John Drinkwater 1882-1937
English dramatist, poet, and critic.
Known primarily for his historical dramas based on the lives of such figures as Abraham Lincoln, Oliver Cromwell, and Mary Stuart, Drinkwater is credited with popularizing verse drama in the early twentieth century. Seeking an alternative to realism in the theater, Drinkwater turned to historical events to create protagonists who display extraordinary qualities during periods of crisis.
Drinkwater was born in Leytonstone, Essex. He spent his early years touring with his father, a professional actor, and occasionally substituted for other actors onstage. At the age of nine, Drinkwater was sent to Cornmarket near Oxford to live with his grandfather. After graduating from high school, he took a job with the Northern Assurance Company in Nottingham. He began writing for the Ilkeston News, and in 1903 paid a local bookseller to print his first book of poems. He continued his career in journalism, working for various newspapers throughout England. During this time, Drinkwater also acted in and directed plays produced by the Pilgrim Players. In 1911 his first serious work as a dramatist, Cophetua, was produced by the Pilgrim Players. Drinkwater achieved only moderate success with his subsequent plays, until 1918 when his Abraham Lincoln was produced and his reputation as a historical dramatist was secured. Drinkwater continued writing plays, poetry, and criticism, as well as giving lectures on literature, until his death in London in 1937.
Early in his career as a dramatist, Drinkwater's major interest was to reintroduce verse drama to the English stage. His first plays, written in blank verse, often reflect his antipathy for war, a theme Drinkwater would explore throughout his career. X=0: A Night of the Trojan War is Drinkwater's most enduring play from this period. A critical and popular success, X=0 is a one-act blank verse drama that centers on four soldiers in the Trojan War, two Greeks and two Trojans, shown in parallel scenes expressing regret, loss, and hope for the end of the war. Highlighting the similarities of the two sides, Drinkwater emphasized the futility and pain of war. Despite the success of X=0, Drinkwater abandoned verse in Abraham Lincoln, which is widely considered his best work. Abraham Lincoln uses the chronicle format to trace the development of its protagonist. Depicting Lincoln as a peace-loving man caught in the perils of war, the play was a popular success in both the United States and England. Drinkwater's next play, Oliver Cromwell, is an expansion of his earlier epic poem on the controversial English politician. Although it is similar in form and tone to Abraham Lincoln, Cromwell achieved less success with audiences. Mary Stuart is considered more sophisticated than either Lincoln or Cromwell, but was not favorably received by audiences or critics. Concentrating on Mary's well-known relationships with her lovers Darnley, Riccio, and Bothwell, the play attempts to forward the notion that certain women are able to love several men at once without internal conflict.