Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Philips, William

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PHILIPS, WILLIAM (d. 1734), dramatist, was son of George Philips of Londonderry [q. v.], and at an early age applied himself to writing for the stage. A tragedy, entitled ‘The Revengeful Queen’ (London, 1698, 8vo), acted at Drury Lane in 1698, is the first ascribed to him. The subject was taken from Machiavelli's ‘History of Florence,’ and the scene was laid in Verona. The piece has resemblances to D'Avenant's ‘Albovine, King of the Lombards,’ of which Philips, in the printed edition, says he was ignorant until he had completed his own work (Genest, Hist. Account, ii. 142). Philips's next play was ‘St. Stephen's Green, or the Generous Lovers,’ a comedy in five acts; it was performed at the Theatre Royal, Dublin, and printed in that city in 1700. In the last act a musical dialogue in verse was introduced; the scene throughout was in Dublin. The author, in a dedication to William O'Brien, earl of Inchiquin, mentioned that the play had been favourably received by the public. Copies of this work are rare. A tragedy, by Philips, entitled ‘Hibernia Freed,’ was produced with success, on 13 Feb. 1722, at the Theatre Royal, Lincoln's Inn Fields, and published in 8vo, London, 1722. The subject was the liberation of Ireland and its monarch, O'Brien, from the tyranny of ‘Turgesius,’ a Danish invader. The capture and deaths of the Dane and his associates were represented to have been effected by armed young men, attired as maidens. The part of ‘Turgesius’ was acted by Quin, who also spoke the prologue, and the epilogue was delivered by Mrs. Bullock (ib. iii. 79–80). Philips dedicated this play to Henry O'Brien, earl of Thomond. On 14 April 1722 another of Philips's tragedies, ‘Belisarius’ (London, 1724, 8vo), was performed at Lincoln's Inn Fields, and repeated six times. It contains the line, spoken by the hero, ‘Who will give an obolus to relieve my wants?’ which seems to have become a slang phrase in the form ‘Give a penny to Belisarius the general.’ Gibbon quotes the expression in his account of Belisarius, and says it is due to an historical misconception (ib. iii. 146–7). Another tragedy, ‘Alcamenes and Menelippa,’ is ascribed to Philips in William Mears's ‘Catalogue of Plays’ (1713). He died on 12 Dec. 1734 (Gent. Mag. 1734, p. 703).

[Ware's Writers of Ireland, 1746; Biographia Dramatica, London, 1812; O'Donoghue's Poets of Ireland, p. 204; Plays by Philips.]

J. T. G.