Dryden essay of dramatic poesy text


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To compose an epic poem, he says, a poet needs wit.

Dryden defines wit as imagination, as the ability to find the right memory or the right metaphor we are looking for:. But to proceed from wit in the general notion of it to the proper wit of an heroic or historical poem, I judge it chiefly to consist in the delightful imaging of persons, actions, passions, or things. So then, the first happiness of the poet's imagination is properly invention or finding the thought ; the second is fancy, or the variation, deriving or molding of that thought, as the judgement represents it proper to the subject; the third is elocution, or the art of clothing and adorning that thought so found and varied, in apt, significant and sounding words: the quickness of the imagination is seen in the invention, the fertility in the fancy, and the accuracy in the expression.

Writers in dramatic style, such as Ovid and all playwrights, must excel in invention and fancy; those speaking in his own voice, like Virgil, must cultivate their expression. So, there are different creative faculties in the human mind, and each kind of work may demand a special development of one or other. Dryden feels at times the need to specialise: he wrote works in practically all genres except the novel, but he seems to think that each writer excels in a particular kind of writing. He complains that the Ancients were either tragedians or comedians, and that it is easier to attain perfection in this way, writing only the kind of thing one does best.

This natural gift has to be controlled by technique. The good writer must be a born genius here Dryden refers us to Longinus , and he must know the emotions he is depicting. But he must not be carried away by them because probably the audience would not follow him. Dryden believes that poetry is an art for witty men, and not for madmen. Passion would blur the differences between characters, and it is judgement which keeps them separate. We can compare this analytical labor of the judgement to Hobbes once again. Dryden's interest in the successful objectification of the poet's emotions is an interesting prefiguration of later aesthetic theories e.

Of course we have the classical models to guide us. To copy their ways is not a fault, rather a virtue. In the Essay of Dramatic Poesy we find this phrase as a commendation of Ben Jonson: "He was not only a professed imitator of Horace, but a learned plagiary of all the others" But true imitation must be original and improve the models. Dryden believes that poetry has a historical development, and he wishes "that poetry may not go backward, when all other arts and sciences are advancing. All great writers have borrowed from others, without their being less original for it.

He traces the Homeric influence in Virgil, for instance. The neoclassical era is not particularly sensitive to originality and invention, but nevertheless Dryden believes that other things being equal, originality is to be preferred to good imitation, and is a greater proof of genius.

One word on the subject of progress in literature: Dryden, as many other critics of his time, seems to believe in a cyclical alternance of barbarian ages with ages of refinement and progress. They believe themselves to be in the equivalent of the Roman empire. Shakespeare is Dryden's Homer, and Jonson is his Virgil.

John Dryden An Essay Of Dramatic Poesy Türkçe

He does not seem to believe that the heighths of the classical age can be reached again; even the language is too unstable for great works and inferior to Greek. Like Pope, Dryden believed that writing in English is like writing on sand, compared to the writing on marble of the Ancients. Rhyme is for Dryden something more than a mere ornament. It is a way of consciously controlling the process of composition: because of the superior attention it requires, rhyme demands a greater consciousness on the part of the poet, and less abandonment to the inspiration of his fancy.

Rhyme, then, is not a mere "embroidery of sense," it is a means of clarifying the thought.

An Essay of Dramatic Poesy by John Dryden: An Overview

We shall see that Dryden initially favoured the use of rhyme in plays when the appropriateness of this convention coming from France is being debated. Verse is right; it is only unnatural when it is forced. Rhyme is superior to blank verse, which Dryden believed was invented by Shakespeare. Paradoxically, he recognizes that it is blank verse which is the tradition natural to English.

However, Dryden's statement on rhyme does not end here. We may note that he accepts blank verse in the less serious types of plays. And in later years, he was to modify his views, and he came to recognize that blank verse was a suitable vehicle for serious drama. In the prologue to Aureng-Zebe , he admits to growing "weary of his long-loved mistress, rhyme" and recognizes Shakespeare's superiority. And in the preface to All for Love , an imitation of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, he admits that blank verse is more suitable for a Shakespearean imitation, even if it is a tragedy.

Maybe the neoclassical preference for the heroic couplet is the reason for this change: couplets of alexandrines, the staple of French classical drama, are all right for the French language, but the English heroic couplet does not lend itself so easily to the portrayal of conversation. It is best fit to long series of meditative or essayistic verses, and it is here where it will triumph; English drama reverts to blank verse and then to prose.

Dryden also writes a miniature history of modern prosody. Although he is a bit patronizing on Chaucer, he is readier than most people in his age to recognise his genius. However, at the time Chaucer's language was still unknown Dryden laughs at the first news of a reconstruction of Chaucer's regular metrics in the preface to his translation , so Dryden does not recognize his merits as a versifier, and considers Waller and Denham who are minor poets from our point of view to be the first great versifiers of the English language.

Waller is the inventor of the couplet: he "first showed us to conclude the sense most commonly in distychs" Orrery 5.

Literary Theory Essay on Dryden’s ‘an Essay on Dramatic Poesy’

Dryden will insist on the connection between form and sense: in this way form will impose itself directly on sense. Couplets and quatrains must contain a unit of sense. On the other hand, he opposes the strict equality of syllables in all lines, a reasonable thing to do, since stressing certain weak syllables and making them count for measure is unnatural to English.

Dryden opposes Aristotle in believing that the soul of a play is not to be found in its plot, but rather in its author's language, in diction and thought. Dryden wants a literature written in a pure language, one which is free from neologism and pedantry alike. However, he accepts coinages from Latin. Like Swift whose complaints will be much the same, he longs for an academy with an authority to decide on linguistic matters.

We find in the age of Dryden a growing reaction against the Ramist conception of rhetoric.

If rhetoric is just an addition of ornamental words, it is better to do away with it. The cartesian and the empiricist ideas coincide here. Fancy will seen as something which plays with words, while judgement defines the real relationships between things. One of the most notable phenomena of the age is the definition of the language of science in opposition to rhetoric. The Royal Society inspires the works of John Wilkins Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language, and Thomas Sprat, who advocates a "mathematical plainness" in style: one word, one thing.

These ideas will be satirized in Swift's Gulliver's Travels, where the wise men in Laputa carry with them all the objects they want to speak about and merely point to them. For Locke, the most influential philosopher during the eighteenth century, eloquence misleads judgement, instead of directing it. All these writers mistrust literature, poetry, rhetoric, which they consider empty words. There is a growing emphasis on reason which will be felt in literary theory as well.

Dryden discusses character and plot as technical difficulties faced by the writer, sometimes working one against the other. This conception is very characteristic of British criticism. We can compare it with E. Forster's account in Aspects of the Novel , which describes how the plot seems to lead the writer in one direction and the characters in a different one.

For both Forster and Dryden, it is the poet's art to respect both the decorum of the characters and the causally necessary, natural solution to the plot. The writer, Dryden says, is like a god to his characters, having prescience and power of determination. But it is difficult to use them in a way altogether convincing, working as a whole. We may note that decorum and rule are for Dryden a means of giving formal integrity to the work: that is, they are not only content, but form as well; their aim is not to depict the world as it is, but to give unity to the work.

Dryden, like many later critics, is conscious of two different tendencies present in a work: although he does not use these terms, we might call them the mimetic tendency the relationship between an element in the work and reality and the structural tendency the coherence of the work imposing its own conventions, the concern for formal integrity.

He opposes the strongly conventionalized characters and plots of Roman comedies, asking for a wider imitation of nature, although he also appreciates the advantages of patterning and of structural simplicity in current French plays, and he believes some of Shakespeare's plays to be "ridiculously cramped" with incident. But the interest of the plot and the characters is also to be found in variety and not simply in a well-defined structure.

In variety we recognize real life, and this is one of the advantages of the English approach to dramatic art.


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The story itself is the least important part of a poet's work, the one which lends it most easily to imitation. It is a material which must be worked on, finding suitable characters and style. Aristotle, Dryden points out, placed plot first of all elements in a play as the basis on which the others are built, and not as the most important one to determine the quality of a play.

Much more than documents.

For Dryden, it is the characters' language which is the most important element in a play. Dryden repeats Aristotle's theory on the unity of action, but understanding it in a wider sense than many neoclassical critics. There can be unity in a play with two lines of action, if they are causally linked.

An Essay of Dramatic Poesy - Dryden

Dryden introduces in English criticism the criterion of unity used by Corneille, the contrast between the suspense of the partial actions and the final repose of the mind of the audience when the whole of the action is completed. He demands that beginning, middle and end follow each other in a necessary way:. Dryden also repeats Aristotle's doctrine on characters. Manners must be apparent shown in action and discourse , suitable, resemblant, and constant.

Characters derive from manners, but they must be a suitable composite of manners, and not be grounded on a single trait. We may compare this conception, once again, to E. Forster's well-known opposition between flat and round characters Aspects of the Novel. Thomas Sprat, of the Royal Society, answered back with a treatise on the new science which was being developed in England. It is a defense of the English theatrical ways, presenting them at least as an alternative to the classical and the French styles.

Something can be said for them, and not just against them, and we may well think that Neander's arguments for English drama are the strongest. Dryden's comments on earlier playwrights are important not only in themselves, but also because they are at the start of a tradition of valuation of English literature, "dearest moments in the history of national self-appreciation" for Sampson.

John Dryden An Essay Of Dramatic Poesy Türkçe

Dryden set the rules for Shakespearean criticism for the next century and a half; and if his admiration for Ben Jonson seems excessive to us now, we still use many of his views of the differences between both writers, in whom he saw an entirely different force at work. In any case, Dryden expounds in a fair enough way the reasons for and against the dramatic practice of both countries, as well as of that of the Ancients, and re-states the classical doctrine on drama. Dryden retains an openness to contrary argument which almost approaches scepticism, although it would be more accurate to define his views as probabilistic rather than sceptic Wimsatt and Brooks Dryden was accused of inconclusiveness, and he retorted with the Defence of an Essay of Dramatic Poesy , and there he alludes to the Aristotelian difference between demonstrative and probabilistic arguments: the latter Aristotle had said to be proper to rhetoric.

It is up to the talent of each fictional speaker to convince us of the rightness of his opinions. They are Crities, Eugenius, Lisideius, and Neander. Although Neander is generally recognised as Dryden's spokesman and as the more cogent speaker of all, all are allowed to have their say, and the dialogue is not brought to a conclusion through the victory of Neander's argument: we leave the four friends still debating the issues.

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