John O'Keeffe (Irish writer)
Portrait of John O'Keefe by either Thomas or William Lawranson, 1782
|Born||24 June 1747|
|Died||4 February 1833(aged 85)|
John O'Keeffe (June 24, 1747 – February 4, 1833) was an Irish actor and dramatist. He wrote a number of farces and amusing dramatic pieces, many of which had great success. Among these are Tony Lumpkin in Town (1778), Wild Oats (1791), Love in a Camp, and Omai (1785), an account of the voyages of the Tahitian explorer Omai.
O'Keeffe was born in Dublin in 1747 to Roman Catholic parents and was educated by the Jesuits. After showing a talent for drawing he studied art at an Academy in Dublin, but grew increasingly more interested in the theatre. After a two-year trip to London, where he became an admirer of David Garrick, he settled on a career as an actor and playwright. O'Keeffe wrote his first play The She Gallant when he was twenty, and it was performed in Dublin at the Smock Alley Theatre. In 1774 O'Keeffe was married to Mary Heaphy.
In 1777 O'Keefe moved to London. The following year he wrote Tony Lumpkin in Town a sequel to Oliver Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer and sent it to the manager of the Haymarket Theatre. The play was successfully produced, and O'Keefe regularly wrote for the Haymarket thereafter.
Between 1782 and 1796 O'Keefe wrote around 28 plays and comic operas. The Poor Soldier (1783), a comic opera with words and lyrics by O'Keeffe and music by William Shield, was a musical farce about the lives of British soldiers returning home after the American War of Independence. O'Keeffe also wrote The Son-in-Law, Agreeable Surprise which includes the lyrical poem Amo, Amas, and Castle of Andalusia. 
O'Keefe had problems with his eyes ever since he had fallen into the River Liffey in his youth. From the mid-1770s O'Keefe increasingly lost his sight, and from 1781 his plays had to be dictated by him. In spite of this he was a prolific writer and was the most produced playwright in London in the last quarter of the 18th century. Some of his songs set to music by Arnold and Shield, such as I am a Friar of Orders Grey, and The Thorn, are still popular.
In 1800 a benefit performance was staged for him at Covent Garden. In 1826 O'Keefe wrote his memoirs which covered his life experiences and various interactions with the leading artistic figures of his day. The memoirs were dictated to his daughter Adelaide O'Keefe (1776-1865) who oversaw their publication. The same year he was awarded a pension by George IV. He died in 1833 in Southampton and was buried there.
In the 19th century the essayist William Hazlitt described O'Keeffe as the "English Molière" observing "in light, careless laughter and pleasant exaggeration of the humorous, we have no equal to him". His Wild Oats has been revived in 1976, 1995 and 2012, by the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal National Theatre and the Bristol Old Vic respectively.
- The Dutchman Outwitted (1767)
- The She Gallent (1767)
- The Giant's Causeway (1770)
- The Shamrock (1777)
- Tony Lumpkin in Town (1778)
- The Son-in-Law (1779)
- The Banditti (1781)
- The Agreeable Surprise (1781)
- The Castle of Andalusia (1782)
- Harlequin Teague (1782)
- The Lord Mayor's Day (1782)
- The Poor Soldier (1783)
- The Young Quaker (1783)
- Peeping Tom (1784)
- Omai (1785)
- The Blacksmith of Antwerp (1785)
- Love in a Camp (1786)
- The Siege of Curzola (1786)
- The Farmer (1787)
- Wild Oats (1791)
- The Wicklow Mountains (1795)
- Hager p.181-182
- Hager p.182
- Hager p.182
- O'Keefe, John (1808). The Poor Soldier: A Comic Opera, in Two Acts: with all the original songs. New-York: Printed and published by D. Longworth at the Dramatic repository, Shakespeare-Gallery. pp. cover.
- Baines p.256
- Hager p.182
- Baines, Paul & Ferraro, Julian & Rogers, Pat. The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Eighteenth Century Writers and Writing: 1660-1789. Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.
- Hager, Alan. Encyclopedia of British Writers: 16th, 17th & 18th Centuries. Book Builders, 2005.
- The Poor Soldier: A Comic Opera, in Two Acts: with all the original songs, by John O'Keefe (O'Keeffe). A prompter's copy of the dialog and lyrics (no music) digitized from the collections of the New York State Library.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Cousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: J. M. Dent & Sons. Wikisource