.. his poems was “Absalom and Achitophel.” He wrote this while he was Poet Laureate, the national poet of a country (Hopkins 5). In this poem he described a political predicament that is described by characters from the Bible. He uses a vast amount of symbolism in the story. “Absalom and Architophel” represents his lifelong affinity for seeing the present in terms of the past (Miner 15).
One of his most famous poems is “Mac Flecknoe.” He destroys Thomas Shadwell by taking very crude and harsh blows on the man. However, Dryden refers to Shadwell’s appearance to only imply that he is fat: “A Ton of Man in thy Large bulk is writ, but sure tho’rt but a kildrekin of wit” (Sherwood 7). There is nobody of English criticism that is more alive, that brings readers more directly into contact with literature, than John Dryden. One can never predict what will arise with Dryden’s criticism, but it will be far more promising than any other (Mc Henry 25). John Dryden is known as “the father of English Criticism” (Osborn 136).
But, other studies and opinions show that his critical writings are known to quite often derivative, self-contradictory, rambling, inexact, at times over-specialized, and at others too sweeping (Hopkins 137). Cunningham 6 Dryden’s earliest critical essay was written in 1664, about his first verse play, The Rival Ladies. From this date until his death in 1700, Dryden scarcely passed a year without writing a preface, an essay, a discourse, a literary biography or some piece of criticism (Osborn 179). His criticism has not been viewed in the correct ways in some cases. It has often been praised for its minor virtues, and too little admired for its major ones. “His criticism is great in contrast as well as in style” (Hammond 179).
John Dryden’s critical qualities are handsome ones, preferable to most. He has confidence in his basic assumptions and more gracefully within his tradition. Another great strength of his, is that he plays example against theory and theory against example; Dryden also possesses many more admiring qualities (Hammond 5). As a well-respected critic as he is Dryden has a habit of telling what he is thinking at the time of composition. His prefaces and prologues have the quality of studio talk in which the artist speaks of what he has tried to do and how he has done better, or worse, than others. He gives his views at the time, he may have different views at other times that are more educated, but he gives the views which engage him at the moment (McHenry 39).
Criticism of Dryden in the half-century following his death is sparse, and contributions from the major men of letters are disappointingly casual and undeveloped. However, most likely the best criticism of Dryden during the period after his demise comes from “Dennis, Congerer, and Garth.” There is passion as well as admiration in Dennis’s remarks for Dryden’s poetry (Bredvold 14). He is a critic more than a theorist, meaning he judges poetry thoughtfully by talking incomparably well about the poetry. However, he also likes to think and to speak of his thinking to explore and mediate literary principles. John Dryden wrote with ease and at times carelessly, but he knew where he stood (Hammond 1). Cunningham 7 His poetry was often seen as a pure, rich, metrical energy, and formally proper to the genre.
“It is throughout its whole range, alive with a special kind of feeling” (Osborn 181). John Dryden was engaged in literary controversy his entire literary career and life. He feuded with famous writers such as Sir Robert Howard, Thomas Shadwell, Andrew Marvell, Thomas Rymar, and many others. Shadwell was the most unfortunate foe of them all. If he had never quarreled with Dryden he would not have been known today as one of the four great comic playwrights of the Restoration period (Dryden 1). Shadwell’s and Dryden’s literary quarrel developed by the means of critical comments in prologues, epilogues, prefaces, and dedications written between 1668 and 1678.
Dryden’s “Mac Flecknoe” was a major issue in the dispute between Dryden and Shadwell (Dryden 4). In “Mac Flecknoe,” Shadwell’s memory is kept alive, but has also been branded forever as horrible writer and a disgrace to the history of English writers. “Mac Flecknoe” is Dryden’s most delightful poem. It reveals Dryden’s great writing talents as poet and satirist. As he accuses Shadwell of “borrowing” from other authors.
He also indicted Shadwell of “consistently stealing,” but the charges were also greatly exaggerated. However, Dryden admitted that he was guilty of “borrowing” from other authors, but he also mentioned that Charles II said that he wished those incriminated for stealing would steal plays like Dryden’s (Dryden 18). At some point Shadwell had got on good terms with Dryden, good enough at least for Dryden to provide the prologue to one of Shadwell’s plays. It might have been the prologue the others, but still it served as a prologue to one of Shadwell’s. They had to have developed some sort of friendship or came to know each other.
Then something happened and the time for reconciliation had passed. In the same year in which he wrote that prologue for Shadwell he also wrote “Mac Flecknoe” to put an Cunningham 8 end to the feuding, and Shadwell became the “unforgiven butt of his ridicule” (McHenry 47). Dryden was an exceptional author that just did not make as big as others. His literary reputation suffers greatly from the simple fact that not many know of him. He is the man who wrote “Absalom and Architophel,” “Mac Flecknoe,” and who precedes Pope.
He wrote not only great satirical, but great love poems, great political poems, and great religious poems. Beyond those poems he wrote many great passages of poetry. He wrote an astounding amount of good poetry, probably more than any other poet in the language except Shakespeare and Milton (Hammond 67). The English author John Dryden called himself Neander, the “new man,” in his Essay of Dramatic Poesy, and implied that he was a spokesman for the concerns of his generation and the embodiment of it’s tastes. He achieved a prominence that supported his claim. Dryden excelled in comedy, heroic tragedy, verse satire, translation, and literary criticism; genres that his contemporaries and later readers have defined as representative of the Restoration period.
John Dryden’s lasting legacy will be defined by his unequaled, excellent criticisms of literature and his outstanding poetry. He developed the model for modern English prose style and set the tone for 18th century English poetry. His memorable works helped influence much of the writings that come from England to this day. Translations are another major reason why people will remember Dryden. He took authors from previous eras works and interpreted them into something superior and moved them to a greatness previously believed unattainable.
His considerable accomplishments assured Dryden’s place in literary history and, through their influence on such writers as Alexander Pope, determined the course of literary history for the next generation. Bibliography Bredvold, Louis I. The Intellectual Milieu of John Dryden. USA: University of Michigan Press, 1956. Dryden, John. All For Love.
USA: Chandler Publications, 1962. —. Annus Notabilis. Los Angeles: Castle Press, 1981. Frost, William.
John Dryden. New York: AMS Press, 1988. Hammond, Paul. John Dryden. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991. Harth, Phillip, Alan Fisher, and Ralph Cohen.
New Homage to John Dryden. Los Angeles: University of California, 1983. Hopkins, David, and Tom Mason. The Beauties of Dryden. Great Britain: Bristol Publications, 1982. McHenry, Robert W.
Jr. Absalom and Achitophel. Hamden: The Shoe String Press, Inc. , 1986. Miner, Earl.
Writers and their Background. Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1972. Osborn, James. Facts and Problems. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1965. Salvaggio, Ruth.
Dryden’s Dualities. Victoria: University of Victoria, 1983. Sergeaunt, John. The Poems of John Dryden. London: Oxford University Press, 1929. Sherwood, Margaret.
Dryden’s Dramatic Theory and Practice. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1914. Verrall, A.W. Lectures on Dryden. New York: Russell and Russell, Inc. 1963.