William Congreve

William Congreve (January 24, 1670 – January 19, 1729) was an English playwright and poet.

Born in Bardsey, England (near Leeds), Congreve was educated in the law at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland; there he met Jonathan Swift, who would be his friend for the remainder of his life. Upon graduation, he became a disciple of John Dryden.

William Congreve wrote some of the most popular English plays of the Restoration period of the late 17th and very early 18th centuries. By the age of thirty, he had written several notable plays, including Love for Love (premiered April 30, 1695) and The Way of the World (premiered 1700).

Unfortunately, his career ended almost as soon as it began. After writing five plays from his first in 1693 until 1700, he produced no more as public tastes turned against the sort of high-brow sexual comedy of manners in which he specialized. He reportedly was particularly stung by a critique written by Jeremy Collier (A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage), to the point that he wrote a long reply, "Amendments of Mr. Collier's False and Imperfect Citations." Congreve's career shifted to the political sector, where he held various minor political positions despite his stance as a Whig among Tories.

In any case, suffering from gout, he withdrew from the theatre and lived the rest of his life on residuals from his early work. His output from 1700 was restricted to the occasional poem and some translation (notably Molière's Monsieur de Pourceaugnac). Congreve died in a London carriage accident in 1729, and was buried in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey.

Two of Congreve's turns of phrase have entered the English language. "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned" is from Act I, Scene I of his play The Mourning Bride, and "Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast" can be found in Act 3, Scene 8 of the same work.

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