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Studies in the heroic drama of John Dryden

Blyth, Michael Graham (1978) Studies in the heroic drama of John Dryden. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



John Dryden's heroic plays present unique problems to the literary critic because they combine the conscious artifice of literary form with the exuberant zest of the native tradition of English drama. While it is undeniable that Dryden used the plays to explore a number of critical problems, viz., the nature of the imagination, the uses of wit, and the portrayal of the passions, it is also essential to realize that he was writing deliberately ‘popular’ drama. The Restoration heroic play is thus a compromise between the individual tastes of the poet and the fashions of his audience; Dryden's plays therefore contain flashes of self-parody which are manifested in scenes of satiric imbalance and the 'grotesque'. I have approached the five major heroic plays from the varying points of view suggested by the dramatic conventions of the period; briefly, these are opera, satire, panegyric, wit, ‘the grotesque', the 'passions', and the denouement. B examining the application of particular stylistic effects to certain scenes of debate or confrontation, it is possible to locate more precisely the areas of permitted ambivalence in Dryden’s plays. In charting the development of Dryden's dramatic technique from The Indian Queen to All for Love, we can see how a 'mixed heroic" style became increasingly important in his manipulation of audience response, and how the heroic play, for all its eccentricities, could be developed as a drama of participation. In evaluating the plays I have made special provision for a discussion of their effectiveness as theatre, without neglecting the critical questions which often underline their structure. Dryden emerges from this study as perhaps more of an innovator than he is often given credit for: in his heroic drama he practised freedoms of style which he was less able to indulge in formal panegyric or polemical satire. The heroic plays are representative of crucial developments in Dryden's attitude to the heroic in life, and as such they provide a fascinating testimony to the receptivity of Dryden's mind. As social dramas the plays contain an illuminating critique of Restoration morals and philosophy and illustrate Dryden’s growing capacity for harmonizing the discrepant. A close study of the texts reveals a surprising diversity of tone, for which we may have to devise subtler and more penetrating critical modes. Balanced between levity and seriousness, Dryden’s theatre deserves fuller recognition for its festive reconciliation of the sophisticated and bizarre.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Studies, Department of
Thesis Date:1978
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:18 Sep 2013 10:27

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