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JOHN DENNIS (1657-1734)

The following article is reprinted from A Dictionary of the Drama. W. Davenport Adams. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1904.

English critic and playwright John Dennis was born in 1657 and died in 1734. He was educated at Harrow and Cambridge, and held an appointment "under Government" from 1705 to 1715. His original contributions to the stage were--A Plot and No Plot (1697), Rinaldo and Arunda (1699), Iphigenia (1700), Liberty Asserted (1704), Gibraltar (1705), Orpheus and Eurydice (1707), and Appius and Virginia (1709). He also transformed The Merry Wives of Windsor into The Comical Gallant (1702), and Coriolanus into The Invader of His Country (1705).

He is said to have invented a new method of producing stage "thunder" which was used in Appius and Virginia; and the story goes that he complained, in the case of a subsequent play by another hand, that the author or management had "stolen his thunder" (see T. Cibber's Lives of the Poets ). In reply to attacks made upon the stage by Jeremy Collier and William Law, Dennis published The Usefulness of the Stage to the Happiness of Mankind, to Government, and to Religion (1698), A Defence of a Regular Stage (1703), and The Stage Defended (1726). Among his other publications were An Essay on the Opera after the Italian Manner (1706), Three Letters on the Genius and Writings of Shakespeare (1711), Remarks upon "Cato" [to which Pope replied in The Madness of John Dennis] (1713), and Remarks upon "The Conscious Lovers" (1723).

Having fallen, latterly, upon evil days, he was the recipient, in December, 1733, of a benefit at the Haymarket Theatre. His Works appeared in 1702; his Select Works in 1718. Macaulay has described him as having written "bad odes, bad tragedies, bad comedies," and Thackeray has characterized him as "the Grub Street Timon."

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