RAVENSCROFT, EDWARD (fl. 1671–1697), dramatist, was descended from an ancient family at one time settled in Flintshire, where a kinsman was high sheriff (Dedication of The Anatomist). In 1671 he was a member of the Middle Temple, where he beguiled ‘a fortnight's sickness’ with the composition of his first play, and ‘after that spent some idle time’ after a similar fashion (Prologue to Mamamouchi, ‘spoke at the Middle Temple’). His career as a writer of plays extended over more than a quarter of a century, but he seems to have died comparatively young. He is not known to have produced any play after 1697.
His first play, ‘Mamamouchi, or the Citizen turned Gentleman,’ was produced at Dorset Garden in 1671, and printed in 1675, with a dedication to Prince Rupert. It was taken, as the sub-title avowed, from Molière's ‘Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme,’ which had been produced in the preceding year. The character of Sir Simon Softhead was borrowed from ‘Monsieur de Pourceaugnac,’ first acted in 1670. The play pleased the king and court, and ran for nine nights with full houses; it was acted not less than thirty times before it was printed. In the original prologue the author had, with the audacity of youth, indulged in a couple of sarcasms against Dryden's
plays of rhyme and noise, with wondrous show.
Dryden retorted first with a passing hit in the prologue to ‘Marriage à la Mode’ (1673), and then with one of his swashing blows in the prologue to the ‘Assignation’ (1673), where he tells the public, in allusion to ‘Mamamouchi,’
Grimace and habit sent you pleased away;
You damned the poet, and cried up the play.
Unfortunately, Dryden's ‘Assignation’ itself proved a failure, and Ravenscroft was thus enabled, in the doggerel prologue to his next play, ‘The Careless Lovers’ (acted at Dorset Garden and printed 1673), to turn the tables upon Dryden, maliciously insinuating that the ‘Assignation’ might in charity have been spared, as the first in which Dryden had ventured to be original (see Scott's Dryden, revised by Saintsbury, iv. 255, 366–8). In the same prologue he asserts that in the ‘Careless Lovers’ there is nothing but what is ‘extempore wit’—a boast contradicted by the fact that two coarse but amusing scenes (act ii. sc. 8 and 9) are taken direct from ‘Monsieur de Pourceaugnac.’
‘The Wrangling Lovers, or the Invisible Mistress’ (acted at Dorset Garden and printed 1676), marks a considerable step in advance. Langbaine found its origin in a forgotten Spanish romance, but it was more probably taken from Thomas Corneille's ‘Les Engagemens du Hasard.’ The resemblance to Molière's ‘Le Dépit Amoureux’ is not close. On the other hand, Mrs. Centlivre is held to be indebted to the ‘Wrangling Lovers’ in her celebrated comedy of ‘The Wonder,’ and the quarrels and reconciliations of Don Diego and Octavia may have also suggested the humours of Falkland and Julia in the ‘Rivals.’ In any case, Ravenscroft's play is both in construction and dialogue a favourable example of the English adaptations of the Spanish comedy of intrigue. He displayed his versatility afresh in producing at the Theatre Royal, in 1677, ‘Scaramouch a Philosopher, Harlequin a Schoolboy Bravo, Merchant and Musician,’ a comic piece in the Italian manner, founded upon the old commedia dell' arte. In the prologue Ravenscroft complains that, owing to the dilatoriness of the actors, he was forestalled in his novel design by the production of Otway's version of ‘Scapin’ at the duke's house. He may have been doubly annoyed because his own play, which is very deftly put together, though chiefly based upon Molière's ‘Le Mariage Forcé,’ was also indebted to ‘Les Fourberies de Scapin.’
Ravenscroft's tragi-comedy, ‘King Edgar and Alfreda,’ and his English adaptation of Ruggle's famous Latin comedy, ‘Ignoramus,’ were acted at the Theatre Royal and printed in 1677 and 1678 respectively. The former is considered by Langbaine to be inferior to Thomas Rymer's effort on the same theme, which afterwards employed the pens of Aaron Hill and Mason. ‘The English Lawyer’ is charitably conjectured by the same authority to have been taken more from an earlier English version, published in 1662 by R. C. (supposed to be Robert Codrington), than from the original. ‘Ignoramus’ does not lend itself to translation; but Ravenscroft, says Genest, attempted ‘rather to adapt it to the English stage … and this he has done very judiciously’ (Hist. of Engl. Stage, i. 232). In 1678 was also acted at the Theatre Royal, though it was not printed till 1687, ‘Titus Andronicus, or the Rape of Lavinia,’ altered by Ravenscroft from the original, attributed to Shakespeare. The adapter boasted that none of his author's works ‘ever received greater alterations or additions,’ and that not only had the language been ‘refined,’ but that many scenes were ‘entirely new, besides most of the principal characters heightened and the plot much increased’ (see Shadwell's Preface to his Sullen Lovers, where Ravenscroft is