1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Shadwell, Thomas

SHADWELL, THOMAS (c. 1642–1692), English playwright and miscellaneous writer, was born about 1642, at Santon Hall, Norfolk, according to his son’s account. He was educated at Bury St Edmund’s School, and at Caius College, Cambridge, where he was entered in 1656. He left the university without a degree, and joined the Middle Temple. In 1668 he produced a prose comedy, The Sullen Lovers, or the Impertinents, based on Les Fâcheux of Molière, and written in avowed imitation of Ben Jonson. His best plays are Epsom Wells (1672), for which Sir Charles Sedley wrote a prologue, and the Squire of Alsatia (1688). Alsatia was the cant name for Whitefriars, then a kind of sanctuary for persons liable to arrest, and the play represents, in dialogue full of the argot of the place, the adventures of a young heir who falls into the hand of the sharpers there. For fourteen years from the production of his first comedy to his memorable encounter with Dryden, Shadwell produced a play nearly every year. These productions display a genuine hatred of shams, and a rough but honest moral purpose. They are disfigured by indecencies, but present a vivid picture of contemporary manners. Shadwell is chiefly remembered as the unfortunate Mac Flecknoe of Dryden’s satire, the “last great prophet of tautology,” and the literary son and heir of Richard Flecknoe:—

The rest to some faint meaning make pretence,
But Shadwell never deviates into sense.”

Dryden had furnished Shadwell with a prologue to his True Widow (1679), and in spite of momentary diderences, the two had been apparently on friendly terms. But when Dryden joined the court party, and produced Absalom and Achitophel and The Medal, Shadwell became the champion of the true-blue Protestants, and made a scurrilous attack on the poet in The Medal of John Bayes: a Satire against Folly and Knavery (1682). Dryden immediately retorted in Mac Flecknoe, or a Satire on the True Blue Protestant Poet, T.S. (1682), in which Shadwell’s personalities were returned with interest. A month later he contributed to Nahum Tate’s continuation of Absalom and Achitophel satirical portraits of Elkanah Settle as Doeg and of Shadwell as Og. In 1687 Shadwell attempted to answer these attacks in a version of the tenth satire of Juvenal. At the Whig triumph in 1688 he superseded his enemy as poet laureate and historiographer royal. He died at Chelsea on the 19th of November 1692.

His son, Charles Shadwell, was the author of The Fair Quaker of Deal and other plays, collected and published in 1720.

A complete edition of Shadwell’s works was published by his son Sir John Shadwell in 1720. His other dramatic works are—The Royal Shepherdess (1669), an adaptation of John Fountain’s Rewards of Virtue; The Humorist (1671); The Miser (1672), adapted from Molière; Psyche (1675); The Libertine (1676); The Virtuoso (1676); The history of Timon of Athens the Man-hater (1678),—on this Shakespearian adaptation see O. Beber, Shadwell’s Bearbeitung des...Timon of Athens (Rostock, 1897); A True Widow (1679); The Woman Captain (1680), revived in 1744 as The Prodigal; The Lancashire Witches and Teague O’Divelly, the Irish Priest (1682); Bury Fair (1689); The Amorous Bigot, with the second part of Teague O’Divelly (1690); The Scowerers (1691); and The Volunteers, or Stockjobbers, published posthumously (1693).