Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Banks, John (fl.1696)

BANKS, JOHN (fl. 1696), a dramatist of the Restoration, of whom very little is definitely known, is supposed to have been born about 1650. He was bred to the law, and was a member of the society of the New Inn. In 1677 he was tempted by the success of Lee's ‘Rival Queens’ to write a similar tragedy in verse, entitled ‘Rival Kings,’ and this was accepted and played at the Theatre Royal. In November 1678 another tragedy by Banks, the ‘Destruction of Troy,’ was acted at the Dorset Garden Theatre, and printed in 1679. In 1682 was brought out at the Theatre Royal the ‘Unhappy Favourite,’ a tragedy on the romantic fate of the Earl of Essex. This enjoyed considerable success, and Dryden wrote the prologue and the epilogue. It is a play which, although ill-written, showed a considerable power over the emotions of the audience, and Banks doubtless imagined that it was to be the precursor of a long theatrical success. He was, however, disappointed. In 1683 he wrote the ‘Innocent Usurper,’ a play founded on the story of Lady Jane Grey, but he failed to find for it either a publisher or a stage. He was scarcely less unfortunate with his ‘Island Queens’ in 1684, for that also was rejected at the theatres. He printed it, however, and twenty years later, on 6 March 1704, it was brought out at Drury Lane as the ‘Albion Queens,’ and so reprinted. For many years Banks did not appear before the public. In 1692 he brought out his ‘Virtue betrayed,’ a tragedy on the story of Anne Boleyn, which was the most successful of all his works, and held the stage until 1766. In October 1693 he again brought forward the ‘Innocent Usurper,’ but this time the play was prohibited. He published it in 1694. His last production was ‘Cyrus the Great,’ produced at Lincoln's Inn Fields in 1696. For some time the actors refused to act this play on account of its insipidity; their objections, however, were overruled, and the piece enjoyed a considerable success, but had to be withdrawn after the fourth night on account of the sudden death of Smith, the tragedian. Nothing more is known about Banks; it is reported that he was buried at St. James's, Westminster. He published nothing except the seven dramas mentioned above, all of which are tragedies in five acts and in verse. Banks is a dreary and illiterate writer, whose blank verse is execrable. It appears, however, that his scenes possessed a melodramatic pathos which appealed to vulgar hearers, and one or two of his pieces survived most of the Restoration drama upon the stage.

[Genest's History of the Stage, i. ii; Cibber's Lives of the Poets, iii. 174.]

E. G.