John Dryden

John Dryden (/ˈdraɪdən/; 19 August [O.S. 9 August] 1631 – 12 May  [O.S. 1 May] 1700) was an English poet, literary critic, translator, and playwright who was made England's first Poet Laureate in 1668.[1]

He is seen as dominating the literary life of Restoration England to such a point that the period came to be known in literary circles as the Age of Dryden. Walter Scott called him "Glorious John".[2]

John Dryden
John Dryden by Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt
Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom
In office
13 April 1668 – January 1688
MonarchCharles II
Preceded byInaugural holder
Succeeded byThomas Shadwell
Personal details
Born19 August 1631
Aldwincle, Northamptonshire, England
Died12 May 1700 (aged 68)
London, England
Alma materWestminster School
Trinity College, Cambridge
Occupationpoet, literary critic, playwright, librettist

Early life

Dryden was born in the village rectory of Aldwincle near Thrapston in Northamptonshire, where his maternal grandfather was rector of All Saints. He was the eldest of fourteen children born to Erasmus Dryden and wife Mary Pickering, paternal grandson of Sir Erasmus Dryden, 1st Baronet (1553–1632), and wife Frances Wilkes, Puritan landowning gentry who supported the Puritan cause and Parliament. He was a second cousin once removed of Jonathan Swift. As a boy Dryden lived in the nearby village of Titchmarsh, where it is likely that he received his first education. In 1644 he was sent to Westminster School as a King's Scholar where his headmaster was Dr. Richard Busby, a charismatic teacher and severe disciplinarian.[3] Having been re-founded by Elizabeth I, Westminster during this period embraced a very different religious and political spirit encouraging royalism and high Anglicanism. Whatever Dryden's response to this was, he clearly respected the headmaster and would later send two of his sons to school at Westminster.

As a humanist public school, Westminster maintained a curriculum which trained pupils in the art of rhetoric and the presentation of arguments for both sides of a given issue. This is a skill which would remain with Dryden and influence his later writing and thinking, as much of it displays these dialectical patterns. The Westminster curriculum included weekly translation assignments which developed Dryden's capacity for assimilation. This was also to be exhibited in his later works. His years at Westminster were not uneventful, and his first published poem, an elegy with a strong royalist feel on the death of his schoolmate Henry, Lord Hastings from smallpox, alludes to the execution of King Charles I, which took place on 30 January 1649, very near the school where Dr. Busby had first prayed for the King and then locked in his schoolboys to prevent their attending the spectacle.

In 1650 Dryden went up to Trinity College, Cambridge.[4] Here he would have experienced a return to the religious and political ethos of his childhood: the Master of Trinity was a Puritan preacher by the name of Thomas Hill who had been a rector in Dryden's home village.[5] Though there is little specific information on Dryden's undergraduate years, he would most certainly have followed the standard curriculum of classics, rhetoric, and mathematics. In 1654 he obtained his BA, graduating top of the list for Trinity that year. In June of the same year Dryden's father died, leaving him some land which generated a little income, but not enough to live on.[6]

Returning to London during the Protectorate, Dryden obtained work with Oliver Cromwell's Secretary of State, John Thurloe. This appointment may have been the result of influence exercised on his behalf by his cousin the Lord Chamberlain, Sir Gilbert Pickering. At Cromwell's funeral on 23 November 1658 Dryden processed with the Puritan poets John Milton and Andrew Marvell. Shortly thereafter he published his first important poem, Heroic Stanzas (1658), a eulogy on Cromwell's death which is cautious and prudent in its emotional display. In 1660 Dryden celebrated the Restoration of the monarchy and the return of Charles II with Astraea Redux, an authentic royalist panegyric. In this work the interregnum is illustrated as a time of anarchy, and Charles is seen as the restorer of peace and order.

Later life and career

After the Restoration, as Dryden quickly established himself as the leading poet and literary critic of his day, he transferred his allegiances to the new government. Along with Astraea Redux, Dryden welcomed the new regime with two more panegyrics: To His Sacred Majesty: A Panegyric on his Coronation (1662) and To My Lord Chancellor (1662). These poems suggest that Dryden was looking to court a possible patron, but he was to instead make a living in writing for publishers, not for the aristocracy, and thus ultimately for the reading public. These, and his other nondramatic poems, are occasional—that is, they celebrate public events. Thus they are written for the nation rather than the self, and the Poet Laureate (as he would later become) is obliged to write a certain number of these per annum.[7] In November 1662 Dryden was proposed for membership in the Royal Society, and he was elected an early fellow. However, Dryden was inactive in Society affairs and in 1666 was expelled for non-payment of his dues.

John Dryden by John Michael Wright, 1668 (detail), National Portrait Gallery, London
Dryden, by John Michael Wright, 1668
John Dryden, Poet and Playwright (3959224502)
Dryden, by James Maubert, c. 1695

On 1 December 1663 Dryden married the royalist sister of Sir Robert Howard—Lady Elizabeth. Dryden's works occasionally contain outbursts against the married state but also celebrations of the same. Thus, little is known of the intimate side of his marriage. Lady Elizabeth bore three sons and outlived her husband.

With the reopening of the theatres in 1660 after the Puritan ban, Dryden began writing plays. His first play The Wild Gallant appeared in 1663, and was not successful, but was still promising, and from 1668 on he was contracted to produce three plays a year for the King's Company in which he became a shareholder. During the 1660s and 1670s, theatrical writing was his main source of income. He led the way in Restoration comedy, his best-known work being Marriage à la Mode (1673), as well as heroic tragedy and regular tragedy, in which his greatest success was All for Love (1678). Dryden was never satisfied with his theatrical writings and frequently suggested that his talents were wasted on unworthy audiences. He thus was making a bid for poetic fame off-stage. In 1667, around the same time his dramatic career began, he published Annus Mirabilis, a lengthy historical poem which described the English defeat of the Dutch naval fleet and the Great Fire of London in 1666. It was a modern epic in pentameter quatrains that established him as the preeminent poet of his generation, and was crucial in his attaining the posts of Poet Laureate (1668) and historiographer royal (1670).

When the Great Plague of London closed the theatres in 1665, Dryden retreated to Wiltshire where he wrote Of Dramatick Poesie (1668), arguably the best of his unsystematic prefaces and essays. Dryden constantly defended his own literary practice, and Of Dramatick Poesie, the longest of his critical works, takes the form of a dialogue in which four characters—each based on a prominent contemporary, with Dryden himself as 'Neander'—debate the merits of classical, French and English drama. The greater part of his critical works introduce problems which he is eager to discuss, and show the work of a writer of independent mind who feels strongly about his own ideas, ideas which demonstrate the breadth of his reading. He felt strongly about the relation of the poet to tradition and the creative process, and his best heroic play Aureng-zebe (1675) has a prologue which denounces the use of rhyme in serious drama. His play All for Love (1678) was written in blank verse, and was to immediately follow Aureng-Zebe.

At around 8pm on 18 December 1679, Dryden was attacked in Rose Alley behind the Lamb & Flag pub, near his home in Covent Garden, by thugs hired by the Earl of Rochester,[8][9] with whom he had a long-standing conflict.[10] The pub was notorious for staging bare-knuckle prize fights, earning the nickname "The Bucket of Blood".[11] Dryden's poem, "An Essay upon Satire", contained a number of attacks on King Charles II, his mistresses and courtiers, but most pointedly for the Earl of Rochester, a notorious womaniser.[12] Rochester responded by hiring thugs who attacked Dryden whilst walking back from Will's Coffee House (a popular London coffee house where the Wits gathered to gossip, drink and conduct their business) back to his house on Gerrard Street.[13]. Dryden survived the attack, offering £50 for the identity of the thugs placed in the London Gazette, and a Royal Pardon if one of them would confess. No one claimed the reward.[12]

Dryden's greatest achievements were in satiric verse: the mock-heroic Mac Flecknoe, a more personal product of his laureate years, was a lampoon circulated in manuscript and an attack on the playwright Thomas Shadwell. Dryden's main goal in the work is to "satirize Shadwell, ostensibly for his offenses against literature but more immediately we may suppose for his habitual badgering of him on the stage and in print."[14] It is not a belittling form of satire, but rather one which makes his object great in ways which are unexpected, transferring the ridiculous into poetry.[15] This line of satire continued with Absalom and Achitophel (1681) and The Medal (1682). His other major works from this period are the religious poems Religio Laici (1682), written from the position of a member of the Church of England; his 1683 edition of Plutarch's Lives Translated From the Greek by Several Hands in which he introduced the word biography to English readers; and The Hind and the Panther, (1687) which celebrates his conversion to Roman Catholicism.

Frontispiece and title page, vol. II, 1716 edition, Works of Virgil translated by Dryden

He wrote Britannia Rediviva celebrating the birth of a son and heir to the Catholic King King and Queen on 10 June 1688.[16] When later in the same year James II was deposed in the Glorious Revolution, Dryden's refusal to take the oaths of allegiance to the new monarchs, William and Mary, left him out of favour at court. Thomas Shadwell succeeded him as Poet Laureate, and he was forced to give up his public offices and live by the proceeds of his pen. Dryden translated works by Horace, Juvenal, Ovid, Lucretius, and Theocritus, a task which he found far more satisfying than writing for the stage. In 1694 he began work on what would be his most ambitious and defining work as translator, The Works of Virgil (1697), which was published by subscription. The publication of the translation of Virgil was a national event and brought Dryden the sum of £1,400.[17] His final translations appeared in the volume Fables Ancient and Modern (1700), a series of episodes from Homer, Ovid, and Boccaccio, as well as modernised adaptations from Geoffrey Chaucer interspersed with Dryden's own poems. As a translator, he made great literary works in the older languages available to readers of English.

Dryden died on 12 May 1700, and was initially buried in St. Anne's cemetery in Soho, before being exhumed and reburied in Westminster Abbey ten days later.[18] He was the subject of poetic eulogies, such as Luctus Brittannici: or the Tears of the British Muses; for the Death of John Dryden, Esq. (London, 1700), and The Nine Muses. A Royal Society of Arts blue plaque commemorates Dryden at 43 Gerrard Street in London's Chinatown.[19] He lived at 137 Long Acre from 1682 to 1686 and at 43 Gerrard Street from 1686 until his death.[20]

In his will, he left The George Inn at Northampton to trustees, to form a school for the children of the poor of the town. This became John Dryden's School, later The Orange School.[21]

Reputation and influence

Gérard Edelinck - John Dryden
Dryden near end of his life

Dryden was the dominant literary figure and influence of his age. He established the heroic couplet as a standard form of English poetry by writing successful satires, religious pieces, fables, epigrams, compliments, prologues, and plays with it; he also introduced the alexandrine and triplet into the form. In his poems, translations, and criticism, he established a poetic diction appropriate to the heroic couplet—Auden referred to him as "the master of the middle style"[22]—that was a model for his contemporaries and for much of the 18th century. The considerable loss felt by the English literary community at his death was evident in the elegies written about him.[23] Dryden's heroic couplet became the dominant poetic form of the 18th century. Alexander Pope was heavily influenced by Dryden and often borrowed from him; other writers were equally influenced by Dryden and Pope. Pope famously praised Dryden's versification in his imitation of Horace's Epistle II.i: "Dryden taught to join / The varying pause, the full resounding line, / The long majestic march, and energy divine." Samuel Johnson[24] summed up the general attitude with his remark that "the veneration with which his name is pronounced by every cultivator of English literature, is paid to him as he refined the language, improved the sentiments, and tuned the numbers of English poetry." His poems were very widely read, and are often quoted, for instance, in Henry Fielding's Tom Jones and Johnson's essays.

Johnson also noted, however, that "He is, therefore, with all his variety of excellence, not often pathetic; and had so little sensibility of the power of effusions purely natural, that he did not esteem them in others. Simplicity gave him no pleasure." Readers in the first half of the 18th century did not mind this too much, but later generations considered Dryden's absence of sensibility a fault.

One of the first attacks on Dryden's reputation was by William Wordsworth, who complained that Dryden's descriptions of natural objects in his translations from Virgil were much inferior to the originals. However, several of Wordsworth's contemporaries, such as George Crabbe, Lord Byron, and Walter Scott (who edited Dryden's works), were still keen admirers of Dryden. Besides, Wordsworth did admire many of Dryden's poems, and his famous "Intimations of Immortality" ode owes something stylistically to Dryden's "Alexander's Feast". John Keats admired the "Fables", and imitated them in his poem Lamia. Later 19th-century writers had little use for verse satire, Pope, or Dryden; Matthew Arnold famously dismissed them as "classics of our prose." He did have a committed admirer in George Saintsbury, and was a prominent figure in quotation books such as Bartlett's, but the next major poet to take an interest in Dryden was T. S. Eliot, who wrote that he was "the ancestor of nearly all that is best in the poetry of the eighteenth century", and that "we cannot fully enjoy or rightly estimate a hundred years of English poetry unless we fully enjoy Dryden."[25] However, in the same essay, Eliot accused Dryden of having a "commonplace mind". Critical interest in Dryden has increased recently, but, as a relatively straightforward writer (William Empson, another modern admirer of Dryden, compared his "flat" use of language with Donne's interest in the "echoes and recesses of words"[26]), his work has not occasioned as much interest as Andrew Marvell's, John Donne's or Pope's.[27]

John Dryden portrait painting
Dryden, believed the first to posit that English sentences should not end in prepositions because Latin sentences cannot

Dryden is believed to be the first person to posit that English sentences should not end in prepositions because Latin sentences cannot end in prepositions.[28][29] Dryden created the proscription against preposition stranding in 1672 when he objected to Ben Jonson's 1611 phrase, "the bodies that those souls were frighted from", though he did not provide the rationale for his preference.[30] Dryden often translated his writing into Latin, to check whether his writing was concise and elegant, Latin being considered an elegant and long-lived language with which to compare; then Dryden translated his writing back to English according to Latin-grammar usage. As Latin does not have sentences ending in prepositions, Dryden may have applied Latin grammar to English, thus forming the rule of no sentence-ending prepositions, subsequently adopted by other writers.[31]

The phrase "blaze of glory" is believed to have originated in Dryden's 1686 poem The Hind and the Panther, referring to the throne of God as a "blaze of glory that forbids the sight".[32]

Poetic style

What Dryden achieved in his poetry was neither the emotional excitement of the early nineteenth-century romantics nor the intellectual complexities of the metaphysicals. His subject matter was often factual, and he aimed at expressing his thoughts in the most precise and concentrated manner. Although he uses formal structures such as heroic couplets, he tried to recreate the natural rhythm of speech, and he knew that different subjects need different kinds of verse. In his preface to Religio Laici he says that "the expressions of a poem designed purely for instruction ought to be plain and natural, yet majestic... The florid, elevated and figurative way is for the passions; for (these) are begotten in the soul by showing the objects out of their true proportion.... A man is to be cheated into passion, but to be reasoned into truth."

Translation style

While Dryden had many admirers, he also had his share of critics, Mark Van Doren among them. Van Doren complained that in translating Virgil's Aeneid, Dryden had added "a fund of phrases with which he could expand any passage that seemed to him curt". Dryden did not feel such expansion was a fault, arguing that as Latin is a naturally concise language it cannot be duly represented by a comparable number of words in English. "He...recognized that Virgil 'had the advantage of a language wherein much may be comprehended in a little space' (5:329–30). The 'way to please the best not to Translate a Poet literally; and Virgil least of any other' (5:329)".[33]

For example, take lines 789–795 of Book 2 when Aeneas sees and receives a message from the ghost of his wife, Creusa.

iamque vale et nati serva communis amorem.'
haec ubi dicta dedit, lacrimantem et multa volentem
dicere deseruit, tenuisque recessit in auras.
ter conatus ibi collo dare bracchia circum;
ter frustra comprensa manus effugit imago,
par levibus ventis volucrique simillima somno.
sic demum socios consumpta nocte reviso[34]

Dryden translates it like this:

I trust our common issue to your care.'
She said, and gliding pass'd unseen in air.
I strove to speak: but horror tied my tongue;
And thrice about her neck my arms I flung,
And, thrice deceiv'd, on vain embraces hung.
Light as an empty dream at break of day,
Or as a blast of wind, she rush'd away.
Thus having pass'd the night in fruitless pain,
I to my longing friends return again[35]

Dryden's translation is based on presumed authorial intent and smooth English. In line 790 the literal translation of haec ubi dicta dedit is "when she gave these words." But "she said" gets the point across, uses half the words, and makes for better English. A few lines later, with ter conatus ibi collo dare bracchia circum; ter frustra comprensa manus effugit imago, he alters the literal translation "Thrice trying to give arms around her neck; thrice the image grasped in vain fled the hands", in order to fit it into meter and the emotion of the scene.

In his own words,

The way I have taken, is not so streight as Metaphrase, nor so loose as Paraphrase: Some things too I have omitted, and sometimes added of my own. Yet the omissions I hope, are but of Circumstances, and such as wou'd have no grace in English; and the Addition, I also hope, are easily deduc'd from Virgil's Sense. They will seem (at least I have the Vanity to think so), not struck into him, but growing out of him. (5:529)[36]

In a similar vein, Dryden writes in his Preface to the translation anthology Sylvae:

Where I have taken away some of [the original authors'] Expressions, and cut them shorter, it may possibly be on this consideration, that what was beautiful in the Greek or Latin, would not appear so shining in the English; and where I have enlarg’d them, I desire the false Criticks would not always think that those thoughts are wholly mine, but that either they are secretly in the Poet, or may be fairly deduc’d from him; or at least, if both those considerations should fail, that my own is of a piece with his, and that if he were living, and an Englishman, they are such as he wou’d probably have written.[37]

Personal life

On 1 December 1663 Dryden married Lady Elizabeth Howard (died 1714).[38] The marriage was at St. Swithin's, London, and the consent of the parents is noted on the licence, though Lady Elizabeth was then about twenty-five. She was the object of some scandals, well or ill founded; it was said that Dryden had been bullied into the marriage by her brothers. A small estate in Wiltshire was settled upon them by her father. The lady's intellect and temper were apparently not good; her husband was treated as an inferior by those of her social status.[39] Both Dryden and his wife were warmly attached to their children.[40] They had three sons: Charles (1666–1704), John (1668–1701), and Erasmus Henry (1669–1710).[41] Lady Elizabeth Dryden survived her husband, but went insane soon after his death.[42] Though some have historically claimed to be from the lineage of John Dryden, his three children had no children themselves.[43]

Selected works

The Hind and the Panther 1687
The title page of The Hind and the Panther
Alexander's Feast page 6
An illustration in Alexander's Feast
Dramatic works

Dates given are (acted/published) and unless otherwise noted are taken from Scott's edition.[44]

Jacobite broadside - Portrait of Prince James as a young boy cropped
The infant Prince of Wales whose birth Dryden celebrated in Britannia Rediviva
Other works

See also

  • Portal-puzzle.svg John Dryden portal


  1. ^ "John Dryden (British author)". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 13 May 2014.
  2. ^ Scott, W. Waverley, vol. 12, chap 14, The Pirate: "I am desirous to hear of your meeting with Dryden". "What, with Glorious John?"
  3. ^ Hopkins, David, John Dryden, ed. by Isobel Armstrong, (Tavistock: Northcote House Publishers, 2004), 22
  4. ^ "Dryden, John (DRDN650J)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  5. ^ John Dryden The Major Works, ed. by Keith Walker, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), ix–x
  6. ^ John Dryden The Major Works, ed. by Keith Walker, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), x
  7. ^ Abrams, M.H., and Stephen Greenblatt eds. 'John Dryden' in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 7th ed., (New York: Norton & Co, 2000), 2071
  8. ^ John Richardson, The Annals of London. University of California Press. 2000. p. 156. ISBN 978-0520227958. Retrieved 30 July 2010.
  9. ^ Wilson, Harold J (1939). "Rochester, Dryden, and the Rose-Street Affair". The Review of English Studies. 15 (59): 294–301. JSTOR 509792.
  10. ^ "John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester". Retrieved 2 August 2010.
  11. ^ "The Lamb & Flag - Fuller's Pub and Restaurant London". Retrieved 2019-02-05.
  12. ^ a b Peschel, Bill (2008-12-18). "John Dryden Suffers For His Art (1679)". Bill Peschel. Retrieved 2019-02-05.
  13. ^ "Dryden". London Remembers. Retrieved 2019-02-05.
  14. ^ Oden, Richard, L. Dryden and Shadwell, The Literary Controversy and 'Mac Flecknoe' (1668–1679) ISBN 0820112895
  15. ^ Eliot, T.S., 'John Dryden', in Selected Essays, (London: Faber and Faber, 1932), 308
  16. ^ Britannia Rediviva: a Poem on the Birth of the Prince. John Dryden. 1913. The Poems of John Dryden. Retrieved 12 May 2014.
  17. ^ John Dryden The Major Works, ed. by Keith Walker, xiv
  18. ^ Winn, James Anderson. John Dryden and His World. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987. p. 512
  19. ^ "Dryden, John (1631–1700)". English Heritage. Retrieved 26 April 2017.
  20. ^ Wheatley, Henry B. (1904). "Gerrard Street and its neighbourhood". K. Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co; 35 pages
  21. ^ Dryden, John (1800). The Critical and Miscellaneous Prose Works of John Dryden: Now First Collected : with Notes and Illustrations. Cadell and Davies.
  22. ^ W.H. Auden, New Year Letter, in Collected Poems
  23. ^ John Dryden The Major Works, 37
  24. ^ Dryden, in Samuel Johnson, The Major Works (ed. Donald Greene), 707
  25. ^ Eliot, T.S., John Dryden, 305–06
  26. ^ Seven Types of Ambiguity, Chapter 7
  27. ^ Robert M. Adams, "The Case for Dryden", New York Review of Books 17 March 1988
  28. ^ Gilman, E. Ward (ed.). 1989. "A Brief History of English Usage", Webster's Dictionary of English Usage. Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, pp. 7a–11a, Archived 1 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  29. ^ Greene, Robert Lane. "Three Books for the Grammar Lover in Your Life : NPR". NPR. Retrieved 18 May 2011.
  30. ^ Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey K. Pullum, 2002, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 627ff.
  31. ^ Stamper, Kory (1 January 2017). Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. p. 47. ISBN 978-1101870945.
  32. ^ Cresswell, Julia (2007). The Cat's Pyjamas: The Penguin Book of Clichés (2nd ed.). Penguin Books. p. 98. ISBN 978-0141025162.
  33. ^ Corse, Taylor. Dryden's Aeneid. Associated University Presses. p. 15.
  34. ^ Virgil. The Aeneid. Mundelein IL: Bolchazy-Carducci. p. 140.
  35. ^ Virgil (March 1995). Aeneid. Retrieved 15 April 2014.
  36. ^ Dryden, Jonh (1697). The Works of Virgil in English. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  37. ^ Dryden, John. "Preface to Sylvae". Retrieved 27 April 2015.
  38. ^ "The Life of John Dryden". Retrieved 6 May 2017.
  39. ^  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainStephen, Leslie (1888). "Dryden, John". In Stephen, Leslie. Dictionary of National Biography. 16. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 66, 73–74.
  40. ^ Stephen 1888, p. 66.
  41. ^ Stephen 1888, p. 74.
  42. ^ Stephen 1888, p. 72.
  43. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 17 June 2014. Retrieved 25 June 2014.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  44. ^ Walter Scott, ed. (1808). The Works of John Dryden. London: William Miller.
  45. ^ Authorship is unresolved; not included in Scott.
  46. ^ Hatfield, Edwin F., ed., The Church Hymn book, 1872 (n. 313, pp. 193–94), New York and Chicago

Further reading

  • The Works of John Dryden, 20 vols., ed. H.T. Swedenberg Jr. et al. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1956–2002)
  • John Dryden The Major Works, ed. by Keith Walker, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987)
  • The Works of John Dryden, ed. by David Marriott (Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions, 1995)
  • John Dryden Selected Poems, ed. by David Hopkins (London: Everyman Paperbacks, 1998)
  • John Dryden Selected Poems, ed. by Steven N. Swicker and David Bywaters (London: Penguin Books, 2001) ISBN 978-0140439144
  • Winn, James Anderson. John Dryden and His World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987)
Modern criticism
  • Eliot, T.S., "John Dryden", in Selected Essays (London: Faber and Faber, 1932)
  • Hopkins, David, John Dryden, ed. by Isobel Armstrong (Tavistock: Northcote House Publishers, 2004)
  • Oden, Richard, L. Dryden and Shadwell, The Literary Controversy and 'Mac Flecknoe (1668–1679) (Scholars' Facsimiles and Reprints, Inc., Delmar, New York, 1977)
  • Van Doren, Mark (2007). John Dryden: A Study of His Poetry. Read Books. ISBN 978-1406724882.
  • Stark, Ryan. "John Dryden, New Philosophy, and Rhetoric", in Rhetoric, Science, and Magic in Seventeenth-Century England (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 2009)

External links

Court offices
Preceded by
William Davenant
English Poet Laureate
Succeeded by
Thomas Shadwell
Preceded by
James Howell
English Historiographer Royal
Succeeded by
Thomas Shadwell
Alexander's Feast (Dryden poem)

Alexander's Feast, or the Power of Music (1697) is an ode by John Dryden. It was written to celebrate Saint Cecilia's Day. Jeremiah Clarke set the original ode to music, however the score is now lost.

The main body of the poem describes the feast given by Alexander the Great at the Persian capital Persepolis, after his defeat of Darius. Alexander's bard Timotheus sings praises of him. Alexander's emotions are manipulated by the singer's poetry and music. Timotheus glorifies him as a god, puffing up Alexander's pride. He then sings of the pleasures of wine, encouraging Alexander to drink. Seeing Alexander becoming too boisterous, he sings of the sad death of Darius; the king becomes quiet. He then lauds the beauty of Thaïs, Alexander's lover, making the king's heart melt. Finally, he encourages feelings of anger and vengeance, causing Thaïs and Alexander to burn down the Persian palace in revenge for Persia's previous outrages against Greece.

The poem then moves ahead in time to describe Saint Cecilia, "inventress of the vocal frame", who is traditionally supposed to have created the first organ and to have instituted Christian sacred music. The poem concludes that while Timotheus "Raised a mortal to the skies, / She drew an angel down".

George Frideric Handel composed a choral work, also called Alexander's Feast, set to a libretto by Newburgh Hamilton which was closely based on the ode by Dryden.

All for Love (play)

All for Love or, the World Well Lost, is a 1677 heroic drama by John Dryden which is now his best-known and most performed play. It is a tragedy written in blank verse and is an attempt on Dryden's part to reinvigorate serious drama. It is an acknowledged imitation of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, and focuses on the last hours of the lives of its hero and heroine.

Amphitryon (Dryden play)

Amphitryon is an English language comedy by John Dryden which is based on Molière's 1668 play of the same name which was in turn based on the story of the Greek mythological character Amphitryon as told by Plautus in his play from ca. 190-185 B.C. Dryden's play, which focuses on themes of sexual morality and power, premiered in London in 1690. Notable innovations in Dryden's adaptation compared to previous plays on Amphitryon included music by Henry Purcell and the character of Phaedra, who flirts with Sosia but is eventually won over by Mercury's promises of wealth.

Although popular with the public, Dryden's play was attacked by Jeremy Collier in his 1698 pamphlet entitled "A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage" for undermining social mores and attacking the political values of his day. The work was later altered significantly by John Hawkesworth for a production in 1756, with him removing what he considered the morally objectionable material.

An Evening's Love

An Evening's Love, or The Mock Astrologer is a comedy in prose by John Dryden. It was first performed before Charles II and Queen Catherine by the King's Company at the Theatre Royal on Bridges Street, London, on Friday, 12 June 1668. Samuel Pepys saw the play on 20 June of that year, but didn't like it; in his Diary he called it "very smutty."The play was first published in 1671 by Henry Herringman; Dryden dedicated to work to William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle.

Dryden's sources for An Evening's Love include Thomas Corneille's comedy Le Feint Astrologue, Madeleine de Scudéry's novel Ibrahim, ou l'Illustre Bassa, and Calderón's comedy El Astrologo fingido, as well as several other French, Spanish, Italian, and English works.

The action of the play takes place in Madrid on the last night before Lent, 1665, and involves two young English gentlemen, Wildblood and Bellamy, and their comic servant Maskall, who fall in love with two beautiful young Spanish ladies, Donna Theodosia and Donna Jacinta, and their clever servant Beatrix.

The original production featured Charles Hart as Wildblood, Michael Mohun as Bellamy, Nell Gwyn as Jacinta, Nicholas Burt as Don Lopez, William Wintershall as Don Alonzo, Robert Shatterell as Maskal, Anne Marshall as Aurelia, and Mary Knep as Beatrix.

Annus Mirabilis (poem)

Annus Mirabilis is a poem written by John Dryden published in 1667. It commemorated 1665–1666, the "year of miracles" of London. Despite the poem's name, the year had been one of great tragedy, including the Great Fire of London. The title was perhaps meant to suggest that the events of the year could have been worse. Dryden wrote the poem while at Charlton in Wiltshire, where he went to escape one of the great events of the year: the Great Plague of London.


Aureng-zebe is a Restoration drama by John Dryden, written in 1675. It is based loosely on the figures of Aurangzeb (Aureng-zebe), the then-reigning Mughal Emperor of India; his brother, Murad Baksh (Morat); and their father, Shah Jahan (Emperor). The piece is the last drama that Dryden wrote in rhymed verse. It is considered his best heroic work.The premiere production by the King's Company featured Charles Hart in the title role, Michael Mohun as the Old Emperor, Edward Kynaston as Morat, William Wintershall as Arimant, Rebecca Marshall as the Empress Nourmahal, Elizabeth Cox as Indamora, and Mary Corbet as Melesinda.

Fables, Ancient and Modern

Fables, Ancient and Modern is a collection of translations of classical and medieval poetry by John Dryden interspersed with some of his own works. Published in March 1700, it was his last and one of his greatest works. Dryden died two months later.

Heroic couplet

A heroic couplet is a traditional form for English poetry, commonly used in epic and narrative poetry, and consisting of a rhyming pair of lines in iambic pentameter. Use of the heroic couplet was pioneered by Geoffrey Chaucer in the Legend of Good Women and the Canterbury Tales, and generally considered to have been perfected by John Dryden and Alexander Pope in the Restoration Age and early 18th century respectively.

John Dryden (Ontario politician)

John Dryden (June 5, 1840 – July 29, 1909) was a farmer and politician in Ontario, Canada.


Juvenilia are literary, musical or artistic works produced by an author during their youth. Written juvenilia, if published at all, usually appear as a retrospective publication, some time after the author has become well known for later works.

The term was first recorded in 1622 in George Wither's poetry collection Ivvenilia. Later, other notable poets, such as John Dryden and Alfred Lord Tennyson, came to use the term for collections of their early poetry. The stories and poems which novelist Jane Austen wrote between the ages of eleven (or possibly younger) and eighteen are called her Juvenilia.

Exceptions to retrospective publication include Leigh Hunt's collection Juvenilia, first published when he was still in his teens; and Lord Byron's publication of Fugitive Pieces when the author was only 17 years old, and his subsequent publication of Hours of Idleness at the age of 18. In these early pieces, Byron explores many of the themes that would shape his later works.

Marriage à la mode (play)

Marriage à la Mode is a Restoration comedy by John Dryden, first performed in London in 1673 by the King's Company. It is written in a combination of prose, blank verse and heroic couplets. It has often been praised as Dryden's best comedic endeavour, and Sutherland accounts for this by observing that "the comic scenes are beautifully written, and Dryden has taken care to connect them with the serious plot by a number of effective links. He writes with . . . one of the most thoughtful treatments of sex and marriage that Restoration comedy can show."The play contains two songs, "Why Should a Foolish Marriage Vow" by Robert Smith and "Whilst Alexis Lay Pressed" by Nicholas Staggins, both set to Dryden's lyrics and printed in the 1673 book Choice Songs and Ayres for One Voyce to Sing to the Theorbo-Lute or Bass-Viol.

Oedipus (Dryden play)

The heroic drama Oedipus: A Tragedy, is an adaption of Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, written by John Dryden and Nathaniel Lee. After being licensed in 1678 and published in 1679, it became a huge success on stage during the Restoration period.

Palamon and Arcite

"Palamon and Arcite" is part of Fables, Ancient and Modern written by John Dryden and published in 1700. "Palamon and Arcite" is a translation of "The Knight's Tale" from The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. Although the plot line is identical, Dryden expanded the original text with poetic embellishments. The source of Chaucer's tale was Boccaccio's "Teseida".

Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom

The British Poet Laureate is an honorary position appointed by the monarch of the United Kingdom on the advice of the Prime Minister. The role does not entail any specific duties, but there is an expectation that the holder will write verse for significant national occasions. The origins of the laureateship date back to 1616 when a pension was provided to Ben Jonson, but the first official holder of the position was John Dryden, appointed in 1668 by Charles II. On the death of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who held the post between November 1850 and October 1892, there was a break of four years as a mark of respect; Tennyson's laureate poems "Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington" and "The Charge of the Light Brigade" were particularly cherished by the Victorian public. Three poets, Thomas Gray, Samuel Rogers and Walter Scott, turned down the laureateship. The holder of the position as at 2019 is Carol Ann Duffy, who was appointed in May 2009 on a fixed ten-year term.

Religio Laici

Religio Laici, Or A Layman's Faith (1682) is a poem by John Dryden, published as a premise to his subsequent The Hind and the Panther (1687), a final outcome of his conversion to Roman Catholicism.The poet argues for the credibility of the Christian religion and against Deism, and for the Anglican Church against that of Rome.

The Assignation

The Assignation, or Love in a Nunnery is a Restoration comedy written by John Dryden. The play was first acted late in 1672, by the King's Company at their theatre at Lincoln's Inn Fields, but was not a success with its audience.

Apart from the question of the play's quality — many critics have regarded it as a rush job, written mainly in prose with some blank verse — Dryden was suspected of anti-Catholic satire, especially in his choice of a subtitle. This was a sensitive issue at the time, given strong Catholic sympathies among some elements of the royal court — primarily the Duke of York, the future King James II.

The cast of the original production included Michael Mohun as the Duke of Mantua, Edward Kynaston as Prince Frederick, Charles Hart as Aurelian, William Cartwright as Mario, and Nicholas Burt as Camillo. The role of Hyppolita, the nun, was taken by Mary Knep; Rebecca Marshall played Lucretia.

Dryden drew plot material from a play by Pedro Calderón de la Barca titled Con quien vengo vengo.The Assignation was published in quarto in 1673 by Henry Herringman. Dryden dedicated the play to Sir Charles Sedley. The play was republished in 1678 and 1692.

The Conquest of Granada

The Conquest of Granada is a Restoration era stage play, a two-part tragedy written by John Dryden that was first acted in 1670 and 1671 and published in 1672. It is notable both as a defining example of the "heroic drama" pioneered by Dryden, and as the subject of later satire.

The plot deals with the Spanish conquest of Granada in 1492 and the fall of Muhammad XII of Granada, the last Islamic ruler on the Iberian Peninsula.

The Hind and the Panther

The Hind and the Panther: A Poem, in Three Parts (1687) is an allegory in heroic couplets by John Dryden. At some 2600 lines it is much the longest of Dryden's poems, translations excepted, and perhaps the most controversial. The critic Margaret Doody has called it "the great, the undeniable, sui generis poem of the Restoration era…It is its own kind of poem, it cannot be repeated (and no one has repeated it)."

The Tempest (Dryden and D'Avenant play)

The Tempest, or The Enchanted Island is a comedy adapted by John Dryden and William D'Avenant from Shakespeare's comedy The Tempest. The musical setting, previously attributed to Henry Purcell, and probably for the London revival of 1712, was very probably by John Weldon.The Dryden/D'Avenant adaptation was first performed at the Duke's Theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields, London, on 7 November 1667, and published in 1670. It is written partly in blank verse and partly in a sort of rhythmic prose. The play was revised and revived a number of times, and adapted as an opera by Thomas Shadwell in April 1674; Shadwell's revision had a musical score created by a team of composers that included Matthew Locke and Pelham Humfrey. This was the version of The Tempest most familiar to audiences up until William Macready's enormously successful production of Shakespeare's original on 13 October 1838. Shadwell's version was revived in 1701, in 1702 through 1704, in 1706 through 1708, in 1710, in 1712 through 1717, and more than 20 times between 1729 and 1747.

Dryden and D'Avenant keep a great deal of Shakespeare's verse, but generally tone the play down, simplifying grammar and language occasionally, removing much of the "mythic resonance" of the original, and adding a fair amount of their own invention. The added elements include new characters – Hippolito, a man who has never seen a woman, and Dorinda, a second daughter of Prospero. Hippolito and Dorinda, predictably, fall in love; their love parallels that between Miranda, Shakespeare's maiden who has never seen a man, and Ferdinand, son to the Duke of Mantua (or to the King of Naples in Shakespeare's version). Ariel was given an ethereal girlfriend in Milcha (Shadwell expanded her role in 1674). Even Caliban got a sister.

Shadwell's 1674 operatic version of Dryden and D'Avenant's adaptation was mocked by Thomas Duffet in his farce The Mock Tempest, or the Enchanted Castle, also in 1674.

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