All For Love
The age of Elizabeth, memorable for so many reasons in the history of England,
was especially brilliant in literature, and, within literature, in the drama. With
some falling off in spontaneity, the impulse to great dramatic production lasted till
the Long Parliament closed the theaters in 1642; and when they were reopened
at the Restoration, in 1660, the stage only too faithfully reflected the debased
moral tone of the court society of Charles II.
John Dryden (1631-1700), the great representative figure in the literature of the
latter part of the seventeenth century, exemplifies in his work most of the main
tendencies of the time. He came into notice with a poem on the death of
Cromwell in 1658, and two years later was composing couplets expressing his
loyalty to the returned king. He married Lady Elizabeth Howard, the daughter of
a royalist house, and for practically all the rest of his life remained an adherent of
the Tory Party. In 1663 he began writing for the stage, and during the next thirty
years he attempted nearly all the current forms of drama. His "Annus Mirabilis"
(1666), celebrating the English naval victories over the Dutch, brought him in
1670 the Poet Laureateship. He had, meantime, begun the writing of those
admirable critical essays, represented in the present series by his Preface to the
"Fables" and his Dedication to the translation of Virgil. In these he shows himself
not only a critic of sound and penetrating judgment, but the first master of
modern English prose style.
With "Absalom and Achitophel," a satire on the Whig leader, Shaftesbury, Dryden
entered a new phase, and achieved what is regarded as "the finest of all political
satires." This was followed by "The Medal," again directed against the Whigs,
and this by "Mac Flecknoe," a fierce attack on his enemy and rival Shadwell.
The Government rewarded his services by a lucrative appointment.
After triumphing in the three fields of drama, criticism, and satire, Dryden appears
next as a religious poet in his "Religio Laici," an exposition of the doctrines of the
Church of England from a layman's point of view. In the same year that the
Catholic James II. ascended the throne, Dryden joined the Roman Church, and
two years later defended his new religion in "The Hind and the Panther," an