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John Dryden and Social and Literary Background of His Age
The great poet of the Restoration, John Dryden (1631-1700), was born in the village of Aldwincle, near Oundle in Northamptonshire. His paternal great-grandfather, Sir Eramus Dryden, was a baronet, and his mother was Lady Pickering, Sir Gilbert Pickering’s first cousin. He received his primary education at the neighboring Tichmarsh village school. From Tichmarsh about 1642 he passed to Westminster School. From Westminster he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1650. He was close to Sir Robert Howard, whose friendship arose out of his marriage to Lady Elizabeth in 1663, whose daughter he was. friend, but the marriage was unhappy.
No doubt he was an original and discriminating critic. Dr. Johnson called him “the father of English criticism.” In addition, he was the founder of modern prose style. He was an eminent poet and dramatist. His age was full of minor literary critics with erratic work, but his major contemporaries with significant work were Thomas Rhymer, John Dennis, and Jeremy Collier. It would be better to talk about the social and literary background of his age (1660-1700).
A. Social Information:
Dryden’s era begins with Charles II’s accession to the throne in 1660 and continues until the poet’s death in 1700. It is no exaggeration to say that he was a dominant literary figure who represented the era beautifully. His age was profoundly affected by three historical events: the restoration of Charles II in 1660, religious and political disputes and the Popish plot, and the Golden Revolution of 1688. As for the restoration of Charles II. He reacted violently against Puritan restrictions. All the values of the society, the things dominated by the puritan, were broken. The king’s series of mistresses and illegitimate children were very strange. He was irresponsible and unpatriotic who always went against his promises, broke the agreement he made with the Dutch and his ministers, betrayed his country. His trial was dishonorable, and parliament passed bills against church and state in their thirst for revenge against those associated with Cromwell’s Puritan government. The House of Lords was augmented by the creation of hereditary titles, defiled men and shameless women. Even the judicial system was not safe.
During this period, unpleasant situations in the field of religious and political parties were sharply manifested. There were two centrist political parties, the Whigs and the Tories. They have divided the atmosphere of the country with their touch. The Whigs advocated the limitation of royal power in the interests of the nation and parliament, where the Tories differed and supported the “divine right” theory of kings. Both sides have been fruitful for people of literary ability. They sought support and bribed them with places and scholarships. The writers of the time were not free from political bias and competition.
Religious conflict or prejudice was more bitter. The nation was predominantly Protestant and Catholic labored under a number of handicaps. They had to pay higher taxes and were not allowed to hold any office under the Crown. Such hatred against Catholics was the biggest problem of that time.
Furthermore, the Popish plot in this period comes from the fact that the king was very weak in religion, but his brother was Roman Catholic. Charles II had no legitimate son and heir. After him, his brother James would sit on the throne. The plot was designed to remove him from the throne and create an environment for him to sit with Charles II’s illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth. This controversy was called the Popish Plot by Titus Oates. Shaftesbury made various attempts to oust James, but the king supported his brother and the way was cleared for James to join. The famous poem of Dryden, Absalam and Achitophel reflect or comment on these religious or political debates or prejudices of the time.
James II came to the throne in 1685. He had various plans and under them he tried to establish Catholicism in the country. Such mismanagement made him quite popular in his country in a short time. In response, the people rose up against him and the Bloodless Revolution of 1688 restored the country to a pleasant and healthy environment after suffering from immorality and corruption since the Restoration period. James was exiled and the Protestant William and Mary ascended the throne.
B. Literary information:
In literature, this school of criticism is called neoclassical, pseudo-classical, or Augustan. During this period, literary men began to imitate French writers. It was a blind imitation that caused them to copy the worst work instead of putting their minds to work. So it was just a copy. The writers of that time called this era the Augustan era because they considered their age to be as honorable as the age of the Roman king Augustus Caesar. In that period, such brilliant literary figures as Horace, Virgil, Longinous and Quintillian grew up. John Dryden was a dominant figure in this pseudo-classical period and is therefore called the Dryden period.
The rise of neo-classicism broke the chains of Puritanism. Post-Restoration literature belonged to the Elizabethan era, where neo-classical literature was the opposite of Elizabethan romanticism. Before Dryden, Sir Philip Sidney and Ben Jonson were the two great Elizabethan poets. After Ben Jonson, literary activity in England suffered greatly. Ben Jonson and John Dryden hardly find any major critics of religious and social controversy. The restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660 permeated an atmosphere favorable to French influence, which suppressed the sensitive and romantic Italian influence. Charles II and other men of letters were under this influence as they spent most of their time in France. When they returned to England, they brought a new storm to French literature, abandoning the old ideals and standards. They demanded English poetry in a new style. The Italian influence disappeared and men of letters began to blindly imitate French writers. Therefore, instead of putting their minds to work, they copied the worst work. The influence of French comedy is seen in the awkwardness and vulgarity of the Restoration Comedy of Manners by Dryden, Wycherley and Congreve. The interaction of French and classical models of tragedy is seen in a new genre, heroic tragedy. It is well represented by Dryden’s Tyrannic Love. This influence is also responsible for the growth of opera in Restoration England.
This reaction was against romantic tendencies and largely favored realism. In the case of realism, it had a very poor start. Early Restoration writers painted realistic pictures of a corrupt court and society. Their emphasis was on the vices rather than the virtues and they created crude and mean games that lacked interest and moral significance. Later it underwent a change and increased the interest of writers in the study of the practical motives that govern human actions. It cannot be denied from this statement that it was a reaction against the extravagance of both Elizabethanism and Metaphysics. John Donne is a metaphysical poet, and his followers liked to rebel in favor of order, balance, and sanity in literature. They used unlimited hyperbole, far-fetched and violent similes, metaphors and conceits. This reaction supported the trend of directness, simplicity and expression. Writers of earlier times liked to use extravagance in thought and language. The sentences are enriched with classical quotations and references. Restoration writers fought back and made rules and did romantic fantasy a favor. So the emphasis was on propriety and propriety. Fairness means encouraging moderate opinions expressed at a moderate level. Etiquette was to follow the rules of the ancients as interpreted by the French. Dryden clearly marked this new trend, and under his influence writers developed a formalism of style, wrongly called classicism.
This period saw the growth of science, religious and political debates. All gave birth to prose. Arnold says, “The Restoration marks the real birth of our modern English prose.” Earlier writers were erratic, and their work was overloaded with classical allusions and quotations. In fact, Elizabethan prose was not suitable for telling a simple story. Bacon’s epigrammatic style and Milton’s grandiose prose could not have been suitable for scientific, historical, political and philosophical writings or novels. The spirit of this new prose developed, and Dryden was the chief leader. His work “Dramatic Poetry” introduced a new style of prose, completely different from the prose of previous centuries. He wrote in a simple but precise style without exaggeration. Other writers also came under his influence, and they also contributed to the development of a new prose style with their own individual developments. He was completely free from monotony.
Prose was the prominent style or weapon of this period. Even the poetry of this period was prose and was used for narrative, satirical or didactic purposes. The poem was not meant to inspire, but to persuade. It was a convenient style of narrating arguments that led to the growth of satire. The best poetry of this period is satirical. Dryden’s Absalom and Ahithophel is the most famous political satire. In this satire, Dryden defends the king against the Earl of Shaftesbury, who is represented as Ahithophel. His other work “Mac Flecknoe” is an example of personal satire. It also contains a scathing personal attack on Thomas Shadwell, who was once Dryden’s friend. “The Exercise” depicts the literary vices of the time and is the first literary satire in English literature. His other two poems, Religio laici and The Indian and the Panther, are theological and controversial.
Another contribution to this age was the growth and refinement of the heroic couplet. Chaucer used it, but insisted on idea or notion. The authors of the restoration paid attention to the form as it was. Waller and Dryden used it in literary fashion. The attachment is “Closed”. His couplets showed complete thought and were expressed as accurately as possible. So it became the order of the day and all other forms of verification were excluded. The supremacy remained for a century and then its freshness passed.
Although such controversies troubled the era, they greatly helped literature. It also proved that John Dryden was an exponent of this neo-classicism, and Bunyan also admired the likes of John Milton. He brought innovation from literature, banished monotony.
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