Biography of George Etherege

Sir George Etherege is perhaps the most famous Restoration playwright, best known for his Man of Mode. He is credited with creating the comedy of intrigue, and is revered for his wit, light touch, sparkling style, and unparalleled fops and dandies.  

He was born in 1634 or 1635 in Maidenhead, Berkshire, England to George Etherege and Mary Powney, the eldest of six children. His education included Lord William’s School; scholars debate whether or not he attended Cambridge. Whether he did or not, he left in the 1640s to accompany his father to France. He may have seen some of Moliere’s plays performed in Paris. In 1653 his grandfather apprenticed him to an attorney in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire.  

His first work, The Comical Revenge; or, Love in a Tub, which was a parody of contemporary manners, premiered in 1664 at Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre; it was incredibly successful, lauded for its rhymes of heroic verse and comic scenes. This gave Etherege entry into fashionable society, and he befriended literary rakes such as Sir Charles Sedley, Earl of Rochester, and the Earl of Dorset. He enjoyed fashionable living and lived as a wealthy gentleman.  

In 1668 Etherege premiered his second work, She Would if She Could, but it was not successful due to lackluster acting. That same year until 1671 he worked in Turkey as secretary to the English ambassador, Sir Daniel Harvey. When he returned he wrote the prologue for the opening in 1671 of the Dorset Garden Theatre.  

A few years later, in 1676, he first staged his wittiest and most popular work, The Man of Mode. Its success helped secure him a knighthood, which he received in 1680. Critics consider it the best comedy written before the days of Congreve. Contemporary audiences thrilled to it because of its modeling after real people, such as Beau Hewitt, who was the inspiration for Sir Fopling Flutter, and Sedley, who was the inspiration for Dorimant.  

After The Man of Mode’s success, Etherege retired from writing. He married a rich widow, Mary Sheppard Arnold, in 1683. In 1685 he was appointed envoy to the Diet in Ratisbon. Three years later he followed King James II to Paris after his deposition in the Glorious Revolution of 1688.  

He died somewhere between 1689-1691, either in Paris or in Ratisbon.   


Study Guides on Works by George Etherege

George Etherege’s Man of Mode is one of the most renowned plays of Restoration England. Critic Gamini Salgado wrote, “Its chief merit consists in the uncompromising realism with which it investigates the implications of Restoration libertinism.”