D'Avenant, Sir William

D'Avenant or Davenant, Sir William dăvˈənənt [key], 1606–68, English poet, playwright, and theatrical producer. His life and work bridge the gap between the Elizabethan and Restoration ages. His best plays appeared between 1634 and 1639. They include The Wits, a realistic comedy; The Platonic Lovers, a romantic comedy of manners; and Love and Honour, a tragicomedy, anticipating the Restoration heroic drama. In 1638 he succeeded Ben Jonson as poet laureate. For his services in the royalist cause he was knighted by Charles I in 1643. Gondibert, an unfinished epic poem, and seemingly his most ambitious work, was published in 1651. During the Puritan regime Cromwell permitted him to produce a series of plays that are considered to be the first English operas, the best known being The Siege of Rhodes (1656; part 2, 1659). After the Restoration he and Thomas Killigrew were given exclusive patents to produce plays. In these few years D'Avenant divided his energy between managing the Duke of York's players and adapting old plays, most notably those of Shakespeare. His historical significance is greater than the intrinsic value of his work.

See biographies by A. Harbage (1935, repr. 1971) and A. H. Nethercot (1938, repr. 1967).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: English Literature, 1500 to 1799: Biographies