John Dryden (1631-1700)

John Dryden (1631-1700)
Dryden was the greatest poet and critic of the Restoration Period. He belonged to a rich Puritan Family. He studied at Westminster and at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was one of the most educated men of his time. He settled down in London in 1657. In 1663, he began to work for the stage which was then the only profitable field for anyone who had to depend on his livelihood on the pen. Playwriting continued to be his chief profession for around fifteen years. He was appointed the Poet Laureate for his literary services. With the coming of Charles II, the theatres were reopened, and Dryden’s genius in playwriting flourished. In 1685, he turned into a Catholic, and refusing to abandon his new faith after 1688, he was stripped of the laureateship and other royal titles conferred on him earlier. Since all his hopes of official recognition were now destroyed, he devoted himself for his remaining years to literature with praiseworthy courage and industry.

His main works are:

(a) Heroic Stanzas (1659): Dryden eulogized Oliver Cromwell who had died in 1658 in this poem. The poem showed signs of Puritanism in it. The stanzas are crude and bombastic.

(b) Astraea Redux (1660): Dryden played the role of an opportunist by welcoming Charles II and by celebrating the ‘happy restoration’.

(c) Panegyric (1661): He welcomed the return of the king in it.

(d) Annus Mirabilis (1667): It is this work that made Dryden extremely popular. The book describes the great London fire and war with England. This also shows the matchless narrative power of Dryden.

(e) Absalom and Achitophel (1681): It is a political satire, written amid the excitement following the alleged Poppish Plot, to defend the king’s policy against the Earl of Shaftsbury. It is especially famous for its powerful character studies.

(f) The Medal (1682): It was a further attack on the first Earl of Shaftsbury.

(g) Macflecknoe (1682): It is an attack on Shadwell, the man who was to succeed him as a Poet Laureate. It is a burlesque that shows Dryden in a more relaxed and uninhibited mood.

(h) Religio Laici (1682) and The Hind and the Panther (1687): These two are long didactic poems on religious questions. Though they contain fine passages, their didactic mode makes them difficult to admire today.

(i) The Fables (1699): It is a series of translations from Homer, Ovid, Boccaccio, and Chaucer. These fine tales show the poet almost at his best and make him the best storyteller in verse.

(j) Alexander’s Feast (1697): It is a Pindaric ode that tends to be regarded now as artificial.

(k) All For Love (1677): It is Dryden’s best dramatic work. It is based on Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. The play is written in blank verse and is the only one drama exhibiting his true genius.

(l) The Indian Emperor (1667), The Conquest of Grenada (1669-70), and Aurangzeb (1675): These are the heroic dramas on the grand model of the French dramatist, Corneille. The Indian Emperor was very popular and is perhaps the best of them all. Dryden wrote about fourteen plays in all between 1668 and 1681.

His other plays are:
(a) The Wild Gallant (1663)
(b) The Rival Ladies (1663)
(c) Tyrannic Love (1669)
(d) Don Sebastian (1690)
(e) Cleomenes (1692)
(f) Love Triumphant (1694)

Leave a Comment