Dryden’s most successful comedy, Marriage à la Mode, combines within its two distinct plots the conventions of romantic tragicomedy and the Restoration comedy of manners, a genre not fully developed when he produced his play. The tragicomic plot develops the theme of succession to the throne, perhaps Dryden’s most important dramatic theme after the love-honor conflict. Having usurped the Sicilian throne, Polydamas discovers two young persons of gentle birth who have been living rustic lives under the care of Hermogenes, a former courtier. Hermogenes assures the usurper that one of them is his son Leonidas, though Leonidas is in reality the son of the king whom he had deposed. When Polydamas orders Leonidas to marry the daughter of his friend, he refuses, protesting his love for Palmyra, his companion under Hermogenes’ care. When Polydamas seeks to banish her, Hermogenes identifies her as the king’s daughter and claims Leonidas as his own son. Polydamas then seeks to force Palmyra to marry his friend Argaleon and banishes Leonidas under sentence of death. Faced with death, Leonidas wins over the tyrant’s supporters, removes him from the throne, and pardons him as the father of his beloved Palmyra.
In the plot, the main elements of tragicomedy are prominent: the remote setting, the tyrannical usurper, the long-lost noble youth, the faithful servant, and idealized romantic love. Dryden’s early debt to the tragicomedies of John Fletcher...
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