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George Etherege
Bornc. 1636
Probably Maidenhead, Berkshire, England
Diedc. 1691
Paris,[1] France
OccupationPlaywright, poet
Literary movementEnglish Restoration Comedy
Mary Arnold[2]
(m. 1676⁠–⁠1690)​
  • George Etherege (grandfather)
  • George Etherege (father)
  • Mary Etherege, née Powney (mother)[3]

Sir George Etherege (c. 1636 – c. 10 May 1692) was an English dramatist. He wrote the plays The Comical Revenge or, Love in a Tub in 1664, She Would If She Could in 1668, and The Man of Mode or, Sir Fopling Flutter in 1676.[4]


Early life

George Etherege was born in Maidenhead, Berkshire, in about 1636, to George Etherege and Mary Powney, as the eldest of their six children.[5] Educated at Lord Williams's School, where a school building was later named after him, he was rumoured to have attended the University of Cambridge,[6] although John Dennis states that to his certain knowledge Etherege understood neither Greek nor Latin,[4] thus raising doubts that he could have been there.[7]

Etherege served as an apprentice to a lawyer and later studied law at Clement's Inn, London, one of the Inns of Chancery.[6] He probably travelled abroad to France with his father, who stayed with the exiled queen Henrietta Maria, and may have witnessed in Paris performances of some of Molière's earliest comedies. An allusion in one of his plays suggests he may have been personally acquainted with Roger de Rabutin, Comte de Bussy.[4]

Stage success

Soon after the Restoration in 1660, Etherege wrote his comedy of The Comical Revenge or Love in a Tub, which brought him to the attention of Lord Buckhurst, afterwards Earl of Dorset. This was performed at the Duke's Theatre in 1664 and a few copies were printed in the same year. It is partly in rhymed heroic verse, like the stilted tragedies of the Howards and Thomas Killigrew, but it contains comic scenes that are notably bright and fresh. The sparring between Sir Frederick and the Widow introduced a style of wit hitherto unknown upon the English stage.[4]

The success of this play was very great, but Etherege waited four years before repeating the experiment. Meanwhile he gained a high reputation as a poetical beau and moved in the circle of Sir Charles Sedley, Lord Rochester and other noble wits of the day. His temperament is best shown by the names his contemporaries gave him: "gentle George" and "easy Etheredge".

In 1668, he brought out She Would If She Could, a comedy of action, wit and spirit, although by some thought to be frivolous and immoral. Here Etherege first showed himself as a new power in literature. He presents an airy and fantastic world, where flirtation is the only serious business in life. Etherege himself was living a life no less frivolous and unprincipled.[4]

The Man of Mode

Frontispiece to The Man of Mode (1676).

Between 1668 and 1671 Etherege went to Constantinople as secretary to the English Ambassador, Sir Daniel Harvey. After a silence of eight years, he came forward with only one further play: The Man of Mode or, Sir Fopling Flutter, widely considered the best comedy of manners written in England before the days of Congreve. It was acted and printed in 1676 and enjoyed success, which may be attributed to the belief that it satirises, or at least refers to well-known contemporaries in London. Sir Fopling Flutter was seen as a portrait of Beau Hewit, the reigning exquisite, Dorimant to be a reference to the Earl of Rochester, and Medley a portrait of Etherege himself (or equally plausible, his fellow playwright and wit, Sir Charles Sedley). Even the drunken shoemaker was a real character, who made his fortune from being brought to public notice in this fashion.[4]

Life after the theatre

Etherege was part of the circle of John Wilmot; both men had a daughter by the unmarried actress Elizabeth Barry.[8] (Recently all three have appeared as characters in the 2005 film The Libertine, based on a play by Stephen Jeffreys.)

After his success, Etheredge retired from literature, and a few years later lost much of his fortune to gambling. He was knighted at some time before 1679, and married a wealthy widow, Mary Sheppard Arnold. In March 1685, he was appointed resident minister to the Imperial German Court at Ratisbon. After three-and-a-half years' residence there, and after the Glorious Revolution, he left for Paris to join James II in exile. He died in Paris, probably in 1691,[4] as Narcissus Luttrell notes this as a recent event in February 1692, identifying Sir George Etherege as the late King James's Ambassador to Vienna.[4]

Etherege's manuscript despatches are preserved in the British Museum, where they were discovered and described by Gosse in 1881.[4] Later editions were produced by Sybil Rosenfeld (1928) and Frederic Bracher (1974).


Etherege holds a distinguished place in English literature[4] as one of the "big five" in Restoration comedy, who invented the comedy of manners and led the way to the achievements of Congreve and Sheridan.

Etherege's portraits of fops and beaux are considered to be the best of their kind. He is noted for his delicate touches of dress, furniture and scene, and a vivid replication of the fine airs of London gentlemen and ladies which may even better Congreve's. His biography was first written in detail by Edmund Gosse in Seventeenth Century Studies (1883).[4]


  1. ^ "Sir George Etherege (British dramatist) - Encyclopædia Britannica". 3 November 2013. Retrieved 25 February 2014.
  2. ^ A widow whom Etherege is rumoured to have married for her money. (The Dramatic Works of Sir George Etherege, ed. H. F. B. Brett-Smith, 2 vols (1927)).
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainGosse, Edmund (1911). "Etheredge, Sir George". In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 9 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 807.
  5. ^ H. F. B. Brett-Smith, The Dramatic Works of Sir George Etherege. Introduction. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1927. pp. xi-lxxxiiii.
  6. ^ a b William Oldys, Biographia Britannica. Vol. III, 1750. p. 1841.
  7. ^ John Dennis, A Defence Of Sir Fopling Flutter, A Comedy. Pamphlet, London, 2 November 1722.
  8. ^ Cambridge Guide to Literature in English

External links

3 Annotations

Second Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Sir George Etherege -- One of the “Wits” -- Much of the colorful era which surrounds the Restoration Court in the popular imagination is derived from the behavior of the “Wits”, than the more powerful ministers. This group flourished for about 15 years after 1665, included John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester; Henry Jermyn; Charles, Lord Buckhurst; John Sheffield, Earl of Mulgrave; Henry Killigrew; Sir Charles Sedley, and the playwrights William Wycherley and George Etherege, as well as George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham. (Fraser...King Charles II)

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

During the Diary years, George Etherege was getting established in London:

His father died in 1650, working for Queen Henrietta Maria in Paris. George was one of 7 children, and his mother and grandfather were reasonably well off. In 1654 it was decided to apprentice 18-year-old George to attorney George Gosnold of Beaconsfield and London, which shows he was well educated. Etherege witnessed Gosnold's legal documents, and was admitted to Clement's Inn on 19 February 1659 to study law, making the normal progress in the profession.

He was now modestly independent. On his grandfather death in 1658, he inherited two farms worth £40 a year.

How Etheridge went from young lawyer to dramatist and court wit is not recorded. Copies of his witty poem, 'The Imperfect Enjoyment', were circulating between 1660 and 1662.
By 1663 Etheridge had met 20-year-old Charles Sackville, Lord Buckhurst (an important literary patron).
In 1664 George Etheridge dedicated his first play, The Comical Revenge, or, Love in a Tub, to Buckhurst. There he says that the 'Writing of' the play 'was a means to make me known to your Lordship'.

Four familiar verse epistles between the two men in 1663–4 (Buckhurst was out of London) show a well-established relationship. They describe their pursuits of prostitutes, wine, and pleasure, and are performances on both sides. Signed simply 'Buckhurst' and 'Etherege' (proof of Etherege's acceptance in Buckhurst's circle), the verse letters are reveal a group of self-consciously rakes for whom masculine camaraderie overrode fine distinctions of rank. But Etherege was the older, and more experienced, man.

The mores of this socially-protected group of libertines is reflected in the role of Sir Frederick Frollick, the hero of 'The Comical Revenge' acted by the Duke's Company at the Lincoln's Inn Theatre. Evelyn saw it on 27 April 1664.
John Downes, its prompter, says, 'The clean and well performance of this Comedy, got the Company more Reputation and Profit than any preceding Comedy; the Company taking in a Months time at it 1000l' which monopolized the theatre for a month.
The success established Etherege at 28 as a court wit, author, and man about town in a circle which included Rochester, Buckingham, Buckhurst and Sir Charles Sedley.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Part 2

Little is known about Etherege for the next four years. He was probably womanizing, gambling, drinking, and working on his second play, 'She wou'd if she cou'd, a Comedy', which was first performed on 6 February, 1668, by the Duke's Company at Lincoln's Inn Fields.
Charles II was in the audience along with much of the court. Pepys reports the scene as the audience berated the author:
"... [Etherege] was mightily concerned: which all the rest did through the whole pit blame the play as a silly, dull thing, though there was something very roguish and witty; but the design of the play, and end, mighty insipid."

In the end 'She wou'd if she cou'd, a Comedy' held its place in the repertory until the mid-18th century.

In 1668 Etherege was appointed one of the 40 gentlemen of the privy chamber-in-ordinary to Charles II, and was made secretary to the new ambassador to Turkey, the Levant merchant Sir Daniel Harvey. The Turkish embassy was the country's most prestigious in rank and salary, paying the secretary £200 a year.

Etherege remained in Turkey almost three years. Although he was bored, he fulfilled his diplomatic role effectively, accompanying Amb. Harvey to his audience with the grand signor on 30 November 1669.

Etherege fell ill in 1670, and left Constantinople in the spring of 1671.

He bought a knighthood some years later so he would marry a rich widow.

For his whole career, see… (you might need to pay for a subscription)

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


  • Feb