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William Davenant
William Davenant.jpg
Title page engraving of Davenant from his collected works, after a portrait by John Greenhill
Born 3 March 1606
Oxford, England
Died 7 April 1668 (aged 62)
London, England
Occupation Playwright, poet, soldier
Period Stuart period; Restoration era

Sir William Davenant (baptised 3 March 1606 – 7 April 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 during the Interregnum.


Early life

Davenant is believed to have been 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 baptised on 3 March, his godfather sometimes being said to have been William Shakespeare,[1] who, according to John Aubrey, had stayed frequently at the Crown during his travels between London and Stratford-upon-Avon.[1] It was even rumoured that he was the Bard's biological son as well. This story was recorded by Aubrey from a comment attributed to Davenant by Samuel Butler:

Mr. William Shakespeare was wont to go into Warwickshire once a year, and did commonly in his journey lie at this house [the Crown] in Oxon, where he was exceedingly respected... Now Sir William [Davenant] would sometimes, when he was pleasant over a glass of wine with his most intimate friends--e.g. Sam Butler, author of Hudibras, etc., say, that it seemed to him that he writ with the very spirit that did Shakespeare, and seemed contented enough to be thought his Son. He would tell them the story as above, in which way his mother had a very light report, whereby she was called a Whore.[2]

It has been suggested that Davenant simply meant that he saw himself as a literary son of Shakespeare, in the same way that followers of Ben Jonson called themselves the "Sons of Ben".[2] However, according to Samuel Schoenbaum, since Aubrey's comment was unpublished, the existence of some other sources saying the same thing suggests that the story that "Sir William was more than Shakespeare's mere poetical offspring was common in Davenant's lifetime."[2] In 1618, after Shakespeare's death, the 12-year-old Davenant wrote an ode "In Remembrance of Master Shakespeare".[3]

He attended Lincoln College, Oxford, for a while in about 1620, but left before gaining any degree, becoming a page to the Duchess of Richmond.[3] In London in 1630, he contracted a venereal disease, and was given a syphilis treatment by Thomas Cademan. As a convalescent, he left for the country in 1632 for a time.[4] The syphilis severely disfigured his nose, resulting in damage that is discreetly depicted in John Greenhill's portrait. His ruined nose was the subject of much ribald comment by his enemies.[5]

Poet laureate and Civil war

The title page of the 1651 edition of Gondibert

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, before the war began, he was declared guilty of high treason by parliament along with John Suckling, after he participated in the First Army Plot, a Royalist plan to use the army to occupy London. He fled to France.[6] Returning to join the king's army when the war started, he was knighted two years later by king Charles following the siege of Gloucester.[3]

In 1645, after the decisive Royalist defeat at the Battle of Naseby, he retired to Paris, where he became a Roman Catholic and worked on his epic poem Gondibert. That same year he was appointed Emissary to France, and in 1649 was given the symbolic post of treasurer of the colony of Virginia by the exiled Charles II. The following year, he was made lieutenant governor of Maryland, but was captured at sea, imprisoned, and sentenced to death. He is said to have been saved by the intervention of John Milton.[6] He spent all of 1651 in the Tower of London, where he continued writing Gondibert.[3]

On his release in 1652, he immediately published Gondibert, but 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 those of other writers 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.[7]


Davenant once again found himself in legal trouble in 1659, when he was imprisoned for his part in Sir George Booth's uprising in Cheshire after the death of Cromwell. He was, however, released the same year, and left once more for France. When Charles II was restored to the throne, Davenant returned to England. The Restoration also led to the re-opening of theatres, which had been closed due to the influence of the puritans under Cromwell. In 1660, he is publicly recorded as being one of the two theatrical patentees, along with Thomas Killigrew, who obtained a monopoly of public theatre performances.[6] He headed the Duke of York's Men and produced highly successful theatrical seasons at Lincoln's Inn Fields from 1660 until his death in 1668. Among his more successful productions were some Shakespeare plays, including: Hamlet, Henry VIII, and Macbeth, as well as non-Shakespeare plays such as Sir Samuel Tuke's The Tragedy of Five Hours and John Dryden's comedy Sir Martin Marall. 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.

He died in London on 7 April 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 "O Rare Ben," which was the name Shakespeare supposedly had for Jonson. Both are puns on the Latin "orare", meaning "pray for".

Nine of his works, though they were previously licensed or produced in London during his life as were 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

Each year links to its corresponding "[year] in poetry" article:

  • 1630: Ieffereidos
  • 1638: Madagascar, with other Poems
  • 1648: London, King Charles his Augusta, or, City Royal, of the founders, the names, and oldest honours of that City
  • 1650: A Discourse upon Gondibert, an heroick poem (or simply Gondibert), originally published unfinished, then 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 Sir William 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"
  • 1656: Wit and Drollery: Jovial Poems
  • 1657: Poems on Several Occasions


Each year links to its corresponding "[year] in poetry" article:

  • 1660: "A Panegyric to his Excellency the Lord General Monck", to George Monck
  • 1660: "Poem, Upon His Sacred Majesties Most Happy Return to His Dominions", on the Restoration of Charles II
  • 1663: "Poem, to the King’s most sacred Majesty", to Charles II

Original plays, masques and operas

Listed in chronological order.

Revisions, adaptations and other productions for the stage


  1. ^ a b Edmond, M., Yeomen, Citizens, Gentlemen, and Players: The Burbages and Their Connections, R. B. Parker (ed), Elizabethan Theater: Essays in Honor of S. Schoenbaum, University of Delaware Press, Newark, DE: 1996, p.30.
  2. ^ a b c Schoenbaum, S., Shakespeare's Lives, Oxford University Press, 1991, p.63.
  3. ^ a b c d Alan Palmer, Veronica Palmer, Who's Who in Shakespeare's England, Palgrave Macmillan, 1 May 1999, p.61.
  4. ^ Edmond, Mary. "Davenant, Sir William". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/7197.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  5. ^ Raymond A. Anselment, The Realms of Apollo: Literature and Healing in Seventeenth-century England, University of Delaware Press, 1995, p.109.
  6. ^ a b c Alan Hager, The Age of Milton: An Encyclopedia of Major 17th-century British and American Authors, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004, p.104
  7. ^ Diary of Samuel Pepys — Volume 09: January/February/March 1660-61
  • Logan, Terence P.; Smith, Denzell S. (1975). The Later Jacobean and Caroline Dramatists: A Survey and Bibliography of Recent Studies in English Renaissance Drama. Lincoln, Nebraska, University of Nebraska Press. 

External links


Poems and texts

Court offices
Preceded by
Ben Jonson
English Poet Laureate
Succeeded by
John Dryden

12 Annotations

Alan Bedford  •  Link

William Davenant (1606-1668) was an English poet and dramatist. There is a biographical article in the 1911 Brittanica on this page:

Davenant introduced the opera into Britain in 1656 (evidently, the Puritans did not figure out what an 'opera' was,) and he continued with these presentations through the Restoration.

He was the co-writer, along with Dryden, of the 'updated' version of Shakespeare's Tempest of which kvk noted on 18 March 2003: Pepys only saw Dryden and Davenant

David Quidnunc  •  Link

"On 21 August 1660 Charles II granted Thomas Killigrew and Davenant a warrant to '...erect two companies of players...and to purchase, build, and erect...two houses or theatres with all convenient rooms and other necessaries thereunto appertaining, for the representation of tragedies, comedies, plays, operas, and all other entertainments of that nature..."

On 12 December 1660, William Davenant received exclusive rights to perform in England nine of Shakespeare's plays: The Tempest, Macbeth, Measure for Measure, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, King Lear and Henry VIII, as well as Davenant's own works.

"[T]he patent granted to Davenant by the Lord Chamberlain on December 12, 1660, ... ordered [Davenant] 'to peruse all playes that have been formerly written, and to expunge all Prophanesse and Scurrility from the same, before they be represented or Acted'"

Davenant edited Hamlet before presenting the play in August 1661 (with Pepys in the audience). A general description of the changes in the play as Davenant presented it are in the second Web link above, which also has an extensive discussion about plays in written form and how uncomfortable playwrights were in publishing their works that way.

The Bishop  •  Link

The reason Davenant started making changes to Shakespeare's plays was that the rival company, Killigrew's, had obtained the rights to the popular Shakesepearean plays and Davenant was left with the unpopular ones (except for Hamlet, which was a popular play).

vicente  •  Link

It appears SP was one of his first clients.
"moved to Lisle's Tennis Court in Lincoln's Inn Fields; the theater there, which became known as the Duke's Playhouse, opened in late June 1661. His company became known by a patent of 1663 as the Duke of York's Players, Killigrew's more elegantly as His Majesty's Players. "

dirk  •  Link

Davenant's warrant

The warrant King Charles gave to Davenant gave him the permission to "erect two companies of players

Glyn  •  Link

The famous painting of Pepys shows him holding a piece of music that he composed for some poetry of Davenant (presumably this Davenant). So Pepys was a fan of his.

Pauline  •  Link

Romeo and Juliet
The first officially recorded production of Romeo and Juliet took place after the Restoration (1660). On 1st March 1662 at Lincoln's Inn Fields the Duke's Company performed the play under the direction of Sir William Davenant (1606-68), a poet and playwright who claimed to be Shakespeare's illegitimate son. Davenant's text was never published so we do not now how close or removed it was from Shakespeare's but Jill L. Levenson tells us in her introduction to the Oxford Shakespeare edition that when Davenant received exclusive rights to nine Shakespeare plays, he resolved to reform them and make them 'fit' for performance. It seems likely, therefore, that there were some differences between Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and Davenant's. His cast included Henry Harris as Romeo, Mary Saunderson as Juliet and Thomas Betterton in the role of Mercutio.


Stolzi  •  Link

The link in the first annotation is incorrect, it should be

This article again mentions the gossip (which Davenant himself fostered) that he was the child of an amour of a greater dramatic William, Shaxper that is.

Michael Robinson  •  Link

The Pepysian Library contains the following:-

The works of Sr William D'avenant Kt consisting of those which were formerly printed, and those which he design'd for the press: now published out of the authors originall copies
London: printed by T[homas]. N[ewcomb]. for Henry Herringman, at the signe of the Blew Anchor in the lower walk of the New Exchange, 1673
[8], 402, [4], 68, 71-486, 111, [1] p., [1] leaf of plates: port.; 2⁰. Wing D320

Bill  •  Link

Apropos of Davenant being a son of Shakespeare, note the following, in which the words "god" and "God's" are italicized. Being in the way of a wink and a nod, I think. Or perhaps, "nudge. nudge."

If tradition may be trusted, Shakspeare often baited at the Crown Inn or Tavern in Oxford, in his journey to and from London. The landlady was a woman of great beauty and sprightly wit; and her husband, Mr. John Davenant, (afterwards mayor of that city) a grave melancholy man; who, as well as his wife, used much to delight in Shakspeare's pleasant company. Their son young Will Davenant (afterwards Sir William) was then a little school-boy in the town, of about seven or eight years old, and so fond also of Shakspeare, that whenever he heard of his arrival, he would fly from school to see him. One day an old townsman observing the boy running homeward almost out of breath, asked him whither he was posting in that heat and hurry. He answered, to see his god-father Shakspeare. There's a good boy, said the other, but have a care that you don't take God's name in vain. This story Mr. Pope told me at the Earl of Oxford's table, upon occasion of some discourse which arose about Shakspeare's monument then newly erected in Westminster Abbey.
---The Plays and Poems of William Shakspeare: Prolegomena. 1790.

Bill  •  Link

In a long career through great social change, William Davenant kept abreast of and sometimes advanced the tastes of the day: in the 1630s he wrote city comedies in the Jonsonian manner, and tragicomedies of statecraft, love, and intrigue; in the circle of Henrietta Maria he provided entertainments to meet the vogue for Neoplatonism, and wrote poetry in the stylish cavalier manner, honouring the conduct and taste of Caroline courtiers. With Inigo Jones he put on the final court masques, vainly attempting to promote Charles I as a benevolent autocrat, seeking the support of the ruling élite against a surge of discontent. In exile Davenant attempted to create a new style of heroic poetry, Christian, stoical, and high-minded. He returned to London in the dying days of the Commonwealth and surreptitiously introduced a form of English opera while playhouses were still banned: on the restoration of Charles II he opened a modern theatre with scenery, built up a distinguished company of players of both sexes, revived old plays and promoted writers of new ones, and exercised a virtual stage monopoly until his sudden death. His leading players, Betterton and Harris, carried on as directors without a break, until the opening three years later of their new playhouse, then the finest in the capital.
---Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2009

Bill  •  Link

Sir William Davenant, poet-laureat in the reigns of Charles I. and II. was a man of great natural and improved talents, which he unfortunately misapplied. He distinguished himself by a bold, but unsuccessful attempt to enlarge the sphere of poetry. He composed an heroic poem, called "Gondibert," in five books, after the model of the drama; applauded himself greatly upon this invention; and looked upon the followers of Homer as a timorous, servile herd, that were afraid to leave the beaten track. This performance, which is rather a string of epigrams than an epic poem, was not without its admirers, among whom were Waller and Cowley. But the success did not answer his expectation. When the novelty of it was over, it presently sunk into contempt; and he at length found, that when he strayed from Homer he deviated from nature. Ob, 7 April, 1668, Æt. 63,
---A Biographical History of England. J. Granger, 1775.

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.






  • Feb