Nathaniel Lee (1655-1692) English playwright and famous works

by; after John Watts; William Dobson,print,published 1778

Nathaniel Lee (1655-1692) was an English dramatist. He was educated at Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge. After leaving the university, he went to London and joined the stage both as an actor and author. But he was no success as an actor. Then he turned to write. He became popular for his extravagant tragedies.

1. Nero (1674).
2. Sophonisba (1675).
3. Gloriana (1676).
4. The Rival Queens or, The Death of Alexander the Great (1677).

The first three are in all in rhymed heroic couplets; they are Roman plays that are so bombastic and melodramatic that they might have flopped on boards had not they been starred by Hart and Mohum. His best-known tragedy, The Rival Queens (1677), is in blank verse which enjoyed prodigious success. The play deals with the jealousy of Alexander’s first wife, Roxana, for his second wife, Statira, was a favourite on the English stage right up to the days of Edmund Kean. Lee followed this with Mithridates, King of Pontus (acted 1678); Theodosius, or the Force of Love (acted 1680); and Caesar Borgia (acted 1680).

He collaborated with John Dryden in Oedipus (1679) and The Duke of Guise (1682), Lee wrote a fine play in 1681 Lucius Junius Brutus. It was, however, considered politically dangerous and was proscribed only after a few performances. But star-crossed as he had been he went off his head and remained confined in a lunatic asylum for several years. After his recovery, he produced the Princess of Cleve in 1689. In 1690, he produced his best tragedy—The Massacre of Paris, which undid all his dramas in a shrill rant of blank and rhymed verse. According to Edmund Gosse, he marks a crisis in tragedy. He shouted in a pitch above the stentorian and his succeeding dramatists did not like to out-Lee Lee and the tendency of tragedy was to become sentimental and reflective. Lee died in a drunken fit in 1692.

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