Thomas d'Urfey

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Thomas D'Urfey (a.k.a. Tom Durfey; 1653 – 26 February 1723) was an English writer and wit. He composed plays, songs, and poetry, in addition to writing jokes. He was an important innovator and contributor in the evolution of the Ballad opera.

England Country in north-west Europe, part of the United Kingdom

England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north-northwest. The Irish Sea lies west of England and the Celtic Sea lies to the southwest. England is separated from continental Europe by the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south. The country covers five-eighths of the island of Great Britain, which lies in the North Atlantic, and includes over 100 smaller islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.

Ballad opera opera genre

The ballad opera is a genre of English stage entertainment that originated in the early 18th century, and continued to develop over the following century and later. Like the earlier comédie en vaudeville and the later Singspiel, its distinguishing characteristic is the use of tunes in a popular style with spoken dialogue. These English plays were 'operas' mainly insofar as they satirized the conventions of the imported opera seria. Music critic Peter Gammond describes the ballad opera as "an important step in the emancipation of both the musical stage and the popular song."



D'Urfey was born in Devonshire and began his professional life as a scrivener, but quickly turned to the theatre. In personality, he was considered so affable and amusing that he could make friends with nearly everyone, including such disparate characters as Charles II of England and his brother James II, and in all layers of society.

Charles II of England King of England, Ireland and Scotland

Charles II was king of England, Scotland and Ireland. He was king of Scotland from 1649 until his deposition in 1651, and king of England, Scotland and Ireland from the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 until his death.

James II of England 17th-century King of England and Ireland, and of Scotland (as James VII)

James II and VII was King of England and Ireland as James II and King of Scotland as James VII, from 6 February 1685 until he was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The last Roman Catholic monarch of England, Scotland and Ireland, his reign is now remembered primarily for struggles over religious tolerance. However, it also involved the principles of absolutism and divine right of kings and his deposition ended a century of political and civil strife by confirming the primacy of Parliament over the Crown.

Thomas d'Urfey Google Books Thomas D'Urfey.jpg
Thomas d'Urfey
Memorial to Durfey at St James's Church, Piccadilly Durfey.jpg
Memorial to Durfey at St James's Church, Piccadilly

D'Urfey lived in an age of self-conscious elitism and anti-egalitarianism, a reaction against the "leveling" tendencies of the previous Puritan reign during the Interregnum. D'Urfey participated in the Restoration's dominant atmosphere of social climbing: he claimed to be of French Huguenot descent, though he might not have been; and he added an apostrophe to the plain English name Durfey when he was in his 30s. He wrote 500 songs, and 32 plays, starting with The Siege of Memphis in 1676. His first play was a failure, but he responded in the following year (1677) with a comedy, Madame Fickle, which proved more successful.

Levellers political movement during the English Civil War, committed to popular sovereignty, extended suffrage, equality before the law and religious tolerance

The Levellers was a political movement during the English Civil War (1642–1651). It was committed to popular sovereignty, extended suffrage, equality before the law and religious tolerance. The hallmark of Leveller thought was its populism, as shown by its emphasis on equal natural rights, and their practice of reaching the public through pamphlets, petitions and vocal appeals to the crowd. Its ideas were presented in its manifesto "Agreement of the People". In contrast to the Diggers, the Levellers opposed common ownership, except in cases of mutual agreement of the property owners. The Levellers came to prominence at the end of the First English Civil War (1642–1646) and were most influential before the start of the Second Civil War (1648–1649). Leveller views and support were found in the populace of the City of London and in some regiments in the New Model Army.

His plays include The Fond Husband (1676), The Virtuous Wife (1680), and Wonders in the Sun, or, The Kingdom of the Birds (1706). In 1698 he wrote The Campaigners as a reply and satire of Jeremy Collier's anti-theatrical scourges. His multi-volume Wit and Mirth, or Pills to Purge Melancholy , written between 1698 and 1720, is a collection of songs and ballads. His play The Injured Princess is an adaptation of Shakespeare's Cymbeline . Durfey wrote widely in a witty, satirical vein, usually from a courtly point of view, and his works are a compendium of comedic ideas.

Satire genre of arts and literature in the form of humor or ridicule

Satire is a genre of literature, and sometimes graphic and performing arts, in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, corporations, government, or society itself into improvement. Although satire is usually meant to be humorous, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit to draw attention to both particular and wider issues in society.

Jeremy Collier English theatre critic, non-juror bishop and theologian

Jeremy Collier was an English theatre critic, non-juror bishop and theologian.

Wit and Mirth: Or Pills to Purge Melancholy is the title of a large collection of songs by Thomas d'Urfey, published between 1698 and 1720, which in its final, six-volume edition held over 1,000 songs and poems. The collection started as a single book compiled and published by Henry Playford who had succeeded his father John Playford as the leading music publisher of the period. Over the next two decades, Pills went through various editions and expanded into five volumes; in 1719 Thomas D'Urfey reordered and added to the work to produce a new edition with the title Songs Compleat, Pleasant and Divertive, published by Jacob Tonson. Volumes I and II now consisted entirely of songs by D'Urfey. The edition sold out quickly and in the second printing D'Urfey reverted to the Pills title. He added Volume 6 in 1720. The title itself may derive from a 1599 pamphlet "A Pil to Purge Melancholie".

His songs generally fell into three types: court songs, political songs (such as Joy to Great Caesar ), and country songsthe latter tending to be more than a little bawdy. (The Fart was one of his hits; The Lusty Young Smith was another.) Over forty different composers set his lyrics to music, including Henry Purcell. Purcell composed music for D'Urfey's play The Comical History of Don Quixote (1694), one of the first stage dramatizations of Cervantes' celebrated novel.

Joy to Great Caesar was a Royalist and anti-Catholic political song written by Thomas D'Urfey during the reign of Charles II of England.

Henry Purcell English composer

Henry Purcell was an English composer. Although incorporating Italian and French stylistic elements into his compositions, Purcell's legacy was a uniquely English form of Baroque music. He is generally considered to be one of the greatest English composers; no later native-born English composer approached his fame until Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, William Walton and Benjamin Britten in the 20th century.

The Comical History of Don Quixote is a three-part dramatization of Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra's celebrated novel Don Quixote. It was written in 1694, only seventy-eight years after the death of Cervantes, by Thomas D'Urfey. It is one of the first stage dramatizations of "Don Quixote" ever written. The piece featured many songs, most of them by Henry Purcell, but there were some by other noted Restoration composers.

D'Urfey wrote tunes himself as well, although even he admitted that they were not very good. Many of the songs lyrics in Wit and Mirth are preceded by their melodies written in musical notation. He was a friend of the great essayists Joseph Addison and Richard Steele; but, as was not atypical of the time, he also quarreled energetically with other poets and writers. He wrote parodies, and was parodied in return. He stuttered slightlyexcept, it was said, when he sang or swore. At one point in his career, a jealous rival would respond to D'Urfey's play Love for Money with a parody called Wit for Money, or, Poet Stutterer.

Joseph Addison 17th/18th-century English essayist, poet, playwright, and politician

Joseph Addison was an English essayist, poet, playwright, and politician. He was the eldest son of The Reverend Lancelot Addison. His name is usually remembered alongside that of his long-standing friend Richard Steele, with whom he founded The Spectator magazine.

Richard Steele British politician

Sir Richard Steele was an Irish writer, playwright, and politician, remembered as co-founder, with his friend Joseph Addison, of the magazine The Tatler.


He was buried on the day of his death at the fashionable church of St James's, Piccadilly in London. His lasting achievement lay in his best songs: 10 of the 68 songs in The Beggar's Opera were D'Urfey's.[ citation needed ]


"All animals, except man, know that the principal business of life is to enjoy it." Thomas D'Urfey.[ citation needed ]

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