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 the Interregnum.
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 being William Shakespeare, who had stayed frequently at the Crown during his travels between London and Stratford-upon-Avon. It was even rumored that he was the Bard's biological son as well. However, it seems that this rumor stemmed from a comment attributed to Davenant by Samuel Butler: "It seemed to him [Davenant] that he writ with the very same spirit that Shakespeare [did], and seemed content enough to be called his son."
He attended Lincoln College, Oxford, for a while in about 1620, but left before gaining any degree.
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, he was declared guilty of high treason but was, ironically, knighted two years later by the king following the siege of Gloucester. He was then appointed Emissary to France in 1645 and treasurer of the colony of Virginia in 1649 by Charles II. The following year, he was made lieutenant governor of Maryland, but was captured at sea, imprisoned, and sentenced to death. He spent all of 1651 in the Tower of London, where he was imprisoned at the time Gondibert was written. Having been released in 1652, 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 that of others 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.
Davenant once again found himself in legal trouble in 1659, when he was imprisoned for his part in Sir George Booth's uprising at Cheshire. He was released the same year though and fled to France. He had returned to London by 1660 as he is publicly recorded as being one of the two theatrical patentees. 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 of Some Shakespeare plays including: Hamlet, Henry VIII, 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 "Rare Ben," which was the name Shakespeare supposedly had for Jonson.
Nine of his works, though they were previously licensed or produced in London during his life like 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.