Holinshed's "Chronicles" (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994), 196.
29 See Ward, ed., The Spider and the Flie, viii-ix n. 1, and Haber, John Heywood's "The Spider and the Flie," 7o. Given the parallelism between the stories of the old spider and the old fly, 1517 seems the more likely of the two years.
30 On this reference, Ward, ed., The Spider and the Flie, xiii, is cited by Haber, John Heywood's "The Spider and the Flie," 36. Cf. Jones, The Tudor Commonwealth, 48. Bolwell claims that Kett "hung upon the 'Oak of Reformation' outside Norwich all country gentlemen who were brought before him accused of robbing the poor" (Life and Works, Igg), and Johnson (John Heywood, 6i) quotes Bolwell. However, Stephen K. Land says that "those condemned were sentenced to imprisonment, and not simply hanged" (Kett's Rebellion: The Norfolk Rising of 1549 [Ipswich: The Boydell Press; Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1977], 61). Further marring a curious tale in telling it, Hayes says that Kett "was

hanged on the 'Oak of Reformation"'" ("John Heywood [1497?-1580?]," 212). Some of the rebels were hanged, drawn, and quartered at the Oak of Reformation according to Land (Kett's Rebellion, 124), but he observes, "Kett's association with oak trees is part of the legend which has grown up around this enigmatic figure. Some writers, in defiance of incontrovertible sources, have even had Kett hanged from one of his oaks" (44). Rather, "Robert Kett was drawn on a rough hurdle through the streets [of Norwich] from the Guildhall to the Castle, from the walls of which he was hanged with his chains still on him. The body was left hanging until, many days later, it rotted, fell, and was removed" (143).

31 Haber, John Heywood's "The Spider and the Flie," 72. 32 Ibid., 40. Bolwell (Life and Works, 144) cites Haber's argument but confuses the date, giving it as 1549 instead of 1536.
33 The title page has two titles, the second of which is A Parable of the Spider and the Flie.

34 See Johnson, John Heywood, 66.

35 See Haber, John Heywood's "The Spider and the Flie", R. J. Schoeck, "A Source for Heywood's Spider and the Flie," Notes and Queries 196 (1951): 296-97. 36 Johnson, John Heywood, 67. 37 See Jones, The Tudor Commonwealth.
38 See Haber, John Heywood's "The Spider and the Flie," 43, 69, 97-98; Hayes, "John Heywood (1497?-158o?)," 212-13.

39 According to Land, "Tenure of lands within the manor was of several kinds, broadly classifiable as freehold, copyhold, leasehold, and tenure by will of the lord. Freehold tenures were secure, as were leaseholds within the term of the lease. Copyhold tenures varied considerably in nature according to manorial customs. At law the copyhold tenant usually had as strong a security as the freeholder, but the peculiarities of his position could expose him to pressures which might prevent him from asserting his legal rights.... Tenure by will means more or less what it says, and lands so held could be resumed by the lord at any time.... there were certainly cases in the sixteenth century of copyholders and tenants at will being dispossessed in order that their lands might be enclosed and such cases became a source of popular grievance against enclosing landlords" (Kett's Rebellion, 8). In chapter 24, the fly and spider debate the issue of trial in the "petty court of copyhold." The fly refuses to be judged "at lord's will" because the window is not the spider's "manor in freehold" and "you are not my lord, nor I your tenant"

(108-g). Rather, he argues that the window belongs to the flies; it is their commons or, more specifically, their highway. 40 Bolwell, Life and Works, 145.

41 Reed's evidence that, toward the end of the reign of Edward VI, Heywood collaborated on court plays with George Ferrers and William Baldwin, two of the team that produced A Mirror for Magistrates, is interesting in this respect (Early Tudor Drama, 65

66). The suppressed first edition of A Mirror for Magistrates was published by September 1554, two years before The Spider and the Flie. On the circumstances of publication, see William A. Ringler, Jr., and Michael Flachmann, eds., "Beware the Cat" by William Baldwin: The First English Novel (San Marino: Huntington Library, 1988), xix. On a possible cause of suppression, see Patterson, Reading Holinshed's "Chronicles," 160: Ferrers' tragedy of Robert Tresilian concerns corruption of laws and may have alluded to the 1554 trial of Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, accused of treason for conspiring in Wyatt's rebellion. A Mirror for Magistrates continues Boccaccio's De casibus virorum, translated by Lydgate as The Fall of Princes. The Spider and the Flie refers to Lydgate's poem about manners, Stans puer ad mensam, when the narrator explains why the butterfly does not shake hands with the fly. See Haber, John Heywood's "The Spider and the Flie," 17.

42 Jones, The Tudor Commonwealth, 157-59. Cf. Land, Kett Rebellion, lo. 43 Sir Thomas More, Utopia, trans. Robert M. Adams, 2d ed. (New York: W. W. Norton, ), 12.
44 See Jones, The Tudor Commonwealth, 159-6o. 45 Ibid., i39-43

46 See Land, Kett's Rebellion, 7-iz, 47 See Jones, The Tudor Commonwealth, 115-17.
48 See Patterson, Reading Holinshed's "Chronicles," 194, on the sources of this "common proverbe" and its appearance in Holinshed's Chronicles.

49 This passage is reminiscent of More's description of Richard III: "He was close and secret, a deep dissembler, lowly of countenance, arrogant of heart, outwardly compan

ionable where he inwardly hated, not hesitating to kiss whom he thought to kill . . ." (History of King Richard III, in Richard III: The Great Debate, ed. Paul Murray Kendall [New York: W. W. Norton, 1965], 35).
so Axton and Happe, eds., The Plays of John Heywood, 50-52. 51 Ibid., 214.

52 Jones, The Tudor Commonwealth, 4, ii. Land observes that "Tudor kings traditionally sided with the commons against the landowners on agrarian matters" for "political reasons," for "The depopulation of areas devoted to pasture threatened the security of a nation which still maintained no standing army but relied on a militia in times of war" (Kett's Rebellion, ii, zz). 53 Jones, The Tudor Commonwealth, 24-25.

54 Ibid., 81-84.
55 Ibid., 44.

56 Haber, John Heywood's "The Spider and the Flie," 76.

57 Jones, The Tudor Commonwealth, 47-48. 58 Ibid., 68-69. 59 Ibid., 69-74.

60 See Donald R. Kelley, "Ideas of Resistance before Elizabeth,' in The Historical Renaissance: New Essays on Tudor and Stuart Literature and Culture, ed. Heather Dubrow and Richard Strier (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1988), 48-76.
61 Burton A. Milligan, ed., John Heywood's Works and Miscellaneous Short Poems, 41 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1956), 229. 62 See Jones, The Tudor Commonwealth, 48.

63 Bolwell, Life and Works, 150,151.

64 The dialogue hints that although flies sleep at night, spiders sleep in the daytime and perhaps work at night. The implication may be that it is really the spider who is the thief. The passage also shows, of course, the spider's pride in his defining reality by his experience of it.
6 Sidney, An Apology for Poetry, 30.

66 For a recent discussion of this concept, see David Weil Baker, "Topical Utopias: Radicalizing Humanism in Sixteenth-Century England,' Studies in English Literature 36 (1996): 1-30.

67 Erasmus, Parabolae sive similia, trans. R. A. B. Mynor, Collected Works of Erasmus 23 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1978), 261. The same commonplace is frequently found in Renaissance emblems. See Arthur Henkel and Albrecht Schone, eds., Emblemata: Handbuch zur Sinnbildkunst des XVI. und XVII. Jahrhunderts (Stuttgart: J. B. Metzlersche, 67), cols. 939-42.
68 Lucian, Muias encomion, trans. A. M. Harmon, in Lucian, 8 vols., Loeb Classical Library (London: William Heinemann; NY: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1913), 1: : Ss-95. 69 Andreas Alciatus 1: The Latin Emblems, Indexes and Lists, ed. Peter M. Daly et al., Index emblematicus (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985), emblem 164.

70 Quotations from Shakespeare's plays are taken from The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans et al. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974).
71 See The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs, 3d ed., rev. F. P. Wilson, introduction by Joanna Wilson (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970), 271; Henkel and Schone, eds., Emblemata, cols. gIo-12.
72 The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs, 270. Ts John Cheke, The Hurt of Sedition (facsimile ed., Menston, England: Scolar Press, ), E8r-FIv. On the irony of the rebellion against Somerset, see Land, Kett's Rebellion, II-12.

74 Haber, John Heywood 's "The Spider and the Flie," 2.

75 My thinking about this poem has been especially stimulated by colleagues and students at the University of Saskatchewan, who heard the first version of this paper in a Department of English colloquium. I am grateful to them and to Professor Daniele Letocha of the University of Ottawa, who organized the Canadian Society for Renaissance Studies seminars at the Sixteenth Century Studies Conference, St. Louis, Missouri, on 25 October 1996, for which I prepared the presentation.