John Dryden (1631-1700): His Politics, His Plays, and His Poets: A Tercentenary Celebration Held at Yale University

By Williams, Carolyn D. | Restoration and 18th Century Theatre Research, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

John Dryden (1631-1700): His Politics, His Plays, and His Poets: A Tercentenary Celebration Held at Yale University


Williams, Carolyn D., Restoration and 18th Century Theatre Research


Claude Rawson and Aaron Santesso, eds. John Dryden (1631-1700): His Politics, His Plays, and His Poets: A Tercentenary Celebration Held at Yale University. Newark: University of Delaware Press; London: Associated University Presses, 2004. 301 pp. Cloth, $52.50.

The essays in this volume, which are chiefly concerned with Dryden's literary heritage and influences and "the politics of his plays" (9), provide valuable insights into the theatre's impact on Dryden's non-dramatic works and on broader features of English culture. According to Annabel Patterson, Absalom and Achilophel owes its technical brilliance to Dryden's realisation that "rhyme is the agent, the sound, the sign, of comedy, not of heroic tragedy" (98), while Lawrence Manley finds in its portrayal of Shaftesbury features of "a city comedy fumbler" (31). Dryden's mastery of dialogue is acknowledged in Steven Zwicker's account of the skill with he does "all the voices " in The Hind and the Panther (114). Dryden's work might have benefited from even greater openness to dramatic opportunities: Susannah Morton Braund argues that his translation of Juvenal's notoriously misogynistic sixth satire might have been less inhibited if he had realised that it was meant to be the utterance of an "outrageous and offensive" persona (155). Nevertheless, Dryden's engagement with theatre changed the world. Barbara Everett notes Dryden's contribution to the development of seventeenth-century English prose as a kind of "civilized talking" (271). Harold Love observes that the migration of playwrights from "the red-light district in Southwark," where they had congregated in Shakespeare's time, to "the much more salubrious area north of the Strand" made "literature itself more respectable" (8). There are frequent references to Shakespeare: Paul Hammond presents Margaret Cavendish as "the first person in the written record to try to say precisely what is so distinctive about Shakespeare" (166), and Emrys Jones argues for a connection between Persius's third satire and Macbeth (131). This is another consequence of Dryden's dramatic awareness: as Hammond observes, his criticism "helped to establish Shakespeare as a classic" (174).

Dryden's theatrical associations, in some eyes, compromised his virtue and dignity. Swift's efforts to distance himself from Dryden on personal and political grounds might have contributed to his detachment from theatrical affairs: as Ian Higgins points out, "There is no mention of plays or the stage in Houyhnhnmland" (228). …

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