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A Short Biographical Sketch of SIR WILLIAM DAVENANT or D'AVENANT (1606 to 1668)

by John W. Cousin

DAVENANT, or D'AVENANT, SIR WILLIAM (1606-1668). —Poet and dramatist, was b. at Oxf., where his f. kept an inn, which Shakespeare was in the habit of visiting. This had some influence on the future poet, who claimed to be Shakespeare's natural son. D., ed. at Lincoln Coll., was afterwards in the service of Lord Brooke, became involved in the troubles of the Civil War, in which he took the Royalist side, and was imprisoned in the Tower, escaped to France, and after returning was, in 1643, knighted. Later D. was employed on various missions by the King and Queen, was again in the Tower from 1650 to 1652, when he pub. his poem Gondibert. He is said to have owed his release to the interposition of Milton. In 1656 he practically founded the English Opera by his Siege of Rhodes (1656). In 1659 he was again imprisoned, but after the Restoration he seems to have enjoyed prosperity and Royal favour, and established a theatre, where he was the first habitually to introduce female players and movable scenery. D. wrote 25 dramatic pieces, among which are Albovine, King of the Lombards (1629), Platonick Lovers (1636), The Wits (1633), Unfortunate Lovers (1643), Love and Honour (1649). None of them are now read; and the same may be said of Gondibert, considered a masterpiece by contemporaries. D. succeeded Ben Jonson as Poet Laureate, and collaborated with Dryden in altering (and debasing) The Tempest. He coll. his miscellaneous verse under the title of Madagascar. He is said to have had the satisfaction of repaying in kind the good offices of Milton when the latter was in danger in 1660. He joined with Waller and others in founding the classical school of English poetry.