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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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Dryden, John

John Dryden

BORN: 1631, Aldwinkle, Northamptonshire, England

DIED: 1700, London, England

NATIONALITY: English

GENRE: Poetry, drama, nonfiction

MAJOR WORKS:
Of Dramatick Poesie (1668)
Absalom and Achitophel (1681)
A Song for St. Cecilia's Day (1687)
The Works of Virgil (1697)

Overview

Regarded by many scholars as the father of modern English poetry and criticism, John Dryden dominated literary life in England during the last four decades of the seventeenth century. Although initially famous for his plays, Dryden is today highly regarded for his critical writings as well as his satirical and didactic poems. Throughout his lengthy, varied career, Dryden fashioned a vital, concise, and refined language that served as a foundation for the writers of English prose and verse who followed him.

Works in Biographical and Historical Context

Childhood during English Civil War Dryden was born August 9, 1631, in Aldwinkle, Northampton-shire, England, to Erasmus Dryden and Mary Pickering, both moderate Puritans. He grew up during the seven-year-long English Civil War, a conflict between the Puritans, who wanted to abolish the monarchy, and the Royalists, who supported the monarchy. A royal scholarship allowed Dryden to attend Westminster School, where he received a classical education and published his first poem.

The Puritans came to power under Oliver Cromwell in 1649, deposing the monarchy and executing King Charles I not a half mile from where Dryden was studying. It is believed that Dryden's lifelong concern for political stability was a result of growing up during the war. In 1650, Dryden began studying at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he earned a bachelor of arts degree. Next, it appears he worked for Cromwell's government, probably in the Office of Latin Secretary along with poets John Milton and Andrew Marvell.

Published First Poems Following Cromwell's death and during the short-lived government of Cromwell's son Richard, Dryden published Heroique Stanza (1658), a group of verses that portray Cromwell as the architect of a great new age. In the following years, Dryden continued to publish politically oriented poems, including the notable Astraea Redux (1660). This poem celebrated Charles II's 1660 return from exile and restoration to the English throne. Dryden's change of position instigated attacks in later years by his literary enemies, who charged him with political inconsistency and selfish motivation.

Popular Playwright Dryden next began a career as a playwright. In 1663, the same year that he married Lady Elizabeth Howard, Dryden's first play, The Wild Gallant, was produced, followed by The Rival Ladies (perhaps acted in 1663), and The Indian-Queen (performed in 1664), a collaboration with his brother-in-law, Sir Robert Howard. The Indian Emperour (1665), Dryden's sequel to The Indian Queen, represents his first entirely original play and was written wholly in rhymed couplets. It was extremely popular.

A few weeks after The Indian Emperor opened, the Second Anglo-Dutch War began (a conflict between England and Holland over commercial interests in Africa, eventually won by the Dutch but with the English gaining the American territory that would become New York). The bubonic plague (a then common infectious bacterial disease that attacks the lungs and lymph nodes and is spread by overcrowding and poor sanitation), which had begun to spread during the same winter, also ravaged London the following spring. Because of these situations, theaters were closed by royal order in June 1665, and they remained so until December of 1666.

Dryden's first important piece of criticism, Of Dramatick Poesie, was published in 1667, but probably written in 1665–1666, when he moved with his family to the country to avoid the plague. Dryden's essay, which examines and challenges theatrical notions, remains the best-known example of his prose, primarily because it is his only freestanding essay not written to commemorate a specific occasion. He soon returned to writing plays and also took on an important post for his country.

Named Poet Laureate In 1668, Dryden became poet laureate of England. Although he had yet to write any of the poems for which he is chiefly remembered today, he had done all the right things, in all the right ways, to make himself the logical choice for the post. By

1668, he was England's leading playwright—in 1667 alone, five of his plays were in production on the London stage. He showed himself to be a loyal defender of the court in Annus Mirabilis (1667), a poem about the naval campaign during the Second Anglo-Dutch War and the Great Fire of London, which had destroyed much of London in 1666. The poem demonstrates his skills at political argument and effectively defends the court against those who blamed disaster on royal immorality. Dryden even lent the king five hundred pounds—a large sum, considering that the stipend for poet laureate was one hundred pounds per year.

Dryden wrote his longest piece of literary criticism, Of Dramatick Poesie, in 1667 as well. Shortly thereafter, he reconsidered his earlier arguments in favor of rhymed play and adopted blank verse, or unrhymed metered poetry. All for Love; or, The World Well Lost (1677), adapted from Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra and written in blank verse, was a great success and solidified Dryden's reputation as the most talented and accomplished writer of the time. In fact, All for Love, performed in 1677, was so highly regarded that it displaced the original Shakespearean play from the English stage for a century.

Dryden was part owner of the Bridges Street Theatre, which was destroyed by a fire on January 25, 1672. He had to contribute toward the construction of a new theater and scene house, and his company was at a serious disadvantage while waiting for those facilities to be constructed. During this time, Dryden wrote a rhyming adaptation of John Milton's Paradise Lost titled The State of Innocence (1673), but it was never performed.

Satire in Later Poems The Popish Plot (1678–81), a thwarted attempt by the Earl of Shaftesbury and others to exclude Charles's Catholic brother, James, from the English throne, provided Dryden with the topic for what critics consider his greatest work, Absalom and Achitophel (1681). This poem is a satirical attack on Shaftesbury and his confederates. This work launched a phase of satirical and didactic verse that directly influenced the development of Augustan poetry in the next century, especially that of Alexander Pope. Dryden's first major satire was followed in 1682 by Mac Flecknoe, a mock-heroic poem. Related to Absalom and Achitophel in tone, Mac Flecknoe displays Dryden's mastery of word order, rhythm, and cunning verbal attack. The same year, he debuted a shorter, more serious satiric poem titled The Medall, which again was aimed at Shaftesbury, who escaped sentencing for treason.

As political and religious matters repeatedly overlapped in Dryden's time, an era much concerned with the question of whether Protestant or Roman Catholic monarchs were the legitimate rulers of Britain, it is not surprising that Dryden also began to address religious issues during this period of national turmoil. Religio Laici; or, A Layman's Faith (1682) appeared when new plots to assassinate the king were being formed. In this poem, Dryden proclaimed a compromise between Anglicans and the Roman Catholic belief in the absolute authority of the pope, clearly expressing the king's stance in favor of religious toleration.

Catholic Convert In 1685, James II ascended the English throne and soon enacted a declaration of toleration, placing many of his sympathizers in high government positions. Within the first year of James's reign, Dryden converted from Protestantism to Catholicism. Once he converted, the man who had argued for the Anglican cause in Religio Laici daringly published a poem arguing for the Catholic cause, The Hind and the Panther (1687). Written in beast-fable form, the poem presents a long theological debate between a milk-white hind, representing the Roman Church, and a spotted panther, representing the Anglican Church. As he might have expected, his enemies gleefully noticed the conflicting positions taken in these poems, and, although Religio Laici was greeted by public indifference when first published, it was resurrected and used as a weapon against him. When James was deposed in 1688, Dryden refused to swear allegiance to the new government; consequently, he lost his position as poet laureate.

LITERARY AND HISTORICAL CONTEMPORARIES

Dryden's famous contemporaries include:

Nell Gwyn (c. 1650–1687): One of the first English actresses, Gwyn was a famous mistress of King Charles II.

Louis Jolliet (1645–1700): Along with Father Jacques Marquette, this Canadian explorer was the first to explore and map the Mississippi River.

Andrew Marvell (1621–1678): This English poet of the metaphysical school is best known today for his poem “To His Coy Mistress” (1681).

John Milton (1608–1674): Milton, a Protestant English poet, is famous for the blank-verse epic Paradise Lost (1667).

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669): This Dutch painter and etcher sought to achieve, in his words, “the greatest and most natural movement.”

Joost van den Vondel (1587–1679): A Dutch playwright, van den Vondel advocated religious tolerance, as he was a convert from Protestantism to Catholicism himself.

During his last years, Dryden wrote the widely anthologized odes A Song for St. Cecilia's Day (1687) and Alexander's Feast (1697), in addition to completing five more plays. Primarily, however, he concentrated on translation, completing The Works of Virgil (1697) and Fables Ancient and Modern (1700). In all of his

translations, Dryden's goal was to paraphrase rather than reproduce while still capturing the individuality of the original work. Linguistic purists have harshly criticized Dryden for continually changing word order and narrative sense. Yet his translation of Virgil's works, particularly the Aeneid, is regarded as a monumental undertaking that, if not always exact, is nevertheless largely representative of the Latin original. Fables Ancient and Modern is similarly regarded as a lasting work of translation.

Dryden died in London on May 1, 1700, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Works in Literary Context

Dryden was an influential poet and playwright in his time, and his works often reflected the tumultuous period in British history in which he lived. His most long-lasting contribution, however, may be in his criticism, as he played a key role in developing the modern English process of examining literature. In all his literary productions, Dryden is both the conservative, ever concerned with the past, and the innovator, looking ahead to the future of English literature.

Criticism John Dryden's plays include prologues, prefaces, and dedications in which he analyzes the works of John Fletcher, Francis Beaumont, Ben Jonson, Shakespeare, and even himself while discussing the English theater, the difficulties of representing life on the stage, and the merits and drawbacks of rhyme. In so doing, Dryden began the English tradition of practical criticism. While critics of his time were preoccupied with issues of morality, immorality, and uplifting the reader or audience, Dryden wrote objectively and systematically about the literature itself. Through a natural, conversational prose style, he discussed works in the context of literary tradition, generic form, technical innovation, and effectiveness of presentation, all of which became the standard for literary critical investigations.

In Dryden's satirical and didactic poems, he created the extended form of objective analysis that has come to characterize most modern criticism. In his satire, he displayed an irrepressible wit and forceful line of argument that later satirists adopted as their model. Samuel Johnson, who first called Dryden the father of English criticism, considered him the English poet who crystallized the potential for beauty and majesty in the English language: According to Johnson, “[Dryden] found it brick, and he left it marble.”

Influence Thus as a critic, he developed a combination of methods that proved useful to critics hundreds of years later. Although his major works are not as widely known today as those of some of his contemporaries, his influence on English literature extends beyond the fame of any particular piece. Dryden dominated the Restoration period, and his language and ideas have served as a foundation for the writers of English prose and verse for centuries, making Dryden one of the greatest forces in English literary history.

Works in Critical Context

Dryden reached a level of achievement rarely equaled or surpassed in English literature. Frequent comparisons with his most celebrated literary descendant, Alexander Pope, almost unanimously affirm Dryden's superiority in metrical innovation, imagination, and style, though Pope's works are more widely known.

COMMON HUMAN EXPERIENCE

Dryden based his Fables on collections by Ovid, Boccaccio, and Chaucer. Fables generally have a moral attached and make their point by featuring animals, plants, and other nonhuman subjects. Here are some collections of fables from around the world:

Ancient Chinese Fables (1996), a compilation of fables by Lie Ze, translated by Yang Xianyi. This collection includes more than one hundred Chinese fables from the fourth century B.C.E. to the seventeenth century C.E.

An Argosy of Fables (2004), a collection of fables by Frederic Taber Cooper. Originally compiled in 1921, this wide-ranging collection includes ancient and contemporary fables from Greece, India, Asia, and the Americas.

Classic Tales and Fables for Children (2001), a compilation of stories by Leo Tolstoy. The nineteenth-century Russian novelist famous for the novel War and Peace presents free translations of Aesop's fables and Hindu fables, as well as an original tale.

Moral Fables and Other Poems (1995), by Giovanni Meli, translated into English by Gaetano Cipolla. Fables from Sicily and Italy are translated with the Italian and English versions facing each other.

The Dramas Of all Dryden's works, his dramas have been accorded the least acclaim since his death. With the exception of a few of his more than thirty plays, such as All for Love and Marriage-a-la-Mode, his productions have vanished from the English stage. This, according to critics, is perhaps largely due to his devotion to the heroic play, a form that attained its greatest expression through him but radically declined in public appeal. In addition, Dryden's comedies, although filled with witty repartee and many memorable characters, have been found lacking in truly comic scenes or effective explorations of human emotion. Not until the early twentieth century, when studies by T. S. Eliot and Mark Van Doren, along with Montague Summers's six-volume collection of Dryden's Dramatic Works appeared, did Dryden's plays receive favorable reassessments.

Responses to Literature

  1. Do you know anyone who has converted to a different religion? Do you think you would ever do so? Why or why not?
  2. Write your own fable for today's world. What point do you want to make? Remember to use nonhumans as your characters.
  3. Read a satirical news story on The Onion Web site (www.theonion.com). Research mainstream news coverage of that story or issue. Write an essay analyzing what specifically is satirized, why, and how.
  4. Research the Great Fire of London. Create a map showing London before the fire and after it. What neighborhoods were most affected? How long did it take to rebuild?

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Books

Eliot, T. S. John Dryden: The Poet, the Dramatist, the Critic. New York: Holliday, 1932.

Frost, William. Dryden and the Art of Translation. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1955.

Miner, Earl. Dryden's Poetry. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1967.

Reverand, Cedric D. Dryden's Final Poetic Mode: The “Fables.” Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988.

Sloman, Judith. Dryden: The Poetics of Translation. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985.

Winn, James Anderson. John Dryden and His World. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1987

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

Periodicals

Empson, William. “Dryden's Apparent Scepticism.” Essays in Criticism 20 (April 1970): 172–81.

Fujimura, Thomas H. “Dryden's Changing Political Views.” Restoration 10 (Fall 1986): 93–104.

Hume, Robert. “Dryden on Creation: ‘Imagination’ in the Later Criticism.” Review of English Studies 21 (August 1970): 295–314.

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