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John Dryden (1631-1700):
All for Love
The ‘Long’ Eighteenth Century was a time of a great change. The birth of
Modernity – a break with Tradition - took place. Before that Tradition played
great role in social life. There appeared new attitudes to religion, work,
government in North-Western Europe, especially in England and the
Netherlands where Modernity came first. Before the Restoration period there
was a ‘gap’ when the living generation forgot the old glorious literature, like the
works of Shakespeare. They lived only with John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ and
The Bible. There was no theatre, no drama. It is believed that the Restoration
came circa 1660 when Charles II together with other royalists came back. They
established the absolutist royal government. The Restoration was a political
experiment dictated by the political elite. The type of monarchy that had been
established in England was the constitution. England became a social utopia and
few people on top manipulated the majority. The culture was influenced by the
majority. There was lack of any cultural entertainment. The new generation tried
to adapt the old art to the new time. Absolute freedom came. Mostly two genres
developed – poetry and drama. Poetry still dominates. But the taste for poetry
changed. Prose narratives were produced. Drama theatres started to produce
plays again when the monarchy was restored. A lot of influence came from
France after 1660. France was the more brilliant from the two countries. It was
accepted that the actors had to be well educated. In England the better actors
were sent to Paris to study there. Painted scenery was the other new thing that
was introduced during the Restoration period. People became aware of the role
of colours, painted scenery of Egypt, India, and Mexico. Some kind of exotic
setting was produced. Of course the costumes were different, too. There were a
lot of technical innovations. More important is the overall acceptance of tragedy.
The conflicts in the heroic plays distinguished from those in the preceding
tragedies between good and evil and were then between passion and duty. There
was a neat division of character types. There was the type of the perfect
mistress, the type of the defenders of duty and defenders of passion.
John Dryden absolutely dominated during this period. He was the dominating
spirit for forty years. He dreamed to become a great poet like Milton. A
translator, a poet and a literature critic, John Dryden also wrote plays. His great
ambition was to produce drama – an epic. He received a classical education at
Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge, then moved to London in
1657 to commence his career as a professional writer. His first play, ‘The Wild
Gallant’(1663), was a failure when first presented, but Dryden soon found more
success with ‘The Indian Queen’ (1664) which he co-authored with Sir Robert
Howard and which served as his initial attempt to found a new theatrical genre,
the heroic tragedy. Although George Villiers' ‘The Rehearsal’, a vicious satire of
heroic tragedy, brought a quick end to the form, Dryden still managed to
produce a number of successful works in this genre including ‘The Indian
Emperor’ (1665) and ‘Secret Love’(1667) which mixed heroic tragedy with
contemporary comedy. The young playwright's reputation grew quickly, and in
1668, only ten years after his move to London, Dryden was appointed Poet
Laureate of England. He agreed to write exclusively for Thomas Killigrew's
theatrical company and became a shareholder. Both his first offering, ‘Tyrannick
Love’ (1669), and his successful follow-up, ‘The Conquest of Granada by the
Spaniards’ (1670), are examples of heroic tragedy. In 1672, however, perhaps
sensing the demise of his short-lived genre, Dryden turned his hand to comedy
and produced ‘Marriage A-la-Mode’, a brilliant battle of the sexes. Dryden's
relationship with Killigrew's company continued until 1678 at which point he
broke with the theatre and offered his latest play, ‘Oedipus’, a drama he had co-
authored with Nathaniel Lee, to another company.
In his later years, Dryden turned to poetry and solidified his reputation as the
leading writer of the day with such masterpieces as ‘Absalom and Achitophel’.
However, he continued to write for the theatre, producing such plays as ‘Don
Sebastian’ (1689), the story of a king who abdicates his throne after discovering
that he has committed incest, and ‘Amphitryon’(1690), a brilliant retelling of the
classic myth. He also adapted a number of Shakespeare's plays icluding ‘The
Tempest’ and ‘All for Love’ (1677), a retelling of ‘Antony and Cleopatra’. In
addition, he wrote the libretto for several operas including ‘The State of
Innocence’ (1677) (an adaptation of Milton's ‘Paradise Lost’) and ‘King Arthur’
(1691) with music by Purcell.
John Dryden died in London on May 12, 1700, and was buried in Westminster
Abbey next to Chaucer. He left behind almost 30 works for the stage as well as a
major critical study and a number of translations including the works of Virgil.
Dryden was very much impressed by Racine’s works but in his later career he
rediscovered Shakespeare, so he switched back to blank verse. He used plots
similar to Shakespeare’s plots. One of his later tragedies, ‘All for Love’; or,
‘The World Well Lost’ is considered his greatest play and one of the
masterpieces of Restoration tragedy. It is a heroic drama and is written in 1677.
The play is a version of the story of Mark Antony and his love for Cleopatra.
The main characters are Mark Antony, Venditius – his general, Dolabella – his
friend, Alexas - the Queen's Eunuch, Serapion – priest of Isis, Myris – another
priest, Cleopatra – the Queen of Egypt, Octavia – Antony’s wife, Charmion and
Iras – Cleopatra’s maids, Antony’s two little daughters. The scene is developing
in Alexanrdia. The plot begins with an attempt to break up Antony and
Cleopatra by bringing his virtuous wife Octavia to confront him. She manages to
win him back for awhile, but his jealousy of Cleopatra and his friend Dolabella
convince him that he cannot live without her. Octavius Caesar, his wife's

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John Dryden (1631-1700): All for Love

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