An Essay of Dramatic Poesy by John Dryden: An Overview

essay on dramatic poetry is written in

Dryden wrote this essay as a dramatic dialogue with four characters Eugenius , Crites , Lisideius and Neander representing four critical positions. These four critical positions deal with five issues. Eugenius (whose name may mean "well born") favors the moderns over the ancients, arguing that the moderns exceed the ancients because of having learned and profited from their example. Crites argues in favor of the ancients: they established the unities; dramatic rules were spelled out by Aristotle which the current-and esteemed-French playwrights follow; and Ben Jonson-the greatest English playwright, according to Crites-followed the ancients' example by adhering to the unities. Lisideius argues that French drama is superior to English drama , basing this opinion of the French writer's close adherence to the classical separation of comedy and tragedy. For Lisideius "no theater in the world has anything so absurd as the English tragicomedy; in two hours and a half, we run through all the fits of Bedlam." Neander favors the moderns, but does not disparage the ancients. He also favors English drama-and has some critical -things to say of French drama: "those beauties of the French poesy are such as will raise perfection higher where it is, but are not sufficient to give it where it is not: they are indeed the beauties of a statue, but not of a man." Neander goes on to defend tragicomedy: "contraries, when placed near, set off each other. A continued gravity keeps the spirit too much bent; we must refresh it sometimes." Tragicomedy increases the effectiveness of both tragic and comic elements by 'way of contrast. Neander asserts that "we have invented, increased, -and perfected a more pleasant way of writing for the stage . . . tragicomedy."

Neander criticizes French drama essentially for its smallness: its pursuit of only one plot without subplots; its tendency to show too little action; its "servile observations of the unities…dearth of plot, and narrowness of imagination" are all qualities which render it inferior to English drama. Neander extends his criticism of French drama - into his reasoning for his preference for Shakespeare over Ben Jonson. Shakespeare "had the largest and most comprehensive soul," while Jonson was "the most learned and judicious writer which any theater ever had." Ultimately, Neander prefers Shakespeare for his greater scope, his greater faithfulness to life, as compared to Jonson's relatively small scope and Freneh/Classical tendency to deal in "the beauties of a statue, but not of a Man."

Crites objects to rhyme in plays: "since no man without premeditation speaks in rhyme, neither ought he to do it on the stage." He cites Aristotle as saying that it is, "best to write tragedy in that kind of verse . . . which is nearest prose" as a justification for banishing rhyme, from drama in favor of blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter). 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). "Natural" rhymed verse is, however, just as appropriate to dramatic as to non-dramatic poetry: the test of the "naturalness" of rhyme is how well-chosen the rhymes are. 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?

The main point of Dryden's essay seems to be a valuation of becoming (the striving, nature-imitating, large scope of tragicomedy and Shakespeare) over being (the static perfection of the ideal-imitating Classical/French/Jonsonian drama).

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.

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Sharma, K.N. "An Essay of Dramatic Poesy by John Dryden: An Overview." BachelorandMaster, 25 Jan. 2014,

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Home › Literature › Literary Criticism of John Dryden

Literary Criticism of John Dryden

By NASRULLAH MAMBROL on November 17, 2017 • ( 4 )

John Dryden (1631–1700) occupies a seminal place in English critical history. Samuel Johnson called him “the father of English criticism,” and affirmed of his Essay of Dramatic Poesy (1668) that “modern English prose begins here.” Dryden’s critical work was extensive, treating of various genres such as epic, tragedy, comedy and dramatic theory, satire, the relative virtues of ancient and modern writers, as well as the nature of poetry and translation. In addition to the Essay , he wrote numerous prefaces, reviews, and prologues, which together set the stage for later poetic and critical developments embodied in writers such as Pope , Johnson, Matthew Arnold , and T. S. Eliot .

Dryden was also a consummate poet, dramatist, and translator. His poetic output reflects his shifting religious and political allegiances. Born into a middle-class family just prior to the outbreak of the English Civil War between King Charles I and Parliament, he initially supported the latter, whose leaders, headed by Oliver Cromwell, were Puritans. Indeed, his poem Heroic Stanzas (1659) celebrated the achievements of Cromwell who, after the execution of Charles I by the victorious parliamentarians, ruled England as Lord Protector (1653–1658). However, with the restoration of the dead king’s son, Charles II , to the throne in 1660, Dryden switched sides, celebrating the new monarchy in his poem Astrea Redux ( Justice Restored ). Dryden was appointed poet-laureate in 1668 and thereafter produced several major poems, including the mock-heroic  Mac Flecknoe   (1682), and a political satire Absalom and Achitophel (1681). In addition, he produced two poems that mirror his move from Anglicanism to Catholicism: Religio Laici (1682) defends the Anglican Church while The Hind and the Panther , just five years later, opposes Anglicanism. Dryden’s renowned dramas include the comedy Marriage a la Mode (1671) and the tragedies Aureng-Zebe (1675) and All for Love, or the World Well Lost (1677). His translations include Fables, Ancient and Modern (1700), which includes renderings of Ovid, Boccaccio, and Chaucer.

Dryden’s Essay of Dramatic Poesy is written as a debate on drama conducted by four speakers, Eugenius , Crites , Lisideius , and Neander. These personae have conventionally been identified with four of Dryden’s contemporaries. Eugenius (meaning “well-born”) may be Charles Sackville , who was Lord Buckhurst, a patron of Dryden and a poet himself. Crites (Greek for “judge” or “critic”) perhaps represents Sir Robert Howard, Dryden’s brother-in-law. Lisideius refers to Sir Charles Sedley , and Neander (“new man”) is Dryden himself. The Essay , as Dryden himself was to point out in a later defense of it, was occasioned by a public dispute with Sir Robert Howard (Crites) over the use of rhyme in drama. In a note to the reader prefacing the Essay , he suggests that the chief purpose of his text is “to vindicate the honour of our English writers, from the censure of those who unjustly prefer the French” (27). Yet the scope of the  Essay extends far beyond these two topics, effectively ranging over a number of crucial debates concerning the nature and composition of drama.

The first of these debates is that between ancients and moderns, a debate that had intermittently surfaced for centuries in literature and criticism, and which acquired a new and topical intensity in European letters after the Renaissance, in the late seventeenth century. Traditionalists such as Jonathan Swift , in his controversial Battle of the Books (1704), bemoaned the modern “corruption” of religion and learning, and saw in the ancients the archetypal standards of literature. The moderns, inspired by various forms of progress through the Renaissance, sought to adapt or even abandon classical ideals in favor of the requirements of a changed world and a modern audience. Dryden’s Essay is an important intervention in this debate, perhaps marking a distinction between Renaissance and neoclassical values. Like Torquato Tasso and Pierre Corneille , he attempted to strike a compromise between the claims of ancient authority and the exigencies of the modern writer.

In Dryden’s text, this compromise subsumes a number of debates: one of these concerns the classical “unities” of time, place, and action; another focuses on the rigid classical distinction between various genres, such as tragedy and comedy; there was also the issue of classical decorum and propriety, as well as the use of rhyme in drama. All of these elements underlie the nature of drama. In addition, Dryden undertakes an influential assessment of the English dramatic tradition, comparing writers within this tradition itself as well as with their counterparts in French drama.


Dryden’s Essay is skillfully wrought in terms of its own dramatic structure, its setting up of certain expectations (the authority of classical precepts), its climaxing in the reversal of these, and its denouement in the comparative assessment of French and English drama. What starts out, through the voice of Crites, as promising to lull the reader into complacent subordination to classical values ends up by deploying those very values against the ancients themselves and by undermining or redefining those values.

Lisideius offers the following definition of a play: “ A just and lively image of human nature, representing its passions and humours, and the changes of fortune to which it is subject, for the delight and instruction of mankind ” (36). Even a casual glance at the definition shows it to be very different from Aristotle’s: the latter had defined tragedy not as the representation of “human nature” but as the imitation of a serious and complete action; moreover, while Aristotle had indeed cited a reversal in fortune as a component of tragedy, he had said nothing about “passions and humours”; and, while he accorded to literature in general a moral and intellectual function, he had said nothing about “delighting” the audience. The definition of drama used in Dryden’s Essay embodies a history of progressive divergence from classical models; indeed, it is a definition already weighted in favor of modern drama, and it is a little surprising that Crites agrees to abide by it at all. Crites, described in Dryden’s text as “a person of sharp judgment, and somewhat too delicate a taste in wit” (29), is, after all, the voice of classical conservatism.

Crites notes that poetry is now held in lower esteem, in an atmosphere of “few good poets, and so many severe judges” (37–38). His essential argument is that the ancients were “faithful imitators and wise observers of that Nature which is so torn and ill represented in our plays; they have handed down to us a perfect resemblance of her; which we, like ill copiers, neglecting to look on, have rendered monstrous, and disfigured.” He reminds his companions that all the rules for drama – concerning the plot, the ornaments, descriptions, and narrations – were formulated by Aristotle, Horace, or their predecessors. As for us modern writers, he remarks, “we have added nothing of our own, except we have the confidence to say our wit is better” (38).

The most fundamental of these classical rules are the three unities, of time, place, and action. Crites claims that the ancients observed these rules in most of their plays (38–39). The unity of action, Crites urges, stipulates that the “poet is to aim at one great and complete action,” to which all other things in the play “are to be subservient.” The reason behind this, he explains, is that if there were two major actions, this would destroy the unity of the play (41). Crites cites a further reason from Corneille: the unity of action “leaves the mind of the audience in a full repose”; but such a unity must be engineered by the subordinate actions which will “hold the audience in a delightful suspense of what will be” (41). Most modern plays, says Crites, fail to endure the test imposed by these unities, and we must therefore acknowledge the superiority of the ancient authors (43).

This, then, is the presentation of classical authority in Dryden’s text. It is Eugenius who first defends the moderns, saying that they have not restricted themselves to “dull imitation” of the ancients; they did not “draw after their lines, but those of Nature; and having the life before us, besides the experience of all they knew, it is no wonder if we hit some airs and features which they have missed” (44). This is an interesting and important argument which seems to have been subsequently overlooked by Alexander Pope , who in other respects followed Dryden’s prescriptions for following the rules of “nature.” In his Essay on Criticism , Pope had urged that to copy nature is to copy the ancient writers. Dryden, through the mouth of his persona Eugenius, completely topples this complacent equation: Eugenius effectively turns against Crites the latter’s own observation that the arts and sciences have made huge advances since the time of Aristotle. Not only do we have the collective experience and wisdom of the ancients to draw upon, but also we have our own experience of the world, a world understood far better in scientific terms than in ages past: “if natural causes be more known now than in the time of Aristotle . . . it follows that poesy and other arts may, with the same pains, arrive still nearer to perfection” (44).

Turning to the unities, Eugenius points out (after Corneille) that by the time of Horace, the division of a play into five acts was firmly established, but this distinction was unknown to the Greeks. Indeed, the Greeks did not even confine themselves to a regular number of acts (44–46). Again, their plots were usually based on “some tale derived from Thebes or Troy,” a plot “worn so threadbare . . . that before it came upon the stage, it was already known to all the audience.” Since the pleasure in novelty was thereby dissolved, asserts Eugenius, “one main end of Dramatic Poesy in its definition, which was to cause delight, was of consequence destroyed” (47). These are strong words, threatening to undermine a long tradition of reverence for the classics. But Eugenius has hardly finished: not only do the ancients fail to fulfill one of the essential obligations of drama, that of delighting; they also fall short in the other requirement, that of instructing. Eugenius berates the narrow characterization by Greek and Roman dramatists, as well as their imperfect linking of scenes. He cites instances of their own violation of the unities. Even more acerbic is his observation, following Corneille, that when the classical authors such as Euripides and Terence do observe the unities, they are forced into absurdities (48–49). As for the unity of place, he points out, this is nowhere to be found in Aristotle or Horace; it was made a precept of the stage in our own age by the French dramatists (48). Moreover, instead of “punishing vice and rewarding virtue,” the ancients “have often shown a prosperous wickedness, and an unhappy piety” (50).

Eugenius also berates the ancients for not dealing sufficiently with love, but rather with “lust, cruelty, revenge, ambition . . . which were more capable of raising horror than compassion in an audience” (54). Hence, in Dryden’s text, not only is Aristotle’s definition of tragedy violently displaced by a formulation that will accommodate modern poets, but also the ancient philosopher’s definition itself is made to appear starkly unrealistic and problematic for ancient dramatists, who persistently violated its essential features.

The next point of debate is the relative quality of French and English writers; it is Lisideius who extols the virtues of the French while Neander (Dryden himself) undertakes to defend his compatriots. Lisideius argues that the current French theatre surpasses all Europe, observing the unities of time, place, and action, and is not strewn with the cumbrous underplots that litter the English stage. Moreover, the French provide variety of emotion without sinking to the absurd genre of tragicomedy, which is a uniquely English invention (56–57). Lisideius also points out that the French are proficient at proportioning the time devoted to dialogue and action on the one hand, and narration on the other. There are certain actions, such as duels, battles, and deathscenes, that “can never be imitated to a just height”; they cannot be represented with decorum or with credibility and thus must be narrated rather than acted out on stage (62–63).

Neander’s response takes us by surprise. He does not at all refute the claims made by Lisideius. He concedes that “the French contrive their plots more regularly, and observe the laws of comedy, and decorum of the stage . . . with more exactness than the English” (67). Neander effectively argues that the very “faults” of the English are actually virtues, virtues that take English drama far beyond the pale of its classical heritage. What Neander or Dryden takes as a valid presupposition is that a play should present a “lively imitation of Nature” (68). The beauties of French drama, he points out, are “the beauties of a statue, but not of a man, because not animated with the soul of Poesy, which is imitation of humour and passions” (68).

Indeed, in justifying the genre of tragicomedy, Neander states that the contrast between mirth and compassion will throw the important scenes into sharper relief (69). He urges that it is “to the honour of our nation, that we have invented, increased, and perfected a more pleasant way of writing for the stage, than was ever known to the ancients or moderns of any nation, which is tragi-comedy” (70). This exaltation of tragicomedy effectively overturns nearly all of the ancient prescriptions concerning purity of genre, decorum, and unity of plot. Neander poignantly repeats Corneille’s observation that anyone with actual experience of the stage will see how constraining the classical rules are (76).

Neander now undertakes a brief assessment of the recent English dramatic tradition. Of all modern and perhaps ancient poets, he says, Shakespeare “had the largest and most comprehensive soul.” He was “naturally learn’d,” not through books but by the reading of nature and all her images: “he looked inwards, and found her there” (79–80). Again, the implication is that, in order to express nature, Shakespeare did not need to look outwards, toward the classics, but rather into his own humanity. Beaumont and Fletcher had both the precedent of Shakespeare’s wit and natural gifts which they improved by study; what they excelled at was expressing “the conversation of gentlemen,” and the representation of the passions, especially of love (80–81). Ben Jonson he regards as the “most learned and judicious writer which any theatre ever had,” and his peculiar gift was the representation of humors (81–82). Neander defines “humour” as “some extravagant habit, passion, or affection” which defines the individuality of a person (84–85). In an important statement he affirms that “Shakespeare was the Homer, or father of our dramatic poets; Johnson was the Vergil, the pattern of elaborate writing” (82). What Neander – or Dryden – effectively does here is to stake out an independent tradition for English drama, with new archetypes displacing those of the classical tradition.

The final debate concerns the use of rhyme in drama. Crites argues that “rhyme is unnatural in a play” (91). Following Aristotle, Crites insists that the most natural verse form for the stage is blank verse, since ordinary speech follows an iambic pattern (91). Neander’s reply is ambivalent (Dryden himself was later to change his mind on this issue): he does not deny that blank verse may be used; but he asserts that “in serious plays, where the subject and characters are great . . . rhyme is there as natural and more effectual than blank verse” (94). Moreover, in everyday life, people do not speak in blank verse, any more than they do in rhyme. He also observes that rhyme and accent are a modern substitute for the use of quantity as syllabic measure in classical verse (96–97).

Underlying Neander’s argument in favor of rhyme is an observation fundamental to the very nature of drama. He insists that, while all drama represents nature, a distinction should be made between comedy, “which is the imitation of common persons and ordinary speaking,” and tragedy, which “is indeed the representation of Nature, but ’tis Nature wrought up to an higher pitch. The plot, the characters, the wit, the passions, the descriptions, are all exalted above the level of common converse, as high as the imagination of the poet can carry them, with proportion to verisimility” (100–101). And while the use of verse and rhyme helps the poet control an otherwise “lawless imagination,” it is nonetheless a great help to his “luxuriant fancy” (107). This concluding argument, which suggests that the poet use “imagination” to transcend nature, underlines Neander’s (and Dryden’s) departure from classical convention. If Dryden is neoclassical, it is in the sense that he acknowledges the classics as having furnished archetypes for drama; but modern writers are at liberty to create their own archetypes and their own literary traditions. Again, he might be called classical in view of the unquestioned persistence of certain presuppositions that are shared by all four speakers in this text: that the unity of a play, however conceived, is a paramount requirement; that a play present, through its use of plot and characterization, events and actions which are probable and express truth or at least a resemblance to truth; that the laws of “nature” be followed, if not through imitation of the ancients, then through looking inward at our own profoundest constitution; and finally, that every aspect of a play be contrived with the projected response of the audience in mind. But given Dryden’s equal emphasis on the poet’s wit, invention, and imagination, his text might be viewed as expressing a status of transition between neoclassicism and Romanticism.


Dryden’s other essays and prefaces would seem to confirm the foregoing comments, and reveal important insights into his vision of the poet’s craft. In his 1666 preface to Annus Mirabilis , he states that the “composition of all poems is, or ought to be, of wit; and wit . . . is no other than the faculty of imagination in the writer” (14). He subsequently offers a more comprehensive definition: “the first happiness of the poet’s imagination is properly invention, or finding of the thought; the second is fancy, or the variation, deriving, or moulding, of that thought, as the judgment represents it proper to the subject; the third is elocution, or the art of clothing or 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” (15). Again, the emphasis here is on wit, imagination, and invention rather than exclusively on the classical precept of imitation.

In fact, Dryden was later to write “Defence of An Essay on Dramatic Poesy ,” defending his earlier text against Sir Robert Howard ’s attack on Dryden’s advocacy of rhyme in drama. Here, Dryden’s defense of rhyme undergoes a shift of emphasis, revealing further his modification of classical prescriptions. He now argues that what most commends rhyme is the delight it produces: “for delight is the chief, if not the only, end of poesy: instruction can be admitted but in the second place, for poesy only instructs as it delights” (113). And Dryden states: “I confess my chief endeavours are to delight the age in which I live” (116). We have come a long way from Aristotle, and even from Sidney, who both regarded poetry as having primarily a moral or ethical purpose. To suggest that poetry’s chief or only aim is to delight is to take a large step toward the later modern notion of literary autonomy. Dryden goes on to suggest that while a poet’s task is to “imitate well,” he must also “affect the soul, and excite the passions” as well as cause “admiration” or wonder. To this end, “bare imitation will not serve.” Imitation must be “heightened with all the arts and ornaments of poesy” (113).

If, in such statements, Dryden appears to anticipate certain Romantic predispositions, these comments are counterbalanced by other positions which are deeply entrenched in a classical heritage. Later in the “Defence” he insists that “they cannot be good poets, who are not accustomed to argue well . . . for moral truth is the mistress of the poet as much as of the philosopher; Poesy must resemble natural truth, but it must be ethical. Indeed, the poet dresses truth, and adorns nature, but does not alter them” (121). Hence, notwithstanding the importance that he attaches to wit and imagination, Dryden still regards poetry as essentially a rational activity, with an ethical and epistemological responsibility. If the poet rises above nature and truth, this is merely by way of ornamentation; it does not displace or remold the truths of nature, but merely heightens them. Dryden states that imagination “is supposed to participate of Reason,” and that when imagination creates fictions, reason allows itself to be temporarily deceived but will never be persuaded “of those things which are most remote from probability . . . Fancy and Reason go hand in hand; the first cannot leave the last behind” (127–128). These formulations differ from subsequent Romantic views of the primacy of imagination over reason. Imagination can indeed outrun reason, but only within the limits of classical probability. Dryden’s entire poetic and critical enterprise might be summed up in his own words: he views all poetry, both ancient and modern, as based on “the imitation of Nature.” Where he differs from the classics is the means with which he undertakes this poetic project (123). Following intimations in Plato’s Timaeus and Aristotle’s Poetics , he suggests in his Parallel of Poetry and Painting  (1695) that what the poet (and painter) should imitate are not individual instances of nature but the archetypal ideas behind natural forms. While adhering to this classical position, he also suggests that, in imitating nature, modern writers should “vary the customs, according to the time and the country where the scene of the action lies; for this is still to imitate Nature, which is always the same, though in a different dress” ( Essays , II, 139). This stance effectively embodies both Dryden’s classicism and the nature of his departure from its strict boundaries.

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Dramatic Poetry

Etymology and meanings of literary device of dramatic poetry.

Table of Contents

The literary device dramatic poetry comprises two different words. The first one is related to drama, while the second is related to poetry. Interestingly, in the pre-Elizabethan, Elizabethan, and even the Restoration period, the playwrights used blank verses or poetic diction for plays. Therefore, this type of poetry was called dramatic poetry.

In literary terms, dramatic poetry is also called verse drama or dramatic verse. Such a poetic work also tells a story. Most of the folk tales of almost every other culture use dramatic poetry to relate the folk stories specifically associated with that culture. Such poetic works stay alive through oral singing. Today, Opera is the form of the same cultural tradition.

Definition of Literary Device of Dramatic Poetry

In literary terms, a poetic form that presents a character, a story or an event in verse form is a type of dramatic poetry.

Types of Dramatic Poetry

Generally, dramatic poems or dramatic poetry comprises four forms;

  • Dramatic Monologue

Literary Examples of Dramatic Poetry

Example # 1

From Macbeth by William Shakespeare

“Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and shalt be

What thou art promised: yet do I fear thy nature;

It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness

To catch the nearest way: thou wouldst be great;

Art not without ambition, but without

The illness should attend it,….”  ( Act-I, Scene-V)

This passage occurs in Macbeth, a popular play by William Shakespeare. It is an example of soliloquy, a type of dramatic poetry. It shows that although it is not properly rhymed, it has a proper metrical pattern, a hallmark of such blank verse poetry.

Example # 2

From “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning

That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,

Looking as if she were alive. I call

That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands

Worked busily a day, and there she stands.

Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said

“Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read

Strangers like you that pictured countenance,

The depth and passion of its earnest glance,

But to myself they turned (since none puts by

The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)

These lines occur in the popular poem of Robert Browning “My Last Duchess.” It has all the ingredients of dramatic poetry as it is a monologue, has a character who speaks to his audience, and has a purpose to speak in such a way.

Example # 3

From “The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point” by Elizabeth Barrent Browning

I stand on the mark beside the shore

Of the first white pilgrim’s bended knee,

Where exile turned to ancestor,

And God was thanked for liberty.

I have run through the night, my skin is dark,

I bend my knee down on this mark:

I look on the sky and the sea.

This first-person account of a slave in dramatic form presents a beautiful example of dramatic poetry used in the poem. It presents him speaking about his pilgrim, his family, and the gratitude he expresses for God. However, it has not the dramatic quality such as in “My Duchess” by Robert Browning.

Example # 4

From “Hawk Roosting” by Ted Hughes

I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed. Inaction, no falsifying dream Between my hooked head and hooked feet: Or in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat. The convenience of the high trees! The air’s buoyancy and the sun’s ray Are of advantage to me; And the earth’s face upward for my inspection.

This metaphorical poem presents the hawk speaking to his unknown interlocutors. These two stanzas not only present a character but also show his inner intentions and his would-be actions toward his audiences. This is a good example of dramatic poetry in poetic form.

Example # 5

From Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Heaven and earth, Must I remember? Why, she would hang on him As if increase of appetite had grown By what it fed on, and yet, within a month— Let me not think on’t—Frailty, thy name is woman!—

These comments by Hamlet in Hamlet, a play by William Shakespeare, present a beautiful example of dramatic poetry and how rhetorical strategies could be applied to it. Shakespeare has not only used a rhetorical question but also generalized a common perception about women.

How to Create Dramatic Poetry

When creating a type of dramatic poetry, think about these steps.

  • Type or form: What is the type of writing you are going to start? What is the shape and genre of this piece? Is it literary or scientic?
  • Think about the character, situation, audiences, and readers.
  • Decide whether your presentation in poetic or blank verse format.
  • Complete what you have written and read it to evaluate its impacts.

Benefits of Using Dramatic Poetry

  • It helps understand characters, situations, language, and audiences.
  • Dramatic poetry makes it easy to arouse emotions, passions, and excitement.
  • It makes writings effective and impactful.
  • Dramatic poetry helps writers and poets to achieve their objectives easily.

Dramatic Poetry in Literary Theory

  • Although dramatic poetry is not of any relevance in any literary theory , it helps in critiquing from a formalist perspective in formalism literary theory. It helps evaluate conflict and tension in poems or dramatic stories.
  • In other literary theories, it helps understand characters and their psychologies, identities, and intentions. Therefore, it could be applied to literary pieces when critiquing from the psychoanalytic approach, Marxist theoretical perspective, or even the indigenous critical theory.
  • Furthermore, dramatic poetry, as is related to drama, has relevance in simple critiques as Eliot and Dryden have stressed upon its significance.

Suggesting Readings

Abrams, Meyer Howard, and Geoffrey Harpham. A Glossary of Literary Terms . Cengage Learning, 2014.

Césaire, Aimé. Lyric and Dramatic Poetry, 1946-82 . University of Virginia Press, 1990. Trowbridge, Hoyt. “Dryden’s Essay on the Dramatic Poetry of the Last Age.” Philological Quarterly 22 (1943): 240.

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An Essay of Dramatic Poesy

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Analysis: “An Essay of Dramatic Poesy”

Written during an outbreak of plague that occasioned the shuttering of theaters in 1665-1666, the essay functions almost like a play itself. There are five acts—as Horace sanctioned “correct” (164)—and a central plot (to determine the highest and best form of theater, with the action of the literal battle in the background juxtaposed against the rhetorical battle on the barge floating down the Thames). There is also a cast of characters: Dryden’s friends rechristened with Latinate names. These faux-Roman names lend credence and authority to their arguments, in keeping with the era’s admiration for Greco-Roman culture. The setting gives this cast an occasion to debate the competence of contemporary English writers and the state of the English theater in comparison to the revered ancients and modern European rivals.

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Dryden Dramatic Poesy

By Dr. Dilip Barad , [[ | Bhavnagar University, Bhavnagar, Gujarat.


1.0 Introduction 1.1. Objectives 1.2. Dryden as a Critic 1.2.1. Dryden on The Nature of Poetry 1.2.2. Dryden on The Function of Poetry 1.3. An Essay on Dramatic Poesy: An Introduction 1.3.1. Definition of Drama 1.3.2. Violation of the Three Unities 1.3.3. Eugenius Arguments on Superiority of Moderns over the Ancients 1.3.4. Crites’s Arguments in favour of the Ancients 1.3.5. Lisideius’s view in favour of Superiority of the French Drama over English Drama 1.3.6. Neander’s view in favour of Modern (English) Drama 1.3.7. The Ancients versus Modern Playwrights 1.3.8. Mixture of Tragedy and Comedy 1.3.9. Advocacy of writing plays in Rhymed Verse 1.4. Let’s sum up 1.5. Glossary of Key Terms 1.6. Reading List (A) Bibliography (B) Further Reading (c) Video Resources

John Dryden (9 August 1631 – 1 May 1700) was a prominent English poet, critic, translator, and playwright who dominated the literary life of the Restoration Age; therefore, the age is known as the Age of Dryden. He was a Cambridge Scholar, literary genius and critic, considering his extraordinary literary contribution was credited with the honour of Poet Laureate of England in 1668. He was a critic of contemporary reality. His critical observation of contemporary reality is reflected in MacFlecknoe(1682). Dryden’s mature thoughts of literary criticism on ancient, modern and English Literature, especially on Drama, are presented in dialogue forms in An Essay on Dramatic Poesy. In An Essay on Dramatic Poesy there are four speakers. Each one argues strongly as to which one is better, “Ancient or Modern, and French or English?”

Dryden was both a writer and a critic and he had rather a dogmatic bent. Most of his critical interpretations are found in the prefaces to his own works. In Dryden we find an interest in the general issues of criticism rather than in a close reading of particular texts. We call Dryden a neoclassical critic, just as Boileau. Dryden puts emphasis on the neoclassical rules. His best-known critical work, An Essay on Dramatic Poesy, partly reflects this tension in Dryden's commitments. Its dialogue form has often been criticized as inconclusive, but actually, as in most dialogues, there is a spokesman weightier than the others. Dryden carried out his critical thoughts effectively, stating his own ideas but leaving some room for difference of opinion. Neander's overall statement on the literary standards is that, the norms can be added to make the work ideal, but the norms will not improve a work which does not contain some degree of perfection. And as Dryden believes, we may find writers like Shakespeare who did not follow the rules but are nevertheless obviously superior to any "regular" writer. Shakespeare disconcerts Dryden; he recognises his superiority but within himself he would feel closer affiliations with Ben Jonson. In Dryden, then, we find a "liberal" neo-classicist, although he is most coherent (a trait of classicism) when he is dealing with that which can be understood and reduced to rule.

Dryden agrees in general terms with Aristotle’s definition of poetry as a process of imitation though he has to add some qualifiers to it. The generally accepted view of poetry in Dryden’s day was that it had to be a close imitation of facts past or present. While Dryden has no problem with the prevalent neo-classical bias in favour of verisimilitude (likeness/fidelity to reality) he would also allow in more liberties and flexibilities for poetry. In the The Grounds of Criticism in Tragedy he makes out a case for double-legged imitation. While the poet is free to imitate “things as they are said or thought to be”, he also gives spirited defence of a poet’s right to imitate what could be, might be or ought to be. He cites in this context the case of Shakespeare who so deftly exploited elements of the supernatural and elements of popular beliefs and superstitions. Dryden would also regard such exercises as ‘imitation’ since it is drawing on “other men’s fancies”.

As we know, Plato wanted poetry to instruct the reader, Aristotle to delight, Horace to do both, and Longinus to transport. Dryden was a bit moderate and considerate in his views and familiar with all of them. He was of the opinion that the final end of poetry is delight and transport rather than instruction. It does not imitate life but presents its own version of it. According to Dryden, the poet is neither a teacher nor a bare imitator – like a photographer – but a creator, one who, with life or Nature as his raw material, creates new things altogether resembling the original. According to him, poetry is a work of art rather than mere imitation. Dryden felt the necessity of fancy, or what Coleridge later would call “the shaping spirit of imagination”.

John Dryden’s An Essay on Dramatic Poesy presents a brief discussion on Neo-classical theory of Literature. He defends the classical drama saying that it is an imitation of life and reflects human nature clearly. An Essay on Dramatic Poesy is written in the form of a dialogue among four gentlemen: Eugenius, Crites, Lisideius and Neander. Neander speaks for Dryden himself. Eugenius favours modern English dramatists by attacking the classical playwrights, who did not themselves always observe the unity of place. But Crites defends the ancients and points out that they invited the principles of dramatic art paved by Aristotle and Horace. Crites opposes rhyme in plays and argues that though the moderns excel in sciences, the ancient age was the true age of poetry. Lisideius defends the French playwrights and attacks the English tendency to mix genres. Neander speaks in favour of the Moderns and respects the Ancients; he is however critical of the rigid rules of dramas and favours rhyme. Neander who is a spokesperson of Dryden, argues that ‘tragic-comedy’ (Dryden’s phrase for what we now call ‘tragi-comedy’) is the best form for a play; because it is closer to life in which emotions are heightened by mirth and sadness. He also finds subplots as an integral part to enrich a play. He finds single action in French dramas to be rather inadequate since it so often has a narrowing and cramping effect. Neander gives his palm to the violation of the three unities because it leads to the variety in the English plays. Dryden thus argues against the neo-classical critics. Since nobody speaks in rhyme in real life, he supports the use of blank verse in drama and says that the use of rhyme in serious plays is justifiable in place of the blank verse.

Dryden defines Drama as:

Just and lively image of human nature, representing its passions and humours, and the changes of fortune to which it is subject, for the delight and instruction of mankind. According to the definition, drama is an ‘image’ of ‘human nature’, and the image is ‘just’ and ‘lively’. By using the word ‘just’ Dryden seems to imply that literature imitates (and not merely reproduces) human actions. For Dryden, ‘poetic imitation’ is different from an exact, servile copy of reality, for, the imitation is not only ‘just’, it is also ‘lively’. When the group talks about the definition of Drama Lisidieus expresses his views about Drama as “a just and lively Image of Humane Nature.” And then each character expresses his views about Drama and they compare French Drama and English Drama and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of French and English Drama. The debate goes on about the comparison between ancient writers and modern writers. They also discuss the importance of “Unity in French Drama”. So far as the Unities of Time, Place and Action are concerned French Drama was closer to classical notions of Drama. With the influence of Platonic Dialogues Dryden had designed the group that further discusses the Playwrights such as Ben Jonson, Molière, and Shakespeare with a deeper insight. Crites offers an objection specifically to the use of rhyme as he privileges the verisimilitude of the scene while citing Aristotle. On the other hand, Neander favours the natural rhyme since that, according to him, adds artistry to the plays. It was Twilight when the four friends had their final speech at the Somerset-Stairs and then the four friends parted along their separate ways.

In an age of pseudo- classic criticism, with its precise rules and definitions, Dryden had the boldness to defend the claims of genius to write according to its own convictions, without regard for the prescription and rules which had been laid down for good writing. He cleared the ground for himself by brushing away all the arbitrary bans upon freedom of judgment and refused to be cowed down by the French playwrights and critics. Dryden’s Defence: Dryden’s liberalism, his free critical disposition, is best seen in his justification of the violation of three unities on the part of the English dramatists and in his defense of English tragi-comedies. As regards the unities, his views are as under: a) The English violation of the three unities lends greater copiousness (existing in large amounts, profuse in speech) and variety to the English plays. The unities have narrowing and cramping effects on the French plays, and they are often betrayed into absurdities from which English plays are free. b) The English disregard of the unities enables them to present a more ‘just’ and ‘lively’ picture of human nature. The French plays may be more regular but they are not as lively, not so pleasant and delightful as that of English. e.g., Shakespeare’s plays which are more lively and just images of life and human nature. c) The English when they do observe the rules as Ben Jonson has done in The Silent Woman, show greater skill and art than the French. It all depends upon the ‘genius’ or ‘skill’ of the writer. d) There is no harm in introducing ‘sub-plots’, for they impart variety, richness, and liveliness to the play. In this way the writer can present a more ‘just’ and ‘lively’ picture than the French with their narrow and cramped plays. e) To the view that observance of the unities is justified on the ground that (i) their violation results in improbability , (ii) that it places too great a strain on the imagination of the spectators , and (iii) that credibility is stretched too for, Dryden replies that it is all a question of ‘dramatic illusion’. Lisideius argues that “we cannot so speedily recollect ourselves after a scene of great passion and concernment to pass to another of mirth and humour, and to enjoy it with any relish”. Neander questions this assumption and replies to it by saying why should he imagine the soul of man more heavy than his senses? “ Does not the eye pass from an unpleasant object to a pleasant in a much shorter time?” – ‘gratification of sense is primary, secondary that of soul’. Sensory perception helps in dramatic illusion

Eugenius says that "the moderns have profited by the rules of the ancients" but moderns have "excelled them." He points first to some discrepancies in the applications of the Unities, mentioning that there seem to be four parts in Aristotle's method: the entrance, the intensifying of the plot, the counter-turn, and the catastrophe. But he points out that somewhere along the line, and by way of Horace, plays developed five acts (the Spanish only 3). As regards the action, Eugenius contends that they are transparent, everybody already having known what will happen; that the Romans borrowed from the Greeks; and that the deus ex machina convention is a weak escape. As far as the unity of place is concerned, he suggests that the Ancients were not the ones to insist on it so much as the French, and that insistence has caused some artificial entrances and exits of characters. The unity of time is often ignored in both. As to the liveliness of language, Eugenius countersfutes Crites by suggesting that even if we do not know all the contexts, good writing is always good, wit is always discernible, if done well. He goes on to say also that while the Ancients portrayed many emotions and actions, they neglected love, "which is the most frequent of all passions" and known to everyone. He mentions Shakespeare and Fletcher as offering "excellent scenes of passion."

Crites develops the main points in defending the ancients and raises objections to modern plays. The Moderns are still imitating the Ancients and using their forms and subjects, relying on Aristotle and Horace, adding nothing new and yet not following their good advice closely either, especially with respect to the Unities of time, place and action. While the unity of time suggests that all the action should be portrayed within a single day, the English plays attempt to use long periods of time, sometimes years. In terms of place, the setting should be the same from beginning to end with the scenes marked by the entrances and exits of the persons having business within each. The English, on the other hand, try to have all kinds of places, even far off countries, shown within a single play. The third unity, that of action, requires that the play "aim at one great and complete action", but the English have all kinds of sub-plots which destroy the unity of the action. In anticipating the objection that the Ancients' language is not as vital as the Moderns’s, Crites says that we have to remember that we are probably missing a lot of subtleties because the languages are dead and the customs are far removed from this time. Crites uses Ben Jonson as the example of the best in English drama, saying that he followed the Ancients "in all things" and offered nothing really new in terms of "serious thoughts".

Lisideius speaks in favour of the French. He agrees with Eugenius that in the last generation the English drama was superior. Then they had their Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher. But English drama has decayed and declined since then. They live in an awful age full of bloodshed and violence, and poetry is an art of peace. In the present age, it flourishes in France and not in England. The French have their Corneille (1606-84), and the English have no dramatist equal to him. The French are superior to the English for various reasons: 1. They follow the Ancients. They favour the Unity of time and they observe it so carefully. When it comes to the Unity of Place, they are equally careful. In most of their plays, the entire action is limited to one place. And the Unity of Action is even more obvious. Their plays are never over-loaded with sub-plots as is the case with the English plays. The attention of the English playwrights is constantly diverted from one action to the other, and its due effects. This fault of double-action gives rise to another fault till the end. Lisideius therefore concludes: no drama in the world is as absurd as the English tragic-comedy. The French plays also have much variety but they do not provide it in such a bizarre manner. The English are guilty of the folly, while the French are not. 2. The Plots of the French tragedies are based on well-known stories with reference to the theory and practice of the Ancients. But these stories are transformed for dramatic purposes; in this regard they are superior even to the Ancients. So their stories are mixture of truth with fiction, based on historical invention. They both delight and instruct, at one and the same time. But the English dramatists for example Shakespeare, do not modify and transform their stories for dramatic purpose. In order to satisfy the human soul, the drama must have verisimilitude (likeness to reality). The French plays have it, while the English do not. 3. The French do not burden the play with a fat plot. They represent a story which will be one complete action, and everything which is unnecessary is carefully excluded. But the English burden their plays with actions and incidents which have no logical and natural connection with the main action so much so that an English play is a mere compilation. Hence the French plays are better written than the English ones. 4. The English devote considerable attention to one single character, and the others are merely introduced to set off that principal character. But Lisideius does not support or favour this practice. In the English plays, one character is more important than the others, and quite naturally, the greater part of the action is concerned with him. The English play the character relates to life and therefore, it is proper and reasonable that it should be so also in the drama. But in French plays, the other characters are not neglected. While in the French plays such narrations are made by those who are in some way or the other connected with the main action. Similarly the French are more skilled than the Ancients. 5. Further, the French narrations are better managed and more skilful than those of the English. The narration may be of two kinds. The action of the play which is dull and boring, and is often not listened to by the audience. The narration of things happening during the course of the play. The French are able to avoid the representation of scenes of bloodshed, violence and murder on the stage, such scenes of horror and tumult has disfigured many English plays. In this way, they avoid much that is ridiculous and absurd in the English plays. 6. The major imperfection of English plays is the representation of Death on the stage. All passions can be in a lively manner represented on the stage, only if the actor has the necessary skill, but there are many actions which cannot be successfully represented, and dying is one of them. The French omit the same mistake. Death should better be described or narrated rather than represented. 7. It is wrong to believe that the French represent no part of their action on the stage. Instead, they make proper selection. Cruel actions which are likely to cause hatred, or disbelief by their impossibility, must be avoided or merely narrated. They must not be represented. The French follow this rule in practice and so avoid much of the tumult of the English plays by reducing their plots to reasonable limits. Such narrations are common in the plays of the Ancients and the great English dramatists like Ben Jonson and Fletcher. Therefore, the French must not be blamed for their narration, which are judicious and well managed. 8. The French are superior to the English in other ways, too:

Based on the definition of the play, Neander suggests that English playwrights are best at "the lively imitation of nature" (i.e.,human nature). French poesy is beautiful; it is beautiful like a "statue". He even says that the newer French writers are imitating the English playwrights. One fault he finds in their plots is that the regularity also makes the plays too much alike. He defends the English invention of tragi-comedy by suggesting that the use of mirth with tragedy provides "contraries" that "set each other off" and gives the audience relief from the heaviness of straight tragedy. He suggests that the use of well-ordered sub-plots makes the plays interesting and help the main action. Further, he suggests that English plays are more entertaining and instructive because they offer an element of surprise that the Ancients and the French do not. He brings up the idea of the suspension of disbelief. While the audience may know that none of them are real, why should they think scenes of deaths or battles any less "real" than the rest? Here he credits the English audience with certain robustness in suggesting that they want their battles and "other objects of horror." Ultimately he suggests that it may be there are simply too many rules and often following them creates more absurdities than they prevent.

Dryden in his essay, An Essay on Dramatic Poesy, vindicated the Moderns. The case for the ‘Ancients’ is presented by Crites. In the controversy Dryden takes no extreme position and is sensible enough to give the Ancients their respect. Through his wit and shrewd analysis, he removes the difficulty which had confused the issue. He makes us see the achievement of the Ancients and the gratitude of the Moderns to them. Thus, he presents the comparative merits and demerits of each in a clearer way. Crites Favours the Ancients: (i) The superiority of the Ancients is established by the very fact that the Moderns simply imitate them, and build on the foundations laid by them. The Ancients are the acknowledged models of the Moderns. (ii) The Ancients had a special genius for drama, and in their particular branch of poetry they could reach perfection. Just as they excel them in drama. (iii) Thirdly, in ancient Greece and Rome poetry was more honoured than any other branch of knowledge. Poets were encouraged to excel in this field through frequent competitions, judges were appointed and the dramatists were rewarded according to their merits. But in modern times there is no such spirit of healthy rivalry and competition. Poets are neither suitably honoured nor are they rewarded. (iv) The Ancient drama is superior because the Ancients closely observed Nature and faithfully represented her in their work. The Moderns do not observe and study Nature carefully and so they distort and disfigure her in their plays. (v) The rules of Dramatic Composition which the Moderns now follow have come down to them from the Ancients. (vi) Crites makes special mention of the Unities, of Time, Place, and Action. The Ancients followed these rules and the effect is satisfying and pleasing. But in Modern plays the Unity of Time is violated and often of the Action of a play covers whole ages. (vii) The Ancients could organize their plays well. We are unable to appreciate the art and beauty of their language, only because many of their customs, stories, etc, are not known to us. There is much that is highly proper and elegant in their language but we fail to appreciate it because their language is dead, and remains only in books. Eugenius’ Case for the Moderns: Eugenius then replies to Crites and speaks in favour of the Moderns. In the very beginning, he acknowledges that the Moderns have learnt much from the Ancients. But he adds that by their own labour the Moderns have added to what they have gained from them, with the result that they now excel them in many ways. The Moderns have not blindly imitated them. Had they done so, they would have lost the old perfection, and would not achieve any new excellences. Eugenius proceeds to bring out some defects of the Ancients, and some excellences of the Moderns. (i) The Moderns have perfected the division of plays and divided their plays not only into Acts but also into scenes. The Spaniards and the Italians have some excellent plays to their credit, and they divided them into three Acts and not into five. They wrote without any definite plan and when they could write a good play their success was more a matter of chance and good fortune than of ability. In the characterization they no doubt, imitate nature, but their imitation is only narrow and partial – as if they imitated only an eye or a hand and did not dare to venture on the lines of a face, or the proportion of the body. They are inferior to the (English) Moderns in all these respects. (ii) Even the Ancients’ observance of the three unities is not perfect. The Ancient critics, like Horace and Aristotle, did not make mention of the Unity of Place. Even the Ancients did not always observe the Unity of Time. Euripides, a great dramatist, no doubt, confines his action to one day, but, then, he commits many absurdities. (iii) There is too much of narration at the cost of Action. Instead of providing the necessary information to the audience through dialogues the Ancients often do so through monologues. The result is, their play becomes monotonous and tiresome. (iv) Their plays do not perform one of the functions of drama, that of giving delight as well as instruction. There is no poetic justice in their plays. Instead of punishing vice and rewarding virtue, they have often shown a prosperous wickedness, and an unhappy piety. (v) Eugenius agrees with Crites that they are not competent to judge the language of the Ancients since it is dead, and many of their stories, customs, habits, etc., have been lost to them. However, they have certain glaring faults which cannot be denied. They are often too bold in their metaphors and in their coinages. As far as possible, only such words should be used as are in common use, and new words should be coined only when absolutely necessary. Horace himself has recommended this rule, but the Ancients violated it frequently. (vi) Ancient themes are equally defective. The proper end of Tragedy is to arouse “admiration and concernment (pity)”. But their themes are lust, cruelty, murder, and bloodshed, which instead of arousing admiration and pity arouse “horror and terror”. The horror of such themes can be softened a little by the introduction of love scenes, but in the treatment of this passion they are much inferior to such Moderns as Shakespeare and Fletcher. In their comedies, no doubt they introduce a few scenes of tenderness but, then, their lovers talk very little.

Dryden is more considerate in his attitude towards the mingling of the tragic and the comic elements and emotions in the plays. He vindicates tragi-comedy on the following grounds: a) Contrasts, when placed near, set off each other. b) Continued gravity depresses the spirit, a scene of mirth thrown in between refreshes. It has the same effect on us as music. In other words, comic scene produces relief, though Dryden does not explicitly say so. c) Mirth does not destroy compassion and thus the serious effect which tragedy aims at is not disturbed by mingling of tragic and comic. d) Just as the eye can pass from an unpleasant object to a pleasant one, so also the soul can move from the tragic to the comic. And it can do so much more swiftly. e) The English have perfected a new way of writing not known to the Ancients. If they had tragic-comedies, perhaps Aristotle would have revised his rules. f) It is all a question of progress with the change of taste. The Ancients cannot be a model for all times and countries, “What pleased the Greeks would not satisfy an English audience”. Had Aristotle seen the English plays “He might have changed his mind”. The real test of excellence is not strict adherence to rules or conventions, but whether the aims of dramas have been achieved. They are achieved by the English drama. Dryden’s view on Tragi-comedy (Dryden’s own phrase is ‘Tragic-comedy’) clearly brings out his liberal classicism, greatness and shrewdness as a critic. Dryden is of the view that mingling of the tragic and the comic provides dramatic relief.

Rhymed Verse versus Blank Verse Controversy: In the Restoration era rhymed verse or Heroic Couplet was generally used as the medium of expression for Heroic Tragedy, while the great Elizabethan dramatists had used blank verse for their plays. Dryden himself used rhyme for his plays upto ‘Aurangzebe’. But in the Preface to this play he bids farewell to his ‘mistress rhyme’, and express his intention of turning to blank verse. However, in the Essay, he has expressed himself strongly in favour of rhyme through the mouth of Neander.

Crites’s attack on Rhyme occurs towards the end of the Essay, the discussion turns on rhyme and blank verse, and Crites attacks rhyme violently on the following grounds: • Rhyme is not to be allowed in serious plays, though it may be allowed in comedies. • Rhyme is unnatural in a play, for a play is in dialogues, and no man without premeditation speaks in rhyme. • Blank Verse is also unnatural for no man speaks in verse either, but it is nearer to prose and Aristotle has laid down that tragedy should be written in a verse form which is nearer to prose – “Aristotle, 'Tis best to write Tragedy in that kind of Verse which is the least such, or which is nearest Prose: and this amongst the Ancients was the Iambique, and with us is blank verse.” (………) • Drama is a ‘just’ representation of Nature, and rhyme is unnatural, for nobody in Nature expresses himself in rhyme. It is artificial and the art is too apparent, while true art consists in hiding art. • It is said that rhyme helps the poet to control his fancy. But one who has not the judgment to control his fancy in blank verse will not be able to control it in rhyme either. Artistic control is a matter of judgment and not of rhyme or verse. Neander’s defence: • The choice and the placing of the word should be natural in a natural order – that makes the language natural, whether it is verse or rhyme that is used. • Rhyme itself may be made to look natural by the use of run-on lines, and variety, and variety resulting from the use of hemistich, manipulation of pauses and stresses, and the change of metre. • Blank Verse is no verse at all. It is simply poetic prose and so fit only for comedies. Rhymed verse alone, made natural or near to prose, is suitable for tragedy. This would satisfy Aristotle’s dictum. • Rhyme is justified by its universal use among all the civilized nations of the world. • The Elizabethans achieved perfection in the use of blank verse and they, the Moderns, cannot excel; them, or achieve anything significant or better in the use of blank verse. Hence they must perforce use rhyme, which suits the genius of their age. • Tragedy is a serious play representing nature exalted to its highest pitch; rhyme being the noblest kind of verse is suited to it, and not to comedy. At the end of the Essay, Dryden gives one more reason in favour of rhyme i.e. rhyme adds to the pleasure of poetry. Rhyme helps the judgment and thus makes it easier to control the free flights of the fancy. The primary function of poetry is to give ‘delight’, and rhyme enables the poet to perform this function well.

In a nutshell, John Dryden in his essay, An Essay on Dramatic Poesy, gives an account of the Neo-classical theory. He defends the classical drama saying that it is an imitation of life, and reflects human nature clearly. He also discusses the three unities, rules that require a play to take place in one place, during one day, and that it develops one single action or plot. The Essay is written in the form of a dialogue concerned to four gentlemen: Eugenius, Crites, Lisideius and Neander. Neander seems to speak for Dryden himself.Eugenius takes the side of the modern English dramatists by criticizing the faults of the classical playwrights who did not themselves observe the unity of place. But Crites defends the ancient and pointed out that they invited the principles of dramatic art enunciated by Aristotle and Horace. Crites opposes rhyme in plays and argues that through the moderns excel in science; the ancient age was the true age of poetry. Lesideius defends the French playwrights and attacks the English tendency to mix genres. He defines a play as a just and lively image of human and the change of fortune to which it is subject for the delight and instruction of mankind. Neander favours the Moderns, respects the Ancients, critical to rigid rules of dramas and he favours rhyme if it is in proper place like in grand subject matter. Neander a spokesperson of Dryden argues that tragic comedy is the best form for a play; because it is the closest to life in which emotions are heightened by both mirth and sadness. He also finds subplots as an integral part to enrich a play. He finds the French drama, with its single action. Neander favours the violation of the unities because it leads to the variety in the English plays. The unities have a narrowing and crumpling effect on the French plays, which are often betrayed into absurdities from which the English plays are free. The violation of unities helps the English playwright to present a mere, just and lively image of human nature. In his comparison of French and English drama, Neander characterizes the best proofs of the Elizabethan playwrights. He praises Shakespeare, ancients and moderns.Neander comes to the end for the superiority of the Elizabethans with a close examination of a play by Jonson which Neander believes a perfect demonstration that the English were capable of following the classical rules. In this way, Dryden’s commitment to the neoclassical tradition is displayed.

John Dryden Restoration Literature Marriage A-la-Mode Absalom and Achitophel Don Sebastian (1689) Amphitryon (1690) Shakespeare The Tempest All for Love (1677) Antony and Cleopatra References of Difficult Words libretto The State of Innocence (1677)

Milton Paradise Lost King Arthur(1691) Ancient and Modern(1700) Purcell Ovid Boccaccio Geoffrey Chaucer MacFlecknoe(1682) Essay of Dramatic Poesy Jonson's The Silent Woman,_or_The_silent_woman neoclassical critic French neo-Classicism

T.S. Eliot "liberal" poesy drama R.A.Scott – JAMES sub-plot observance Dr. Johnson Imitation tragi-comedy suspension of disbelief rhyme and verse deus ex machina

French tragedies verisimilitude Sejanus and Catiline The King and No King The Scornful Lady EUNUCH Adelphi Blank Verse Aurangzebe

(A) Webliography- 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11.

(B) Further Reading  The Works of John Dryden, 20 vols., ed. H. T. Swedenberg Jr. et al., (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1956–2002)  Daiches, David, A Critical History Of English Literature (Volume - II) ISBN: 8189930443, 2010, Paperback  John Dryden The Major Works, ed. by Keith Walker, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987)  The Works of John Dryden, ed. by David Marriott, (Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions, 1995)  John Dryden Selected Poems, ed by David Hopkins, (London: Everyman Paperbacks, 1998)  Of Dramatic Poesy: An Essay, 1667: revised edition, 1684; as An Essay of Dramatic Poesy, edited by Thomas Arnold, 1889, P D Arundell. 1929, George Watson, 1962, and John L. Mahoney, 1995.  Aden, John M., “Dryden, Corneille, and the Essay of Dramatic Poesy,” Review of English Studies 6 (1955):147–56  Aden, John M., The Critical Opinions of John Dryden: A Dictionary, Nashville, Tennessee: Vanderbilt University Press, 1963  Archer, S., “The Persons in An Essay of Dramatic Poesy,” Papers on Language and Literature 2 (1966):305–14  Atkins, J.W.H., English Literary Criticism: 17th and 18th Centuries, London: Methuen, 1951  Davie, D., “Dramatic Poetry: Dryden’s Conversation Piece,” Cambridge Journal 5 (1952):553–61  Hume, R.D., Dryden’s Criticism, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1970  Huntley, Frank L., “On the Persons of Dryden’s Essay of Dramatic Poesy,” Modern Language Notes 63 (1948):88–95  Huntley, Frank L., On Dryden’s “Essay of Dramatic Poesy”, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1951  Jensen, H.James, A Glossary of John Dryden’s Critical Terms, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1969  LeClercq, R.V., “Corneille and An Essay of Dramatic Poesy,” Comparative Literature 22 (1970):319–27  LeClercq, R.V., “The Academic Nature of the Whole Discourse of An Essay of Dramatic Poesy,” Papers on Language and Literature 8 (1972):27–38  Thale, Mary, “Dryden’s Dramatic Criticism: Polestar of the Ancients,” Comparative Literature 18 (1966):36–54  Williamson, G., “The Occasion of An Essay of Dramatic Poesy,” Modern Philology 44 (1946):1–9  Wimsatt, W.K., and Cleanth Brooks, Literary Criticism: A Short History, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978 (original edition, 1957)  Winn, James Anderson. John Dryden and His World, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987)  Eliot, T. S., ‘John Dryden’, in Selected Essays, (London: Faber and Faber, 1932)  Hopkins, David, John Dryden, ed. by Isobel Armstrong, (Tavistock: Northcote House Publishers, 2004)  Oden, Richard, L. Dryden and Shadwell, The Literary Controversy and 'Mac Flecknoe (1668–1679), (Scholars' Facsmilies and Reprints, Inc., Delmar, New York, 1977) (C) Short Video Lessons 1. Short Video Lecture on Dryden as Father of English Criticism, Neo-Classical Critic and definition of Play 2. Short Video Lecture on Dryden as Critic & Title of the Essay 3. Short Video Lecture on Dryden's Definition of Play 4. SVL on the comparative criticism of the Ancients, the Moderns and the French Playwrights 5. SVL on the debate regarding appropriateness of rhyme and blank verse 6. SVL on the controversy regarding the Rhymes lines vs the Blank Verse

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Essay on Dramatic Poesy

Students are often asked to write an essay on Dramatic Poesy in their schools and colleges. And if you’re also looking for the same, we have created 100-word, 250-word, and 500-word essays on the topic.

Let’s take a look…

100 Words Essay on Dramatic Poesy

Introduction to dramatic poesy.

Dramatic Poesy refers to the art of writing and performing plays. It’s a unique form of literature that combines written words with performance elements like acting, costumes, and stage design.

Elements of Dramatic Poesy

Key elements include dialogue, action, conflict, and characters. These elements work together to create a story that is both engaging to read and exciting to watch.

Importance of Dramatic Poesy

Dramatic Poesy is important because it allows writers to explore complex themes and emotions in a dynamic, interactive format. It’s a powerful tool for storytelling.

In conclusion, Dramatic Poesy is a fascinating and important form of literature that combines written words with performance to create engaging and thought-provoking stories.

250 Words Essay on Dramatic Poesy

The essence of dramatic poesy.

Dramatic poesy, a significant genre of literature, has been an essential platform for social commentary, reflection, and expression since antiquity. It encompasses the art of crafting dialogues, characters, and plots that unfold through performance, creating a unique blend of oral and written storytelling.

The Evolution of Dramatic Poesy

Dramatic poesy has evolved over centuries, from the classical Greek tragedies and comedies to the grandeur of Shakespearean drama, and the modern experimental plays of the 20th century. Each era has contributed to the genre’s richness, reflecting societal changes, philosophical thoughts, and cultural shifts.

Role of Dramatic Poesy in Society

Dramatic poesy plays a pivotal role in society, serving as a mirror reflecting the realities of the time. It provides a platform for discussing social issues, political ideologies, and human emotions. Through its narratives, dramatic poesy challenges societal norms, questions authority, and fosters empathy by presenting diverse perspectives.

Future of Dramatic Poesy

The future of dramatic poesy lies in its ability to adapt and evolve with changing societal norms and technological advancements. With the rise of digital media, dramatic poesy could find new forms and platforms, ensuring its relevance and influence in the future.

In conclusion, dramatic poesy, with its rich history and potential for future evolution, remains a vital part of our cultural heritage. It is a powerful tool for self-expression, societal critique, and empathy, making it an indispensable genre of literature.

500 Words Essay on Dramatic Poesy

Dramatic poesy, a term coined during the Renaissance period, refers to a form of poetry that is expressive and performative, often designed for theatrical presentation. This literary form has evolved over centuries, with its roots in ancient Greek and Roman cultures, and it continues to be a significant part of contemporary literature and theatre.

Historical Evolution

The earliest manifestation of dramatic poesy can be traced back to the Greek tragedies, where poets like Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides used lyrical narratives to explore profound human emotions and societal issues. The Romans, notably Seneca, further developed this form, introducing elements of rhetoric and philosophy. The Renaissance period, however, marked a significant turning point for dramatic poesy. Playwrights like Shakespeare and Marlowe transformed the genre, introducing complex characters and intricate plots, thus elevating the dramatic poem from a mere performance piece to a nuanced exploration of the human condition.

Characteristics of Dramatic Poesy

The primary characteristic of dramatic poesy is its performative nature. Unlike other forms of poetry that are designed for the reader’s contemplation, dramatic poesy is intended to be enacted on stage, with characters embodying the poet’s thoughts and emotions. It is through this enactment that the poet’s vision comes to life, providing a multi-sensory experience for the audience.

Another key feature of dramatic poesy is its use of dialogue and monologue. These techniques allow for the exploration of multiple perspectives, enabling a deeper understanding of the characters and their motivations. The dramatic monologue, in particular, allows the poet to delve into the psychological intricacies of a character, revealing their innermost thoughts and feelings.

Dramatic Poesy in Contemporary Literature

In contemporary literature, dramatic poesy has evolved to include a wide variety of themes and styles. Playwrights like Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter have pushed the boundaries of the genre, introducing elements of absurdism and existentialism. Meanwhile, poets like T.S. Eliot and Robert Browning have used the dramatic monologue to explore complex psychological landscapes, thus blurring the lines between poetry and drama.

In conclusion, dramatic poesy is a dynamic and versatile form of literature that has evolved significantly over the centuries. Its performative nature, coupled with its use of dialogue and monologue, allows for a rich exploration of human emotions, societal issues, and philosophical concepts. Despite changes in literary trends and societal norms, dramatic poesy continues to be a vital part of our cultural and artistic landscape, testament to its enduring appeal and relevance.

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Essay on Dramatic Poesy 1000+ Words

Dramatic poesy is a captivating form of literary expression that weaves stories, emotions, and characters through the power of words. In this essay, we will explore the world of dramatic poesy, highlighting its unique characteristics, its impact on literature, and why it continues to be cherished by writers and readers alike.

Defining Dramatic Poesy

Dramatic poesy is a form of poetry that adopts a dramatic structure, often featuring dialogues, characters, and vivid storytelling. Unlike traditional poetry, it immerses readers in the unfolding drama, making them active participants in the narrative.

A Rich History

Dramatic poesy has a rich history dating back to ancient Greece. Playwrights like Sophocles and Euripides used poetic dialogues to convey powerful stories, a tradition that laid the foundation for dramatic poetry’s development.

Shakespearean Influence

William Shakespeare, a master of dramatic poesy, crafted timeless plays in verse. His works, such as “Romeo and Juliet” and “Hamlet,” showcase the beauty and versatility of dramatic poetry. Shakespeare’s ability to infuse emotions, wit, and vivid characters into his verses is celebrated to this day.

The Role of Emotion

One of the defining features of dramatic poesy is its ability to evoke strong emotions in readers. By using poetic language, vivid imagery, and engaging dialogues, poets can transport readers to different times and places, stirring their hearts and minds.

Versatility of Themes

Dramatic poesy is versatile in its exploration of themes. It can delve into love, tragedy, heroism, or any aspect of the human experience. This flexibility allows poets to address a wide range of topics and connect with diverse audiences.

Shakespeare’s Sonnets

Shakespeare’s sonnets, a collection of 154 poems, exemplify the beauty of dramatic poesy on a smaller scale. Each sonnet tells a unique story, explores various themes, and showcases the power of poetic language to convey emotions.

Influence on Modern Literature

Dramatic poesy’s impact extends beyond its historical roots. Modern playwrights, poets, and novelists continue to draw inspiration from this form. Works like T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” and Langston Hughes’ dramatic poems reflect its enduring influence.

Contemporary Dramatic Poets

Contemporary poets, too, embrace dramatic poesy. The use of vivid narratives and dialogues in their poems allows them to engage readers in unique and thought-provoking ways. Poets like Maya Angelou and Derek Walcott employ this technique to create powerful and evocative poetry.

Literary Appreciation

Dramatic poesy is celebrated for its ability to make literature come alive. It captivates readers by immersing them in stories, making them feel as though they are part of the drama unfolding on the page. This engagement enhances the overall reading experience.

A Timeless Craft

In a world where storytelling evolves with technology, dramatic poesy stands as a testament to the enduring power of words. It reminds us that the art of storytelling through poetry remains a cherished and timeless craft.

Conclusion of Essay on Dramatic Poesy

In conclusion, dramatic poesy is a literary masterpiece that weaves the magic of storytelling with the beauty of poetic language. It has a rich history, dating back to ancient Greece, and continues to influence modern literature. Through its vivid characters, emotional depth, and versatile themes, dramatic poesy allows us to explore the human experience in profound ways.

As readers, we are fortunate to have the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the world of dramatic poesy, where stories come to life and emotions are palpable. It reminds us that the power of words extends beyond the page, reaching into our hearts and minds.

Dramatic poesy invites us to be active participants in the stories it tells, igniting our imaginations and stirring our emotions. It is a testament to the enduring impact of literature, where the written word has the power to transcend time and connect us with the essence of humanity itself. So, let us continue to celebrate and cherish the artistry of dramatic poesy, for it is a treasure that enriches our lives and deepens our understanding of the human spirit.

Also Check: The Essay on Essay: All you need to know

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The Miami ladies reunite in dramatic fashion, and fashions, in New York City. Kiki confronts Larsa about her behavior since dating Marcus. Adriana recites a poem dedicated to Alexia. Drug accusations and lies fracture Alexia and Larsa’s friendship.

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    Essay of Dramatick Poesie. John Dryden ' s Essay of Dramatick Poesy [1] was likely written in 1666 during the Great Plague of London and published in 1668. Dryden's claim in this essay was that poetic drama with English and Spanish influence [2] is a justifiable art form when compared to traditional French poetry. [3]

  2. An Essay of Dramatic Poesy by John Dryden

    In addition to poetry, Dryden wrote many essays, prefaces, satires, translations, biographies (introducing the word to the English language), and plays. "An Essay of Dramatic Poesy" was probably written in 1666 during the closure of the London theaters due to plague. It can be read as a general defense of drama as a legitimate art form ...

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    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. However, he is not a rule bound critic, tied down to the classical unities or to notions of what constitutes a "proper" character for the ...

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    The Essay is written in the form of a dialogue concerned to four gentlemen: Eugenius, Crites, Lisideius and Neander. Neander seems to speak for Dryden himself.Eugenius takes the side of the modern English dramatists by criticizing the faults of the classical playwrights who did not themselves observe the unity of place.

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    John Dryden (1631-1700) occupies a seminal place in English critical history. Samuel Johnson called him "the father of English criticism," and affirmed of his Essay of Dramatic Poesy (1668) that "modern English prose begins here." Dryden's critical work was extensive, treating of various genres such as epic, tragedy, comedy and dramatic theory, satire, the relative virtues…

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    decorum, enunciated by Horace. Statement. "While French plays how closer to classical notions of drama (Adhering to the unities of time, place, and action), English drama is supported because of its subplots, mixture of mirth and tragedy (in tragic comedy) and spirited, multiple characters". Questions. Did the ancients or the moderns write ...

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    Dramatic poesy plays a pivotal role in society, serving as a mirror reflecting the realities of the time. It provides a platform for discussing social issues, political ideologies, and human emotions. Through its narratives, dramatic poesy challenges societal norms, questions authority, and fosters empathy by presenting diverse perspectives.

  20. Essay on Dramatic Poesy 1000+ Words

    In this essay, we will explore the world of dramatic poesy, highlighting its unique characteristics, its impact on literature, and why it continues to be cherished by writers and readers alike. Defining Dramatic Poesy. Dramatic poesy is a form of poetry that adopts a dramatic structure, often featuring dialogues, characters, and vivid storytelling.

  21. An essay of dramatic poesy : Dryden, John, 1631-1700 : Free Download

    Audio Books & Poetry; Computers, Technology and Science; Music, Arts & Culture; News & Public Affairs; Spirituality & Religion; ... An essay of dramatic poesy by Dryden, John, 1631-1700; Arnold, Thomas, 1823-1900. Publication date 1896 ... Be the first one to write a review. 666 Views . DOWNLOAD OPTIONS download 1 file ...

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    An Essay of Dramatic Poesy gives an explicit account of neo-classical theory of art in general. ... more pleasant way of writing for the stage . . . tragicomedy." ... verse is, however, just as appropriate to dramatic as to non-dramatic poetry: the test of the "naturalness" of rhyme is how well-chosen the rhymes are.

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    To create the foundation for a distinctive English dramatic tradition, Dryden tries to prove English theater's legitimacy and artistic value through his essay. Characters and Their Views. In his poem "An Essay of Dramatic Poesy," John Dryden creates an imaginary conversation between four individuals, each representing a distinct viewpoint on ...

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  25. Watch Reunion Part 1

    The Miami ladies reunite in dramatic fashion, and fashions, in New York City. Kiki confronts Larsa about her behavior since dating Marcus. Adriana recites a poem dedicated to Alexia. Drug ...