Sir William D'Avenant was Son to Mr. John D'Avenant, a Vintner of Oxford. He was born in the Year 1605. and his Father's House being frequented by the famous Shakespear, in his Journeys to Warwickshire, his Poetical Genius, in his Youth, was by that means very much encourag'd; and some will have it, that the handsome Landlady, as well as the good Wine, invited the Tragedian to those Quarters. In the Year 1621. he was admitted a Member of Lincoln College; and after some smattering in Logick, he quitted those Studies for Poetry, which prov'd more to his Advantage: But as Mr. Langbain observes, his Genius rather inclin'd him to walk in the more flowry Fields of Parnassus, in which he made a great Progress, than to pursue the Entertainments of the Stage. From Lincoln-College he went first into the Service of the Dutchess of Richmond, and afterwards to that of the Lord Brook; after whose Decease he apply'd himself to Dramatick Writing; and in the Yer 1637, he succeeded Ben. Johnson, as Poet Laureat; which Place he enjoy'd in the Reigns both of King Charles I. and II. He obtain'd a Patent for a Company of Actors, who first began in Little Lincolns-Inn-Fields; but the other Company of Comedians, by their excellent Performances, winning the Favour of the Town, he set up the Whim of Operas; he being the first Introducer of those Entertainments here in England: Mr. Dryden gives Sir William the Character of a Person of a quick Fancy; and tells us that his first Thoughts were generally the most happy. His Works are the following Dramatick Entertainments.
I. The Cruel Brother; a Tragedy, Dedicated to the Right Honourable the Lord Weston, Lord High-Treasurer of England.
II. ALBOVIN, King of the Lombards; a Tragedy, Dedicated to the Duke of Somerset. This Play is commended by eight Copies of Verses. For the Story see Paulus Diaconus de Gestis Longobardorum, lib. 2. c. 28. Bandello's Histoires Tragique, tom. 4. Nov. 19. Greg. Episc. Turonensis Hist. Francorum, lib. 2. c. 28. Heylin's Cosmog. part 1. book 1. page 57.
III. The Fair Favourite; a Tragi-Comedy.
IV. The Just Italian; a Tragi-Comedy, Dedicated to the Earl of Dorset, with recommendatory Verses by Mr. Hopkins and Mr. Carew.
V. The Law against Lovers; a Tragi-Comedy, taken from two Plays of Shakespear, Measure for Measure, and Much ado about Nothing.
VI. Love and Honour; a Tragi-Comedy, acted at the Theatre in Little Lincolns-Inn-Fields, and in Dorset Garden, with Applause.
VII. The Wits; a Comedy, acted first at Black-fryars, and afterwards at the Duke's Theatre with Applause.
VIII. The Platonick Lovers; a Tragi-Comedy, originally printed with the Wits.
IX. The Man's the Master; a Comedy, often acted with Approbation. Plot from Scarron's Joddelet, ou Le Maistre Valet, &c.
X. News from Plymouth; a Comedy.
XI. The Play-House to be Let. This Play is compos'd of several different Species, and can be call'd neither Comedy, Tragi-Comedy, nor Tragedy. The Second Act is a Translation of Moliere's Sganarelle, a Farce. The Third and Fourth Acts contain the History of Sir Francis Drake, and the Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru: The Fifth Act consists of Tragedy, Travesty, and sets forth the Actions of Caesar, Anthony and Cleopatra, in Burlesque Verse.
XII. The Seige; a Tragi-Comedy.
XIII. The Seige of Rhodes, in Two Parts, Dedicated to the Right Honourable the Earl of Clarendon, Lord High Chancellor of England. These Plays, as also the last mention'd Tragi-Comedy, were written in the Time of the Civil Wars, and were acted with great Applause at the Duke of York's Theatre in Little Lincolns-Inn-Fields. For the Story consult Boissardi Icones & vitae Sultanorum Turcicorum in Vit. Solyn. 2. Thomas Artus Continuation de la Histoire de Turcs, and our English History of the Turks, by Knolles.
XIV. The Unfortunate Lovers; a Tragedy.
XV. The Distresses; a Tragi-Comedy.
XVI. An Entertainment at Rutland-House; presented by way of Declamation and Musick, after the Manner of the Ancients.
XVII. Britannia Triumphans; a Masque, written by Sir William D'Avenant and Mr. Inigo Jones.
XVIII. The Triumphs of the Prince D'AMOUR; a Masque, presented before his Highness, at his Palace in the Middle Temple, perform'd by the Members of that Honourable Society, as an Entertainment to the Prince Elector. The Musick of the Songs and Symphonies was set by Mr. Lawes.
XIX. The Temple of Love; a Masque, presented at Court by the Queen, and divers of the Nobility of both Sexes, in the Reign of King Charles I.
Among Sir William's other Poetical Writings, his Gondibert made the greatest Noise, which he began, in France the Year 1650. during the Time of the Civil Wars, when his Safety made a Retirement necessary. He was made General of the Ordinance by the Marquis of Newcastle, and was Knighted by the King, 1643.
He died in the Year 1668, aged 63, and was buried among the other eminent Poets in Westminster Abbey, with only this Epitaph in imitation of Ben. Johnson.
O Rare Sir William D'Avenant.