John Dryden

John DrydenJohn Dryden, an English poet and dramatist who would dominate literary efforts of The Restoration, was born on August 19, 1631, in Aldwinkle, Northamptonshire, England. He received a classical education at Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge, then moved to London in 1657 to commence his career as a professional writer. His first play, The Wild Gallant (1663), was a failure when first presented, but Dryden soon found more success with The Indian Queen (1664) which he co-authored with Sir Robert Howard and which served as his initial attempt to found a new theatrical genre, the heroic tragedy. Although George Villiers' The Rehearsal, a vicious satire of heroic tragedy, brought a quick end to the form, Dryden still managed to produce a number of successful works in this genre including The Indian Emperor (1665) and Secret Love (1667) which mixed heroic tragedy with contemporary comedy.

The young playwright's reputation grew quickly, and in 1668, only ten years after his move to London, Dryden was appointed Poet Laureate of England. (He was later stripped of the title because of religious differences when William and Mary came into power.) That same year, he agreed to write exclusively for Thomas Killigrew's theatrical company and became a shareholder. Both his first offering, Tyrannick Love (1669), and his successful follow-up, The Conquest of Granada by the Spaniards (1670), are examples of heroic tragedy. In 1672, however, perhaps sensing the demise of his short-lived genre, Dryden turned his hand to comedy and produced Marriage A-la-Mode, a brilliant battle of the sexes. Dryden's relationship with Killigrew's company continued until 1678 at which point he broke with the theatre (which was floundering in debt) and offered his latest play, Oedipus, a drama he had co-authored with Nathaniel Lee, to another company.

In his later years, Dryden turned to poetry and solidified his reputation as the leading writer of the day with such masterpieces as Absalom and Achitophel. However, he continued to write for the theatre, producing such plays as Don Sebastian (1689), the story of a king who abdicates his throne after discovering that he has committed incest, and Amphitryon (1690), a brilliant retelling of the classic myth. He also adapted a number of Shakespeare's plays icluding The Tempest and All for Love (1677), a retelling of Antony and Cleopatra. In addition, he wrote the libretto for several operas including The State of Innocence (1677) (an adaptation of Milton's Paradise Lost) and King Arthur (1691) with music by Purcell.

John Dryden died in London on May 12, 1700, and was buried in Westminster Abbey next to Chaucer. He left behind almost 30 works for the stage as well as a major critical study (An Essay on Dramatic Poesy) and a number of translations including the works of Virgil.

Dryden's Plays  |  Other Works  |  Biographies/Studies


Dryden's Plays

Other Works


Related Sites

British Theatre Index

John Dryden

John Dryden Bio

John Dryden: Poems

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