Sir George Etherege’s life resembled those of the wits, courtiers, and rakes who populate his plays. When he was born, his father had a small place at court. In 1644, during the civil war, when the queen escaped to France, Etherege’s father followed her into exile, where he died in 1650. Etherege himself was probably reared by his grandfather in England, obtaining along the way a good education and an excellent knowledge of French. In 1654, he was appointed a clerk to George Goswold, an attorney at Beaconsfield. In 1668, The Comical Revenge, Etherege’s first play, was performed at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. It was well received, and Etherege’s reputation was at once established. His next play, She Would if She Could, was performed at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1668. Although a better play than the first, it was poorly rehearsed and badly performed, and it fared very poorly. By this time, Etherege was a member of the circle of courtiers and wits that included Sir Charles Sedley and the earl of Rochester. He was made a gentleman of the Privy Chamber and went, as secretary to the ambassador, to Constantinople. Etherege returned to London in 1671, and for the next few years he, along with the earl of Rochester, was mixed up in several wild and rather unsavory scrapes, resulting in at least one death.
In 1676, The Man of Mode was performed at the Duke’s Theatre in Dorset Garden. Remembering his earlier failure, Etherege was...
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