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English Literature Study: Contribution of John Dryden to English Literature


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John Dryden was made improvements to the diction of the Elizabethan prose by introducing a stripped-down English minus the flowery and exaggeration. His earlier days as a playwright was not much impressive, yet he went on to become the greatest literary figure of the Restoration Period and the succeeding age of Classicism was greatly influenced by him. His translation works earned him this place.



John Dryden was "the leading man of his age and the age knew it, and looked up to him". The first political recognition of his work came to him when he was asked to accept the appointments of Poet Laureate and Histographer Royal in 1670.

A Critical Estimate of John Dryden and his works


The play, The Indian Emperor launched his career and established his reputation as a playwright. prior to this he wrote two plays, The Wild Gallant which did not fare so well, and The Rival Ladies, a fairly successful one. Dryden's literary significance according to present day observers is three folds of which are expressed in his dramas and his verses. The early verse of Dryden scarcely calls for much attention. They were unoriginal and uninspired. He did not start movements but had a singular power of taking advantage of a movement.

"He improved upon the prose of the Elizabethan writers in the matter of ridding English of its involved forms" , even if through that process he lost some of its gorgeous ornaments and rugged strength. He had freshened English verse, brushing away much of the picturesque, yet confusing tangle of ornamental undergrowth and giving it point and actuality.

The change for the Romantic to the Classical manner was already in evidence before Dryden was born. Dryden saw which way the literary wind was blowing and steered his craft cheerfully in the same direction. Waller already, had done creditable things with the Couplet. Dryden gauged its possibilities and did brilliant things. He saw what kind of verse the people of the age wanted. "I confess" he said ina a short essay in his own defense "my chief endeavours are to delight the age in which I live". And succeed, he did in his business of delighting the people of his age. It is quite clear from a study of his works, how surely he was developing the qualities of ease, flexibility and lucidity that he brought to English Verse, particularly the Satire.

Achievements of John Dryden


Dryden's four remarkable satires were fired off in rapid succession. The first part of Absalom and Achitophel was directed against Shaftesbury. The Medal also dealed with Shaftesbury. Mack Flecknoe aimed at the Whig poet, Shadwell, and some weeks later still the second part of Absalom and Achitophel was released. Of these the finest is the Absalom-Monmouth and Achitophel-Shaftesbury satire part-1 which produced a great stir as it was a satire on a political unrest which took place during his time. Delicate wit was not one of Dryden's gifts; the motions of his weapon were sweeping and the blows hard and trenchant.

Near about the end of his life, Dryden described himself as one "who had done his best to improve the language" of his country. And to a considerable extend he was justified in saying this. Dryden's contribution to English Literature, besides his poems and plays was the invention of a direct and simple style of Literary Criticism. he got the distinction of being the introducer of the Comparative and Magisterial style of Criticism. Dryden is the first modern critic who endeavoured to apply the Historical Method of Criticism. "The satiric, didactic, philosophical and party of poetry of a new school arosed" during the days of Dryden and his followers.

Dryden's poetic activities during the last years of his life were confined mainly to translation. The age was an age of Pseudo-Classicism. It looked back to Rome and endeavoured to imitate the Latin Writers. Dryden made numerous translations from Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Lucreatius and Theocritus which displayed an edge wholly his own. His next work was to render some of Chaucer's and Boccaccio's tales and Ovid's Metamorphosis into his own verse.

Dryden remains the Greatest literary figure of the Restoration Period and he earned this place due to his great influence on the succeeding age of Classicism. This maybe summed up by noting the three new elements which he introduced into literature. These are, the establishment of the Heroic Couplet as the fashion for satiric, didactic and descriptive poetry; his development of a direct and serviceable prose diction and inculcation of his brand into the works of Latin Writers, thereby giving a whole new flavour to early Classical works.
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