Roger Boyle, first Earl of Orrery



The Dramatic Works of Roger Boyle, Earl of Orrery, ed. William Smith Clark, II, 2 vols (Cambridge, Mass., 1937).


Dramatic Works

Roger Boyle, first Earl of Orrery, had an eventful political life in Ireland and England, including fluctuating allegiances during the Civil War and Interregnum. He was also a highly prolific writer, who published verse, a lengthy prose romance, a treatise on the art of war, and several plays, most of which were successgully performed on the English stage. It is perhaps in the last genre that he made his most notable contribution to literature, since Orrery was one of the very first dramatists to introduce to the English stage the ‘heroic play’, the flamboyant type of drama, usually in rhyming pentameter couplets, which flourished in the 1660s and 1670s and of which the most prominant exponent was John Dryden (whose The Indian Queen, performed 25 January 1663/4, preceded Orrery's The Generall, although the latter, originally entitled Altamira, may well have been privately performed earlier in Ireland). A measure of the success of most of Orrery's plays, notably Henry the Fifth and Mustapha (despite Pepys's complaints in his diary about their dullness), is the number of contemporary manuscript copies that were produced, possibly on a commercial basis, before the plays were published.

Verse and Letters

A few poems by or attributed to Orrery also had a very limited circulation in manuscript (OrR 1-7). Otherwise Orrery's most prolific manuscripts production lies in the numerous letters he wrote, chiefly in his various official or public roles. These are widely scattered, in repositories including the National Archives, Kew, British Library, Harvard, Yale, Huntington, and National Archives of Scotland, among others.

Facsimile examples of three autograph letters or documents by Orrery in the British Library appear, and are used for comparison of handwriting, in Antony Hammond, ‘The Manuscript of Zoroastres’, The Library, 5th Ser. 30 (1975), 34-40 (plus Plates). Hammond argues that the unique manuscript of Zoroastres (OrR 41) is not in Orrery's own hand, that the spelling in the manuscript differs considerably from Orrery's, and that the ascription to him added later in another hand is insufficient evidence of authorship.

Peter Beal