John Dryden An Essay On Dramatic Poetry

John Dryden An Essay On Dramatic Poetry-35
Nevertheless his original contention, however under the pressure of dejection, and the sense perhaps of flagging powers, he may afterwards have been willing to abandon it, cannot be lightly set aside as either weak or unimportant; a point on which I shall have something to say presently. In connexion with it the speaker deals with the fourth point, assuming without proof that regard to the unities of Time and JPlace, inasmuch as it tends to heighten tjip illusion of reality, must placejthe authors who pay it above those w Eo~negkct it.

Nevertheless his original contention, however under the pressure of dejection, and the sense perhaps of flagging powers, he may afterwards have been willing to abandon it, cannot be lightly set aside as either weak or unimportant; a point on which I shall have something to say presently. In connexion with it the speaker deals with the fourth point, assuming without proof that regard to the unities of Time and JPlace, inasmuch as it tends to heighten tjip illusion of reality, must placejthe authors who pay it above those w Eo~negkct it.

Before undertaking to decide this point,\ Neander says that he will attempt to estimate the dramatic genius of Shakespeare, and of Beaumont and Fletcher.

This he does, in an interesting and well-known passage (p. He then examines the genius of Jonson with reference to many special points, and gives an analysis of the plot of his comedy, Epicoene, or the Silent Woman ; but he gives no direct answer to the question put by Eugenius.

To the English stage as a whole he will not allow a position of inferiority ; for * our nation can never want in any age such who are able to dispute the empire of wit with any people in the universe' (p. Crites now introduces the subject of rhyme, which he maintains to be unsuitable for serious plays.

His argu ment, and Neander's answer, take up the rest of the Essay.

In the prologue to the tragedy of Aurung- zebe, or the Great Mogul (\6*i^, he says that he finds it more difficult to please himself than his audience, and is inclined to damn his own play : Not that it's worse than what before he writ, But he has now another taste of wit ; And, to confess a truth, though out of time, Grows weary of his long-loved mistress, Rhyme. Whether the existing French school of drama is superior or inferior to the English. Whether the Elizabethan dramatists were in all points superior to those of Dry den's own time. Whether plays arc more perfect in proportion as they conform to the dramatic rules laid down by the ancients. Whether the substitution of rhyme for blank verse in serious plays is an improvement.

Passion, he proceeds, is too fierce to be bound in fetters; and the sense of Shakespeare's unapproachable superiority, Shakespeare, whose masterpieces dispense with rhyme, inclines him to quit the stage altogether. The first point is considered in the remarks ofj Crites (Sir Robert Howard), with which the discussion opens. DRYDEN AN ESSAY OF DRAMATIC POESY ARNOLD OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS LONDON EDINBURGH GLASGOW NEW YORK TORONTO MELBOURNE CAPE TOWN BOMBAY HUMPHREY MILFORD PUBLISHER TO THE UNIVERSITY 9 DRYDEN AN ESSAY OF DRAMATIC POESY EDITED WITH NOTES BY THOMAS ARNOLD, M. In that drama, when prose was not employed, the use of rhyme was an essential feature. COLL., OXFORD AND FELLOW OF THE ROYAL UNIVERSITY OF IRELAND THIRD EDITION, REVISED BY WILLIAM T. Charles II, having been much in Paris during his exile, had been captivated by the French drama, then in the powerful hands of Corneille and Moliere. His first play, The Wild Gallant, was in prose ; it is coarse and not much enlivened by wit, and it was not well received. He seems to have convinced himself that the attraction of rhyme was necessary to please the fastidious audiences for which he had to write; vi PREFACE. and after The Rival Ladies, of which a small part is in rhyme, and The Indian Queen (1664), a play entirely rhymed, in which he assisted his brother-in-law Sir Robert Howard, he brought out, early in 1665, his tragedy of The Indian Emperor, which, like The Indian Queen, is carefully rhymed throughout. Since Dryden's, almost the only supremely excellent plays which English literature has produced are Sheridan's; and these are comedies, and in prose. Coleridge, Young, Addison, Byron, Shelley, Lytton- Bulwer, all attempted tragedy in blank verse ; and none of their tragedies can be said to live. Separately, the First Essay (William Pitt, Ear9 of Chatham), is. After all, if the heroic rhyming plays of Dryden and Lee have found no successors, has not blank verse also notoriously failed, however able the hands which wielded it, to be- x PREFACE. With introduction by Sir ADOLPHUS WARD, and notes by C. come the vehicle and instrument of an English dramatic school, worthy to be ranked alongside of the great Elizabethans ? Crites makes a brief reply, and then^Lisideius j (Sir Charles Sedley) plunges into the second question, and ardently maintains that the French theatre, which was formerly inferior to ours, now, since it had been ennobled by the rise of Corneille and his fellow-workers, surpasses it and the rest of Europe. This commenda tion he grounds partly on their exact observance of the dramatic rules, partly on their exclusion of undue com plication from their plots and general regard to the ' decorum of the stage,' partly also on the beauty of their rhyme.

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