William Wycherley Biography


William Wycherley was born in Clive, a little village in Shropshire, a county in England. Like the sons of many well-to-do families, Wycherley went to France, during the time when the heir to the English throne, Charles II, was a fugitive. Charles's father was beheaded by Parliament and his son did not wish to meet the same fate. While in France, Wycherley learned the ways of upper-class society, in the company of a social butterfly, Duchesse de Montausier. Many of the witticisms that figure in Wycherley's comedies were influenced by French manners.

Back in England, in 1659, Wycherley passed the bar and became a lawyer. For a while, Wycherley dabbled in natural philosophy at Oxford University but did not complete a degree.

It seems Wycherley practiced law for about twelve years, but he must have also been trying his hand at writing plays. Love in a Wood was published and performed in 1672. The same year, partially as a result of the play's success, he came under the favor of the Duchess of Cleveland, a famous beauty and one of King Charles II's mistresses. Through her good offices, Wycherley joined the services of Lord Buckingham, himself a renowned writer of comedies. In 1673, his second play, The Gentleman Dancing Master, was produced and became a roaring success.

By 1675, William Wycherley had firmly established himself as a playwright and had come under the notice of the King himself. His stock was on the rise when The Country Wife, his best-known comedy, was published and performed. In 1676 his fourth play, The Plain Dealer, was produced and became another huge success.

In 1678, however, Wycherley fell seriously ill. Charles II recommended a journey to France because the king thought the warmer climate would do Wycherley good. He gave Wycherley five-hundred pounds for expenses, an enormous sum for that time.

Money plus the good life in France cured whatever...

(The entire section is 507 words.)


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

It is not certain exactly where and when William Wycherley was born. The year may have been 1640 or 1641 and the place Clive in Shropshire or Basing House in Hampshire. His father, Daniel Wycherley, was serving as teller to the Exchequer at the time of William’s birth; later, he served as chief steward to the marquis of Winchester and came under suspicion of embezzlement. In 1655, young Wycherley was sent for education to France, where he became a favorite of Madame de Montausier, who was instrumental in his conversion to Catholicism, although he returned to the Anglican Church in 1660. Wycherley stayed in France for four years, then returned to England and entered Queen’s College at Oxford. He took no degree from Oxford and soon entered the Inner Temple. Law, however, was never a genuine interest for him. Court life held far greater appeal, and the ingratiating young man became a favorite of the duchess of Cleveland, King Charles II’s mistress. It was to her that he dedicated his first play, Love in a Wood, which opened in 1671 at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. He wrote only three more plays, and his entire career as a playwright spanned only a relatively few years.

In 1678, as a result of ill health, Wycherley was sent to Montpellier for a rest at the expense of Charles II. When Wycherley returned, the king offered him the position of tutor to his son, the young duke of Richmond. The salary of fifteen hundred pounds a year, in addition...

(The entire section is 502 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

William Wycherley (WIHCH-ur-lee) was born of an old family near Shrewsbury, Shropshire, probably in 1641. When he was about fifteen years of age, he was sent to France, where he frequented refined circles, notably the salon of the duchess de Montausier. Also while in France, Wycherley became a Catholic. Returning to England in 1660, just prior to the Restoration of King Charles II to the throne, he spent a short time at Queen’s College, Oxford, from which he went to the Inner Temple in London. In London he soon found a place in the pleasure-loving society of the town, rejoicing after eighteen years of enforced Puritan virtue, and he gravitated toward the theater, the most notable social entertainment of the day.

In 1671 his first play, Love in a Wood, gained him the intimacy of one of the king’s mistresses, the duchess of Cleveland, through whose influence he secured in 1672 a commission in a foot regiment. His acquaintance with the duchess brought him into favor with the king, which favor, however, he lost in 1679 due to a brief and unfortunate marriage to the countess of Drogheda. The marriage led to Wycherley’s banishment from the court and temporary retirement from the theater. He shortly found himself in debt and, consequently, in Fleet Prison. He was released in 1686 by the proceeds of a benefit performance of his last play, The Plain-Dealer.

After 1704 he formed a friendship with young Alexander Pope, who revised...

(The entire section is 577 words.)