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John Dryden

John Dryden

The English author John Dryden (1631-1700) is best known as a poet and critic. He also wrote almost 30 plays and was one of the great dramatists of his time.

John Dryden was born on Aug. 9, 1631, in Aldwinckle, Northamptonshire, in the parsonage of All Saints Church, where his maternal grandfather was rector. His family were supporters of Oliver Cromwell and comfortably situated. When Dryden was 15, he was sent to London to Westminster School to study under the celebrated headmaster, Dr. Richard Busby, who was known both for his rigorous discipline and for his ability to instill in his students a knowledge of Latin and Greek.

In 1649 while still at Westminster, Dryden published his first poem, "Upon the Death of Lord Hastings." The next year he was admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge. While at Trinity he published a poem in honor of a friend, John Hoddesdon, but there is no evidence that his university career was especially dedicated to poetry. In 1654, the year he earned a bachelor of arts degree, his father died, leaving him family property that yielded an income of about £40 a year. After his father's death Dryden seems to have settled in London as secretary to his cousin Sir Gilbert Pickering, but there is no record of his activities until 1659, when his third poem, "Heroic Stanzas to the Glorious Memory of Cromwell," was published.

Shortly after the death of Cromwell, Charles II was restored to the throne. Although Dryden had been brought up to support the parliamentary party, he was evidently weary of the chaos and disorder that followed upon Cromwell's death, for in 1660 he welcomed the King with his poem "Astraea redux." The following year he offered a second tribute, "To his Sacred Majesty," to celebrate Charles II's coronation. He was criticized for changing his political allegiance, but he never withdrew the loyalty proclaimed in these two poems, although it would have been advantageous for him to do so in 1688, when William III came to the throne.

Early Career

After the Restoration, Dryden settled into the business of playwriting. In the early months of 1663 his first play, The Wild Gallant, was produced, but it proved a failure. Late in that year he married Lady Elizabeth Howard, the sister of his friend Sir Robert Howard. The Howard family were of considerable means and had long supported the royalist cause.

Some of Dryden's most successful plays belong to a type peculiar to his own age called the heroic play. These were spectacular productions featuring exotic characters who defended their honor and proclaimed their love in rhyming couplets. Although the heroic themes of these plays were similar to those of Pierre Corneille, the sensational plots generally were derived from earlier English dramatists such as Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher. In 1665 Dryden collaborated with his brother-in-law, Sir Robert, on a heroic play, The Indian Queen. It was such a success that Dryden immediately wrote a sequel called The Indian Emperor.

In the summer of 1665 the plague hit London, and the theaters were closed. Dryden and his wife moved to the Howards' country estate at Charleton, Wiltshire. Here Dryden occupied himself with the writing of a long poem on the Dutch War and the London fire, Annus mirabilis, and a critical essay in prose, An Essay of Dramatic Poesy. He also wrote a play, Secret Love.

The years following the plague proved prosperous for Dryden. Both Secret Love and The Indian Emperor, whose performance had been delayed by the closing of the theaters, enjoyed great popularity. Dryden came to be regarded as the leading dramatist of the age. In 1667 he brought forth Sir Martin Mar-All, a new comedy adapted from Molière. He also accepted Sir William Davenant's invitation to collaborate on an operatic version of Shakespeare's Tempest. In 1668 the King's Company made him a shareholder in return for his promise to give them three plays a year. When Davenant died in the spring of 1668, Dryden was designated poet laureate and historiographer royal.

Heroic Plays

The years following Dryden's appointment as laureate brought his greatest heroic plays. In 1669 he produced Tyrannic Love, a play based on the life of St. Catherine. The next year saw the production of The Conquest of Granada, his most famous heroic play. Dryden continued to write dramas of this type, but it soon became apparent that he was weary of writing for the stage and tastes other than his own. He had, in fact, been eager for some time to undertake the writing of an epic poem. He had worked with epic materials in Annus mirabilis and the heroic plays and had even turned John Milton's Paradise Lost into an opera called The State of Innocence (1674); but the necessity of supporting himself by writing what would prove popular for the stage had deprived him of leisure to pursue his private poetical interests.

In 1676, in his dedication of his final heroic play, Aureng-Zebe, to the Earl of Mulgrave, Dryden expressed his discontent with the stage and begged the earl for the financial support necessary to pursue epic poetry. In 1677 he received a warrant for an additional £100 to his salary as poet laureate. This would have provided a reasonable income, but Charles's treasury was low, and Dryden was forced to abandon his epic dream because he was able to claim only about half of the £300 due him annually.

Dryden was still under contract to the King's Company. In 1677 he gave them his All for Love, an adaptation of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. Although its reception was not enthusiastic, it is generally regarded as his finest dramatic achievement. Its lack of acclaim may have been due in part to the deterioration of the King's Company, which was in financial distress. Subsequently Dryden shifted his activities to the Duke's Theatre, where his comedy Limberham, his adaptation of Troilus and Cressida, and his tragedy Oedipus (written in collaboration with Nathaniel Lee) were performed in 1678.

The Satires

Shortly after joining the Duke's Company, Dryden attacked the dullness of his fellow playwright Thomas Shadwell in MacFlecknoe. The attack seems to have been unprovoked, and the bitterness aroused by this unsolicited lampoon was heightened by political differences between the two playwrights. Dryden was a royalist; Shadwell was a Whig and a supporter of the Earl of Shaftesbury, who was scheming among the Whigs to have Charles II's brother, the Catholic Duke of York, excluded from succession to the throne. Dryden was apparently commissioned by the King to expose the treason of the Whig sedition and the presumption of Shaftesbury, and he produced two of the finest political satires in English—Absalom and Achitophel (1681) and The Medal (1682). His next poem, Religio laici (1682), while nominally a defense of the authority of the English Church, was in effect also a satire on the unreason of all who dissented.

When Charles II died in 1685, Dryden was reappointed laureate by James II. At this time Dryden became a Catholic and in 1687 wrote a public apology for his new religion, The Hind and the Panther. Although his enemies accused him of accommodating his faith to that of his king in order to secure preferment, there is no evidence that James influenced Dryden's conversion. His adherence to his new faith after 1688 cost him the laureateship. During James's short reign Dryden was occupied primarily with poetry. He translated selections from Latin poets such as Virgil, Horace, and Lucretius. He also wrote several fine lyric odes: "Threnodia Augustalis," in memory of Charles II, "To the Memory of Anne Killigrew," and "A Song for St. Cecilia's Day."

In 1688, when William III appointed Shadwell poet laureate, Dryden was forced to return to the theater to earn a living. He produced a number of plays—Don Sebastian (1689), Amphitryon (1690), and Cleomenes (1690)—none of which was notably successful. He then turned to translating, which proved more profitable. His greatest translations were probably the Satires of Juvenal and Persius (1692), the Works of Virgil (1697), and the Fables (1700), a collection of tales from Ovid, Giovanni Boccaccio, and Geoffrey Chaucer. He was the first English author to earn his living by his writing. Dryden died on May 1, 1700.

Further Reading

The standard biography of Dryden is Charles E. Ward, The Life of John Dryden (1961). Sir Walter Scott's account in The Works of John Dryden (18 vols., 1808; revised and edited by George Saintsbury, 1882-1893) is also excellent. The best critical study of Dryden's poetry is Earl Miner, Dryden's Poetry (1967). Two recent studies of the heroic plays are Arthur C. Kirsch, Dryden's Heroic Drama (1965), and Selma Zebouni, Dryden: A Study in Heroic Characterization (1965).

Additional Sources

Hammond, Paul, John Dryden: a literary life, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991.

Hollis, Christopher, Dryden, Norwood, Pa.: Norwood Editions, 1977.

Winn, James Anderson, John Dryden and his world, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987. □

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Dryden, John (1631–1700)

DRYDEN, JOHN (16311700)

DRYDEN, JOHN (16311700), English poet, playwright, critic, and translator. Dryden was born on 9 August 1631 at Aldwinkle, Northamptonshire, the son of Erasmus Dryden and Mary (nee Pickering). He was educated at Westminster School, London, and Trinity College, Cambridge. His first poem was an elegy published in Lachrymae Musarum (1649), a collection mourning the death of Henry, Lord Hastings. Although his family had Parliamentarian allegiances, Dryden was taught at Westminster by the charismatic Royalist Richard Busby, whose influence is evident in this early elegy.

The death of his father in 1654 left Dryden in need of a regular income to maintain himself in London. From 1658 he was employed by Cromwell's government; he also worked for the publisher Henry Herringman. On Cromwell's death he published "Heroic Stanzas" in Three Poems upon the Death of his Late Highness Oliver (1659), but he was probably more comfortable with Astraea Redux (1660) and To his Sacred Majesty, A Panegyric on his Coronation (1661), written after the return of Charles II. In 1662 Dryden was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, and in 1663 he married Elizabeth Howard, daughter of the earl of Berkshire and sister of Sir Robert Howard, with whom he lodged in the early 1660s.

Howard probably introduced his brother-inlaw to the King's Company, who produced Dryden's first comedy, The Wild Gallant, at the Theatre Royal, Vere Street, on 5 February 1663. Although this play failed, The Indian Queen (1664), a collaboration with Howard, was a success, and Dryden began to write regularly for the King's Company, of whom he became a shareholder in 1668. Of his twenty-seven plays, the best known include the two-part heroic play The Conquest of Granada (December 1670/January 1671), the sparkling Marriage A-la-Mode (1671), the heroic tragedy Aureng-Zebe (1675), All For Love (1677), the finest neoclassical tragedy of its day, and the late tragicomedy Don Sebastian (1689). He also wrote in collaboration with Sir William Davenant a highly popular adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest (1667). Less successful was The State of Innocence, his 1674 attempt to adapt his former colleague John Milton's Paradise Lost as an opera, which the King's Company could not afford to stage. Dryden also wrote substantial works of poetic and dramatic theory, notably Of Dramatic Poesy: An Essay (1667).

Following the publication of his mythologizing account of King Charles in Annus Mirabilis: The Year of Wonders, 1666 (1667), Dryden was appointed poet laureate on 13 April 1668. On 18 August 1670 he was appointed historiographer royal. He kept both offices until the accession of William and Mary in January 1689. Despite his public honors, Dryden's career was rarely free from aesthetic, political, or religious controversy. He squabbled with Howard over the merits of rhyme, was satirized as Mr. Bayes in the duke of Buckingham's play The Rehearsal (1671), and was physically assaulted by unknown assailants in 1679, perhaps as a result of an exchange with the earl of Rochester. His feud with Thomas Shadwell over the theory of comedy escalated into personal abuse. Lampooned in Shadwell's comedy The Virtuoso (1676), Dryden responded with the mock panegyric Mac Flecknoe, which satirized Shadwell and Richard Flecknoe (printed 1682).

Absalom and Achitophel (1681) is one of the greatest political poems of the period. It was inspired by the Exclusion Crisis, a period of political and religious turmoil seemingly sparked by a parliamentary attempt, led by the earl of Shaftesbury, to exclude Charles's Catholic brother James, duke of York, from the succession in favor of the king's illegitimate son, James, duke of Monmouth, who was Protestant. Dryden depicts Monmouth as Absalom, the rebellious son of David (King Charles) and satirizes Shaftesbury as the evil counselor Achitophel. The Medal (1682) was a further attack on Shaftesbury, and Dryden mined similar themes in The Duke of Guise (1682), a collaboration with Nathaniel Lee. His conversion to Catholicism in 1685 occasioned a number of attacks; Dryden defended himself and his coreligionists in The Hind and the Panther (1687). Following the revolution of December 1688, plays such as King Arthur (1691) and Love Triumphant (1694) are marked by a covert Jacobinism.

In his later years Dryden wrote fine occasional verse and a number of pindaric odes, notably Threnodia Augustalis (1685), To the Pious Memory. . . of Mrs Ann Killigrew (1686), and Alexander's Feast; Or the Power of Music (1697). He also turned increasingly to translation, notably The Satires of Juvenal and Persius (1693), The Works of Virgil (1697), and Fables Ancient and Modern (1700), which also included original works such as "The Secular Masque." Dryden died on 1 May 1700, and was at first buried in St Anne's, Soho; he was reinterred in Westminster Abbey on 13 May.

See also Drama: English ; English Literature and Language .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Primary Source

Hooker, Edward Niles, H. T. Swedenberg, Jr., and Vinton A. Dearing, gen. eds., The Works of John Dryden. 20 vols. Berkeley, 19562000.

Secondary Sources

Hammond, Paul. John Dryden: A Literary Life. New York, 1991.

Hammond, Paul, and David Hopkins, eds., John Dryden: Tercentenary Essays. Oxford and New York, 2000.

Winn, James Anderson. John Dryden and his World. New Haven and London, 1987.

Zwicker, Steven N. Politics and Language in Dryden's Poetry: The Arts of Disguise. Princeton, 1984.

Lucy Munro

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Dryden, John

John Dryden, 1631–1700, English poet, dramatist, and critic, b. Northamptonshire, grad. Cambridge, 1654. He went to London about 1657 and first came to public notice with his Heroic Stanzas (1659), commemorating the death of Oliver Cromwell. The following year, however, he celebrated the restoration of Charles II with Astraea Redux. In 1662 he was elected to the Royal Society, and in 1663 he married Lady Elizabeth Howard. His long poem on the Dutch War, Annus Mirabilis, appeared in 1667. The following year he became poet laureate. He had a long and varied career as a dramatist. His most notable plays include the heroic dramas, The Conquest of Granada (2 parts, 1670–71) and Aurenz-Zebe (1675); his blank-verse masterpiece, All for Love (1677), a retelling of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra; and the comedy Marriage à la Mode (1672). His great political satire on Monmouth and Shaftesbury, Absalom and Achitophel, appeared in two parts (1681, 1682). It was followed by MacFlecknoe (1682), an attack on Thomas Shadwell, and Religio Laici (1682), a poetical exposition of the Protestant layman's creed. In 1687, however, Dryden announced his conversion to Roman Catholicism in The Hind and the Panther. The preceding poems, as well as his Pindaric odes, "Alexander's Feast" and "Ode to the Memory of Mrs. Anne Killigrew," place him among the most notable English poets. With the accession of the Protestant William III, Dryden lost his laureateship and court patronage. Throughout his life he wrote brilliant critical prefaces, prologues, and discourses, dealing with the principles of literary excellence. The best example is his Essay of Dramatic Poesy (1668). The last part of his life was occupied largely with translations from Juvenal, Vergil, and others. A 21-volume edition of his complete works was begun in 1956 under the general editorship of E. N. Hooker and H. T. Swedenberg.

See biography by C. E. Ward (1961); studies by L. I. Brevold (1953), M. Van Doren (1920, repr. 1969), J. and H. Kinsley, ed. (1971), A. C. Kirsch (1965, repr. 1972), E. Miner, ed. (1973); J. M. Hall (1984).

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Dryden, John

Dryden, John (1631–1700). English poet, playwright, and critic. Dryden's influence on contemporary political poetry was marked. Educated at Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge, Dryden came from a ‘middling’ landed family, but made a living from his writing. After commemorating Oliver Cromwell's death in Heroic Stanzas (1658), Dryden turned to celebration of the Restoration of Charles II and the early successes of his reign in a series of poems, Astraea Redux (1660), To His Sacred Majesty (1661), and Annus Mirabilis (1667), as well as writing numerous important and popular tragedies, comedies, and tragi-comedies, and seminal critical works such as Of Dramatick Poesie (1668). Appointed poet laureate in 1668 and historiographer-royal in 1670, Dryden continued to support the king, most notably at the height of the Exclusion crisis with Absalom and Achitophel (1681). Other significant poems of this period include the first English mock-heroic, Mac Flecknoe (1682), a witty and malicious demolition of his fellow-playwright Thomas Shadwell, and Religio Laici (1682), a defence of Anglicanism. However, Dryden converted to catholicism on the accession of James II, writing a religious allegory, The Hind and the Panther (1687), as a sort of justification. Stripped of his offices in 1688, he returned with success to the theatre, and began a brilliant series of translations from the classics, particularly Virgil's Aeneid and The Georgics. Scarcely surprisingly, given his political position, critics have discerned hidden Jacobite meanings in most of Dryden's later writings, including the magnificent Fables Ancient and Modern, published in the year of his death.

J. A. Downie

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Dryden, John

Dryden, John (1631–1700) English poet and playwright. He became known for his Heroic Stanzas on Oliver Cromwell's death (1658); diplomatically followed by Astraea Redux (1660), praising Charles II. He was poet laureate from 1668 to 1688, when James II was ousted in the Glorious Revolution. Other poems include Annus Mirabilis (1667), the satires Absalom and Achitophel (1681), the allegory The Hind and the Panther (1687), and the ode Alexander's Feast (1693). Dryden also wrote numerous fine plays, his best-known are All for Love (1678) and Marriage á la mode (1673).

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