“The haste of a fool is the slowest thing in the world”.
Thomas Shadwell was the Poet Laureate for England from 1688-1692. He was born circa 1642 and died in 1692. His plays were known for their candor, wit and their realistic portraits of life in London. He also wrote operas, adapting Shakespeare’s The Tempest in The Enchanted Island.
He engaged in a long running literary feud with John Dryden, the previous Poet Laureate. Each writer included the other in their works lampooning and lambasting each other during this feud. Shadwell was a Whig and Dryden a Tory. It appears that they had little respect for each other professionally, and the political differences seem to have fueled their animosity.
This debate probably began with Dryden’s poem MacFlecknoe, a poem about a really bad poet who is approaching his demise and seeking his successor to rule the land of nonsense writing. Of course the old poet chooses Shadwell who excels in boredom and is excruciatingly slow in composing poetry.
Shadwell let loose his anger on Dryden in The Medal of John Bayes . In the introductory epistle of this poem (“Epistle to the Tories”), Dryden, as the poet laureate is referred to as a “mere” poet and is attacked for sucking up to the King. Dryden is also accused of stupidity, of being cheated by a coffee house server for two years before realizing it. Dryden’s reputation rose above Shadwell’s in the end, perhaps unfairly; but Shadwell succeeded him as poet laureate for England.
Shadwell was well known for using opium on a regular basis and died suddenly, quite possibly due to an overdose. He had a son, Charles, a playwright, and a daughter, Anne Oldfield, an accomplished actress with his wife Ann Gibbs, an actress.
Some of his better known plays besides The Sullen Lovers are Epsom Wells
(1676), a satire of the Royal Society, and The Squire of Alsatia
(1688), situated in Whitefriars, a London area where thieves were known to hide out.
Most of this information comes from Albert Borgman’s Thomas Shadwell: His Life and Comedies published in 1969.