Dryden’s Importance

Assessment of Dryden’s Importance

As a writer, John Dryden is known to be very versatile and succeeded in many different written forms (poetry, prose, plays). Dryden was also very influential due to his translations of Homer, Lucretius, Horace, Ovid, Juvenal, Persius, Giovanni Boccaccio, Geoffrey Chaucer, and notably Virgil. It is believed that after Shakespeare, Dryden “wrote the greatest heroic play of the century,” The Conquest of Granada , but also wrote arguably the best tragicomedy, Marriage A-la Mode, and the greatest tragedy of the Restoration Period, All for Love (The Poetry Foundation).

As a writer, Dryden was known for multiple stylistic feats such as “perfecting the heroic couplet” as a poet (The Poetry Foundation). His brilliance with the heroic couplet centered around his ability to include line enjambments, caesuras, and also metric variation into his verse, making his stand out along with Alexander Pope as some of the most gifted poets of the Restoration Period. In Dryden’s poem “One Happy Moment,” readers can easily identify Dryden’s ease with crafting heroic couplets and how he has the ability to create two metered lines that can stand alone since every couplet illustrates a complete thought:

“… One tender Sigh of hers to see me languish,
Will more than pay the price of my past anguish…”

“…Time and Death shall depart, and say in flying,
Love has found out a way to live, by dying.”

In each of these couplets, Dryden is able to express a complete thought, but it is also worth mentioning that as a poet, he had the skill to implement end-stops at every end-of-couplet rhyme; this involves the poet ending a metrical line at a grammatical boundary or break in order to establish a complete thought (The Poetry Foundation).

Besides these stylistic achievements, Dryden was renowned as a scathing satirist. His alacrity for penning witty, poignant allegories using biblical or mythological sources garnered excellent praise, as well as harsh criticism from the groups he satirized. The most notable and controversial of these satires was Absalom and Achitophel, written in response to the Popish plot intended to slander Charles II’s brother, James, thereby denying him the throne. Dryden, in a smart bit of propaganda, recast the biblical story of King David, Achitophel, and Absalom, recalling parallels between contemporary England and biblical Israel. This type of satire, which earned Dryden his place in literary history, was not a mere exercise in rhetoric. It had legitimate effects on the opinions of the people of England, which eventually caused his deposition as Poet Laureate at the hands of his enemies.