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Dryden had been writing heroic plays, which were significantly characterized by dialogue in heroic couplets and influenced by French dramas, French tragedies, and French romantic poets. Having fulfilled his ambitions in this genre, which he had reportedly begun to please the taste of King Charles II for French rhyming plays, Dryden turned his attention to developing the heroic tragedy.
The heroic tragedy is distinct from the heroic play in two chief points. The first is that the heroic tragedy abandons rhyming and embraces blank verse, a change influenced by Shakespeare, whom, in the "Preface" of All for Love, Dryden calls "the divine Shakespeare." The second is that heroic tragedy emphasizes deeper characterization, again influenced by Shakespeare, within a structure adhering to the unities of time, place, and action (to which Shakespeare did not adhere).
According to C.D. Merriman, after the appearance of the comedy Marriage A-la-Mode (1672), Dryden began writing blank verse in 1676, and All for Love was performed in 1678. Scholars agree that All for Love is Dryden's greatest play in blank verse heroic tragedy style, which was invented by Dryden. In it, he develops the characters of Cleopatra and Antony to show the affects of their love on each other during the last day of their lives. Dryden strove to evoke the Aristotelian dramatic emotions of fear and pity, but some critics say he only achieved pathos and sentiment.
Heroic drama or heroic tragedy was a genre that flourished immediately after the Restoration of Charles II to the English throne. The genre was strongly influenced by classic French drama, especially Corneille. The language is often grandiose and the plots often combine dramatic tales of heroism and love with political intrigue. Although the genre originally used heroic couplets, and in certain ways was a counterpart to heroic epic, Dryden's later works, including "All for Love", turned to blank verse in imitation of Shakespeare. It also follows a generally neo-Aristotelian structure that reflected the French understanding of Aristotle's Poetics.
"All for Love" follows the standards of the genre in taking as the basis of its plot the story of the famous historical lovers, Antony and Cleopatra. It combines a love plot with a strongly political theme, which adds additional grandeur to what would otherwise be a merely romantic theme. It is written in eloquent blank verse using elevated language. It follows the Aristotelian unities and narrative structure, with Anthony taking the role of the tragic hero.
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