John Day (1574-1640?) was an English dramatist of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods.
He was born at Cawston, Norfolk, 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 does not seem to have paid, 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 early work, is lost.
A drama dealing with the early years of the reign of Henry VI, The Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green (acted 1600, printed 1659), written in collaboration with Chettle, is Day's 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 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 Mr 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. 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 Peregrinatie Scholastica or Learninges Pilgrimage, dating from hislater years, was printed by Mr AH 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.
His works, edited by AH Bullen, were printed at the Chiswick Press in 1881, The same editor included The Maydes Metamorphosis 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, 1888), with an introduction by Arthur Symons. An appreciation by Mr AC Swinburne appeared in The Nineteenth Century (October 1897).