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William Cartwright

Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, Literature, Theatre on Thursday, 7 July 2011

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William Cartwright (1611 – 1643) was greatly lauded in his lifetime as an inspirational preacher and divine, and enjoyed the highest regard among his contemporaries; posterity, however, has ignored him and he is now almost entirely forgotten.

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William Cartwright

He was a Gloucestershire boy born to a gentleman farmer turned innkeeper, and educated in Cirencester, at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford. After taking his MA he quickly earned widespread praise for his grandiloquent sermons, and his literary endeavours embraced poetry and plays, which he wrote in the style of Jonson, being one of the so-called Sons of Ben. His dramas are largely artificial, though he did write one comedy of some note which features an antiquary called Robert Moth and a vintner’s widow called Joan Potluck. A position at Salisbury Cathedral and the Junior Proctorship at Oxford ought to have led to greater things, but he died prematurely, to the great dismay and sadness of his friends, and even Charles I was said to have worn mourning dress on hearing the news of Cartwright’s demise. The fine composer Henry Lawes set some of his songs to music, and contributed commendatory versers to his posthumous Collected Poems (1651), as did Izaak Walton and Henry Vaughan among other distinguished writers.

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