Thomas Otway (3 March 1652 – 14 April 1685) was an English dramatist of the Restoration period, best known for Venice Preserv'd , or A Plot Discover'd (1682).
Otway was born at Trottonnear Midhurst, the parish of which his father, Humphrey Otway, was at that time curate. Humphrey later became rector of Woolbeding, a neighbouring parish, where Thomas Otway was brought up and expected to commit to priesthood. He was educated at Winchester College, and in 1669 entered Christ Church, Oxford, as a commoner, but left the university without a degree in the autumn of 1672. At Oxford he made the acquaintance of Anthony Cary, 5th Viscount Falkland, through whom, he says in the dedication to Caius Marius, he first learned to love books. In London he made acquaintance with Aphra Behn, who in 1672 cast him as the old king in her play, Forc'd Marriage, or The Jealous Bridegroom, at the Dorset Garden Theatre. However, due to severe stage fright, he gave an abysmal performance and never returned to the stage, instead opting to write what was being performed. The same year as the performance, Humphrey passes away, triggering Otway to officially abandon any thoughts of priesthood and move to London to become a playwright, where he discovers his muse.
The muse he had fallen in love with was Elizabeth Barry, who played many of the leading parts in his plays. Six letters to her survive, the last of them referring to a broken appointment in the Mall. She seems to have flirted with Otway, but had no intention of permanently offending Rochester, her lover. In 1678, driven to desperation, Otway obtained a commission through Charles, Earl of Plymouth, a natural son of Charles II, in a regiment serving in the Netherlands. The English troops were disbanded in 1679, but were left to find their way home as best they could. They were paid with depreciated paper, and Otway arrived in London late in the year, ragged and dirty, a circumstance utilized by Elkanah Settle in his Sessions of the Poets.
Upon his return, he apparently ceased to struggle against his poverty and misfortunes. At one point in attempts to make money, he tutored the son of famed Restoration actress Nell Gwyn's son. The generally accepted story regarding the manner of his death was first given in Theophilus Cibber's Lives of the Poets. He is said to have emerged from his retreat at the Bull on Tower Hill to beg for bread. A passer-by, learning who he was, gave him a guinea, with which Otway hastened to a baker's shop. He ate too hastily, and choked on the first mouthful.Whether this account of his death is true or not, it is certain that he died in the utmost poverty, and was buried on 16 April 1685 in the churchyard of St. Clement Danes.
In 1675 Thomas Betterton produced Otway's first play, Alcibiades at the Dorset Garden Theatre, where all but one of his plays would eventually be produced. It is a tragedy, written in heroic verse, saved from absolute failure only by the actors. Elizabeth Barry took the part of Draxilla, and her lover, John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, recommended Otway to the Duke of York (later King James II). He made a great improvement in Don Carlos, Prince of Spain (licensed 15 June 1676). The material for this rhymed tragedy came from the novel of the same name, written in 1672 by the Abbé de Saint-Real, the source from which Friedrich Schiller also drew his tragedy of Don Carlos. In it the two characters familiar throughout his plays make their appearance. Don Carlos is the impetuous, unstable youth, who seems to be drawn from Otway himself, while the queen's part is the gentle pathetic character repeated in his more celebrated heroines, Monimia and Belvidera. It got more money, says John Downes (Roscius Anglicanus, 1708) of this play, than any preceding modern tragedy.
In 1677 Betterton produced two adaptations from the French by Otway, Titus and Berenice (from Racine's Bérénice), and the Cheats of Scapin (from Molière's Fourberies de Scapin). These were printed together, with a dedication to Rochester. In 1678 he produced an original comedy, Friendship in Fashion, which was very successful.
In February 1680, the first of Otway's two tragic masterpieces, The Orphan, or The Unhappy Marriage, was produced at the Dorset Garden, with Mrs. Barry playing the part of Monimia. Written in blank verse, modeled upon Shakespeare, its success was due to Otway's mastery of tragic pathos found in the characters of Castalio and Monimia. The History and Fall of Caius Marius , produced in the same year as The Orphan, and printed in 1692, is a curious grafting of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet on the story of Marius as related in Plutarch's Lives.Caius Marius was incredibly popular during its time, outperforming Romeo and Juliet for at least seventy years following its initial release.
In 1680, Otway also published The Poets Complaint of his Muse, or A Satyr against Libells, in which he retaliated against his literary enemies and critics. An indifferent comedy, The Soldier's Fortune (1681), was followed in February 1682 by Venice Preserv'd, or A Plot Discover'd. The story is founded on the Histoire de la conjuration des Espagnols contre la Venise en 1618, also by the Abbé de Saint-Réal, but Otway modified the story considerably. The character of Belvidera is his own, and the leading part in the conspiracy, taken by Bedamor, the Spanish ambassador, is given in the play to the historically insignificant Pierre and Jaffeir. The piece has a political stance, with the narrative influenced by the fictitious conspiracy of the Popish Plot, which heightened anti-Catholic sentiments in England in favor of political advancement. His frustrations with such political scandals are evident in a caricature of Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, a founder of the Whig party in the character of Antonio and in the play's "Prologue", in the following lines:
"Poland, Poland! Had it been thy Lot,
T'have heard in time of this Venetian Plot;
Thou surely chosen hadst one King from thence,
And honour'd them as thou hast England since."
The allusion is to rumours current at the time that Shaftesbury had planned to make himself King of Poland. Because of this, and the silver pipe John Locke had inserted into him to drain an abscess, he was popularly referred to as "Count Tapski".
Venice Preserv'd also contains an allusion to Rochester's famous deathbed conversion, as reported in Gilbert Burnet's Some Passages of the Life and Death of.. Rochester (1680). The conversion was doubted by many, and Otway is obviously skeptical, for when Pierre is on the scaffold, attended by a priest, he is made to say the following to his executioner (Act V, scene ii): "Captain, I'd have hereafter / This fellow write no Lies of my Conversion."
The play won instant success. It was translated into almost every modern European language, and even Dryden said of it: "Nature is there, which is the greatest beauty."
The Orphan and Venice Preserved remained stock pieces on the stage until the 19th century, and the leading actresses of the period played Monimia and Belvidera. His last and most obscure play is The Atheist (1684), although many see it as a way to cash in on his previous comic success with The Soldier's Fortune, some see it not as a weak sequel but as a "brilliant experiment."One of the aims of the play is to show what happens after the wedding as sentimental conclusion in plays of the period through the figures of Courtine and Sylvia. The bleakness of their relations taint those of Beauregard and Porcia. The complexity of the plot, some of which derives from the "Invisible Mistress," the first interpolated story in Paul Scarron's Roman comique, speak of the maze of human life, a meaningless world left for the audience to decipher. One or two prefaces, and two posthumous pieces, a poem, Windsor Castle (1685), a panegyric of Charles II, and a History of the Triumvirates (1686), translated from the French, complete the list of Otway's works. A tragedy entitled Heroick Friendship was printed in 1686 as Otway's work, but the ascription is unlikely.
The Works of Mr. Thomas Otway with some account of his life and writings, published in 1712, was followed by other editions (1722, 1757, 1768, 1812). The standard edition is that by T. Thornton (1813).
"Restoration comedy" is English comedy written and performed in the Restoration period from 1660 to 1710. Comedy of manners is used as a synonym of Restoration comedy. After public stage performances had been banned for 18 years by the Puritan regime, the re-opening of the theatres in 1660 signalled a renaissance of English drama. Sexually explicit language was encouraged by King Charles II (1660–1685) personally and by the rakish style of his court. Historian George Norman Clark argues:
The best-known fact about the Restoration drama is that it is immoral. The dramatists did not criticize the accepted morality about gambling, drink, love, and pleasure generally, or try, like the dramatists of our own time, to work out their own view of character and conduct. What they did was, according to their respective inclinations, to mock at all restraints. Some were gross, others delicately improper....The dramatists did not merely say anything they liked: they also intended to glory in it and to shock those who did not like it.
Elizabeth Barry was an English actress of the Restoration period.
This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1680.
This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1677.
Nahum Tate was an Irish poet, hymnist and lyricist, who became England's poet laureate in 1692. Tate is best known for The History of King Lear, his 1681 adaptation of Shakespeare's King Lear.
Vivian de Sola Pinto was a British poet, literary critic and historian. He was a leading scholarly authority on D. H. Lawrence, and appeared for the defence in the 1960 Lady Chatterley's Lover trial.
The term she-tragedy, also known as "pathetic tragedy" refers to a vogue in the late 17th and early 18th centuries for tragic plays focused on the sufferings of a woman, sometimes innocent and virtuous but often a woman who had committed some sort of sexual sin. Prominent she-tragedies include Thomas Otway's The Orphan (1680), John Banks' Virtue Betrayed, or, Anna Bullen (1682), Thomas Southerne's The Fatal Marriage (1694), Mary Pix's Ibrahim, the Thirteenth Emperor of the Turks and Nicholas Rowe's The Fair Penitent (1703) and Lady Jane Grey (1715). Rowe was the first to use the term "she-tragedy," in 1714.
Venice Preserv'd is an English Restoration play written by Thomas Otway, and the most significant tragedy of the English stage in the 1680s. It was first staged in 1682, with Thomas Betterton as Jaffeir and Elizabeth Barry as Belvidera. The play was soon printed and enjoyed many revivals through to the 1830s. In 2019, the Royal Shakespeare Company staged a modern adaptation, Venice Preserved, at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon.
Helena Saville Faucit, Lady Martin was an English actress.
Restoration literature is the English literature written during the historical period commonly referred to as the English Restoration (1660–1689), which corresponds to the last years of Stuart reign in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. In general, the term is used to denote roughly homogenous styles of literature that center on a celebration of or reaction to the restored court of Charles II. It is a literature that includes extremes, for it encompasses both Paradise Lost and the Earl of Rochester's Sodom, the high-spirited sexual comedy of The Country Wife and the moral wisdom of The Pilgrim's Progress. It saw Locke's Treatises of Government, the founding of the Royal Society, the experiments and holy meditations of Robert Boyle, the hysterical attacks on theaters from Jeremy Collier, and the pioneering of literary criticism from John Dryden and John Dennis. The period witnessed news become a commodity, the essay develop into a periodical art form, and the beginnings of textual criticism.
Robert Gould was a significant voice in Restoration poetry in England.
The Orphan or The Unhappy Marriage is a domestic tragedy, written by Thomas Otway in 1680. It was first produced at the Dorset Garden Theatre, and starred Elizabeth Barry as Monimia, Thomas Betterton as Castalio and Jo. Williams as Polydore. It precedes Venice Preserv'd and is therefore the first of Otway's two famous tragedies. Written in blank verse, it is the play that made Otway famous. The Orphan remained a stock piece on the stage until the 19th century. Thomas Otway was purported to have been deeply in love with Mrs. Barry, and it has been suggested that this play was inspired by this unrequited love.
The Duke's Company was a theatre company chartered by King Charles II at the start of the Restoration era, 1660. Sir William Davenant was manager of the company under Prince James, Duke of York's patronage. During this period, theatres began to flourish again after being closed due to restrictions throughout the Interregnum and English Civil War.
Cave Underhill (1634–1710?) was an English actor in comedy roles.
Elizabeth Hartley (1750?–1824) was one of the most celebrated actors on the London stage in the 1700s. She was also notorious for the role she played in society scandals including "The Vauxhall Affray".
Samuel Sandford was an English character actor, known for his roles as villains.
William Pinkethman (c.1660–1725) was an English comic actor in the droll style. He was considered an imitator of Anthony Leigh.
Anthony Leigh was a celebrated English comic actor.
Mary Slingsby, Lady Slingsby, d.1693, actress) was an English actress. After a marriage lasting 1670 to 1680 to John Lee, an actor, during which she was on the stage as Mrs. Lee, she was widowed. She then married Sir Charles Slingsby, 2nd Baronet, nephew of Sir Robert Slingsby, and performed as Lady Slingsby. Theatre historians have pointed out the difficulty in identifying her roles in the period when Elinor Leigh, wife of Anthony Leigh, was performing as Mrs. Leigh, because the homophones "Lee" and "Leigh" were not consistently spelled at the time.
The History and Fall of Caius Marius is a tragedy written by English writer Thomas Otway. The play was first performed in 1679 and is indebted to William Shakespeare's tragedy, Romeo and Juliet. It is based on the Roman civil wars of Marius and his rival Sulla.
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