William Congreve (1670-1729)
Dramatist, was born in Yorkshire. In boyhood he was sent to Ireland, and educated at Kilkenny and at Trinity College, Dublin. In 1688 he returned to England and entered the Middle Temple, but does not seem to have practised, and took to writing for the stage.
His first comedy, The Old Bachelor, was produced with great applause in 1693, and was followed by The Double Dealer (1693), Love for Love (1695), and The Way of the World (1700), and also a tragedy, The Mourning Bride (1697). His comedies are all remarkable for wit and sparkling dialogue, but their profanity and licentiousness have driven them from the stage. These qualities brought them under the lash of Jeremy Collier in his Short View of the English Stage. Congreve rushed into controversy with his critic who, however, proved too strong for him.
Congreve was a favourite at Court, and a number of lucrative offices were conferred upon him. In his latter years he was blind; otherwise his life was prosperous, and he achieved his chief ambition of being admired as a fine gentleman and gallant. In his latest and finest comedy, The way of the world, he displays something radically different from that of Etherege or other Restoration comedians; as a matter of fact, in his handling of materials, and in the usual tension between desire and reputation, the tone is half amused half sad. There overtones of a partly rueful, partly compassionate awareness of the ambiguities of life. In this respect, although this comedy has been seen as the finest flower of Restoration output, also displays something different, which lies in the fact that hero and heroine, perfectly aware of their weeknesses, reveal in their mutual conversation something of the complexities and sadness of human relationships.
From Biographical Dictionary of English Literature - the Everyman Edition of 1910
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