Thomas Shadwell



The Prologues and Epilogues of the Restoration 1660-1700, ed. Pierre Danchin, 7 vols (Nancy, c.1981-8)


The Complete Works of Thomas Shadwell, ed. Montague Summers, 5 vols (London, 1927)


Thomas Shadwell — Dryden's perhaps unfairly pilloried ‘MacFlecknoe’ — was a Restoration dramatist of some stature who has left a substantial body of works, including a small number of authorial manuscripts. Shadwell's handwriting was neither sufficiently distinctive, nor sufficiently uniform throughout his career, to be immediately recognisable. Nevertheless, it seems possible to establish a certain number of clearly authentic examples by way of a bench mark.

Letters and Documents

There are at present eight recorded autograph letters by Shadwell (SdT 43-51). The last six of these

display a similar cursive style of hand. But there are certain palaeographical differences — including a tendency to loop ts and fs — in the two earliest letters, unpublished exercises in doggerel verse which have something of the nature of youthful, if relatively formal, jeux d'esprit. Even so, there is no question but that they were indeed written by Thomas Shadwell the future dramatist.

These letters may be supplemented by a few surviving business and legal documents signed by Shadwell (*SdT 52-63). Again, there is no question but that these documents all bear the hand of Thomas Shadwell the dramatist, although the uniform style of signature found in the first four displays some difference of character to the signatures found in all the other items mentioned, including a forward-leaning looped d, a vigorously angular epsilon e, and a peculiar decorative flourish at the end of the surname.

Shadwell's Handwriting

These differences of style indicate a certain flexibility of handwriting on Shadwell's part, a tendency to vary the formation of his script in different circumstances or at different times of his life. This must be borne in mind when considering those literary manuscripts recorded below which were almost certainly written, annotated or used by him and which derive from the collection of his patron the Duke of Newcastle, with whom Shadwell evidently shared some measure of literary collaboration as James Shirley had done earlier. The cursive but regular script seen in a copy of a Prologue to John Banks's tragedy Vertue Betray'd (*) conforms sufficiently well to Shadwell's most familiar style of hand to leave little doubt that this manuscript is entirely autograph. On the other hand it is not altogether surprising that earlier commentators were slightly hesitant to pronounce as autograph the neatly written copy of a Prologue or Epilogue to a revival of Newcastle's old comedy The Country Captain (*SdT 14). This shows occasional variant letter forms, although this too was probably produced by the same hand. Demonstrable differences of style increase when it comes to two important extant manuscripts of plays by Shadwell — The Humorists (*SdT 26) and The Sullen Lovers (*SdT 33) — both evidently given by the playwright himself to Newcastle (though only the latter bears a presentation inscription). A single hand, but this time adopting a rapid cursive style, with occasional peculiar letter forms (such as a curious secretary h and a two-stroke Greek e), is found revising and annotating both these manuscripts (which are otherwise written by two different professional scribes). Despite the differences, the interposing hand is very probably that of the author himself and similarities of various letter forms (such as a peculiarly elaborate three-stroke majuscule N) can be discerned in certain of the other examples of Shadwell's handwriting.

In the light of all these examples it is possible to adduce at least one other example of Shadwell's hand: namely the inscription ‘For the Ld Chamberlain’ written in the dedication exemplum of his Bury-Fair (*SdT 23.3). What would appear to be virtually a companion volume is another exemplum of this edition allegedly inscribed by Shadwell on the flyleaf ‘For ye Countess of Dorsett’ (*SdT 23.4). Quite possibly other presentation volumes of plays by Shadwell survive. One, for instance, may be the exemplum of Shadwell's Psyche (London, 1675) which, though lacking any inscription, may have been presented to the play's dedicatee, the Duke of Monmouth, in view of its elaborate black morocco gilt and silver binding by the ‘Queen's Binder D’. This volume was sold at Christie's, 11 June 1980, lot 412, to Kraus, with an illustration of the binding as Plate 30.

The Canon of Verse and Dramatic Works

John Ross's article, ‘Addenda to Shadwell's “Complete Works”: A Checklist’, N&Q, 220 (June 1975), 256-9, is a useful supplement to Summers's version of the canon. Ross draws attention to yet another manuscript associated with both Newcastle and Shadwell: that of Newcastle's comedy The Humorous Lovers in the British Library, Harley MS 7267. Newcastle's play was posthumously published in 1677 and Shadwell is known to have been paid £22 for seeing this and another of Newcastle's plays through the press. It is tempting to think that Shadwell might have had something to do with this manuscript, but there is no sign of his actual handwriting. Ross does plausibly suggest, however, that Shadwell may have been responsible for ‘the crudely Jonsonesque prologue[s] and epilogue’ (which do not appear in the edition of 1677): see SdT 0.5, SdT 15.2 and SdT 20.5.

A few other poems attributed to Shadwell on uncertain authority have also been given entries below (SdT 1-23.2).

Dramatis Personæ

Edward A. Langhans, in ‘New Restoration Manuscript Casts’, Theatre Notebook, 27 (1972-3), 149-57, records several early manuscript casts for plays by Shadwell, namely:

: for The Virtuoso in an exemplum of the 1676 edition in the Clark Library, Los Angeles

for The Libertine in an exemplum of the 1676 edition in Boston Public Library, Massachusetts

for Epsom-Wells in an exemplum at the University of Pennsylvania

for both Epsom-Wells and The Virtuoso as recorded from uncertain sources in a notebook by George Thorn-Drury, KC (Bodleian, MS Eng. misc. f. 84, p. 50).

Robert D. Hume, in ‘Manuscript Casts for Revivals of Shadwell's The Libertine and Epsom-Wells’, Theatre Notebook, 31 (1977), 19-22, records manuscript casts in exempla of The Libertine (London, 1676) and Epsom-Wells (London, 1704) at the University of Cincinnati.

An eighteenth-century prompt-book of The Squire of Alsatia (London, 1699), from the collection of prompt-books given by J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps to the Morrab Library, Penzance, was sold at Sotheby's, 27 May 1964, lot 699, to Rota, and is now at the University of Texas at Austin (Prompt Books Box 1 No. 197): see Edward A Langhans, Eighteenth-Century British and Irish Promptbooks: A Descriptive Bibliography (New York, Westport, Conn., & London, 1987), pp. 139-40. A microfilm of the prompt-book is in Edinburgh University Library (Mic. P. 310).

J. P. Collier's transcripts of Cupid and Death from the edition of 1653; of The Triumph of Beauty from the edition of the Poems (1646); and of A Contention for Honour and Riches from the edition of 1633, are at Harvard, MS Eng 785.

Musical Settings

Other manuscript sources relating to Shadwell's plays, which have not been given separate entries below, are of musical settings by Henry Purcell for stage revivals in the late 1680s and 1690s.

Purcell's song beginning ‘Leave these useless [or worthless] arts in loving’ was evidently introduced into a production of Epsom-Wells. First published in Thesaurus Musicus (London, 1693), it occurs in various manuscript songbooks, including Purcell's own autograph score (Guildhall Library, Gresham College Purcell MS) and manuscripts in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (MU. MS 120), in the Folger (MS V.b.197, Part I, p. 59), and in the privately owned Naki Collection in Japan.

Purcell's song ‘The cares of Lovers then alarm’ (with words apparently by Peter Motteux) was evidently introduced into Shadwell's Timon of Athens, the Man-Hater (1678). This setting was published in Deliciae Musicae, Book II (London, 1695), and extant manuscript copies include the Folger (MS V.b.197, Part I, p. 41).

Yet further contributions by Purcell include a ‘Masque’ in Timon of Athens (see SdT 35-39) and various songs and incidental music in The Tempest, or The Enchanted Island. Shadwell's version of the latter was first published in 1674 (Summers, II, 183-269), but Shakespeare's play was subject to multiple adaptations and revisions, including those by Davenant and Dryden, and precise authorship of respective songs is less than clear. For numerous manuscript copies of Purcell's songs for both The Tempest and Timon of Athens, with some discussion of the subject, see Franklin B. Zimmerman, Henry Purcell: An Analytical Catalogue (London & New York, 1963), Nos 631 (pp. 333-8) and 632 (pp. 338-44).

One of the songs set by Purcell in The Tempest, the Devil's song at the end of Act II (‘Arise, arise! ye subterranean winds’), is also found in a setting by Pietro Reggio in a manuscript songbook compiled in part by Giovanni Felice Sances (c.1600-79), Kapellmeister to the Emperor Leopold I, and by the composer Henry Bowman. This manuscript is now in the British Library (Egerton MS 2960, ff. 52v-3r). This song and/or other music by Henry Purcell for The Tempest are in the British Library (Add. MSS 19759, ff. 10v-11v; 22099; 29396, f. 111r; 31450; 33234, f. 38r-v; 37074; and 62667, ff. 4r-50r); Cambridge University Library (MS Add. 9129); and elsewhere.

Purcell's most celebrated contribution to Shadwell's stage works remains his music for songs in Acts IV and V of the 1692 revival of The Libertine (1676), most especially for the song and chorus of the Shepherds and Shepherdesses, ‘Nymphs and Shepherds come away’ (Summers, III, 7-93 (pp. 76-7)). First published in Orpheus Britannicus, Book I, 2nd edition (London, 1706), Purcell's setting occurs in numerous late seventeenth- and eighteenth-century manuscript songbooks, including manuscripts in the Bodleian; British Council Library; British Library (including Add. MSS 31447, ff. 148r-51v; 62666, ff. 55v-62r, and 62669, ff. 4v-12v); Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; Folger (MS W.b.540, pp. 1-17 fourth series; W.b.533); Royal College of Music; and elsewhere. For details, see Zimmerman, op. cit., No. 600 (pp. 274-5). One of the manuscript copies of the Song of Devils in Act V (‘Prepare, prepare, new Guests draw near’), which is normally ascribed to Purcell, is docketed in British Library, Add. MS 22100, ff. 103-5, as being by ‘Mr Turner’. Other manuscripts of Purcell's music in The Libertine include British Library, Add. MS 62669, and Folger MS W.b.535, pp. 61-87.


Notes on Shadwell by William Oldys (1696-1761) are written in his exemplum of Gerard Langbaine, An Account of the English Dramatick Poets (Oxford, 1691), now in the British Library (C.28.g.1, pp. 442-53). They are cited in Summers, I, xxiii, xcvii. The eight-page autograph manuscript of Robert Southey's life of Shadwell is at Yale (Gen MSS 298 Box 1, folder 62). A set of Shadwell's Dramatic Works (4 vols, 1720 edition) annotated by George Thorn-Drury, KC (1860-1931), literary scholar and editor, is in the Bodleian Library (Thorn-Drury e. 16-19).

Peter Beal