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John Dryden was a genius because he wrote with lucidity, poetry and precision. His subjects include religion, love, politics and the literary tradition. He tended to insist upon a moral effect in literature and criticism and he, and his works, were both historically conscious and formalistic. What I mean by formalistic is that his work can be read and appreciated without historical contextualization. Some would define this as being "timeless."
Dryden was versatile because he wrote in so many different genres: drama, poetry, criticism and translation. And he was prolific, meaning he wrotea lot.He was so prolific that 1660-1700 is known as the "Age of Dryden."
Some examples of his work:
Marriage a la modeis a play, written in prose, blank verse and heroic couplets. There's that stylistic versatility. It has been described as "one of the most thoughtful treatments of sex and marriage that the Restoration comedy can show."
Annus Mirabilisis an epic, historic poem meaning "year of miracles." The year described was 1665-66, which included English battles with the Dutch and The Great Fire of London. Dubbing it the "year of miracles" seems almost sarcastic, but Dryden intended to show how it was a miracle that London survived what could have been a more terrible destruction.
Among his many translations, Dryden translated the works of Virgil and even translated, and modernized, works from Chaucer mixed in with some of his own verse.
Mac Flecknoe is a poem, a mock-heroic satire which was Dryden's direct attack on fellow poet Thomas Shadwell. Because it was a poem and a criticism of Shadwell and a historical and formal analysis of literary history (namely of Ben Jonson) and poetic styles in general, this was a work of creativity and scholarship. This is a kind of blending that still is difficult to pull off without sounding stilted and awkward. In the poem, a mock-heroic, Shadwell's tragic flaw is dullness. In all epics, each "hero" has a tragic flaw; inThe Odyssey, Achilles' tragic flaw was aggression.Mac Flecknoeis a blend of poetry, satire and criticism.
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