Birthplace: Cawston, Norfolk, England
Died: c. 1640
Cause of death: unspecified
Race or Ethnicity: White
Executive summary: The Parliament of Bees
English dramatist, 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 Philip 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 King 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 subtitle 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 Ile of Guls (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 Swinburne notes in Manasses's 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-bae, 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 a great measure, the dramatic tradition of John 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.
University: Caius College, Cambridge University (1592-, expelled)
Expelled from School
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