Authors: Sir William Davenant

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English playwright

Author Works

Drama:

The Cruell Brother, pr. 1627

The Tragedy of Albovine, King of the Lombards, pb. 1629

The Just Italian, pr. 1629

The Siege: Or, The Collonell, pr. 1629

Love and Honour, pr. 1634

The Witts, pr. 1634

News from Plimouth, pr. 1635

The Temple of Love, pr., pb. 1635 (masque)

The Platonick Lovers, pr. 1635

The Triumphs of the Prince d’Amour, pr., pb. 1636 (masque)

Britannia Triumphans, pr., pb. 1638 (masque)

The Fair Favorite, pr. 1638

Luminalia: Or, The Festival of Light, pr., pb. 1638

The Unfortunate Lovers, pr. 1638

The Distresses, pr. 1639 (also known as The Spanish Lovers)

Salmacida Spolia, pr., pb. 1640 (masque)

The First Days Entertainment at Rutland House, pr. 1656 (music by Henry Lawes)

The Siege of Rhodes, Part I, pr., pb. 1656, Part II, pr. 1659, pb. 1663

The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru, pr., pb. 1658

The History of Sir Francis Drake, pr., pb. 1659

Hamlet, pr. 1661 (adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play)

Twelfth Night, pr. 1661 (adaptation of Shakespeare’s play)

The Law Against Lovers, pr. 1662

Romeo and Juliet, pr. 1662 (adaptation of Shakespeare’s play)

Henry VIII, pr. 1663 (adaptation of Shakespeare’s play)

Macbeth, pr. 1663 (adaptation of Shakespeare’s play)

The Playhouse to Be Lett, pr. 1663

The Rivals, pr. 1664

The Tempest: Or, The Enchanted Island, pr. 1667 (with John Dryden; adaptation of Shakespeare’s play)

The Man’s the Master, pr. 1668

Poetry:

Madagascar, with Other Poems, 1638

Gondibert, 1651 (unfinished)

The Seventh and Last Canto of the Third Book of Gondibert, 1685

The Shorter Poems and Songs from the Plays and Masques, 1972 (A. M. Gibbs, editor)

Nonfiction:

The Preface to Gondibert with an Answer by Mr. Hobbes, 1650 (with Thomas Hobbes)

Miscellaneous:

Works, 1673 (3 volumes), 1968 (reprint)

Dramatic Works, 1872-1874 (5 volumes; James Madiment and W. H. Logan, editors)

The Shorter Poems, and Songs from the Plays and Masques, 1972 (A. M. Gibbs, editor)

Biography

William Davenant (DAV-uh-nuhnt), or D’Avenant, born at Oxford in February, 1606, himself encouraged the legend that William Shakespeare was his father. It was said that the elder Davenant’s Crown Inn was a favorite stopover of the great poet, although there exists no evidence to prove any intimacy between Mistress Davenant and Shakespeare. The innkeeper later became mayor of Oxford, where his son was educated in Lincoln College. Before taking a degree, however, William quit school to go into the service of King Charles I.{$I[AN]9810000643}{$I[A]Davenant, Sir William}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Davenant, Sir William}{$I[tim]1606;Davenant, Sir William}

Sir William Davenant

(Courtesy of New York Public Library)

Davenant was associated in London with the theater of Inigo Jones and Ben Jonson, and when these two quarreled, Davenant wrote The Temple of Love for Jones; the masque was played before Queen Henrietta Maria to much applause. After Jonson’s death, Davenant became poet laureate in 1638. Although an ardent Loyalist, he must have had the protection of Oliver Cromwell during the time the theaters were closed, for there are records to show that Davenant at one time had “entertainments” in four separate theaters. After his political activities had led to several sentences, accusations, imprisonments, and other difficulties in England and France and at sea, he was apparently saved by John Milton’s intercession.

After the Restoration, Davenant was given a license to open a new theater, the Duke, in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, where he produced masques, spectacles, adaptations, operas, and bombastic love-and-honor tragedies. His own best plays are The Witts, Love and Honour, and The Platonick Lovers, though he will perhaps always be best remembered as the author of the first “heroic” drama in English, The Siege of Rhodes. He was said to have been influential enough under Charles II to return a favor and save Milton’s life in 1660. Davenant died in London on April 7, 1668, and was buried in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey. On his tomb is an inscription reminiscent of Ben Jonson’s: “O rare Sir William Davenant!”

BibliographyBlaydes, Sophia B., and Philip Bordinat. Sir William Davenant. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1981. Begins with a chapter on Davenant’s life and times and then surveys the early plays, the masques, and the Restoration plays. The bibliography is excellent, including even dissertations and theses as well as the usual primary and secondary sources. A good place to begin studying Davenant.Blaydes, Sophia B., and Philip Bordinat. Sir William Davenant: An Annotated Bibliography, 1629-1985. New York: Garland, 1986. This bibliography casts a wide net in 365 pages. The primary bibliography is divided into “Collected Works,” “Separate Works,” and “Miscellaneous Works.” The secondary bibliography is broken down into four sections, treating Davenant century by century, and the last section is subdivided into decades. An exceptionally useful tool for Davenant scholars.Bold, Alan. Longman Dictionary of Poets. Harlow, England: Longman, 1985. The entry on Davenant postulates that he may have been William Shakespeare’s godson. Cites “The Souldier Going to the Field” as his best-known poem and asserts that it is a “tender expression of regret on leaving love for war.”Bordinat, Philip, and Sophia B. Blaydes. Sir William Davenant. Boston: Twayne, 1981. Recommended as an introduction to Davenant. Mostly appreciative but acknowledges that his poetry is not “of the first rank.” Nevertheless, acknowledges Davenant’s competency and his influence on both his peers and antecedents. The chapter on Davenant’s nondramatic poetry discusses Madagascar and Gondibert. Perceives the last poems to be richer and more varied than Madagascar.Canfield, Douglas J. Heroes and States: On the Ideology of Restoration Tragedy. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2000. This general study of Restoration tragedy contains an analysis of Davenant’s The Siege of Rhodes.Edmond, Mary. Rare Sir William Davenant. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987. A scholarly study, with rich notes, that treats the subject’s whole career. Davenant as man of the theater is considered in chapters treating the early plays and masques, Gondibert, the opera, the formation of the “Davenant/Killigrew stage monopoly,” and Davenant as theater manager and stage director. Includes helpful bibliography.Harbage, Alfred. Sir William Davenant: Poet Venturer, 1606-1668. New York: Octagon Books, 1971. A full-length, sympathetic study of Davenant, whom Harbage calls the “most conspicuous of the Cavalier poets” and whose poetry was “sometimes inspired.” Contains extensive coverage of his early life, his plays, and his poems, with a chapter devoted to Gondibert. A must for Davenant scholars.Nethercot, Arthur H. Sir William Davenant: Poet Laureate and Playwright-Manager. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1938. Reprint. New York: Russell and Russell, 1967. The longest and most detailed study of Davenant. Besides focusing on Davenant as a man of the theater world, Nethercot includes scholarly appendices on the questions of Davenant’s wife as William Shakespeare’s “Dark Lady,” the Chancery Suit against Urswick, Mary Davenant’s will, and Thomas Warren’s death.Scheil, Katherine West. “Sir William Davenant’s Use of Shakespeare in ‘The Law Against Lovers’ (1662).” Philological Quarterly 76, no. 4 (Fall, 1997): 369-386. An analysis of Davenant’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s drama. Scheil delivers an understanding of Davenant’s aesthetic and political motives by illustrating the conditions of theatrical production in the early Restoration period.Welsford, Enid. The Court Masque: A Study in the Relationship Between Poetry and the Revels. Reprint. New York: Russell & Russell, 1962. A perceptive and thorough study of the masque, useful for interpreting the work of Davenant.Wiseman, Susan. Drama and Politics in the English Civil War. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1998. This study on what happened after the theaters were closed includes a chapter on Davenant and covers many lesser known figures.
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