John Dryden An Essay On Dramatic Poetry

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.

The personages who conduct the discussion are all of a social rank higher than that to which Dryden belonged.

Sir Robert Howard, the son of the Earl of Berkshire, assumed the poet's lyre or the critic's stylus with an air PREFACE.

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.

Five critical questions are handled in the Essay, viz. \Eugenius J(Lord Buckhurst) answers him, pointing out the narrow range of the Greek drama, and several defects which its greatest admirers cannot deny.

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. 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. Sir Charles Sedley n was a well-known Kentish baronet, and Lord Buckhurst, soon to be the Earl of Dorset, was heir to the illustrious house, of Sackville. It is unlikely however that Dryden called himself ' Neander ' n in the sense of ' novus homo,' a man of the people, desiring to rise above his station. OXFORO AT THE CLARENDON PRESS 1918 PR /UA7 .1.31$ PREFACE. Dryden and others were not slow to consult the taste prevailing at Court. x Ix of superiority which showed that he thought it a con descension in himself, a man of fashion, to associate with the poverty-stricken tribe of authors". This tone is very noticeable in the Preface to The Duke of Lerma, which Dryden answered in his Defence of the Essay. Giles, and there gave him leisure to complete the Paradise Lost, obliged Dryden also the theatres being closed to pass eighteen months in the country, 'probably at Charlton in Wiltshire,' says Malone, where he turned his leisure to so good an account as, besides writing the * Annus Mirabilis/ to compose in the following Essay the first piece of good modern English prose on which our literature can pride itself. IT is interesting to note that the same cause the great plague of 1665 which drove Milton from London to the Buckinghamshire village of Chalfont St.


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