The career of William Congreve as comic dramatist was brief but highly successful. From the beginning he showed a useful knack for cultivating influential literary friends and for giving audiences what they were sure to like. Early in 1693, his first comedy, The Old Batchelour, pleased the public at Drury Lane, and critics hailed the appearance of a new talent in the theatre who gave a sharp edge to the theatrical conventions at the time. Much was expected of Congreve's second offering, The Double Dealer, mounted later the same year. Its surprisingly bitter tone disconcerted many listeners, however, and the play drew only moderate praise. But this setback proved temporary, and Congreve found his reputation regained with Love for Love, and in 1700 his finest comedy of manners The Way of the World. After this he wrote no more comedies. Aware of changing tastes in his audience, and annoyed by critical squabbles over the question of morality in his plays, he retired at the age of thirty to the life of a gentleman of leisure.
In this volume Anthony Henderson recalls Congreve's successful career and provides the texts of his four comedies together with notes and a short critical biography, describing the conventions within which Congreve worked and the reception of his plays in his own day and thereafter.
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