Thomas Otway

Thomas Otway

Birth
Trotton, Chichester District, West Sussex, England
Death 14 Apr 1685 (aged 33)
Tower Hamlets, London Borough of Tower Hamlets, Greater London, England
Burial City of Westminster, Greater London, England
Plot unmarked
Memorial ID 12083679 · View Source
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Playwright, Poet. A leading English dramatist of the Restoration period, credited as a forerunner of sentimental drama. The convincing human pathos he brought to the stage reflected his turbulent life. His tragic masterpieces "The Orphan" (1680) and "Venice Preserved" (1682) were international favorites and stayed in the English repertory until the 19th Century. The son of a poor West Sussex clergyman, Otway attended Oxford University as a commoner from 1669 to 1672, leaving without a degree to try his luck as an actor in London. With the aid of author Aphra Behn he secured a role in her drama "Forced Marriage" (1672), but after suffering an attack of stage fright on opening night he never performed again. Thomas Betterton, actor-manager of London's Dorset Garden Theatre, encouraged his subsequent playwrighting career, starting with the tragedy "Alcibiades" (1675) and translations of works by Racine ("Titus and Berenice", 1676) and Molière ("The Cheats of Scapin", 1676). His first big hit was "Don Carlos" (1676), written in the rhymed heroic mode of early Restoration drama. In 1678 Otway took a lieutenant's commission in the army, primarily to escape an unrequited passion for the actress Elizabeth Barry, who starred in several of his plays. The following year his regiment was disbanded in Flanders and the soldiers were left with little money to return home. Otway vented his anger over his treatment in the comedy "The Soldier's Fortune" (1681). With the poem "The Poet's Complaint of His Muse" (1680) a growing pessimism began to appear in his work, later expressed in such lines as "Honest men are the soft easy cushions on which knaves repose and fatten" and "Clocks will go as they are set, but man, irregular man, is never constant, never certain". Accounts of his poverty-stricken last years are probably exaggerated. He was paid well for his plays and had several noble patrons, including the Duke and Duchess of York. But extravagant habits fueled by his alcoholism left him in chronic debt, ultimately driving him to hide from his creditors in the Tower Hill area of London. A well-known legend of his death was recorded by Samuel Johnson: Having gone for days without food, Otway begged the money to buy a roll but tried to eat it so hastily he choked to death. Other tales claimed he died of a fever contracted from drinking water or that he dropped dead while chasing a robber. Whatever the circumstances, he was only 33. He was buried in an unmarked grave at his parish church, St. Clement Danes in Westminster. There is a memorial plaque for him at St. George's Church in Trotton. The rest of his plays are "Friendship in Fashion" (1678), "The History and Fall of Caius Marius" (1680), and "The Atheist" (1684); the earliest complete edition, "The Works of Mr Thomas Otway", was published in 1712. "Venice Preserved" was admired by Dryden, Voltaire, Byron, and Balzac, and Otway's reputation remained high to the dawn of the Victorian Age.

Bio by: Bobb Edwards


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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Originally Created by: Mark McManus
  • Added: 16 Oct 2005
  • Find a Grave Memorial 12083679
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Thomas Otway (3 Mar 1652–14 Apr 1685), Find a Grave Memorial no. 12083679, citing St Clement Danes Churchyard, City of Westminster, Greater London, England ; Maintained by Find A Grave .