Tuesday, August 7, 2007

William Congreve (1670-1729)

Sierra Club


Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.


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English playwright and poet. Born in Bardsey, England (near Leeds), Congreve was educated in the law at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland; there he met Jonathan Swift, who would be his friend for the remainder of his life. Upon graduation, he became a disciple of John Dryden, William Congreve wrote some of the most popular English plays of the late 17th and very early 18th centuries. By the age of thirty, he had written several notable plays, including 1700's The Way of the World. Unfortunately, his career ended almost as soon as it began. After writing five plays from his first in 1693 until 1700, he produced no more as public tastes turned against the sort of high-brow sexual comedy of manners in which he specialized. He reportedly was particularly stung by a critique written by Jeremy Collier (A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage), to the point that he wrote a long reply, "Amendments of Mr. Collier's False and Imperfect Citations".

In any case, he withdrew from the theatre and lived the rest of his life on residuals from his early work. His output from 1700 was restricted to the occasional poem and some translation (notably Moliere's Monsieur de Pourceaugnac). Congreve died in a London carriage accident in 1729, and was buried in the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey. Two of Congreve's turns of phrase have entered the English language. "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned" is from Act I, Scene I of his play The Mourning Bride, and "Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast" can be found in Act 3, Scene 8 of the same work. [This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License and uses material adapted in whole or in part from the Wikipedia article on William Congreve.]

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