Of Dramatic Poesie

by John Dryden

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Discuss the relationship between form and content in Dryden's Of Dramatic Poesie.

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What is so fascinating about this work of criticism is that Dryden presents it in a semi-dramatic form, as it takes the form of a dialogue between four characters who discuss liteature whilst on a boat ride on the Thames on the day of a battle between the English and Dutch navy forces in June 1665. Presenting his work in such a way allows Dryden to model and use precisely the kind of abstract theories that his characters discuss themselves, and also allows him to voice his own views through one of the characters, Neander. Such a novel form allows a wide and universal discussion of English Literature as these four friends discuss the various merits and downfalls of writers and dramatists. Thus Neander is able to express his views about the superiority of Shakespeare in semi-dramatic form:

Shakespeare was the Homer, or father of our dramatic poets; Jonson was the Virgil, the pattern of elaborate writing; I admire him, but I love Shakespeare.

Such comparisons which discuss the relative merits of one dramatist or poet over another are greatly enhanced through their actual presentation in dramatic form. This is no dry and dusty essay that the reader is presented with, but rather a dramatic dialogue that itself uses the very kinds of strategies and methods that are being discussed by the four characters within it.

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