John Dryden

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Plays by John Dryden

All For Love

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

All for Love, or The World Well Lost is John Dryden's epic adaptation of the tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra into a neo-classical quintet with supporting voices. The play, which the 1678 quarto titlepage claims is ‘Written in Imitation of Shakespeare’s Stile’, draws heavily on Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra; it does away, however, with the salaciousness of Shakespeare’s text, and reduces his temporal and geographical range to that of one time and place as per Aristotelian dramatic unities. The play was arguably intended to be seen in direct relation to the contemporary Antony and Cleopatra: A Tragedy (1677), written by politician and playwright Charles Sedley. Dryden’s application of neo-classical conventions and contemporary dramatic practice gives the classic love story a structural beauty and an austere power.

After Cleopatra’s desertion of Antony at the battle of Actium, not only his wife Octavia but also his general Ventidius and his friend Dolabella strive to win him over to their side. Antony, torn between the claims of duty, friendship, dignity and love, despairs when he hears the rumour of Cleopatra's death, which is not, as in Shakespeare’s version, spread by the queen herself but by her deceitful eunuch.

The first recorded performance was at the Theatre Royal, London by the King’s Company in 1677. The play’s political implications have perhaps been lost over time: absolute monarchy and the illicit love of a ruler were highly topical concerns in a post-Restoration Britain, when King Charles II’s extra-marital amours, most famously with the celebrated actress Nell Gwyn, were the subject of much anxiety.

Marriage A-La Mode

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Half comic and half serious, Marriage A-la-Mode is a spirited study of the trials and passions of love and marriage, and generally considered John Dryden’s finest comedy.

The play is set in the Sicilian court, and consists of a comic plot written in prose, and a tragic plot written in verse. The comic plot wittily explores the fluttering courtly mode of romance. Two fashionable couples, lifted straight from London drawing rooms into the Sicilian court, play at switching partners in the ‘modern style’, flirting with the boundaries of marriage and betrothal. The tragic scenes belong to Leonidas and Palmyra, who have grown up in obscurity but find their love threatened when their true parentage is discovered. This serious plot, by contrast, offers a timeless understanding of love and marriage as deeply intertwined, and of love as springing from country innocence and honour, and not from the social intriguing of shallow courtiers. With a blend of satire and true romance, Dryden leads the play to the conclusion that the most stylish and modish kind of marriage is what is simple, honourable and true.

M arriage A-la-Mode was presented to King Charles II at Windsor in the summer of 1671; the king was, reputedly, a great fan of the comedy, a factor which contributed to its great success onstage at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. After the theatre was destroyed by fire in early 1672, the play moved temporarily to the Duke’s Company’s old theatre in Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

John Dryden (1631-1700) was an English poet, critic and dramatist, responsible for nearly 30 plays. He was noted both for his elegant comedies and his heroic verse dramas, which introduced the principles of French neoclassicism to England.

Dryden turned to drama following the reopening of the theatres at the Restoration; his first attempt, the comedy The Wild Gallant, was presented in 1663 at Drury Lane. The success of his heroic drama The Indian Emperor established him as a leading playwright. Following Aureng-Zebe (1675), perhaps his best heroic work, Dryden abandoned the use of rhyming couplets, producing the oft-revived blank-verse tragedy All for Love (a retelling of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra) in 1677.

Dryden was the first to write drama criticism in an informal modern style and the first to attempt a history of English drama in his essay Of Dramatick Poesie (1668). He eventually tired of playwriting and his final plays, such as the tragicomedy Love Triumphant (1694), were written to relieve financial problems after his fortunes fell with the abdication of James II.