John Dryden Life and Works

John Dryden: BA English notes for the students of Semester II BBMKU and VBU University. Here the only important points mentioned are those used for solving the questions.

John Dryden Life and Works

John Dryden was born on August 9, 1631, at the Vicarage of Aldwinkle, Northamptonshire. His father was Erasmus Dryden and his mother was Mary Pickering. He attended Westminster School as a king’s scholar under Richard Busby and was an avid student of the classics. Dryden published his first verses, an elegy “Upon the Death of Lord Hastings”, in Lachrym√¶ Musarum (1649) when he was in Westminster. He entered Trinity College, Cambridge in 1650, and completed his BA in 1654. Dryden moved to London in about 1657 and first gained notice with his ‘Heroic Stanzas’ (1659) on the death of Lord Protector Cromwell. In the Royalist climate of the Restoration, he sensibly wrote Astraea Redux (1660) to celebrate the return of King Charles II.

For the coronation, Dryden wrote, “To His Sacred Majesty, A Panegyric” (1661). In 1662, Dryden wrote verses “To My Lord Chancellor” Clarendon, and was elected to the Royal Society. The theatres had been reopened demand for entertainment was high, and Dryden set to writing plays. In 1663, Dryden married Lady Elizabeth Howard, the sister of his theatrical partner Sir Robert Howard, and the eldest daughter of the Earl of Berkshire. His first play was the prose comedy of humour A Wild Gallant (1663), a wholly unremarkable piece, followed by the tragicomedy The Rival Ladies (1664) and The Indian Queen (1664). In 1665, the theatres were closed because of the plague in London, and the King’s court relocated to Oxford. There, Dryden finally established a reputation as a playwright with The Indian Emperor (1665), a heroic drama.

The year 1666 was eventful in English history, including both the naval war with the Dutch and the Great Fire of London. Dryden commemorated this year of wonders” in his long poem, Annus Mirabilis in 1667. This poem secured him the position of Poet Laureate on the death of William D’Avenant in 1668. The same year, he was also given the degree of M.A. by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

As a fellow of the Royal Society, he was furthermore made Historiographer Royal in 1670, which brought him an annual income of £200. In 1668, Dryden began a fruitful period of critical and dramatic writing. His first major critical work was the Essay of Dramatic Poesy (1668), followed by A Defence of an Essay (1668), and Essay of Heroic Plays (1672). His plays from this period include the comedy Secret Love (1667); the heroic drama Tyrannic Love (1669); the two-part The Conquest of Granada (1670-71); and the comedy Marriage á la Mode (1672).

In 1674, Dryden published a tribute to Milton in the form of a musical adaptation of Paradise Lost, entitled The State of Innocence – it was never performed. The tragedy Aureng-Zebe (1676) was Dryden’s first play in blank verse, followed by his masterpiece All for Love (1678), based on the story of Anthony and Cleopatra. The success and fame Dryden enjoyed naturally garnered him, enemies. He was ridiculed in Buckingham’s The Rehearsal (1671), and brutally beaten in an attack in Rose Alley, Covent Garden, on December 18, 1679.

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