John Dryden

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John Dryden (1631-1700) was an English author. His works include All for Love (1678), Absalom and Achitophel (1681), The Medal (1682), and Mac Flecknoe (1682).[1]

Life and Works

Dryden was born August 9, 1631, to a family of Puritans in Northamptonshire, and attended the King's School at Westminster.[2] He published his first poem, "Upon the Death of the Lord Hastings," in 1649, before attending Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated in 1654. He began to work in civil service and wrote both satire and tragedy, including a poem on the death of Oliver Cromwell, Heroic Stanzas (1658).[3] This marked him as a sonorous and educated poet, and he continued his habit of alluding to science and classic works in his welcoming to King Charles II, Astrea Redux.[4] For the king's coronation, he wrote "To His Sacred Majesty: A Panegyric" (1661) and was later admitted to the Royal Society.[5] In 1663, his bachelor days ended with his marriage to Lady Elizabeth Howard.[6]

He turned to becoming a playwright that year with his first play, The Wild Gallant, a failure.[7] In 1668, he was appointed Poet Laureate of England (though he later lost this title) and began to write for a theater company, for whom he produced Tyrannic Love and The Conquest of Granada by the Spaniards.[8] Some of his greatest works, Marriage á la Mode and All for Love he wrote for the King's Company, though he later turned to satire in his Mac Flecknoe (1682), Absalom and Achitophel (1681), and The Medal (1682).[9] Also during the 1670s, he acknowledged John Milton and considered the themes of his Paradise Lost in The State of Innocence (1674).[10]

However, in the 1680s, he returned his attention to poetry with his Absalom and Achitophel, in which he satirized the relationship between Charles II, Monmouth, and Shaftesbury via a retelling of an Old Testament story, and continued his attack on Shaftesbury in The Medal.[11] In his Mac Flecknoe, he attacks the poet Thomas Shadwell.[12] In his later works, such as Religio Laici (1682), he offered theological views supporting Christianity, the Bible, and the Anglican Church over the Catholic Church, though he later criticized the Anglican Church in the guise of a beast fable, The Hind and the Panther (1687).[13] In punishment, he lost his title as Poet Laureate, was replaced by Thomas Shadwell, and returned to writing plays.[14] These include his tragedy Don Sebastian (1689) and his Amphityron (1690) and King Arthur (1691), the latter two of which used the music of Henry Purcell.[15][16] He would lament this composer in his "An Ode, on the Death of Mr Henry Purcell" (1696).[17] Aging, he also adapted Shakespeare plays and translated works by Virgil.[18]

John Dryden rose to be considered the third greatest poet of the 17th century after John Milton and John Donne, and the third greatest playwright after William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson.[19] He died in spring of 1700.[20]


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