John Banks (playwright)
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John Banks (died 1706) was an English playwright of the Restoration era. His works concentrated on historical dramas, and his plays were twice suppressed because of their implications, or supposed implications, for the contemporaneous political situation.
Virtually nothing is known about Banks's early life; a date of birth c. 1650 has been estimated on the basis of his later biography. He studied law at the New Inn, one of the minor Inns of Chancery attached to the Middle Temple. Banks's first play was The Rival Kings of 1677, written in imitation of Nathaniel Lee's The Rival Queens of the same year. Banks followed this with The Destruction of Troy, which was staged by the Duke's Company at their Dorset Garden Theatre in November 1678 and printed the following year. His The Unhappy Favourite, or the Earl of Essex (1682) was his first major success. (John Dryden provided a Prologue and Epilogue.) Banks was considered a crude writer who could nonetheless, at his best, create powerful drama.
His next play, however, was judged more crude than powerful: The Innocent Usurper, based on the life of Lady Jane Grey, was rejected by both the King's Company and the Duke's Company. And his subsequent attempt, The Island Queens, or the Death of Mary Queen of Scotland (1684), was banned on political grounds. (Banks published the play in 1686. It would eventually be staged as The Albion Queens, twenty years after its creation — and would be a hit with its audience.)
Banks did not try the drama again until 1692, when his Virtue Betrayed, or Anna Bullen was another success; it proved to be his most popular play, and was acted as late as 1766. He tried to stage The Innocent Usurper again in 1693, but on this second attempt the play was banned for political reasons. Yet he did get the play published in 1694. His last drama was his Cyrus the Great (inspired by Le Grand Cyrus of Madeleine de Scudéry). The acting companies resisted this work, because of its perceived low quality; but the play proved to be another success once staged, by the King's Company at their Lincoln's Inn Fields theatre.
Banks composed in blank verse, which sets his plays apart from the standard heroic drama of the Restoration theatre by Dryden and others, written in rhymed couplets.
- Stephen, Leslie, and Sidney Lee, eds. The Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. 3. London, Smith and Elder, 1885; pp. 127–8.
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