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A biography of john dryden a great english poet dramatist translator and critic

The family lived in the nearby village of Titchmarsh. Both parents were from puritan gentry families who were not well disposed to the king, and the young Dryden was doubtless brought up in a godly environment. No record of his early education survives, but he probably attended the village school. Education and government service, 1644—1659 It was probably about 1644 that Dryden was sent to Westminster School, famous for the quality of its education under Richard Busby.

Here he received a thorough grounding in classical culture which left its mark on his later work: Ovid and Virgil were perhaps his principal companions, but he also prized Horace, Lucretius, and in later life Homer. These writers contributed both to his imagery and to his view of the world, and classical translation was the mainstay of his late career.

Introducing his version of Persius's third satire in 1692, he recalls translating the poem for a Thursday night's exercise while a king's scholar at Westminster Works, 4. In due course Dryden entrusted the education of his sons Charles and John to Busby. Westminster, however, had a strongly royalist and Anglican ethos which was at variance with the religious temper and political allegiances of his home.

Perhaps Westminster was formative in this sphere too, for there is no indication in his adult life of any puritan sympathies: But if he recoiled from ignorant zeal and violent sectarianism, he was just as averse to clerical power and venality, and a thread of anti-clerical satire runs through his writing, directed equally at Anglican and at Roman Catholic clergy, 'For Priests of all Religions are the same' Absalom and Achitophel, l.

It was as a Westminster schoolboy in 1649 that he published his first poem, conceitful and somewhat ungainly verses in Lachrymae musarum, a memorial volume for Lord Hastings.

He presumably followed the usual undergraduate curriculum in the classics, rhetoric, and mathematics, along with biblical study. The ethos of the college at this difficult period was puritan but not fanatic; the master, Thomas Hill, was a noted preacher and pastor who was also vicar of Dryden's home village of Titchmarsh.

But Dryden also had sufficient contact with the Cambridge Platonist divine John Smith to write memorial verses for him. Cambridge in general, and Trinity in particular, was a crucible of the new science, but such studies were not expected of undergraduates; perhaps, however, Dryden assimilated enough to stir a lay interest in scientific matters, for Annus mirabilis 1667 includes an encomium on the Royal Society, of which he was elected a fellow in 1662 though it was not long before he was expelled for non-payment of dues.

His time at Trinity was marred by an incident in 1652 when he was punished for some unspecified disobedience to the vice-master, but he distinguished himself academically, graduating in February 1654 at the top of the list of Trinity men.

His contemporary Robert Creighton recalled that Dryden: At some point, at least by 1657, he joined the civil service of the new protectorate, probably introduced by his cousin Sir Gilbert Pickering, who was Cromwell's lord chamberlain. The record of Cromwell's funeral procession in 1658 shows Dryden walking along with Milton and Marvell as secretaries of the French and Latin tongues.

This occasion prompted his first important poem, the Heroique Stanza's printed 1659which celebrates Cromwell as a strong and intelligent ruler in dignified, sober quatrains, displaying a patriotic rather than a partisan judgement.

Unhappily, the poem remained in the memory of readers, and was circulated both in manuscript and in print in the late 1670s and early 1680s to embarrass the Stuart laureate.

  • The years following the plague proved prosperous for Dryden;
  • His own writing soon showed his new commitment;
  • Only its prologue was brought to fruition as the masque-like Albion and Albanius, performed before Charles II in late 1684, and revised after the king's death for public performance at the Dorset Garden Theatre on 3 June 1685 printed the same year;
  • Unable to take the oath of allegiance to the new sovereigns, he lost his offices as poet laureate and historiographer royal;
  • Dryden was treading carefully, not concealing his opinions and principles, but working primarily through indirections and implications.

Marriage and early literary career, 1660—1667 As the protectorate crumbled, its servants sought other employment, and some rethought their loyalties. In the late 1650s Dryden had received casual work from the bookseller Henry Herringman, probably writing occasional prefaces and advertisements for him. With the restoration of the monarchy Dryden set out to establish a literary career, and greeted the returning king in June 1660 with an accomplished poem Astraea redux 'Justice brought back'which saw Charles II as a second Augustus.

In these pieces Dryden was courting favour with the new regime, and his change of allegiance would later bring accusations that he was a mere mercenary time-server.

Early Career

Such charges were heard with more frequency and bitterness after 1685, when his conversion to Catholicism, coinciding with the accession of the Catholic James II, made it appear to some that his principles went no deeper than his pocket. Of his shift of allegiance in 1660 Dr Johnson observed that 'if he changed, he changed with the nation' Johnson, 1. Astraea redux actually shows strongly held beliefs which were to run through Dryden's later work—a distrust of the easily misled populace, a reverence for kingship, and a faith in the workings of divine providence.

The ex officio respect for Charles in these early poems deepened as the reign progressed into a regard for his tolerance and an affection for his person, despite the provocation of a salary frequently in arrears, and encouragement which too rarely took tangible form.

From 1660 onwards Dryden's writing shows a reverence for the divinely instituted office of kingship, but also with a wry recognition of the failings of its particular incumbents; indeed, in Absalom and Achitophel he cannot restrain his Chaucerian sense of the comic disparity of man and image. It was probably in 1660 that Dryden began lodging in London with Sir Robert Howard, son of the earl of Berkshire, and in that year he contributed commendatory verses to Howard's Poems.

Soon the bond became closer, for on 1 December 1663 Dryden married Howard's sister, Lady Elizabeth c. The marriage lasted until his death, but there is little evidence about how they lived as a couple.

  • It was in these years that he turned over in his mind a scheme for an epic poem on either King Arthur or the Black Prince which would be an extended compliment to the Stuart line;
  • The duke of Buckingham used Dryden as the principal model for the playwright satirized as Mr Bayes in his play The Rehearsal staged 1671 , while a series of pamphlets in 1673 mounted an extended criticism of Dryden's plays and poems, deriding his style;
  • Though often raiding his predecessors for happy turns of phrase or useful interpretations, Dryden's translation is a masterpiece which rarely flags, and often rises to heights of eloquence and tragic reflection;
  • His first new play was the tragedy Don Sebastian staged 4 December 1689, printed 1690 , a powerful drama whose themes of friendship, loyalty, true kingship, and love thwarted by destiny carried contemporary resonances;
  • But Dryden's major Catholic work was The Hind and the Panther 1687 , an allegorical poem in which the spotless white Hind representing the Church of Rome engages the beautiful but dangerous Panther the Church of England in theological discussion about the nature of the true church, the authority of tradition, and the need for individual reason to subordinate itself to pope and councils, thus reversing the position adopted in Religio laici;
  • It did, however, have an extensive circulation in manuscript, and once it reached print in 1677 it went through nine editions by 1700, easily outselling Milton's own poem.

There were three sons: CharlesJohnand Erasmus-Henry [see below]. It is possible that Elizabeth was a Roman Catholic, and likely that his sons' conversion preceded Dryden's own. The only sexual scandal which attached to Dryden was the belief probably true that the actress Anne Reeves was his mistress in the 1670s. Satires such as Rochester's An Allusion to Horace and the anonymous The Medal of John Bayes represent Dryden making obscene boasts in an attempt to demonstrate his libertine credentials, but such behaviour would seem forced and out of character.

He was no libertine, in a milieu where such behaviour was routine. Some poems such as his late verses to his cousin John Driden of Chesterton make barbed references to the pains of marriage, but we do not know whether they have any autobiographical resonance. Though his literary career began with poetry, it was in the theatre that Dryden established his profession. His first play, The Wild Gallant, was staged at the Theatre Royal on 5 February 1663, and then at court on 23 February, probably through the influence of the king's mistress Lady Castlemaine, to whom Dryden wrote some grateful verses.

Pepys, 23 Feb 1663 A second play, the tragi-comedy The Rival Ladies, was performed in late 1663 or early 1664. The Indian Queen, written jointly with Howard, was the first of Dryden's ventures into heroic drama, a form in which he was to gain success, though he eventually tired of its posturing and inflated rhetoric.

Its first recorded performance was on 25 January 1664, in the presence of the king. Its sequel, The Indian Emperour, Dryden's unaided work, was performed early in 1665 published 1667. When the plague struck London in 1665, and the theatres closed, Dryden retired to the country, to his father-in-law's estate at Charlton in Wiltshire.

It was there that his first son was born, and there that he wrote a new play, Secret Love, and two major works, the essay Of Dramatick Poesie and the poem Annus mirabilis.

When he returned to London late in 1666 or early in 1667, these works marked him out as a major force in the new Restoration culture. Drama and the laureateship, 1667—1680 Annus mirabilis: Dryden saw these as testimony to individual heroism, the king's care for his people, and divine providence; and although a late metaphysical wit animates the poem, sometimes producing extravagant images, it does not gloss over the human suffering.

Simultaneously, in his dialogic essay Of Dramatick Poesie 1668Dryden explored the theory and practice of drama, using four fictional characters based on the earl of Dorset, Sir Charles Sedley, Sir Robert Howard, and Dryden himself who debate the relative merits of Renaissance and modern playwrights, of English and French drama, of blank verse and rhyming couplets.

The essay is specially notable for its critique of Shakespeare and Jonson particularly appreciative of the former's rare natural abilitiesand for Dryden's evident desire that the Restoration stage should lead a cultural renaissance in England. Dryden was committed now to the drama as his principal literary medium, and his main source of income.

Double recognition of Dryden's status came in spring 1668. First, he signed a contract with the King's Company to write three plays a year in return for a share of the profits; and although he never kept up the promised rate of production, his work was a mainstay of the company until it foundered in 1682.

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Secondly, on 13 April he was appointed poet laureate; appointment as historiographer royal followed on 18 August 1670. But events in 1668 also showed that this eminence was not without its detractors. Dryden replied in 'A Defence of an Essay of Dramatique Poesie' prefixed to the second edition of The Indian Emperour September 1668but the debate with Shadwell was destined to run on through a series of prefaces, dedications, prologues, and epilogues, in which the two writers debated with somewhat acerbic politeness the reputation of Jonson, charges of plagiarism, and the question whether comedy should primarily instruct or please.

Matters came to a head in Mac Flecknoe 1676.

Meanwhile, Dryden was turning to the heroic drama, and particularly to scenarios which allowed him to explore personal dilemmas of passion and duty within the larger context of the clash of cultures and ideologies. Questions of fate and free will often trouble his characters, and many of their speeches have an outlook and idiom influenced by Hobbes. And Dryden still kept his company supplied with comedies of wit and love, competent pieces, albeit lacking the sparkle and social penetration of Etherege or Wycherley at their best: Often the songs from these plays enjoyed an independent life in manuscript circulation and in musical miscellanies.

The jingoistic play Amboyna staged and printed 1673 seemed designed to inflame anti-Dutch opinion during the Third Anglo-Dutch War. On 25 January 1672 the Theatre Royal was destroyed by fire, and the company had to move into temporary quarters.

Dryden wrote a prologue for the occasion, which appropriately featured a revival of Wit without Money by Beaumont and Fletcher. He became a master of the occasional prologue, renowned for pieces which engaged in a witty, bantering rapport with the audience, sometimes flattering, sometimes insulting them, cajoling them into indulging a new playwright or in the 1680s supporting a beleaguered king.

Southerne told Pope that Dryden: His usual price till then had been four guineas: Works of Alexander Pope, 6. Others were less easily courted, including Rochester himself. Dryden's reply was in studiously general terms, though with unmistakable reference to Rochester, in the 'Preface' to All for Love 1678where he comments on the affectation of some courtiers who aspire to be poets and judges of poetry but do not have the talent, and merely make fools of themselves.

The duke of Buckingham used Dryden as the principal model for the playwright satirized as Mr Bayes in his play The Rehearsal staged 1671while a series of pamphlets in 1673 mounted an extended criticism of Dryden's plays and poems, deriding his style.

Public attacks dogged Dryden throughout his career. The altercations with Shadwell rumbled on; his political interventions on the king's side in the exclusion crisis brought many versified rejoinders; and his conversion to Catholicism in 1685 prompted further abuse and satire. There are several hundred contemporary works in prose and verse, both manuscript and print, which praise or vilify him on literary, political, or religious grounds.

Very rarely did Dryden respond in kind, though the provocation was extreme. His career was supported by powerful but not always loyal patrons, as can be seen from the dedications which he attached to his plays: Mulgrave aided him for a while; Dorset was a more consistent patron, whose support became invaluable after the revolution in 1689. The new Theatre Royal opened in Drury Lane in 1674, and it was partly to take advantage of a biography of john dryden a great english poet dramatist translator and critic improved facilities that Dryden composed a rhymed dramatic adaptation of Paradise Lost, which he called The State of Innocence: Tags were metal ornaments attached to the ends of ribbons.

The opera focuses on the choices made by Adam and Eve, exploring their decisions in a vocabulary influenced by libertine philosophy.

John Dryden Facts

But even the new house did not have the financial resources for the spectacular scenery and effects required, and the play was never staged.

It did, however, have an extensive circulation in manuscript, and once it reached print in 1677 it went through nine editions by 1700, easily outselling Milton's own poem. Dryden's interest in his erstwhile colleague did not end there: Miltonic echoes shape the quasi-heroic satire of Mac Flecknoe and Absalom and Achitophel, while many of Dryden's original poems and translations deploy Miltonic phrasing, especially when addressing topics of love and freedom.

Only Virgil is a more pervasive imaginative presence. July 1676 saw the publication of Shadwell's play The Virtuoso, with a 'Dedication' which implicitly attacked Dryden. This seems to have been the last straw, the final insult which stirred Dryden into what was for him a novel form, the verse lampoon.

Mac Flecknoe derides Shadwell's claim to be the legitimate successor to Ben Jonson by casting him instead as the heir of the prolifically dull poet and dramatist Richard Flecknoe, master of trivia and of self-importance, who In Prose and Verse, was own'd, without disputeThrough all the Realms of Non-sense, absolute. Witty, richly allusive to contemporary drama, and magnificently imaginative in its mock enthronement of this new king of dullness, the poem had a lasting impact on Shadwell's image.

  • Once more, hail and farewel; farewel thou youngBut ah too short, Marcellus of our Tongue;Thy brows with Ivy, and with Laurels bound;But Fate and gloomy Night encompass thee around;
  • No reader of Juvenal's third satire could avoid hearing the translator's voice in these lines;
  • The record of Cromwell's funeral procession in 1658 shows Dryden walking along with Milton and Marvell as secretaries of the French and Latin tongues;
  • Mac Flecknoe derides Shadwell's claim to be the legitimate successor to Ben Jonson by casting him instead as the heir of the prolifically dull poet and dramatist Richard Flecknoe, master of trivia and of self-importance, who In Prose and Verse, was own'd, without disputeThrough all the Realms of Non-sense, absolute.

At first confined to manuscript circulation for a privileged readership, it appeared in a pirated printed edition in 1682, and in an authorized though anonymous text in the Dryden—Tonson Miscellany Poems of 1684.

Dryden did not acknowledge his authorship publicly until 1692; by then Shadwell's reputation as a serious dramatist had been permanently damaged. Dryden's own career as a writer of heroic plays was drawing to a close: In one especially powerful speech, Aureng-Zebe reflects on man's capacity for self-deception: When I consider Life, 'tis all a cheat;Yet, fool'd with hope, men favour the deceit;Trust on, and think to morrow will repay: