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Sir Arthur Wing Pinero Biography

(1855–1934), Hamlet, £200 a Year, The Magistrate, Dandy Dick, The Schoolmistress, The Second Mrs Tanqueray

dramatist period london farces

British dramatist, born in Islington, London; he received a scanty and spasmodic education, acquiring a knowledge of law in the office of his father, a London solicitor, and of elocution at the Birkbeck Institute. After an unsuccessful period as an actor—a Birmingham critic described his King in Hamlet as ‘the worst Claudius the city has ever seen’—he turned to writing at the instigation of Sir Henry Irving and gradually established himself as the period's most accomplished exponent of well-made drama. His first play, £200 a Year (1877), was followed by a series of highly successful farces, notably The Magistrate (1885), Dandy Dick (1887), and The Schoolmistress (1887). His reputation as a major dramatist, however, derived from the serious plays he wrote in the 1890s and 1900s, many of them about the sufferings inflicted by society on women who commit sexual indiscretions. These included not only The Second Mrs Tanqueray (1893), the best-known of the genre, but The Notorious Mrs Ebbsmith (1895), Iris (1901), Letty (1903), and Mid-Channel (1909). Such pieces, criticized by Shaw in their time as ‘conventional’ and even ‘pornographic’ reworkings of Ibsen's drama of ideas, have inevitably dated. Pinero's farces are, however, still remembered and sometimes revived, as is his affectionate picture of a dramatist based on T. W. Robertson, Trelawney of the ‘Wells’ (1898), and three comedies of a more robust nature: The Gay Lord Quex (1899), His House in Order (1906), and The Thunderbolt (1908).

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