Authors: Thomas Otway

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English playwright

Author Works


Alcibiades, pr., pb. 1675

Don Carlos, Prince of Spain, pr., pb. 1676

Titus and Berenice, pr. 1676 (adaptation of Jean Racine’s play Bérénice)

The Cheats of Scapin, pr. 1676 (adaptation of Molière’s play Les Fourberies de Scapin)

Friendship in Fashion, pr., pb. 1678

The History and Fall of Caius Marius, pr. 1679

The Orphan: Or, The Unhappy Marriage, pr., pb. 1680

The Soldier’s Fortune, pr. 1680

Venice Preserved: Or, A Plot Discovered, pr., pb. 1682

The Atheist: Or, The Second Part of the Soldier’s Fortune, pr. 1683


The Poet’s Complaint of His Muse, 1680

Windsor Castle, 1685


The History of the Triumvirates, 1686 (of various works)


Thomas Otway, 1903

The Complete Works of Thomas Otway, 1926 (3 volumes)

The Works of Thomas Otway: Plays, Poems, and Love-Letters, 1932, 1968 (2 volumes; J. C. Ghosh, editor)


Although he was the son of a poor Anglican curate, Thomas Otway (AHT-way) was educated at Winchester School and Oxford University. He left the university in 1671, however, before receiving a degree, perhaps because of the death of his father. What he did between leaving the university and the production in 1675 of his first play, the bombastic Alcibiades, is unknown. The following year a second play, a tragedy in heroic couplets titled Don Carlos, was produced, an adaptation of César Vichard St. Réal’s French tragedy of the same title. Don Carlos, Prince of Spain proved successful on the stage and made Otway’s reputation as a leading playwright of the time. He wrote a number of other tragedies and comedies adapted from the French drama of Molière and Jean Racine. His success brought him acquaintance and friendship with the leading figures of the stage and court.{$I[AN]9810000404}{$I[A]Otway, Thomas}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Otway, Thomas}{$I[tim]1652;Otway, Thomas}

After he was rejected by an actress, Mrs. Barry, for whom he bore a lifelong love, Otway in 1678 joined the English army and received a commission as ensign within a short time. He returned to London the following year and resumed his writing. He was granted a master of arts degree by St. John’s College, Cambridge University, in 1680. In The Soldier’s Fortune, a successful original comedy in which he drew on his military experience, he turned to blank verse. Venice Preserved: Or, A Plot Discovered, which is generally considered his greatest play, followed in 1682. One more play, The Atheist, was produced in 1684. Although successful on the stage and in print, Otway’s works were insufficient to produce an income for him, and his life was beset by financial difficulties. He was an impetuous man and reputedly fought several duels successfully. He died in questionable circumstances. Several accounts, none verified, have been offered as to the manner of his death in his thirty-fourth year, but the most common is that he died in a shop near the sponging house in which he was then living. In his plays Otway illustrated the tendency of the drama of the Restoration period to move away from heroic bombast to sentimentality and pathos.

BibliographyDerrick, Samuel. The Dramatic Censor: Remarks upon the Tragedy of “Venice Preserved.” 1752. Reprint. Los Angeles: William Andrews Clark Memorial Library of University of California, 1985. Derrick was a well-known figure in London literary circles, and this reading is perceptive even if heavily moralistic.Ham, Roswell Gray. Otway and Lee: Biography from a Baroque Age. 1931. Reprint. New York: Greenwood Press, 1969. An excellent study of two Restoration dramatists whose careers ran parallel on the turbulent London stage.Johnson, Samuel. Lives of the English Poets. Edited by George Birkbeck Hill. 1905. Reprint. New York: Dutton, 1975. Johnson comments on some of the works and moralizes typically on the life: “Want of morals or of decency did not in those days exclude any man from the company of the wealthy and the gay if he brought with him any powers of entertainment.”Munns, Jessica. Restoration Politics and Drama: The Plays of Thomas Otway, 1675-1683. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1995. A major study, drawing on insights from new historicism, feminist criticism, Lacanian psychology, and other postmodernist approaches. Includes valuable notes and a bibliography.Pollard, Hazel M. Batzer. From Heroics to Sentimentalism: A Study of Thomas Otway’s Tragedies. Salzburg, Austria: Institut für Englische Sprache und Literatur, Universität Salzburg, 1974. Pollard traces the development in Otway’s tragedies away from the heroic tragedies of his time toward the mounting psychology of sentimentalism.Summers, Montague. Introduction to The Complete Works of Thomas Otway. 3 vols. London: Nonesuch Press, 1926. Reprint. New York: AMS Press, 1967. Summers’s long introduction is informative and readable in its gossipy, anecdotal approach. With source notes.Warner, Kerstin P. Thomas Otway. Boston: Twayne, 1982. A fine overview. A chronology is followed by a biographical sketch and chapters on Otway’s political views, first plays, and the playwright’s “peak season.” Includes a bibliography.
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