Nahum Tate was born in Dublin, the son of a Protestant minister who in 1641 had had his house burnt down in 1641 for informing on Irish Catholics during their abortive rebellion. Nahum followed his father in attending Trinity College, Dublin, entering in 1668 and graduating with a Bachelor’s degree four years later. In 1676 he moved to London, where having changed his surname from Teate to Tate, he published his first volume of poems in 1677.
Much of Tate’s early work was as a playwright and in 1678 he wrote a tragedy, Brutus of Alba, or The Enchanted Lover. He adapted several of Shakespeare’s plays, the most famous being The History of King Lear, and collaborated with several of the leading playwrights of the day, such as Webster and Fletcher, on many others. He also wrote the prologue to Dryden’s verse play, The Loyal General. In 1682 he collaborated with Dryden to complete his epic poem Absolom and Achitophel and also wrote the libretto for Henry Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas. He collaborated with Nicholas Brady, an Irish clergyman and poet and one of his contemporaries at Trinity, on a New Version of the Psalms of David.
He also wrote two of England’s best loved hymns, While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks and As Pants the Hart for Cooling Streams and the poem Panacea, on the subject of tea. In 1692 he had the honour of succeeding Thomas Shadwell as poet laureate. He died in London in 1715, having spent his last few years in reduced circumstances.