Portrait of Thomas Otway

Portrait of Thomas Otway

Thomas Otway began his career as an actor, but only made one stage appearance. He suffered so badly from stage fright that he gave up acting and turned to playwriting instead. In 1675 his first play Alcibiades, a tragedy, was staged at the Duke's Theatre. One of the minor roles was taken by Elizabeth Barry, who went on to become the greatest actress of her day. Otway fell passionately in love with Mrs Barry, but she did not return his feelings. He wrote two more plays containing leading roles for Barry, then abandoned the theatre for a while and joined the army. But he soon returned to writing and had great success with The Orphan or The Unhappy Marriage and Venice Preserved, both of which again gave starring roles to Mrs Barry. Her successes do not appear to have made her any fonder of the playwright, however. Venice Preserved, a tragedy of politics and personal honour, was enormously popular and is still revived today.