Thomas Otway



  • (1652 - 85) English playwright best known for VenicePreserv'd; or, A Plot Discovered (1682), one of the very few Restorationtragedies still staged. Dryden wrote a prologue for the play and waslavish in his praise:
    Nature is there, which is the greatest beauty.

    Although many of the finest British actors of the 18th and19th centuries appeared in Venice Preserv'd, the first 20th-centurypresentation was not until 1953, when John Gielgud and PaulScofield appeared in Peter Brook's production at the Lyric, Hammersmith.The production lost money, however, and critic Kenneth Tynancomplained:

    The play's major flaw is that Otway allows Jaffier far toomuch self-pity, a mood of which John Gielgud as an actor is far toofond. The temptation sometimes proves too much for him: inhaling passionatelythrough his nose, he administers to every line a tremendous parsonicalquiver.

    The son of a vicar, Otway left Oxford without a degree. Hemade only one appearance as an actor, in Aphra Behn's The ForcedMarriage in 1670. His first play to be produced was the rhymingtragedy Alcibiades, staged in 1675 at Dorset Garden. It starredThomas Betterton and Elizabeth Barry, with whom Otway was in love.Otway's greatest success in his own lifetime was The Cheats ofScapin, an adaptation of Molière's farce Les Fourberiesde Scapin, first presented in 1676 as an afterpiece tohis Titus and Berenice. In 1678 he was serving in an Englishregiment in the Netherlands when his comedy Friendship in Fashionwas produced in London. After his return to London in 1679, Otwayfought a duel with John Churchill, later Duke of Marlborough, withoutharm to either party. Later plays included The Orphan; or, TheUnhappy Marriage, a domestic tragedy starring Betterton and MrsBarry, and the comedy The Soldier's Fortune, both of whichwere produced in 1680.

    Despite his fame, Otway spent the last years of his life ingreat poverty. According to Theophilus Cibber in his Lives of thePoets (1753), he died after ravenously eating a bread roll boughtwith money donated by a compassionate stranger.