Home  »  Volume VIII: English THE AGE OF DRYDEN  »  § 9. Otway and his Career as a Dramatist

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

VII. The Restoration Drama

§ 9. Otway and his Career as a Dramatist

After Dryden, the foremost place among the dramatists of the restoration age is, undoubtedly, held by Thomas Otway. Born in 1652, at Trotton in Sussex, he was educated at Winchester and Christ Church, Oxford, but he left the university without taking a degree. After an unsuccessful appearance in Mrs. Aphra Behn’s Forc’d Marriage (1671), he devoted himself to writing for the stage. His first play, Alcibiades, a tragedy in rimed verse, was acted in 1675 at the new theatre in Dorset garden by the duke of York’s company, including the Bettertons and Mrs. Barry. It is a dreary and stilted piece, and, though the heroic play was then at the height of its vogue, Alcibiades met with but little success. In his next play, Don Carlos (1676), Otway was more happy. Though still hampered by bombast and rimed verse, the scenes are handled with some vigour, and the play seems to have been effective on the stage, and very popular. It ran for ten nights and was frequently revived. The plot is taken from the Abbé de Saint-Réal’s historical romance of Don Carlos (1673), of which a translation into English had appeared in 1674. The same source, at a later period, supplied Schiller with the plot of a tragedy bearing the same title as Otway’s; but, though the English poet was not unknown in Germany, there is no evidence to show that Schiller made use of this work. The part of Philip II was played by Betterton, who produced all Otway’s subsequent plays—a remarkable proof of their attractiveness from an actor’s point of view.

Two capable versions of French plays followed (1677)—Titus and Berenice from Racine’s Bérénice and The Cheats of Scapin from Molière’s Fourberies de Scapin. The latter held the stage for more than a hundred years.