John Dryden was born on an unsure date in 1631 in Aldwinkle, Northamptonshire. He was born the oldest of 14 children in a landed family of modest means. His parents sided with the Parliament against he King. There is some question to whether or not he was raised in a strict Puritan environment. His father was a country gentleman of moderate fortune. He was given the opportunity by his father to be educated at Westminster School and at the University of Cambridge. Around 1657 he went to London as a clerk to the chamberlain to the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell. The death of Cromwell in 1659 inspired Dryden to write his first important poem, Heroic Stanzas. After the Restoration Dryden became a Royalist and celebrated the return of kin Charles II. During the celebration he wrote two more famous poems, Astraea Redux and Panegyric on the Coronation. The rest of his life was then devoted to being loyal to Charles and his successor, James II. In 1663 he became happily married to Lady Elizabeth Howard, a sister of his patron. Until then he had no real source of income. He began writing plays as a source of income. His first attempt failed, but his second attempt The Rival Ladies, a tragic comedy, was a success. During the next 20 years he became an important and well-known dramatist in England.Some of his most famous plays included names like Ladies a la Mode, Mock Astrologer, and An Evenings Love. Another play that was famously known because it was banned as indecent was Mr. Limberham. This was unusual for this time period for a play to be banned because of its indecency because the Restoration was a time of change. He was also a master of writing the heroic rhymed couplets. They were extravagant and full of pageantry. One of his later tragedies, the World Well Lost, was written in blank verse and was considered one of his greatest plays and one of the masterpieces of the Restoration tragedy.
Throughout his career he wrote several “occasional poems,” which celebrated particular events of a public character, a military victory, a death, or a political crisis. What made these poems he wrote special was the fact that they were written not for the self but for the nation. In 1670 he was appointed poet laureate and royal historiographer. In 1681 he wrote his first and greatest political satire, Absoalom and Achitophel. It was immediately considered a masterpiece. After a quarrel with Thomas Shadwell, a playwright of some talent, he wrote the mock-heroic episode Mac Fecknoe.It is amazing that he did not learn that his best talent was writing formal verse satire until he was at the age of 50. After the death of Charles II and the succession of James II, Dryden and his two sons were converted to Catholicism. He quickly developed many enemies that accused him of opportunism. As a result of he was to lose his offices and their much needed stipends. He then wrote The Hind and the Panther, a metrical allegory in defense of his new faith, in 1687. After the succession of the Protestant King William III, Dryden did not change his religious views. As a result he lost his laureteship and his pension. He then returned to writing plays, but this was quickly proved unsuccessful. Nearing the end of his career he began a new career as a translator. His most important translation was The Works of Virgil. During this same period he wrote his greatest ode, “Alexanders Feast,” which was written for a London musical society and set to music by Purcell. In 1699, nearing death, Dryden wrote his last published works. He at the age of 69, died in 1700. Though he died his works will always remain alive and studied by students and scholars all over the world.
Abrams, M.H. The Norton Anthology: English Literature. Sixth Edition. New York:
W.W. Norton & Co. (pgs. 1786-1788)
“Dryden, John,” Microsoft® Encarta® 98 Encyclopedia. © 1993-1997 Microsoft