George Henry Boker, a lifelong citizen of Philadelphia, was born in 1823. He attended the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), where he developed a keen admiration for Shakespeare and other Elizabethan dramatists. He was still at college when he published his first poems. When Boker was graduated in 1842, his father wanted him to be a businessman or diplomat. He tried to study law, but he could not commit himself to a business career and did not pursue law. In 1844, he married Julia Riggs, a woman he had courted for some years. They had three children, but only the first, George, survived into adulthood. This son married but did not have children.
Boker had a literary group of friends, all poets, including Charles Godfrey Leland, Bayard Taylor, Thomas Bailey Aldrich (also editor of the Atlantic Monthly), Edmund Clarence Stedman, and Richard H. Stoddard. Boker generously used his wealth and literary influence to help his friends become published writers.
From 1847 to 1853, Boker wrote the bulk of his work. The Lesson of Life and Other Poems (1848), containing several sonnets, anticipates his later sequence of sonnets. Calaynos, his first play, is a romantic tragedy about a man whose Moorish ancestry is not apparent. It was produced in London in 1849, apparently without the author’s permission, and then produced with his permission in the United States in 1851. Angered by a playwright’s lack of rights, Boker supported the Dramatic Authors’ Bill, which Congress passed in 1856.
Anne Boleyn, Boker’s second play, was never produced. His next two plays, which were produced, were The Betrothal, a comedy in blank verse, and The World a Mask, a social satire written largely in prose. In 1852, he published The Podesta’s Daughter, a dramatic dialogue. That year he also wrote two more plays, The Widow’s Marriage, a comedy that was never produced, and Leonor de Guzman, a romantic tragedy about two women trying to secure the Castilian throne for their sons. Boker...
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