Nathaniel Lee (c. 1653 – 6 May 1692) was an
dramatist. He was the son of Dr Richard Lee, a
Presbyterian clergyman who was rector of Hatfield and held many preferments under the
Commonwealth; Dr Lee was chaplain to
George Monck, afterwards Duke of Albemarle, but after the
Restoration he conformed to the
Church of England, and withdrew his approval for
Charles I's execution.
Lee was educated at
Westminster School (though some sources say
Charterhouse School), and at
Trinity College, Cambridge, taking his
B.A. degree in 1668.
 Coming to
London, perhaps under the patronage of
George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, he tried to earn his living as an actor, but acute stage fright made this impossible. His earliest play, Nero, Emperor of Rome, was acted in 1675 at
Drury Lane. Two tragedies written in rhymed heroic couplets, in imitation of
John Dryden, followed in 1676: Sophonisba, or Hannibal's Overthrow and Gloriana, or the Court of Augustus Caesar. Both are extravagant in design and treatment.
as Roxana in Lee's "The Rival Queens" (Drury Lane Theatre, February 1777)
Lee's reputation was made in 1677 with a
blank verse tragedy,
The Rival Queens, or the Death of Alexander the Great. The play, which deals with the jealousy of
Alexander's first wife,
Roxana, for his second wife,
Statira, was a favourite on the English stage right up to the days of
Edmund Kean. Lee followed this with Mithridates, King of Pontus (acted 1678);
Theodosius, or the Force of Love (acted 1680); and Caesar Borgia (acted 1680), an imitation of the worst blood and thunder Elizabethan tragedies. Lee was also named as a collaborator with Dryden in an adaptation of
Oedipus (1679). The Princess of Cleve (1681) is an adaptation of
Madame de La Fayette's 1678 novel of the
same name. The Massacre of Paris was written about this time but not published until 1690.
Lucius Junius Brutus, Father of His Country (acted 1681) gave offence at court. The play was suppressed after its third representation for some lines on
Tarquin's character that were taken to be a reflection on
King Charles II. He therefore joined Dryden in The Duke of Guise (1683), a play which directly advocated the
Tory point of view. In it part of the
Massacre of Paris was incorporated. Lee was now thirty, and had already achieved a considerable reputation. Constantine the Great (acted 1684) followed.
He had lived in the dissipated society of
John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester and his associates, and imitated their excesses. As he grew more disreputable, his patrons neglected him, and by 1684 his mind was allegedly completely unhinged. He spent five years in the notorious
Bedlam Hospital. He lamented his situation with the following missive: "They called me mad, and I called them mad, and damn them, they outvoted me".
 He recovered and was released.
Lee died in a drunken fit in 1692. He was buried on 6 May in
St. Clement Danes,
Lee's Dramatic Works were published in 1734. In spite of their extravagance, they contain many passages of great beauty.Copies of Lees books remain sought after in bibliographic circles.