Sir William D’Avenant (1606-1668) and his famous work “Siege of Rhodes”

Sir William D’Avenant(1606-1668) was an English poet, playwright, dramatist, and theatrical producer. He was born in Oxford. William Shakespeare was apparently D’Avenant’s godfather and gossip held that the famous playwright may even have been his father. His life and work bridge the gap between the Elizabethan and Restoration ages. His best plays appeared between 1634 and 1639. They include The Wits, a realistic comedy; The Platonic Lovers, a romantic comedy of manners; and Love and Honour, a tragicomedy, anticipating the Restoration heroic drama.

D’Avenant was a supporter of Charles I. When the poet laureate Ben Jonson died in 1637, the king named D’Avenant poet laureate in 1638. In 1641, before the war began he participated in the First Army Plot and, together with John Suckling, was accused of high treason by parliament, which was when he fled to France. He returned to fight in the war with Charles, who knighted him. When Charles was defeated he fled to France again in 1645. He wrote a number of plays before the Civil War and produced them. Over there he began his most non-dramatic poem A Discourse upon Gondibert an heroick poem, an unfinished epic poem in 1650.

During the Puritan regime, Cromwell permitted him to produce a series of plays that are considered to be the first English operas, the best known being The Siege of Rhodes (1656; part 2, 1659). His Siege of Rhodes (1656, revised in 1661), opera-cum-heroic drama, thought to have been written originally as a play, with music added later in order to circumvent the Commonwealth law against purely dramatic entertainment and gain the government permission to mount it at Rutland House. The performance paved the way for the reopening of the theatres and he became a theatre manager. The action of the drama is about the Siege of Rhodes by Solyman the Magnificent and Duke Alphonso’s baseless jealousy of his wife, the virtuous Ianthe, who eventually saves her husband and the island. His object in writing the drama, he said later, was to highlight the importance of conjugal love. The staging as with the earlier court masque was accompanied by the lavish spectacle. His other poems do not call for notice.

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