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Sir Noël Coward (Sir Noël Pierce Coward) Biography

(1899–1973), (Sir Noël Pierce Coward), The Vortex, This Happy Breed, Peace in Our Time

portrait dramatist wife plays

British actor, dramatist, and composer, born in Teddington, Middlesex, the son of a piano salesman, and brought up in genteel poverty in the London suburbs. He went on the stage as a boy, and began to write prolifically as a young man, achieving fame and notoriety with The Vortex (1924), in which he himself appeared as a drug addict tormented by his mother's adulteries. His long career as a dramatist produced other seriously intended plays, including the sentimental This Happy Breed (1942), about a lower-middle-class family between the wars; Peace in Our Time (1948), a speculative picture of Britain under Nazi occupation; and Song at Twilight (1966), a portrait and to some extent a self-portrait of a homosexual writer in old age. He also wrote musicals, notably Bitter Sweet (1929) and the patriotic pageant Cavalcade (1931). But he is best remembered for a series of comedies which fell into critical disrepute in the late 1950s, with the coming of a more socially conscious drama, but have since become widely lauded for their lively and idiosyncratic humour. Chief among these are the precocious The Young Idea (1921), about two adolescents who reconcile their divorced parents by separating the father from his disagreeable second wife and from ‘county’ society; Fallen Angels (1925), about two women waiting for the same glamorous Frenchman; Hay Fever (1925); Private Lives (1930); Design for Living (1933), about the creation of a successful ménage à trois, and a key play for those wishing to explore the subject of Coward's morality; Blithe Spirit (1941), about a mischievous ghost's attempts to steal her former husband from his second wife; and Present Laughter (1942), a portrait of a temperamental comedian. All these plays implicitly promote a hedonistic philosophy, in which sympathy goes to the sophisticated, carefree, witty, stylish, and defiantly and sometimes wickedly unconventional, while antipathy is reserved for the dull, staid, orthodox, and moralizing. The wit and panache with which Coward conveys such views primarily explains his improved standing in the stockmarket of taste and the frequency with which his work is revived, not just in the West End of London, but by the National and other repertory theatres.

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