William Davenant

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William Davenant
William Davenant

Sir William Davenant (February 28, 1606 – April 7, 1668), also spelled D'Avenant, was an English poet and playwright. Along with Thomas Killigrew, Davenant was one of the rare figures in English Renaissance theatre whose career spanned both the Caroline and Restoration eras, and who was active both before and after the English Civil War and the Interregnum.


  • 1 Biography
  • 2 Works
    • 2.1 Epic poems and books of poetry
    • 2.2 Panegyrics
    • 2.3 Original plays, masques and operas
    • 2.4 Revisions, adaptations and other productions for the stage
  • 3 Reference
  • 4 External links
    • 4.1 Biographical
    • 4.2 Poems and texts


Davenant was born in late February, 1606 in Oxford, the son of Jane Shepherd Davenant and John Davenant, proprietor of the Crown Tavern (or Crown Inn) and mayor of Oxford. He was the godson of William Shakespeare, who had stayed frequently at the Crown during his travels between London and Stratford-upon-Avon. It was even rumored that he was the Bard's biological son as well. However, it seems that this rumor stemmed from a comment attributed to Davenant by Samuel Butler: "It seemed to him [Davenant] that he writ with the very same spirit that Shakespeare [did], and seemed content enough to be called his son."

He attended Lincoln College, Oxford, for a while in about 1620, but left before gaining any degree.

Following the death of Ben Jonson in 1637, Davenant was named Poet Laureate in 1638. He was a supporter of King Charles I in the English Civil War. In 1641, he was declared guilty of high treason, only to be knighted two years later by the king following the battle of Gloucester. He was then appointed Emissary to France in 1645 and treasurer of the colony of Virginia in 1649 by Charles II. The following year, he was made lieutenant governor of Maryland, but was captured at sea, imprisoned, and sentenced to death. He spent all of 1651 in the Tower of London, where he was imprisoned at the time Gondibert was written. Having been released in 1652, he was only pardoned in 1654. In order to avoid the strict laws of censorship in force in all public places at the time, he turned a room of his home, Rutland House, into a private theatre where his works, and that of others considered seditious, could be performed. A performance of his The Siege of Rhodes at Rutland House in 1656 is considered to be the first performance of an English opera, and also included England's first known professional actress, Mrs. Coleman. [1]

Davenant once again found himself in legal trouble in 1659, when he was imprisoned for his part in Sir George Booth's uprising at Cheshire. He was released the same year though and fled to France. He had returned to England sometime before the initial production of his adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest, written with John Dryden, who would be named the next Laureate in 1670.

After suffering from syphilis for nearly four decades, he died in London on April 7, 1668, shortly after his final play, The Man's the Master, was first performed. He is buried in Poets' Corner at Westminster Abbey where the inscription on his tablet reads "O rare Sir William Davenant." It has been noted that the original inscription on Ben Jonson's tablet, which was already removed by the time Davenant died, was "Rare Ben," which was the name Shakespeare supposedly had for Jonson.

Nine of his works, though they were previously licensed or produced in London during his life like all of his plays, were finally published in print posthumously. Several of these were included in The Works of Sr William D'avenant Kt., by Henry Herringman in 1673, which was copied from Davenant's own originals.


Epic poems and books of poetry

  • Ieffereidos (1630)
  • Madagascar, with other Poems (1638)
  • London, King Charles his Augusta, or, City Royal, of the founders, the names, and oldest honours of that City (1648)
  • A Discourse upon Gondibert, an heroick poem (or simply Gondibert) (1650), which was originally published unfinished, but was published again in 1651 in its final form and included Davenant's "Preface to his most honour’d friend Mr. Hobs" and "The Answer of Mr. Hobbes to Sr Will. D’Avenant’s Preface before Gondibert" by Thomas Hobbes, to whom the book was dedicated; the official second edition in 1653 also contained "Certain Verses, written by severall of the author’s friends"
  • Wit and Drollery: Jovial Poems (1656)
  • Poems on Several Occasions (1657)


  • "A Panegyric to his Excellency the Lord General Monck" (1660), to George Monck
  • "Poem upon his sacred Majesties most happy return to his dominions" (1660), on the Restoration of Charles II
  • "Poem, to the King’s most sacred Majesty" (1663), to Charles II

Original plays, masques and operas

Listed in chronological order.

  • Albovine, King of the Lombards, tragedy (ca. 1626-9; printed 1629)
  • The Cruel Brother, tragedy (licensed Jan. 12, 1627; printed 1630)
  • The Just Italian, comedy (licensed Oct. 2, 1629; printed 1630)
  • The Wits, comedy (licensed Jan. 19, 1634; printed 1636)
  • Love and Honour, tragicomedy, also previously performed as The Courage of Love; and The Nonpareilles, or The Matchless Maids (licensed Nov. 20, 1634: printed 1649)
  • The Temple of Love, masque (licensed Feb. 10, 1635; printed 1635)
  • News from Plymouth, comedy (licensed Aug. 1, 1635; printed 1673)
  • The Platonick Lovers, comedy (licensed Nov. 16, 1635; printed 1636)
  • The Triumphs of the Prince D'Amour, masque (peformed Feb. 23 or 24, 1636; printed 1636)
  • Britannia Triumphans, masque, with Inigo Jones (licensed Jan. 8, 1638; printed 1638)
  • Luminalia or The Festival of Light, masque, with Inigo Jones (licensed Feb. 6, 1638; printed 1638)
  • The Unfortunate Lovers, tragedy (licensed April 16, 1638; printed 1643)
  • The Fair Favourite, tragicomedy (licensed Nov. 17, 1638; printed 1673)
  • The Spanish Lovers, or The Distresses, comedy (licensed March 30, 1639; printed 1673)
  • Salmacida Spolia, masque (performed Jan. 21, 1640; printed 1640)
  • The Siege of Rhodes, Part I, tragicomedy (performed Sept. 1656; printed 1656)
  • The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru, opera (performed and printed 1658)
  • The History of Sir Francis Drake, history (performed 1658-9; printed1659)
  • The Siege of Rhodes, Part II, tragicomedy (ca. 1657-9; printed 1663)
  • The Play-House to Be Let, comedy (performed ca. Aug. 1663; printed 1673); includes Sir Frances Drake and The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru
  • The Man's the Master, comedy (performed March 26, 1668; printed 1669)

Revisions, adaptations and other productions for the stage

  • Greene's Tu Quoque (performed Sept. 12, 1667; lost), based upon the 1614 print of John Cooke's Greene's Tu Quoque Or, the Cittie Gallant, which had been made famous by the actor Thomas Greene's 1611 performance
  • The Tempest, or The Enchanted Island (performed Nov. 7, 1667, published 1670), an adaptation with John Dryden of William Shakespeare's The Tempest
  • The Rivals (ca. 1664; printed 1668), which was a revision of John Fletcher's The Two Noble Kinsmen
  • The First Day's Entertainment at Rutland House, a "disputation" (performed May 23, 1656; printed 1657)
  • The Law Against Lovers, comedy (performed Feb. 10, 1662; printed 1673), an adaptation of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing and Measure for Measure
  • Macbeth (performed Nov. 5, 1664; printed 1674), an operatic adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth of ca. 1606


  • Terence P. Logan and Denzell S. Smith, eds., The Later Jacobean and Caroline Dramatists: A Survey and Bibliography of Recent Studies in English Renaissance Drama, Lincoln, Nebraska, University of Nebraska Press, 1975.
  • "Shakespeare and Mrs. Davenant"
  • Detailed biography at Oldpoetry.com
  • Poems and texts

    • Four poems at the Poetry Archive
    • Five poems from Metaphysical Lyrics & Poems of the 17th Century at Bartleby.com
    • Three poems from The Oxford Book of English Verse: 1250–1900 at Bartleby.com
    • The complete text of Davenant and Dryden's adaptation of The Tempest
    Preceded by
    Ben Jonson
    English Poet Laureate
    Succeeded by
    John Dryden
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