See study by C. Spencer (1972).
(born 1652, Dublin, Ire.—died July 30, 1715, London, Eng.) Irish-English poet and playwright. After graduating from Trinity College, Dublin, Tate moved to London. Though he wrote plays of his own, he is best known for his adaptations of Elizabethan works, notably William Shakespeare's King Lear, with a happy ending, which was performed well into the 19th century. He wrote the libretto for Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas (1689?) and collaborated with Nicholas Brady in A New Version of the Psalms of David (1696). The best of his own poems is “Panacea: A Poem upon Tea” (1700). He became England's poet laureate in 1692.
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In William Shakespeare's Richard II he altered the names of the characters, and changed the text so that every scene, to use his own words, was "full of respect to Majesty and the dignity of courts"; but in spite of these precautions The Sicilian Usurper (1681), as his rewrite was called, was suppressed on the third representation on account of a possible political interpretation.
King Lear (1687) was fitted with a happy ending in a marriage between Cordelia and Edgar; and Coriolanus became the Ingratitude of a Commonwealth (1682). From John Fletcher he adapted The Island Princess (1687); from Chapman and Marston's Eastward Ho he derived The Cuckold's Haven (1685); in 1707 he rewrote John Webster's White Devil; and Sir Aston Cockayne's Trappolin suppos'd a Prince he imitated in Duke and no Duke (1685).
Tate's name is chiefly connected with these plays and with the famous New Version of the Psalms of David (1696), in which he collaborated with Nicholas Brady. A supplement was licensed in 1703. Some of these hymns, notably "While Shepherds watched", and "As pants the hart,, rise above the general level, and are said to be Tate's work.
Tate wrote the words to a number of hymns, of which the most famous is the Christmas carol "Song of the Angels at the Nativity of our Blessed Saviour", more famously known by its opening line "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks". Tate wrote the libretto for Henry Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas in 1689. He also wrote the text for Purcell's Ode "Come ye Sons of Art" in 1694. In 1682 Tate collaborated with John Dryden to complete the second half of his epic poem Absalom and Achitophel.
Of his numerous poems the most original is Panacea, a poem on Tea (1700). In spite of his consistent Toryism, he succeeded Shadwell as poet laureate in 1692. He died within the precincts of the Mint, Southwark, where he had taken refuge from his creditors, in 1715.
In 1985, the Riverside Shakespeare Company of New York City staged Tate's The History of King Lear in its original form, "happy ending" and all, directed by W. Stuart McDowell at The Shakespeare Center. This included removing the Fool altogether, adding a confidante for Cordelia, named Arante, as well as an "abduction" scene of Cordelia on the heath. The play concluded with multiple happy endings: for Lear and Kent, and Cordelia and Edgar, who presumably wed after the play's conclusion. Musical interludes were sung by cast members during the act breaks, accompanied by a harpsichord in the orchestra pit. (For more information about this, see Riverside Shakespeare Company, and King Lear.)