An essay on dramatic poesy by dryden

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  2. Of Dramatic Poesie, an Essay
  3. Literary Theory Essay on Dryden’s ‘an Essay on Dramatic Poesy’ Free Essays -

Shakespeare "had the largest and most comprehensive soul," while Jonson was "the most learned and judicious writer which any theater ever had. Crites objects to rhyme in plays: "since no man without premeditation speaks in rhyme, neither ought he to do it on the stage. Even though blank verse lines are no more spontaneous than are rhymed lines, they are still to be preferred because they are "nearest nature": "Rhyme is incapable of expressing the greatest thought naturally, and the lowest it cannot with any grace: for what is more unbefitting the majesty of verse, than to call a servant, or bid a door be shut in rhyme?

Neander respond to the objections against rhyme by admitting that "verse so tedious" is inappropriate to drama and to anything else. Is the sense of the verses tied down to, and limited by, the rhymes, or are the rhymes in service to, and an enhancement of, the sense of the verses?

Dryden prescriptive in nature, defines dramatic art as an imitation with the aim to delight and to teach, and is considered a just and lively image of human nature representing its passions and humors for the delight and instruction of mankind. Dryden emphasizes the idea of decorum in the work of art. Sharma, K. As for Comedy, Repartee is one of its chiefest graces; the greatest pleasure of the Audience is a chase of wit kept up on both sides, and swiftly managed.

But this hinders not that there may be more shining characters in the Play many persons of a second magnitude, nay, some so very near, so almost equal to the first, that greatness may be opposed to greatness, and all the persons be made considerable, not only by their quality, but their action. If then the parts are managed so regularly that the beauty of the whole be kept entire, and that the variety become not a perplexed and confused mass of accidents, you will find it infinitely pleasing to be led in a labyrinth of design, where you see some of your way before you, yet discern not the end till you arrive at it.

So that to judge equally of it, it was an excellent fifth Act, but not so naturally proceeding from the former. Farther I think it very convenient, for the reasons he has given, that all incredible actions were removed; but, whither custom has so insinuated it self into our Country-men, or nature has so formed them to fierceness, I know not, but they will scarcely suffer combats and other objects of horror to be taken from them.

And indeed, the indecency of tumults is all which can be objected against fighting: For why may not our imagination as well suffer itself to be deluded with the probability of it, as with any other thing in the Play? For my part, I can with as great ease persuade my self that the blows which are struck are given in good earnest, as I can, that they who strike them are Kings or Princes, or those persons which they represent.

A Play which has been frequented the most of any he has writ? If the Perseus, or the Son of an Heathen God, the Pegasus and the Monster were not capable to choke a strong belief, let him blame any representation of ours hereafter. Those indeed were objects of delight; yet the reason is the same as to the probability: for he makes it not a Ballette or Masque, but a Play, which is to resemble truth. To conclude on this subject of Relations, if we are to be blamed for showing too much of the action, the French are as faulty for discovering too little of it: a mean betwixt both should be observed by every judicious Writer, so as the audience may neither be left unsatisfied by not seeing what is beautiful, or shocked by beholding what is either incredible or undecent.

But what will Lisideius say if they themselves acknowledge they are too strictly tied up by those laws, for breaking which he has blamed the English? How many beautiful accidents might naturally happen in two or three days, which cannot arrive with any probability in the compass of hours?

There is time to be allowed also for maturity of design, which amongst great and prudent persons, such as are often represented in Tragedy cannot, with any likelihood of truth, be brought to pass at so short a warning. Many times they fall by it into a greater inconvenience; for they keep their Scenes unbroken, and yet change the place as in one of their newest Plays, where the Act begins in the Street.

There a Gentleman is to meet his Friend; he sees him with his man, coming out from his Fathers house; they talk together, and the first goes out: the second, who is a Lover, has made an appointment with his Mistress; she appears at the window and then we are to imagine the Scene lies under it.

This Gentleman is called away, and leaves his servant with his Mistress: presently her Father is heard from within; the young Lady is afraid the Servingman should be discovered, and thrusts him in through a door which is supposed to be her Closet. After this, the Father enters to the Daughter, and now the Scene is in a House: for he is seeking from one room to another for this poor Philipin, or French Diego, who is heard from within, drolling [jesting—ed. In this ridiculous manner the Play goes on, the Stage being never empty all the while: so that the Street, the Window, the two Houses, and the Closet, are made to walk about, and the Persons to stand still.

Now what I beseech you is more easy than to write a regular French Play, or more difficult than to write an irregular English one, like those of Fletcher, or of Shakespeare. Besides, in performing them, it will be first necessary to speak somewhat of Shakespeare and Fletcher, his Rivals in Poesy; and one of them, in my opinion, at least his equal, perhaps his superior. All the Images of Nature were still present to him, and he drew them not laboriously, but luckily: when he describes any thing, you more than see it, you feel it too.

Those who accuse him to have wanted learning, give him the greater commendation: he was naturally learned; he needed not the spectacles of Books to read Nature; he looked inwards, and found her there. I cannot say he is every where alike; were he so, I should do him injury to compare him with the greatest of Mankind.

*An Essay of Dramatic Poesy, by John Dryden

He is many times flat, insipid; his Comic wit degenerating into clenches [puns—ed. But he is always great when some great occasion is presented to him: no man can say he ever had a fit subject for his wit, and did not then raise himself as high above the rest of the Poets. Quantum lenta solent, inter viburna cupressi. The consideration of this made Mr. Beaumont especially being so accurate a judge of Plays, that Ben Jonson while he lived, submitted all his Writings to his Censure, and he thought, used his judgement in correcting, if not contriving all his Plots.

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What value he had for him, appears by the Verses he writ to him; and therefore need speak no farther of it. The first Play which brought Fletcher and him in esteem was their Philaster : for before that, they had written two or three year unsuccessfully; as the like is reported of Ben Jonson, before he writ Every Man in his Humor. This Humor of which Ben Jonson derived from particular persons, they made it not their business to describe: they represented all the passions very lively, but above all, Love.

I am apt to believe the English Language in them arrived to its highest perfection; what words have since been taken in, are rather superfluous than necessary. He was a most severe Judge of himself as well as others. One cannot say he wanted wit, but rather that he was frugal of it.

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In his works you find little to retrench or alter. Wit and Language, and Humor also in some measure we had before him; but something of Art was wanting to the Drama till he came. He managed his strength to more advantage than any who preceded him. You seldom find him making Love in any of his Scenes, or endeavoring to move the Passions; his genius was too sullen and saturnine to do it gracefully, especially when he knew he came after those who had performed both to such an height.

Humor was his proper Sphere, and in that he delighted most to represent Mechanic [laboring, vulgar—ed. He was deeply conversant in the Ancients, both Greek and Latin, and he borrowed boldly from them: there is scarce a Poet or Historian among the Roman Authors of those times whom he has not translated in Sejanus and Catiline. But he has done his Robberies so openly, that one may see he fears not to be taxed by any Law. He invades Authors like a Monarch, and what would be theft in other Poets, is only victory in him. With the spoils of these Writers he so represents old Rome to us, in its Rites, Ceremonies and Customs, that if one of their Poets had written either of his Tragedies, we had seen less of it than in him.

If I would compare him with Shakespeare, I must acknowledge him the more correct Poet, but Shakespeare the greater wit. To conclude of him, as he has given us the most correct Plays, so in the precepts which he has laid down in his Discoveries , we have as many and profitable Rules for perfecting the Stage as any wherewith the French can furnish us. A beauty perhaps not much observed; if it had, we should not have looked upon the Spanish Translation of five hours with so much wonder.

The Scene of it is laid in London; the latitude of place is almost as little as you can imagine: for it lies all within the compass of two Houses, and after the first Act, in one. The continuity of Scenes is observed more than in any of our Plays, excepting his own Fox and Alchemist.

The Intrigue of it is the greatest and most noble of any pure unmixed Comedy in any Language: you see it in many persons of various characters and humors, and all delightful: At first, Morose, or an old Man, to whom all noise but his own talking is offensive. Some who would be thought Critics, say this humor of his is forced: but to remove that objection, we may consider him first to be naturally of a delicate hearing, as many are to whom all sharp sounds are unpleasant; and secondly, we may attribute much of it to the peevishness of his Age, or the wayward authority of an old man in his own house, where he may make himself obeyed; and this the Poet seems to allude to in his name Morose.

Of Dramatic Poesie, an Essay

Besides this, I am assured from diverse persons, that Ben Jonson was actually acquainted with such a man, one altogether as ridiculous as he is here represented. Others say it is not enough to find one man of such an humor; it must be common to more, and the more common the more natural. To prove this, they instance in the best of Comical Characters.

Falstaff: There are many men resembling him; Old, Fat, Merry, Cowardly, Drunken, Amorous, Vain, and Lying: But to convince these people, I need but tell them, that humor is the ridiculous extravagance of conversation, wherein one man differs from all others. And here having a place so proper for it I cannot but enlarge somewhat upon this subject of humor into which I am fallen.

Literary Theory Essay on Dryden’s ‘an Essay on Dramatic Poesy’ Free Essays -

The Ancients had little of it in their Comedies; for the to geloion [the laughable—ed. Thus when you see Socrates brought upon the Stage, you are not to imagine him made ridiculous by the imitation of his actions, but rather by making him perform something very unlike himself: something so childish and absurd, as by comparing it with the gravity of the true Socrates, makes a ridiculous object for the Spectators. In their new Comedy which succeeded, the Poets fought indeed to express the ethos [moral character], as in their Tragedies the pathos [emotion—ed.

But this ethos contained only the general Characters of men and manners; as old men, Lovers, Servingmen, Courtesans, Parasites, and such other persons as we see in their Comedies; all which they made alike: that is, one old man or Father; one Lover, one Courtesan so like another, as if the first of them had begot the rest of every sort: Ex homine hunc natum dicas [You would say that this man is born from that one—ed. The same custom they observed likewise in their Tragedies. As for the French, though they have the word humeur among them, yet they have small use of it in their Comedies, or Farces; they being but ill imitations of the ridiculum , or that which stirred up laughter in the old Comedy.

The description of these humors, drawn from the knowledge and observation of particular persons, was the peculiar genius and talent of Ben Jonson; To whose Play I now return. Besides, that he has here described the conversation of Gentlemen in the persons of True-Wit, and his Friends, with more gayety, air and freedom, than in the rest of his Comedies. But I dare not take upon me to commend the Fabric of it, because it is altogether so full of Art, that I must unravel every Scene in it to commend it as I ought.

Here every one is a proper Judge of all he sees; nothing is represented but that with which he daily converses: so that by consequence all faults lie open to discovery, and few are pardonable. But our Poet, who was not ignorant of these difficulties, had prevailed himself of all advantages; as he who designs a large leap takes his rise from the highest ground.

One of these advantages is that which Corneille has laid down as the greatest which can arrive to any Poem, and which he himself could never compass above thrice in all his Plays, viz. Thus, in Bartholomew Fair he gives you the Pictures of Numps and Cokes, and in this those of Daw, Lafoole, Morose, and the Collegiate Ladies; all which you hear described before you see them. So that before they come upon the Stage you have a longing expectation of them, which prepares you to receive them favorably; and when they are there, even from their first appearance you are so far acquainted with them, that nothing of their humor is lost to you.

The second is greater than the first; the third than the second, and so forward to the fifth. There too you see, till the very last Scene, new difficulties arising to obstruct the action of the Play; and when the Audience is brought into despair that the business can naturally be effected, then, and not before, the discovery is made. But that the Poet might entertain you with more variety all this while, he reserves some new Characters to show you, which he opens not till the second and third Act.

In the second, Morose, Daw, the Barber and Otter; in the third the Collegiate Ladies: All which he moves afterwards in by-walks, or under-Plots, as diversions to the main design, lest it should grow tedious, though they are still naturally joined with it, and somewhere or other subservient to it. Thus, like a skilful Chess-player, by little and little he draws out his men, and makes his pawns of use to his greater persons.

But we need not call our heroes to our aid; Be it spoken to the honor of the English, our Nation can never want in any Age such who are able to dispute the Empire of Wit with any people in the Universe. And though the fury of a Civil War, and Power, for twenty years together, abandoned to a barbarous race of men, Enemies of all good Learning, had buried the Muses under the ruins of Monarchy; yet with the restoration of our happiness, we see revived Poesy lifting up its head, and already shaking off the rubbish which lay so heavy on it.

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  • I will set aside Flattery and Envy: it cannot be denied but we have had some little blemish either in the Plot or writing of all those Plays which have been made within these seven years and perhaps there is no Nation in the world so quick to discern them, or so difficult to pardon them, as ours : yet if we can persuade our selves to use the candor of that Poet, who though the most severe of Critics has left us this caution by which to moderate our censures—. Only I think it may be permitted me to say, that as it is no lessening to us to yield to some Plays, and those not many of our own Nation in the last Age, so can it be no addition to pronounce of our present Poets that they have far surpassed all the Ancients, and the Modern Writers of other Countries.

    I will grant it was not altogether left by him, and that Fletcher and Ben Jonson used it frequently in their Pastorals, and sometimes in other Plays. Farther, I will not argue whether we received it originally from our own Countrymen, or from the French; for that is an inquiry of as little benefit, as theirs who in the midst of the great Plague were not so solicitous to provide against it, as to know whether we had it from the malignity of our own air, or by transportation from Holland.

    I have therefore only to affirm, that it is not allowable in serious Plays, for Comedies I find you already concluding with me. To prove this, I might satisfy my self to tell you, how much in vain it is for you to strive against the stream of the peoples inclination; the greatest part of which are prepossessed so much with those excellent Plays of Shakespeare, Fletcher, and Ben Jonson, which have been written out of Rhyme that except you could bring them such as were written better in it, and those too by persons of equal reputation with them, it will be impossible for you to gain your cause with them, who will still be judges.

    This it is to which in fine all your reasons must submit. But when Laberius, a Roman Knight, at his request contended in the Mime with another Poet, he was forced to cry out, Etiam favente me victus es Laben [Even with me favoring you, Laberius, you are beaten—ed. But I will not on this occasion, take the advantage of the greater number, but only urge such reasons against Rhyme, as I find in the Writings of those who have argued for the other way. First then I am of opinion, that Rhyme is unnatural in a Play, because Dialogue there is presented as the effect of sudden thought.

    For a Play is the imitation of Nature; and since no man, without premeditation speaks in Rhyme, neither ought he to do it on the Stage; this hinders not but the Fancy may be there elevated to a higher pitch of thought than it is in ordinary discourse: for there is a probability that men of excellent and quick parts may speak noble things extempore : but those thoughts are never fettered with the numbers or sound of Verse without study, and therefore it cannot be but unnatural to present the most free way of speaking, in that which is the most constrained.

    These numbers therefore are fittest for a Play; the others for a paper of Verses, or a Poem. Blank verse being as much below them as rhyme is improper for the Drama.