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. "An Essay of Dramatic Poesy by John Dryden: An Overview." Bachelorand Master, 25 Jan. Dryden emphasizes the idea of decorum in the work of art.
An Essay of Dramatic Poesy gives an explicit account of neo-classical theory of art in general.
Dryden is a neoclassic critic, and as such he deals in his criticism with issues of form and morality in drama.
His first play, The Wild Gallant, was in prose ; it is coarse and not much enlivened by wit, and it was not well received. He seems to have convinced himself that the attraction of rhyme was necessary to please the fastidious audiences for which he had to write; vi PREFACE.
and after The Rival Ladies, of which a small part is in rhyme, and The Indian Queen (1664), a play entirely rhymed, in which he assisted his brother-in-law Sir Robert Howard, he brought out, early in 1665, his tragedy of The Indian Emperor, which, like The Indian Queen, is carefully rhymed throughout.
In the prologue to the tragedy of Aurung- zebe, or the Great Mogul (\6*i^, he says that he finds it more difficult to please himself than his audience, and is inclined to damn his own play : Not that it's worse than what before he writ, But he has now another taste of wit ; And, to confess a truth, though out of time, Grows weary of his long-loved mistress, Rhyme. Whether the existing French school of drama is superior or inferior to the English. Whether the Elizabethan dramatists were in all points superior to those of Dry den's own time. Whether plays arc more perfect in proportion as they conform to the dramatic rules laid down by the ancients. Whether the substitution of rhyme for blank verse in serious plays is an improvement.
Passion, he proceeds, is too fierce to be bound in fetters; and the sense of Shakespeare's unapproachable superiority, Shakespeare, whose masterpieces dispense with rhyme, inclines him to quit the stage altogether. The first point is considered in the remarks ofj Crites (Sir Robert Howard), with which the discussion opens.
Nevertheless his original contention, however under the pressure of dejection, and the sense perhaps of flagging powers, he may afterwards have been willing to abandon it, cannot be lightly set aside as either weak or unimportant; a point on which I shall have something to say presently. In connexion with it the speaker deals with the fourth point, assuming without proof that regard to the unities of Time and JPlace, inasmuch as it tends to heighten tjip illusion of reality, must placejthe authors who pay it above those w Eo~negkct it.
Five critical questions are handled in the Essay, viz. \Eugenius J(Lord Buckhurst) answers him, pointing out the narrow range of the Greek drama, and several defects which its greatest admirers cannot deny.
[Neanderjpryden) takes up the Defence of the English stage, and tries to 'show that it is superior to the vni PREFACE. * For the verse .itself,' he says, ' we have English precedents of older date than any of Corneille's plays.' By ' verse ' he means, rhyme/' He is not rash enough to quote Gammer Gurtorfs Needle and similar plays, with their hobbling twelve-syllable couplets, as ' precedents ' earlier than the graceful French Alexandrines, but he urges that Shakespeare in his early plays has long rhyming passages, and that Jonson is not without them.
At this point Eugenius breaks in with the question, Whether Ben Jonson ought not to rank before all other writers, both French and English.