William Cartwright

(1611-1643 / England)

Biography of William Cartwright

William Cartwright (1 September 1611 – 29 November 1643) was an English dramatist and churchman.

The son of a country gentleman turned innkeeper, he was born at Northway, Gloucestershire. Anthony Wood gives an account of his origin which is probably correct, although it is contradicted by statements made in David Lloyd's Memoirs. Cartwright was educated at the free school of Cirencester, at Westminster School, and at Christ Church, Oxford, where he took his M.A. degree in 1635.

He became, according to Wood, the most florid and seraphical preacher in the university, and appears to have been no less admired as a reader in metaphysics. In 1642 he was made succentor of Salisbury Cathedral, and in 1643 he was chosen junior proctor of the university. Cartwright was a successor to Ben Jonson and is often counted among the Sons of Ben, the group of dramatists who practiced Jonson's style of comedy. The collected edition of his poems (1651) contains commendatory verses by Henry Lawes, who set some of his songs to music, by Izaak Walton, Alexander Brome, Henry Vaughan and others. It is said that King Charles I of England wore mourning on the day of his funeral.

Albert DeSimone, Jr., (MA, The University of Georgia, 1980) wrote his graduate thesis under the direction of Dr. Charles C. Doyle on the matter of the immense amount of commendatory poetry prefixed to Cartwright's 1651 Works. The thesis is entitled The royalist muse : a study of the commendatory poems prefixed to William Cartwright’s Comedies, tragi-comedies, with other poems, 1651 and documents the many Royalist sympathies that were expressed in this prefixed commendatory poetry.

His plays are, with the exception of The Ordinary, far-fetched in plot, and stilted and artificial in treatment. They are:

The Royal Slave (1636), produced by the students of Christ Church before the king and queen, with music by Henry Lawes

The Lady Errant (acted, 1635-1636; printed, 1651)

The Siege, or Love's Convert (printed 1651)

In The Ordinary (1635?) he produced a comedy of real life, in imitation of Jonson, representing pot-house society. It is reprinted in Robert Dodsley's Old Plays (ed. William Hazlitt, vol. xii.).

Cartwright and Lawes maintained an important working relationship, for perhaps a decade prior to Cartwright's death in 1643; in one view, Lawes made a significant contribution to Cartwright's conception of drama

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STILL do the stars impart their light
To those that travel in the night;
Still time runs on, nor doth the hand
Or shadow on the dial stand;
The streams still glide and constant are:
   Only thy mind
   Untrue I find,
   Which carelessly
   Neglects to be

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