The facts of Thomas Shadwell’s life are unclear, and even the date of his birth is shrouded in uncertainty. He was born between 1640 and 1642, probably at Santon Hall in Norfolk, to John and Sarah Shadwell; his father was a Royalist lawyer. After receiving a liberal education, being tutored from an early age in music and the general arts, he attended the King Edward VI Grammar School at Bury St. Edmunds. The theme of the apposite education for a young man entering the world is especially prominent in Shadwell’s later drama. His early years on the family estate provided the foundation for the pastoral and Horatian ideals that pervade his writings, in which they are more than a mere literary convention.
Shadwell was admitted to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, which he left without taking a degree on July 7, 1658. He enrolled in the Middle Temple, London, no doubt hoping to follow his father in a legal career. There is evidence that between 1664 and 1665, Shadwell was with his father, recorder of Galway and Attorney General of Connacht, in Ireland. In the years immediately preceding the 1668 production of his first comedy, The Sullen Lovers, Shadwell met the man who was to become his patron, the influential and well-connected William Cavendish, duke of Newcastle. Dedications in printed texts of Shadwell’s plays to Cavendish and members of his family attest Shadwell’s indebtedness to a man who had known Ben Jonson and had patronized...
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