First published in 1676, “The Virtuoso” set a standard for theatrical satire. It was the most extensive dramatic treatment of modern science since Jonson’s “The Alchemist” and took as its target no less than the Royal Society of London. Shadwell’s barbs hit their targets often and cleanly. In 1689 he became Poet Laureate of England, a position he held until his death in 1692.
The virtuoso of the title is Sir Nicholas Gimcrack, who like many after him confuses the extent of a collection with the depth of a science. Sir Gimcrack is fascinated by the geography of the moon, the worlds in his microscope, and the possibilities of human flight.
The play also introduces Sir Formal Trifle, a pedantic ciceronian orator and coxcomb. His character established thereafter the theatrical type of the know-it-all blowhard. Famous for its wit and high-speed changes, “The Virtuoso” is also a display of the prestige of modern science and the pomposity of its ameteurs.
Regents Restoration Drama
Thomas Shadwell (born 1642?, Norfolk, England—died November 19, 1692, London), English dramatist and poet, known for his broad comedies of manners and as the butt of John Dryden’s satire.
Shadwell became one of the court wits and an acquaintance of Sir Robert Howard and his brother, Edward. He satirized both Howards in “The Sullen Lovers” (1668), an adaptation of Molière’s “Les Fâcheux”.
He wrote 18 plays, an opera, “The Enchanted Island” (1674) adapted from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, a tragedy, “Psyche” (1674–75), and a blank verse tragedy, “The Libertine” (1675). He translated Juvenal’s “The Tenth Satyr” (1687) and composed bitter attacks upon John Dryden.