William Congreve (1670-1729)
Congreve was a prose dramatist and poet who came from a military family. He was educated at Trinity College in Dublin where he befriended Jonathan Swift. Though he entered the Middle Temple to study law, he did not practice as a lawyer. Instead of that, he took to writing. Congreve was never depending on the stage for his living though he retained his involvement in the management of Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre till 1705 and thereafter the new Queen’s Theatre along with Vanbrugh. He was a great admirer of actress Anne Bracegirdle for whom he wrote a number of roles. He went almost blind in the last years of his life and died in an accident. Congreve is undoubtedly the greatest comedy writer of the Restoration Period. He took the comedy of manners to perfection by portraying the upper class of his time faithfully. The immorality of this class was saved by him through his brilliant wit and hard finish. The tone of his plays is one of cynical vivacity and their characters are very well drawn. His prose is lucid, concise, and pointed. In all his plays, he is a polished artist with distinctive brilliance.
His works are:
(i) Incognita (1692): It is a weak novel.
(ii) The Old Bachelor (1693)
(iii) The Double Dealer (1694)
(iv) All For Love (1695)
(v) The Mourning Bride (1697)-A tragedy
(vi) The Way of the World (1700): Of all his plays, this one is known to be his masterpiece. It was greatly appreciated by the posterity. It is regarded as a representative play of manners which is very popular for its sparkling dialogues.
(vii) The Judgement of Paris (1701): It is a masque.
(viii) Semele (1710)
(ix) An Impossible Thing (1720): It is a prose narrative.