William Congreve

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Congreve, William,

1670–1729, English dramatist, b. near Leeds, educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and studied law in the Middle Temple. After publishing a novel of intrigue, Incognita (1692), and translations of Juvenal and Persius (1693), he turned to writing for the stage. His first comedy, The Old Bachelor (1693), produced when he was only 23, was extremely successful and was followed by The Double Dealer (1693) and Love for Love (1695). In 1697 his only tragedy, The Mourning Bride, was produced. About this time Congreve replied to the attack on his plays made by Jeremy CollierCollier, Jeremy,
1650–1726, English clergyman. Collier was imprisoned as one of the nonjurors, who refused to pledge allegiance to William III and Mary II. He later was outlawed (1696) for absolving on the scaffold two of those involved in the assassination plot against
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, who in a famous essay attacked the English stage for its immorality and profaneness. Congreve reached his peak with his last play, The Way of the World (1700), which has come to be regarded as one of the great comedies in the English language. The leading female roles in Congreve's plays were written for Anne BracegirdleBracegirdle, Anne,
1663?–1748, English actress. A pupil of Betterton, she was the delight of Colley Cibber and the favorite of Congreve, achieving her greatest successes as the heroines of Congreve's comedies, which were written for her.
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, who was probably his mistress. He never married. After 1700, Congreve did little literary work, perhaps because of the cool reception accorded his last play or because of his failing health—he suffered from gout. He subsequently held various minor political positions and enjoyed the friendships of Swift, Steele, Pope, Voltaire, and Sarah, duchess of Marlborough. The plays of Congreve are considered the greatest achievement of Restoration comedy. They are comedies of manners, depicting an artificial and narrow world peopled by characters of nobility and fashion, to whom manners, especially gallantry, are more important than morals. Congreve's view of mankind is amused and cynical. His characters are constantly engaged in complicated intrigues, usually centering around money, which involve mistaken identities, the signing or not signing of legal documents, weddings in masquerade, etc. His plays are particularly famous for their brilliance of language; for verbal mastery and wit they have perhaps been equaled only by the comedies of Oscar Wilde.


See his works, ed. by F. W. Bateson (1930) and by D. F. McKenzie (3 vol., 2011); biographies by M. E. Novak (1971) and E. W. Fosse (1888, repr. 1973); D. Mann, ed., A Concordance to the Plays of William Congreve (1973).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Congreve, William


Born Feb. 10, 1670, in Bardsey, Yorkshire; died Jan. 19, 1729, in London. English playwright.

Congreve, who was of aristocratic descent, studied law in Dublin. In his comedies The Old Bachelor (1693), The Double-Dealer (1693), Love for Love (1695; Russian translation, 1965) and The Way of the World (1700), he masterfully depicted the corrupt morality of the aristocracy. At the same time, he did not try to moralize or castigate the vices of high society.


The Complete Works, vols. 1–4. [London] 1923.
In Russian translation: Puti svetskoi zhizni. In Khrestomatiia po zapadnoevropeiskoi literature XVII v. Compiled by B. I. Purishev. Moscow, 1949. (An excerpt.)


Istoriia zapadno-evropeiskogo teatra, vol. 1. Moscow, 1956.
William Congreve. Edited by B. Morris. London-Totowa (N.J.) [1972].
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
American readers will know of Sir William Congreve's work, if not his name, by his rockets that cast their "red glare" over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812.
Sir William Congreve, responsible for the 1814 Jubilee, took advantage of Woolwich's skills in public proofs to secure the success of his most enduring invention, the 'Congreve rocket', an iron-bodied, scaled-up version of the skyrocket adapted for military purposes, which was used extensively in British campaigns throughout the nineteenth century.
William Congreve wrote in his tragedy, The Mourning Bride, "Music hath charms to soothe a savage beast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak." Even if it isn't literal, that's a powerful image.
While not denying William Congreve's 1697 observations that "Music has charms to soothe a savage beast," Johnson (contemporary music studies, Macquaries U., Australia) and Cloonan (music, U.
His imaginative work from "Printers of the Mind" (1969) onwards through "Typography and Meaning: The Case of William Congreve" (1981); his wonderful essay, "Oral Culture, Literacy, and Print in Early New Zealand" (1984); and his Panizzi lectures, Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts (1986) all provided insight and guidance to many readers, the present reviewer among them.
eC[pounds sterling]Unlovely objects are all around me, excepting thee; the charms of all the world appear to be translated by thee,eC[yen] wrote William Congreve to Mrs Arabella Hunt in the 17th century.
Literary criticism and literary history have little use for Georgian drama beyond Goldsmith and Sheridan, and except for these two, the canon runs from George Etherege, William Wycherely, and William Congreve straight to Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw.
William Congreve achieved immortality (of a sort) through the American national anthem.
Readers will appreciate the creative eccentricities of William Congreve and Robert Goddard, and enjoy learning about the different rocket motors and how they work.
Sometime around 1704 the poet and dramatist William Congreve joined in partnership with the amateur architect Sir John Vanbrugh to build a theater in the Haymarket to serve as a new home for Betterton's company, and, not incidentally, to provide the most up-to-date stage machinery.
"Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast," wrote William Congreve in The Mourning Bride.
Buddha says: "Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast...." OK, maybe Buddha didn't say that (it was actually the English playwright William Congreve), but Music Buddha Inc.