Authors: Sir John Vanbrugh

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English playwright and architect

Author Works


The Relapse: Or, Virtue in Danger, pr., pb. 1696

Aesop, Part I, pr. 1696

Part II, pr., pb. 1697 (adaptation of Edmé Boursault’s play Les Fables d’Ésope)

The Provok’d Wife, pr., pb. 1697

The Country House, pr. 1698 (adaptation of Florent-Carton Dancourt’s play La Maison de campagne)

The Pilgrim, pr., pb. 1700 (adaptation of John Fletcher’s play The Pilgrim)

The False Friend, pr., pb. 1702 (adaptation of Alain-René Lesage’s play Le Traître puni)

Squire Trelooby, pr., pb. 1704 (with William Congreve and William Walsh; adaptation of Molière’s play Monsieur de Pourceaugnac)

The Confederacy, pr., pb. 1705 (adaptation of Dancourt’s play Les Bourgeoises à la mode)

The Mistake, pr. 1705 (adaptation of Molière’s play Le Dépit amoureux)

The Cuckold in Conceit, pr. 1707 (adaptation of Molière’s play Sganarelle: Ou, Le Cocu imaginaire)

A Journey to London, pb. 1728 (unfinished; also known as The Provok’d Husband, pr., pb. 1728, with revisions by Colley Cibber)


A Short Vindication of “The Relapse” and “The Provok’d Wife,” 1698


The Complete Works of Sir John Vanbrugh, 1927-1928 (4 volumes; Bonamy Dobrée and Geoffrey Webb, editors)


John Vanbrugh (VAHN-bruh) excelled in two art forms: playwriting and architecture. His father was a London merchant, his mother a daughter of Sir Dudley Carleton. Little is known of the events of Vanbrugh’s early life before he became associated with the theater, except that he reportedly studied architecture in France from 1683 to 1685. He was commissioned as an officer in the British army in 1686 and served for several years. While in France in 1690 he was imprisoned for several months in the Bastille as a suspected English spy. His first play to be published, The Relapse, was an original work produced in 1696. The Provok’d Wife, another original play, was presented in 1697 but had probably been written about 1691. Other plays which he wrote or cowrote were adaptations from earlier English or continental dramatists.{$I[AN]9810000316}{$I[A]Vanbrugh, Sir John}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Vanbrugh, Sir John}{$I[tim]1664;Vanbrugh, Sir John}

The Relapse was a sequel to Colley Cibber’s Love’s Last Shift (1696). Like other dramatists of the 1690’s, Vanbrugh depended on comedy of manners, sex, and lively action to carry along his plays. Social problems are introduced into the plays at times, but usually just for the purpose of making some cynical humor out of them. Notable in The Relapse is the sudden conversion of a debauched and faithless husband to marital constancy; such a reformation at the end of an immoral play was the dramatist’s reply to charges hurled at the stage at the time that it was presenting immorality. Vanbrugh’s plays, popular during his lifetime, were published in a collected edition in 1730, just four years after his death. On the side of notoriety rather than fame, Vanbrugh was one of the dramatists attacked for immorality by Jeremy Collier in his Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage (1698). Vanbrugh’s published replies to Collier’s attacks reveal a sophisticated understanding of comic theory.

As an architect, Vanbrugh designed Castle Howard, the Haymarket Theater, Blenheim Palace, and (with Nicholas Hawksmoor) the Clarendon Building at Oxford. Vanbrugh was knighted in 1723. He was married in 1719 to Henrietta Yarborough; they had several children, of whom a boy and a girl survived. Vanbrugh’s personality and well-constructed, good-humored plays continue to hold interest for many readers and playgoers in modern times.

BibliographyBerkowitz, Gerald M. Sir John Vanbrugh and the End of Restoration Comedy. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1981. Examines the works of Vanbrugh in the context of the transition from Restoration comedy to new forms of comedy. Includes bibliography and index.Bull, Jon. Vanbrugh and Farquhar. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998. Analyzes the work of Vanbrugh and George Farquhar in the context of English drama in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Includes bibliography and index.Downes, Kerry. Sir John Vanbrugh: A Biography. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987. Examines the life and works of this dramatist and architect. Includes bibliography and index.McCormick, Frank. Sir John Vanbrugh: The Playwright as Architect. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1991. McCormick provides both critical analysis of Vanbrugh’s works and discussion of his role as architect. Includes bibliography and index.Ridgway, Christopher, and Robert Williams. Sir John Vanbrugh and Landscape Architecture in Baroque England, 1690-1730. Stroud, England: Sutton in association with the National Trust, 2000. Although this work focuses on Vanbrugh as an architect, it provides valuable insights into his life and the times in which he lived. Includes bibliography and index.
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