The Works of John Dryden: Prose, 1668-1691. An Essay of Dramatick Poesie and Shorter Works - Vol. XVII

The Works of John Dryden: Prose, 1668-1691. An Essay of Dramatick Poesie and Shorter Works - Vol. XVII

The Works of John Dryden: Prose, 1668-1691. An Essay of Dramatick Poesie and Shorter Works - Vol. XVII

The Works of John Dryden: Prose, 1668-1691. An Essay of Dramatick Poesie and Shorter Works - Vol. XVII

Synopsis

This collection of prose writing from the pen of Dryden dates from 1668 to 1691, and contains work that the editors describe as a sampler of Dryden as biographer-historian, political commentator, religious controversialist, literary polemicist, literary theorist, and practical critic. Among the works contained here is his Essay of Dramatick Poesie.

Excerpt

Dryden employed numerous prose styles, and they have been variously described. Very much the same thing can be said of the subjects to which he addressed himself in prose and of the Protean guises in which he chose to appear. This volume might best be described as a sampler of Dryden as biographer-historian, political commentator, religious controversialist, literary polemicist, literary theorist, and practical critic. Here “the other harmony of prose” is heard in numerous keys; also audible are some discords that can be resolved only in the larger concord of a life devoted to letters in the many realms over which Dryden reigned. If he was, as Dr. Johnson said, the father of English criticism, that is but one subject on which his prose pen touched; but without doubt his fatherhood began with his most carefully articulated piece of literary criticism, familiarly known as An Essay of Dramatic Poesy. As our commentary aims to show, the Essay achieves its stature not only by virtue of its superbly ordered yet relaxed style and the intrinsic importance of its ideas, but also by reason of its quasi-fictional dialogue form. Dryden’s mastery of the form enabled him, in good conscience, to claim kinship with Plato, Cicero, and other Academic philosophers.

The same assurance is not found in all the pieces included here. The rather lengthy period covered by this volume provided many challenges to the poet, to the prose writer, and to the man alike. The commotion over the Popish Plot and the succession, the controversy on religious matters after Dryden’s conversion, and debate with fellow writers provoked responses from Dryden which were often hurried and sometimes passionate. On one occasion, indeed, his reaction to the redoubtable pen of Thomas Rymer was sufficiently private to have been taken no further than the writing of the “heads” for a critical treatise on drama. And yet there were also times, as when Dryden took up his pen to write a dedication on behalf of his friend Henry Purcell, or as he sat down to review the achievement of Plutarch, when he could reflect upon the major issues of human civilization, taking that wider view that marks his thought at its finest.

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