« AnteriorContinuar »
"In this respect and in discarding a number of uninteresting characters, the plan of Dryden's play must be unequivocally preferred to that of Shakespeare in point of coherence, unity, and simplicity. . . . But, having given Dryden the praise of superior address in managing the story, I fear he must be pronounced in most other respects inferior to his grand prototype. Antony, the principal character in both plays, is incomparably grander in that of Shakespeare. The majesty and generosity of the military hero is happily expressed by both poets; but the awful ruin of grandeur, undermined by passion, and tottering to its fall, is far more striking in the Antony of Shakespeare.”
There are beautiful passages and quotable sayings in Dryden's play, though perhaps no single short passage so well-known as Shakspere's
"Age cannot wither her nor custom stale
Her infinite variety," yet how familiar is this line,
"Men are but children of a larger growth!” Shakspere's description of the voyage of Cleopatra down the Cydnus is as follows:
“ The barge she sat in, like a burnish'd throne,
For her own person,
That yarely frame the office. From the barge
In Dryden the similar description runs —
In comparing these two passages, Sir Walter Scott, whose opinion is surely worthy of consideration, has written:
“We feel almost afraid to avow a preference of Dryden, founded partly upon the easy flow of the verse, which seems to soften with the subject, but chiefly upon the beauty of the language and imagery, which is flowery without diffusiveness, and rapturous without hyperbole. I fear Shakespeare cannot be exculpated from the latter fault; yet I am sensible, it is by sifting his beauties from his conceits that his imitator has been enabled to excel him.”
It may be added that Dryden said that All for Love is "the only play he wrote for himself," and that he especially admired the part describing the quarrel between Antony and Ventidius as the best thing he had done in dramatic writing.
Domestic and Financial Affairs. - He had three sons, the first one having been born in 1665 or 1666, the youngest in 1669. The two eldest, like their father before them, went to Westminster. During these years Dryden was a prosperous man; Malone has estimated that with his patrimony his income must have been about £700, a sum whose purchasing power would be at least three or four times as great as at present. In 1670 he was appointed poet laureate and historiographer royal.
It was during these days of prosperity that he also was on familiar terms with the habitues of the court of Charles II Dorset, Etherege, Mulgrave, Sedley, and Rochester. In 1679 Dryden, as he was going home at night, was attacked and beaten by masked men. There is a strong suspicion that the assault was instigated by Rochester, who had become angered at Dryden by believing that Dryden was the author of an attack on him. The satire is so poor that it is not now believed that Dryden had a hand in the making.
Absalom and Achitophel. — Dryden is only a second-rate dramatist, but he is the first of satirists, his poems Absalom and Achitophel, The Medal, and Mac Flecknoe being unsurpassed in the annals of English satirical poetry. Of these three, Absalom and Achitophel is the most celebrated. It was published in November, 1681. To understand the sensation that the satire produced, one must remember that it appeared at a time when the nation" was frenzied with suspicion and panic.” There was a bitter struggle, religious and political, as to the succession. The chief spirit of the age was the Earl of Shaftesbury, who had been scheming to place the Duke of Monmouth, a reputed illegitimate son of Charles II, before the people as the logical successor of the present king. He was the eager advocate of the Exclusion Bill, a measure to exclude James from the succession.
It was while Shaftesbury was in the Tower on the charge of high treason that Absalom and Achitophel appeared.
Absalom is the Duke of Monmouth; Achitophel is Shaftesbury. Other prominent characters of the day are satirized under biblical disguises which the public easily penetrated. Zimri is the Duke of Buckingham, Balaam is the Earl of Huntingdon, Caleb is Lord Grey, the “canting Nadab " is Lord Howard, and Shimei is Slingsby Bethel, the sheriff of London.
Achitophel is thus described,
“Of these the false Achitophel was first
Great wits are sure to madness near allied,
In friendship false, implacable in hate;
Yet fame deserved no enemy can grudge;
And heaven had wanted one immortal song." The last dozen lines of praise reveal Dryden's mastery of satire, for he knew that this tone of appreciation would heighten the
effect of his invective. It may be added that the last line means that Dryden's own poem would have been unwritten had Shaftesbury remained a judge. In extenuation of Dryden's self-praise it must be remembered that the satire was published anonymously, also that he may be jesting.
Of Zimri he writes,
So over-violent, or over-civil,
J. Churton Collins has written in appreciation of this satire:
“In one respect this poem stands alone in literature. A party pamphlet dedicated to the hour, it is yet immortal. No poem in our language is so interpenetrated with contemporary illusion, with contemporary portraiture, with contemporary point, yet no poem in our language has been more enjoyed by succeeding generations of readers."
The Medal. - This poem appeared about four months after the publication of Absalom and Achitophel, and also was published anonymously. The movement against Shaftesbury had failed; he had been freed from the Tower and his adherents had celebrated their victory by striking a medal, having on one side a portrait of Shaftesbury and on the other a sketch of London, with the inscription, Laetamur. There is a tradition that the king himself suggested the writing of The Medal to Dryden as they were walking on the Mall. The story is thus told: “If I were a poet,” said the king, “and I think I am poor enough to be one, I would write a poem on such a subject in the following manner.” The narrator further says that after the poem was finished