Thomas Otway



The Works of Thomas Otway, ed. J.C. Ghosh, 2 vols (Oxford, 1932)


Autograph Manuscripts and Inscriptions

A few examples of the playwright Thomas Otway's signature are known from inscriptions dating chiefly from his early student days (OtT 19-22), including his inscribed exemplum of works by John Donne (*OtT 24).

On the basis of these, admittedly scant, samples of Otway's hand, a single authorial manuscript has been established as being entirely autograph: The Poet's Complaint of his Muse; or, A Satyr against Libells (*OtT 2). This unique manuscript of one of Otway's more interesting verse compositions could possibly be the printer's copy, although it bears no sign of printers' marks as such.

No original letters by Otway are known to survive, but only the text (no doubt very edited) of six ‘love-letters’ allegedly ‘Printed from the Original Copy’ in Familiar Letters: Written by the Right Honourable John late Earl of Rochester. And several other Persons of Honour and Quality (London, 1697). They are reprinted in Ghosh, II, 473-81.

Dramatic Works

Apart from extracts from his printed plays, no manuscript texts of any of Otway's plays are known — least of all any sign of the ‘Four Acts of a Play’ which Otway was advertised in 1686 as having made ‘sometime before his Death’ (Ghosh, I, 62-3). A few annotated exempla or prompt-books only bear witness to later productions of Otway's plays, notably his most famous play, Venice Preserv'd. Edward A. Langhans records in his Eighteenth Century British and Irish Promptbooks: A Descriptive Bibliography (New York, Westport, Conn., & London, 1987), pp. 122-5, four known prompt-books of Venice Preserv'd:

(i) An exemplum of the first edition (1682) containing ‘some prudish manuscript cuts and alterations on pages 71 and 72’ (British Library, 644.h.77)

(ii) An exemplum of the first edition (1682) lightly marked up, by or for the actor Spranger Barry, for a production at either Drury Lane on 16 February 1747 or Covent Garden on 21 December 1752?. (Victoria and Albert Museum, RP74/3036 BTMA 1959/W/30 S513-1985)

(iii) An exemplum of the London edition of 1758, marked up for a possible performance. (British Library, 11778. aa. 30) (3))

(iv) An exemplum of a London edition [c.1783] marked up by Cromwell Price as his rehearsal copy for the role of Jaffeir in a private performance in Ireland. (Trinity College, Dublin, OLS 188 q 46 No. 16).

Several other late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century marked-up exempla of the play are also recorded. In addition prompt-books of a few other plays by Otway survive: notably a marked-up exemplum of the 1733 Dublin edition of The Cheats of Scapin (British Library, Rare Books, 11783,d.74); an exeplum of the 1680 edition of The History and Fall of Caius Marius marked up by William Rufus Chetwood for a revival in 1735 (Folger, PROMPT C8); and J.P. Kemble's prompt-book of The Orphan (in the Harvard Theatre Collection).

Various prologues and epilogues were written by other authors for different productions of plays by Otway. A few examples in manuscript, also recorded and discussed in Langhans, Eighteenth Century British and Irish Promptbooks, may be listed briefly:

An early-eighteenth-century prologue relating to an academic performance of The Cheats of Scapin, headed ‘Prologue Spoken by One of the Queens Scholars of Westminster School who acted the part of Phormio in Terence, and afterwards playd Scapin, in the Cheat of Scapin’, beginning ‘When Rome's rough Warriors conquer'd learned Greece’. Yale, Osborn MS c 111, pp. 102-3.

An eighteenth-century copy of an Epilogue to Don Carlos, ‘Spoken by a Girl’ and beginning ‘Now wt dy'e think my Message hither Means’, among the collections of Thomas Birch (1705-66), biographer and historian. British Library, Add. MS 4457, f. 4r.

A manuscript Prologue to The History and Fall of Caius Marius as ‘Acted at Southwick House’. Bodleian, MS Rawl. poet. 129, f. 7r-v. Edited in Danchin, Prologues & Epilogues, IV, 633-4.

Various prologues and epilogues (by Matthew Prior and others) for eighteenth-century performances of The Orphan, some of which are discussed in The Literary Works of Matthew Prior, ed. H. Bunker Wright and Monroe K. Spears, 2nd edition, 2 vols (Oxford, 1971), II, 526, 982-3, include examples in the library of the Marquess of Bath at Longleat (Prior Papers, Vol. 27, ff. 8r-10r); in the British Library (Add. MSS 27408, f. 124r and Add. MS 70369; in the Folger Library (MS E.a.3, pp. 122-3; in Worcester College, Oxford (MS 135: L. R. 8. 37); and at Yale (Osborn Poetry Box I/77 and I/73: Prologue beginning ‘Unprologu'd Plays are like I know not wha’t and Epilogue beginning ‘I ask your pardon Ladys — But indeed’).


A composite volume of Otway's plays once owned by William Congreve, with Congreve's signature on the first title-page, was sold at Sotheby's, 4 June 1930 (Duke of Leeds sale), lot 484 to Dobell.

Notes on Otway by William Oldys (1696-1761) are written in his exemplum of Gerard Langbaine, An Account of the English Dramatick Poets (Oxford, 1691), now in the British Library (C.28.g.1, pp. 395-400). A set of Otway's Works (3 vols, 1813 edition) annotated by George Thorn-Drury, KC (1860-1931), literary scholar and editor, is in the Bodleian Library (Thorn-Drury e. 8-10).

Peter Beal