George Etherege

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Sir George Etherege
Bornc. 1636
Probably Maidenhead, Berkshire, England
Diedc. 1691
Paris, France
Occupation Playwright, poet
Literary movement English Restoration Comedy
Mary Arnold [1] (m. 16771691)
  • George Etherege (grandfather)
  • George Etherege (father)
  • Mary Etherege, née Powney (mother) [2]

Sir George Etherege (c. 1636, Maidenhead, Berkshire c. 10 May 1692, Paris [3] ) was an English dramatist. He wrote the plays The Comical Revenge or, Love in a Tub in 1664, She Would if She Could in 1668, and The Man of Mode or, Sir Fopling Flutter in 1676.

Maidenhead town and unparished area in Berkshire, England

Maidenhead is a large market town in Berkshire, England, on the south-western bank of the River Thames. With a population of about 73,000, Maidenhead is the largest town in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead. The town is situated 25.7 miles (41.4 km) west of Charing Cross, London, 11.7 miles (18.8 km) northeast of the county town of Reading, 28.3 miles (45.5 km) southeast of Oxford, 8.0 miles (12.9 km) east-south-east of Henley on Thames and 5.8 miles (9.3 km) northwest of Windsor.

Berkshire County of England

Berkshire is one of the home counties in England. It was recognised by the Queen as the Royal County of Berkshire in 1957 because of the presence of Windsor Castle, and letters patent were issued in 1974. Berkshire is a county of historic origin, a ceremonial county and a non-metropolitan county without a county council. The county town is Reading.

Paris Capital of France

Paris is the capital and most populous city of France, with an area of 105 square kilometres and an official estimated population of 2,140,526 residents as of 1 January 2019. Since the 17th century, Paris is one of Europe's major centres of finance, diplomacy, commerce, fashion, science, and the arts.



Early life

George Etherege was born in Maidenhead, Berkshire, around 1636, to George Etherege and Mary Powney, as the eldest of six children. [4] Educated at Lord Williams's School, where a school building was later named after him, he was also rumoured to have attended the University of Cambridge, [5] although John Dennis states that to his certain knowledge Etherege understood neither Greek nor Latin, thus raising doubts that he could have been there. [6]

Lord Williamss School

Lord Williams's School is a co-educational secondary school with academy status in Thame, Oxfordshire, England. The school takes children from the age of 11 through to the age of 18. The school has approximately 2,100 pupils.

University of Cambridge University in Cambridge, United Kingdom

The University of Cambridge is a collegiate public research university in Cambridge, United Kingdom. Founded in 1209 and granted a Royal Charter by King Henry III in 1231, Cambridge is the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world and the world's fourth-oldest surviving university. The university grew out of an association of scholars who left the University of Oxford after a dispute with the townspeople. The two 'ancient universities' share many common features and are often referred to jointly as 'Oxbridge'. The history and influence of the University of Cambridge has made it one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

John Dennis (dramatist) British dramatist

John Dennis was an English critic and dramatist.

Etherege served as an apprentice to a lawyer and later studied law at Clement's Inn, London, one of the Inns of Chancery. [5] He probably travelled abroad to France with his father, who stayed with the exiled queen Henrietta Maria, and may have witnessed in Paris performances of some of Molière's earliest comedies. An allusion in one of his plays suggests he may have been personally acquainted with Roger de Rabutin, Comte de Bussy.

Inns of Chancery

The Inns of Chancery or Hospida Cancellarie were a group of buildings and legal institutions in London initially attached to the Inns of Court and used as offices for the clerks of chancery, from which they drew their name. Existing from at least 1344, the Inns gradually changed their purpose, and became both the offices and accommodation for solicitors and a place of initial training for barristers.

Henrietta Maria of France queen consort of England, Scotland, and Ireland as the wife of King Charles I

Henrietta Maria of France was queen consort of England, Scotland, and Ireland as the wife of King Charles I. She was mother of his two immediate successors, Charles II and James II and VII.

Molière 17th-century French playwright and actor

Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known by his stage name Molière, was a French playwright, actor and poet, widely regarded as one of the greatest writers in the French language and universal literature. His extant works include comedies, farces, tragicomedies, comédie-ballets and more. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed at the Comédie-Française more often than those of any other playwright today. His influence is such that the French language itself is often referred to as the "language of Molière".

Stage success

Soon after the Restoration in 1660, Etherege wrote his comedy of The Comical Revenge or Love in a Tub, which brought him to the attention of Lord Buckhurst, afterwards Earl of Dorset. This was performed at the Duke's Theatre in 1664 and a few copies were printed in the same year. It is partly in rhymed heroic verse, like the stilted tragedies of the Howards and Thomas Killigrew, but it contains comic scenes that are notably bright and fresh. The sparring between Sir Frederick and the Widow introduced a style of wit hitherto unknown upon the English stage.

Charles Sackville, 6th Earl of Dorset English noble and politician

Charles Sackville, 6th Earl of Dorset and 1st Earl of Middlesex, KG was an English poet and courtier.

Robert Howard (playwright) English playwright and politician

Sir Robert Howard was an English playwright and politician, born to Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Berkshire and his wife Elizabeth.

Thomas Killigrew 17th-century English dramatist and theatre manager

Thomas Killigrew was an English dramatist and theatre manager. He was a witty, dissolute figure at the court of King Charles II of England.

The success of this play was very great, but Etherege waited four years before repeating the experiment. Meanwhile he gained a high reputation as a poetical beau and moved in the circle of Sir Charles Sedley, Lord Rochester and other noble wits of the day. His temperament is best shown by the names his contemporaries gave him: "gentle George" and "easy Etheredge". In 1668 he brought out She Would if she Could, a comedy of action, wit and spirit, although by some thought to be frivolous and immoral. Here Etherege first showed himself as a new power in literature. He presents an airy and fantastic world, where flirtation is the only serious business in life. Etherege himself was living a life no less frivolous and unprincipled.

John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester English poet, and peer of the realm

John Wilmot was an English poet and courtier of King Charles II's Restoration court. The Restoration reacted against the "spiritual authoritarianism" of the Puritan era. Rochester embodied this new era, and he became as well known for his rakish lifestyle as his poetry, although the two were often interlinked. He died as a result of venereal disease at the age of just 33.

The Man of Mode

Frontispiece to The Man of Mode (1676). George Etherege The Man of Mode frontspiece 1676.jpg
Frontispiece to The Man of Mode (1676).

Between 1668 and 1671 Etherege went to Constantinople as secretary to the English Ambassador, Sir Daniel Harvey. After a silence of eight years, he came forward with only one further play: The Man of Mode or, Sir Fopling Flutter , which is widely considered the best comedy of manners written in England before the days of Congreve. It was acted and printed in 1676 and enjoyed great success, which may be attributed to the belief that it satirises, or at least refers to well-known contemporaries in London. Sir Fopling Flutter was seen as a portrait of Beau Hewit, the reigning exquisite, Dorimant to be a reference to the Earl of Rochester, and Medley a portrait of Etherege himself (or equally plausible, his fellow playwright and wit, Sir Charles Sedley). Even the drunken shoemaker was a real character, who made his fortune from being brought to public notice in this fashion.

Constantinople capital city of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire, the Latin and the Ottoman Empire

Constantinople was the capital city of the Roman Empire (330–395), of the Byzantine Empire, and also of the brief Crusader state known as the Latin Empire (1204–1261), until finally falling to the Ottoman Empire (1453–1923). It was reinaugurated in 324 from ancient Byzantium as the new capital of the Roman Empire by Emperor Constantine the Great, after whom it was named, and dedicated on 11 May 330. The city was located in what is now the European side and the core of modern Istanbul.

Sir Daniel Harvey was a British merchant and diplomat who was English Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1668 to 1672.

<i>The Man of Mode</i> play written by George Etherege

The Man of Mode, or, Sir Fopling Flutter is a Restoration comedy by George Etherege, written in 1676. The play is set in Restoration London and follows the libertine Dorimant as he tries to win over the young heiress Harriet and to disengage himself from his affair with Mrs. Loveit. Despite the subtitle, the fop Sir Fopling is only one of several minor characters; the rake Dorimant is the protagonist.

Life after the theatre

Etherege was part of the circle of John Wilmot; both men had a daughter by the unmarried actress Elizabeth Barry. [7] (Recently all three have appeared as characters in the 2005 film The Libertine , based on a play by Stephen Jeffreys.)

After his success, Etheredge retired from literature, and a few years later lost much of his fortune to gambling. He was knighted at some time before 1679, and married a wealthy widow, Mary Sheppard Arnold. In March 1685, he was appointed resident minister to the Imperial German Court at Regensburg. After three-and-a-half years' residence there, and after the Glorious Revolution, he left for Paris to join James II in exile. He died in Paris, probably in 1691, as Narcissus Luttrell notes this as a recent even in February 1692, identifying Sir George Etherege as the late King James's Ambassador to Vienna.

Etherege's manuscript despatches are preserved in the British Museum, where they were discovered and described by Gosse in 1881. Later editions were produced by Sybil Rosenfeld (1928) and Frederic Bracher (1974).


Etherege holds a distinguished place in English literature as one of the "big five" in Restoration comedy, who invented the comedy of manners and led the way to the achievements of Congreve and Sheridan.

Etherege's portraits of fops and beaux are considered to be the best of their kind. He is noted for his delicate touches of dress, furniture and scene, and a vivid replication of the fine airs of London gentlemen and ladies which may even better Congreve's. His biography was first written in detail by Edmund Gosse in Seventeenth Century Studies (1883).

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  1. A widow whom Etherege is rumoured to have married for her money. (The Dramatic Works of Sir George Etherege, ed. H. F. B. Brett-Smith, 2 vols (1927)).
  2. [ dead link ]
  3. "Sir George Etherege (British dramatist) - Encyclopædia Britannica". 2013-11-03. Retrieved 2014-02-25.
  4. Brett-Smith, H. F. B.: The Dramatic Works of Sir George Etherege. Introduction. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1927. pp. xi-lxxxiiii.
  5. 1 2 Oldys, W. Biographia Britannica. Vol. III, 1750. p. 1841.
  6. Dennis, John. A Defence Of Sir Fopling Flutter, A Comedy. Pamphlet, London, 2 November 1722.
  7. Cambridge Guide to Literature in English