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Out of such classical spareness, claims Lisideius, emerges a new verisimilitude.It is left to Neander to reply, and to summarize, one suspects, on Dryden’s behalf.Neander is realigning the original definition of a play by shifting the focus from “just” to “lively,” from an exact versimilitude to a more dynamic likeness to life.
Progress in science has been matched by progress in the arts.
The Moderns have improved upon the older dramatists’ hackneyed exploitation of myth; furthermore, they are more precise observers of the “Unities,” which, as he accurately observes, are mostly the product of continental criticism.
by John Dryden, 1667–68 When John Dryden (1631–1700) published the Essay of Dramatic Poesy late in 1667 or early in 1668, he was already actively engaged in writing for the London stage.
He had written, collaborated on, or adapted some seven plays in various genres, including comedy, tragicomedy, and heroic.
Conversely, the English stage is more vital, more exciting.
Subplots and tragicomedy lend variety and contrast, dramatic dialogue is better suited to passion, and even violent action is justified by deference to popular appeal.Foreign slanders provoke indignant counterblasts, and, in the following year, Thomas Sprat, the historian of the Royal Society, published his Observations on M. At about the same time, Dryden was involved in a debate on the question of rhyme with his brother-in-law and collaborator, Sir Robert Howard (soon to become the Crites of the Essay).In the dedication to The Rival Ladies (1664), Dryden had argued in favor of rhymed drama, to which Howard replied in the preface of his Four New Plays (1665), rejecting the device on the grounds of its “unnaturalness.” Here were all the ingredients for civil and international “war,” and, in part at least, the writing of the Essay can be seen as an episode in a landscape of critical skirmishes.Their opening exchanges display the currency of ironic repartee familiar from Restoration comedy, as fears are voiced that an English victory will be heralded by a plethora of outlandish celebrations from those ever-eager “leveller[s] in poetry.” These tart remarks, carrying more than a hint of cultural elitism, lead into a serious discussion of drama.Lisideius proposes a definition for a play which all accept, although the precise meaning of “A just and lively Image of Human Nature” will be differently interpreted according to each speaker’s idea of how it is that Art should imitate Nature.He is at pains to avoid the dogmatism which bedeviled much previous 17th-century criticism.If Dryden has an agenda, it is perhaps no more specific than, as T. Eliot suggested in The Use of Poetry and the Use of Critidsm (1933), “the necessity of affirming the native element in literature.” As a working dramatist, Dryden has his preferences, but resists that submission to the Rules most often identified with French theorists.Thus, his advocacy of rhyme, echoed in the Essay by Neander, would, in his later career, be revised.In fact, the Essay remains speculative in its presentation of antithetical ideas, and is best characterized by Dryden’s own explanation in his Defence of An Essay of Dramatic Poesy (1688), “My whole discourse was sceptical…He cites the application of the pseudo- Aristotelian “Unities” as an example of how far short of the classical model the Moderns have fallen.Eugenius, in response, attempts to turn Crites’ points against him.