Today in Literary History – January 24, 1670 – Restoration playwright William Congreve is born

The comedic playwright William Congreve was born in Yorkshire on January 24, 1670. Congreve’s family moved to Ireland while he was an infant and he grew up there, becoming a friend with the great satirist Jonathan Swift when they were fellow students at Trinity College, Dublin.

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Congreve moved to London to study law but concentrated on literature and the theatre instead. He held various government posts throughout his life but his real passion was the theatre.

His career as a playwright happened to coincide with a time when restrictions on the theatre were being relaxed after the theatres having been closed by the Puritans. Theatre in the Restoration era was often bawdy and it was the first time that women were allowed on the stage.

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Congreve specialized in what came to be know as “comedy of manners” plays which satirized social conventions and especially love and courtship. Congreve’s The Way of the World, which premiered in 1700, is considered one of the best examples of this style and is still often performed today.

Congreve was highly admired for his witty wordplay and several of his lines have entered into common use. Among them are:

“Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.”

“Music has charms to soothe the savage breast To soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.”

“O fie, Miss, you must not kiss and tell.”

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