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NATHANIEL LEE (1649?-1692)

The following biography is reprinted from A Complete Manual of English Literature. Thomas B. Shaw. New York: Sheldon & Company, 1867.

Nathaniel Lee, a tragic poet who not only had the honor of assisting Dryden in the composition of several of his pieces, but who, in spite of adverse circumstances, and in particular of several attacks of insanity, one of which necessitated his confinement during four years in Bedlam, possessed and deserved a high reputation for genius. He was educated at Westminster School and Cambridge, and was by profession an actor: he died in extreme poverty in 1692. His original dramatic works consist of eleven tragedies, the most celebrated of which is The Rival Queens, or Alexander the Great, in which the heroic extravagances of the Macedonian conqueror is relieved by amorous complications arising from the attachment of the two strongly-opposed characters of Roxana and Statira. Among his other works may be enumerated Theodosius, Mithridates, and the pathetic drama of Lucius Junius Brutus, the interest of which turns on the condemnation of the son by the father. In all these plays we find a sort of wild and exaggerated tone of imagery, sometimes reminding us of Marlowe; but Lee is far superior in tenderness to the author of Faustus; nay, in this respect he surpasses Dryden. In the beautiful but feverish bursts of declamatory eloquence which are frequent in Lee's plays, it is possible to trace something of that violence and exaggeration which are perhaps derived from the tremendous malady of which he was so long a victim.

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