George Villiers Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

George Villiers left his mark on English literature solely with his contribution to drama; his remaining miscellaneous works are obscure. His letters have not been collected, although Tom Brown, Villiers’s editor, included a number of them in The Works of His Grace, George Villiers, Late Duke of Buckingham (1715). The published letters appear to hold more interest for the biographer and historian than for the student of literature.

Only a few of Villiers’s poems were published during his lifetime, and his total poetic output is small. Brown’s edition includes twenty-odd poems, largely occasional verses, songs, verse epistles, satires, prologues, and epilogues. The verses reveal that Villiers never achieved the smoothness and polish found in the works of the best courtier poets during the reign of Charles II. Poets such as the earls of Dorset and Rochester, taking to heart the maxims of Horace and following the example of Ben Jonson, produced verses of lyric smoothness and elegance. Villiers lacked either the ear to detect or the patience to produce pleasing rhythm, and his poems do not achieve memorable figures of speech or scintillating wit. Therefore, editors of anthologies of his period omit his poems from their collections.

George Villiers Achievements

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Time has not dealt kindly with either George Villiers’s life or his works. In his public and private life, he is remembered more for his eccentricities than for his achievements, and only one of his literary works is read today. One reason for this is that he took only a passing interest in literature. Another reason is that he possessed a talent narrow and ill-suited to some of the projects he undertook. Defending his ministry before the House of Commons in 1674, Villiers declared that he could hunt the hare as well as any man with a pack of hounds “but not with a brace of lobsters,” a reference to the king and the duke of York. This preposterous comparison proved more shocking than effective, but it indicates his ready wit, his willingness to take risks for a jest, and his sense of the ridiculous. This talent for oblique wit enabled him to produce brilliant parody. It represents one gift that can lead to brilliant satire, yet more is required—knowledge and skill in the craft of poetry, balance, an idealistic vision or a sense of a norm, and a genuine desire to reform. Villiers achieved the full potential of his limited talent only in The Rehearsal.

George Villiers Bibliography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Dharwadker, Aparna. “Class, Authorship, and the Social Intertexture of Genre in Restoration Theater.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 37, no. 3 (Summer, 1997): 461-462. An analysis of the relation between class and genre in Restoration theater. Provides an analysis of Villiers’s The Rehearsal.

Lockyer, Roger. Buckingham: The Life and Political Career of George Villiers, First Duke of Buckingham, 1592-1628. New York: Longman, 1981. This biography of Villiers, while centering on his political life, provides many insights into the writer. Bibliography and index.

O’Neill, John H. George Villiers, Second Duke of Buckingham. Boston: Twayne, 1984. A basic biography that covers the lives and literary works of Villiers. Bibliography and index.

Treadwell, V. Buckingham and Ireland, 1616-1628: A Study in Anglo-Irish Politics. Portland, Ore.: Four Courts Press, 1998. An examination of the relations between Ireland and England, particularly Villiers’s views on Ireland. Bibliography and index.

Yardley, Bruce. “George Villiers, Second Duke of Buckingham, and the Politics of Toleration.” The Huntington Library Quarterly 55, no. 2 (Spring, 1992): 317. Although the author focuses on Villiers’s support of religious toleration, the essay sheds some light on the man behind the plays.