This article was originally published in A Short History of the Theatre. Martha Fletcher Bellinger. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1927. pp. 254-5.

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THOMAS OTWAY was a scholar, and first tried his fortunes as an actor without much success. He translated plays from the French, wrote several half-successful pieces, and at length made a name for himself in 1680 with a tragedy in blank verse called The Orphan. So great was the praise lavished on this drama that its author was called the English Euripides. In later years Dr. Johnson said that Otway "conceived forcibly, and drew originally, by consulting nature in his own breast." The Orphan kept the boards well into the nineteenth century, and famous actresses like Mrs. Barry and Miss O'Neill were renowned for their pathetic presentation of the part of the heroine. The second play on which the fame of Otway rests is Venice Preserved, produced in 1682. Even today it seems a good play, with fluency, imaginative wit and tragic power, such as inevitably holds the attention. The verse runs with ease and has an accent of sincerity. In the following extract the dying Pierre prays for his wife:

"Then hear me, bounteous heaven!
Pour down your blessings on this beauteous head,
Where everlasting sweets are always springing,
With a continual giving hand; let peace
Honor and safety always hover round her,
Feed her with plenty, let her eyes ne'er see
A sight of sorrow, nor her heart know mourning. . . ."

Otway's life, which lasted only thirty-four years, was passed in poverty and desperate circumstances. His fame did not bring him to affluence. In one of his prefaces he says that he was "rescued from want" by the Duchess of Portsmouth. Some idea of the compensation received by dramatists in Otway's time may be gained from the fact that The Orphan and Venice Preserved each sold for one hundred pounds.

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