William Congreve (KAWN-greev) was born in Bardsey, Yorkshire, England, on January 24, 1670. In 1674, his father, William, an army officer, was stationed in Ireland. Congreve was sent to school in Kilkenny, where he met Jonathan Swift, the future satirist. The two formed a lifelong friendship. In 1686, Congreve entered Trinity College, Dublin, earning his M.A. in 1696. Around 1688, the family moved to the Congreve home at Stretton, Staffordshire, where Congreve’s father was estate agent to the earl of Cork. Congreve entered Middle Temple, London, to read law in 1691, but he soon abandoned his studies to write. He produced a light novel, Incognita: Or, Love and Duty Reconcil’d, in 1692. The following March, Congreve was catapulted to fame with the production of The Old Bachelor (pr., pb. 1693), a play he wrote to amuse himself while recovering from an illness. It was an enormous success, highly praised by the poet and essayist John Dryden, who remained an enthusiastic supporter of Congreve’s work.
His next play, The Double-Dealer (pr. 1693, pb. 1694), opened later in 1693. Though now considered a much better play than his first, it was unpopular with audiences of the time. Love for Love followed in 1695, enjoying great success as the first performance staged for the new theater in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Congreve became one of the managers of the theater, promising to write a new play every year—a promise that he failed to keep. The year 1696 saw publication of Congreve’s essay “A Letter Concerning Humour in Comedy.”
By now, Congreve was firmly established as a man of letters. The government rewarded him with a salaried position somewhat of the nature of a sinecure. He was made a commissioner for licensing hackney coaches—the first of several undemanding yet lucrative civil...
(The entire section is 755 words.)