Of Dramatic Poesie

by John Dryden

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Discuss Dryden's Of Dramatic Poesie as a survey of contemporary critical schools.

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What is so fascinating about this work of criticism is that Dryden writes it as a semi-structured drama, imagining that four friends are in a boat talking about the contemporary state of poetry in Dryden's day. Dryden uses each of these four characters to represent a critical view of poetry, using the character of Neander as a mouthpiece for his own views and opinions. Note, for example, how the character of Eugenius responds to the claims by one of his friends that there is nothing of value in contemporary poetry:

"If your quarrel,” said Eugenius, “to those who now write, be grounded only upon your reverence to Antiquity, there is no man more ready to adore those great Greeks and Romans than I am: but on the other side, I cannot think so contemptibly of the Age I live in, or so dishonorably of my own Country, as not to judge we equal the Ancients in most kinds of Poesy, and in some surpass them..."

Eugenius therefore is shown to represent the critical view that contemporary poetry is actually the equal of, if not superior to, classical poetry. Crites, on the other hand, clearly believes that there is nothing of value at all in contemporary poetry. Neander takes a more nuanced view, finding some aspects of contemporary literature praiseworthy whilst also identifying other complaints. The form of this treatise therefore presents the argument in a very convincing way, as characters are created who each represent a different school of critical thought about literature.

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