Sir John Vanbrugh



  • (1664 - 1726) English playwright of the later Restorationera; also the architect who created the English Baroque style in architecture,designing Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire and Castle Howard in Yorkshire.

    One of 19 children of a Flemish sugar baker, Vanbrugh became an officerwith the Earl of Huntingdon's regiment in 1686. Four years later he wasarrested and imprisoned in Calais as a suspected spy, being movedin 1692 to the Bastille. The regime was not brutal: he enjoyed four-coursedinners and three bottles of wine a day and amused himself by writinga draft of The Provok'd Wife.

    Vanbrugh's first successful play was The Relapse;or, Virtue in Danger, a comedy about a libertine and his long-sufferingwife. It was written and produced in 1696 as an ironic sequel to ColleyCibber's Love's Last Shift, which was staged earlierthat year. Vanbrugh used his share of the profits from The Relapseto pay off the debts of one of the owners at Drury Lane; similarly,he took no payment for his Aesop, produced the following year.

    At Lord Halifax's urging, Vanbrugh revised The Provok'dWife for production at Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre in 1697; itwas a comedy about a miserable marriage that would later provide David Garrickwith one of his most famous roles. The robust action and bawdy realism of hisplays, however, were beginning to attract attention from moralists. Bothworks were singled out by Jeremy Collier in his celebratedpamphlet A Short View of the Immorality of the English Stage.

    Two later and lesser works, The Country House (1703)and The Confederacy (1705), were produced by Thomas Bettertonat the Queen's Theatre, Haymarket, which Vanbrugh had designed. TheQueen's was built as an opera house, but its acoustics proved so unsuitablefor drama that alterations had to be made while the company movedtemporarily to Lincoln's Inn Fields.

    After the playwright's death, an unfinished work called AJourney to London was found amongst his papers and completed byCibber as The Provok'd Husband (1728). Cibber once describedVanbrugh's witty and natural dialogue as "his common conversationcommitted to paper".