John Dryden

Definition

Theater

  • (1631 - 1700) English poet, critic, and dramatist, responsiblefor nearly 30 plays. He was noted both for his elegant comedies andhis heroic verse dramas, which introduced the principles of Frenchneoclassicism to England (see neoclassical drama).

    Dryden turned to drama following the reopening of the theatersat the Restoration; his first attempt, the comedy The Wild Gallant,was presented in 1663 at Drury Lane. The success of his heroic dramaThe Indian Emperor in 1665 established him as a leading playwright.

    Another heroic drama, Almanzor and Almahide (1670),was burlesqued in Buckingham's The Rehearsal (1671), whichridiculed the play, the genre, and Dryden himself. When an actresspaused with a distressed look after speaking Dryden's line, "Mywound is great - because it is so small," Buckingham issaid to have risen in his box and added sarcastically, "Then'twould be greater, were it none at all." This roused the audienceto hiss the woman from the stage. Following Aureng-Zebe (1675),perhaps his best heroic work, Dryden abandoned the use of rhymingcouplets, producing the oft-revived blank-verse tragedy All ForLove (a retelling of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra)in 1677.

    Dryden was the first to write drama criticism in an informalmodern style and the first to attempt a history of English drama inhis essay Of Dramatick Poesie (1668). He eventually tired ofplaywriting, admitting in 1675 that "many of my Predecessorshave excell'd me in all kinds; and some of my Contemporaries...haveout-done me in Comedy." His final plays, such as the tragicomedyLove Triumphant (1694), were written to relieve financial problemsafter his fortunes fell with the abdication of James II. see alsoLisideius.

    If Dryden's plays had been as good as their prefaces he wouldhave been a dramatist indeed.
    Harley Granville-Barker: On Dramatic Method
    His mind was of a slovenly character - fond of splendour,but indifferent to neatness. Hence most of his writings exhibit thesluttish magnificence of a Russian noble, all vermin diamonds, dirtylinen, and inestimable sables.
    Lord Macaulay: 'John Dryden' in the EdinburghReview (1828)
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