Heroic Drama

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Susan Staves (essay date 1979)

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SOURCE: Staves, Susan. “Authority and Obligation in the State: ‘Let Majesty no more be held Divine.’” In Players' Scepters: Fictions of Authority in the Restoration, pp. 43-73. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979.

[In the following essay, Staves analyzes heroic drama in the political context of the years immediately following the Restoration.]


The issues which erupted into the civil war were not solved by that war but remained for Englishmen to struggle with until nearly the end of the seventeenth century. In particular, the revolution failed to define the limits of the king's authority over his subjects. It merely weakened the executive in certain specific areas—there was no longer a Star Chamber, for instance—and postponed the fundamental problem. The nature of the subject's obligation to the powers set over him was perhaps even less clear. Henry Neville was essentially correct when he wrote in 1681, “we are to this day tugging with the same difficulties, managing the same debates in parliament … which our ancestors did before the year 1640; whilst the king has been forced to apply the same remedy of dissolution to his first two parliaments, that his father used to his four first and King James to his three last.”1

Nor did violence go out of political life at the Restoration. Armed conflict still broke out sporadically. Venner's Rebellion was followed by Monmouth's Rebellion, by William's invasion, and by Jacobite uprisings against William.2 Plots and suspicions of plots for rebellion and assassination continued to flourish. The Popish Plot, the Meal Tub Plot, the Rye House Plot, the Lancashire Plot, and the Montgomery Plot are only a few of the more famous. To participate in public life still meant to run the risk of impeachment, indictment for treason, and attainder. Sometimes prosecutions and even convictions were secured by political enemies on the flimsiest evidence or on nothing but perjured testimony. Not only great ministers and magnates like Clarendon, Buckingham, Shaftesbury, and Danby had cause to fear allegations of treason. A faithful and humble servant of the crown like Samuel Pepys could be terrorized by parliament and the courts. When Pepys signed a warrant for the sale of anchors to the French he worried that he might be committing treason; during the agitations over the Popish Plot he was actually accused of being a Roman Catholic and of committing treason. In 1663 one John Twyn was convicted of treason for printing a book called A Treatise of the Execution of Justice. Conviction of treason still meant hanging, drawing, and quartering for men and burning for women. Alice Lisle, the last woman in England judicially sentenced to burning for treason, was convicted when she was alleged to have hidden a participant in Monmouth's Rebellion. The surgeon James Yonge noted in his journal that shortly after Monmouth's Rebellion he rode from Exeter to Exminster, “where we dined, and here we began to meet heads and quarters in all the little towns, crossways, and bridges, being of such as were executed for the late Rebellion.”3

Toward the beginning of the period, Tory ideology—pretending unhistorically to be simply a reflection of ancient practice—attempted to promote a doctrine of divine right kingship. According to this doctrine, the subject had virtually no rights as over against his sovereign; what in the sixteenth century had already been called the rights of the subject or the rights of parliament now were said to be merely privileges granted by the sovereign and revocable by him at any time. Also, according to divine right doctrine, the identity of the sovereign was determined by...

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indefeasible hereditary right; neither the fortune of battle nor the will of parliament could create a legitimate king. Kingsde facto were simply usurpers. By the end of the seventeenth century, on the contrary, Whig ideology—pretending equally unhistorically to be simply a reflection of ancient practice—had institutionalized its version of the correct relationship between sovereign and subject. The rights of the subject against his sovereign had been practically increased and the legitimist distinction between kings de jure and kings de facto had been substantially abolished in favor of kings de facto declared to be kings de jure by parliament. This victory of Whig ideology over Tory demanded the replacement of old fictions of authority with new ones and a general transvaluation of values in the culture. The new understanding of the right relationship between sovereign and subject had to be reflected not only in political theory, but also in statutes, in criminal law—particularly in the law of treason, the law of seditious libel, and in the conduct of treason trials—and in the poems and plays that undertook to represent sovereigns and their subjects.

Although John Loftis has a chapter on “The Political Themes of Restoration Drama” in his Politics of Drama in Augustan England and both Anne Barbeau and Geoffrey Marshall have more recently asserted the political relevance of at least some heroic plays and tragedies, it has been usual to understand Restoration heroic drama and tragedy as fundamentally apolitical and unconcerned with contemporary political problems.4 Bonamy Dobrée claimed the most striking thing about Restoration tragedy was its “unreality.” Louis Teeter concluded his thorough and valuable “Political Themes in Restoration Tragedy” by lamenting that Elizabethan plays “are more organically connected with actual political thought and problems than are those of the Restoration, which are romantic in the worst sense of that ambiguous word.” D. W. Jefferson has praised the exuberant wit and rhetoric of Dryden's heroic plays, but simultaneously argued, “It is because the heroic plays are completely unreal that it was possible for Dryden to play with his material in this way. … The theme is so far removed from reality, his version of heroism so cut off from serious values and ideals, that it was possible for him to exploit his material in whatever way suited his fancy.” Still more recently, Eric Rothstein has also asserted, “political allusions in Restoration tragedy almost never do more than add spice or set norms in an otherwise conventional and apolitical plot.” Finally, Anne Righter pronounces heroic tragedy a hollow retreat “to a land of rhetorical make-believe”: “the tragedies produced between 1660 and the formal end of the Restoration in 1685 were essentially frivolous.”5

At the same time the plays are generally found to be unreal, the individual playwrights are dubbed political turncoats and timeservers. Everyone is familiar with the charges leveled at Dryden for changing his politics from support of Cromwell to support of Charles and for changing his religion from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism. A major writer like Dryden has found defenders willing to explain his conversions as carefully thought-out progressions, not matters of expediency.6 Lesser writers of the period, equally given to conversions, have received less sympathy. Nathaniel Lee is said to have changed from Whig to Tory and back to Whig again. Frances Barbour notes Whiggish tendencies in Lee's first five plays, not only in the notorious Lucius Junius Brutus (1680), then observes of Lee's collaboration with Dryden on the Tory Duke of Guise (1682), “whether the desertion of the Whig cause by Lee was due to Dryden's influence or to his own realization that a playwright would do well to be prudent in his political utterance, Constantine the Great, written in the same year as the Duke of Guise, glorifies the theory of divine right. It is possible that Lee was conscious that his powers were failing, and was striving frantically to get his plays before the public even at a sacrifice of his political principles.” Of Lee's last published plays, especially the prologue and dedication to The Princess of Cleve and The Massacre of Paris, Thomas B. Stroup and Arthur L. Cooke note Williamite sympathies and remark, “Like his father before him, he had very little objection to setting his sails to a changed wind.”7 Elkanah Settle enthusiastically supported the Whig side during the Exclusion crisis not only with anti-Catholic pope-burning pageants and the rather exciting Female Prelate (1680), but also with a prose Character of a Popish Successor and What England may expect from such a One (1680) and poems like Absalom Senior, a Whig version of Dryden's Absolom and Achitophel. After Shaftesbury went into exile, however, Settle's biographer Frank Brown tells us, “The Tory cause had triumphed, and Settle, having lost his friend and patron, who had been, it seems, chiefly instrumental in rewarding the poet for his work in support of the Whigs, … renounced his Whig allegiance.” Settle's Narrative attacks the Popish Plot as a fiction, stresses the contradictions in the testimony of Titus Oates and other witnesses, and says that the Whigs who claimed to believe in the plot were either fools or “Incendiaries” attempting to impose on those of weaker understanding. Then, at the advent of the Glorious Revolution, Settle's biographer continues, “Defeated, but apparently not greatly discouraged by the change of party control, the poet allowed party to shape his allegiance a third time, and celebrated the occasion by writing A View of the Times. With Britan's Address to the Prince of Orange” (1689).8 John Crowne's numerous tragedies of the seventies indulge in high flights of divine right rhetoric. After the revolution, though, he dedicated Caligula to Henry Sidney as “an eminent instrument in this revolution, which has been so happy to England, and the greatest part of Europe” (4:348). The play itself, as Crowne says, sets “tyranny before the eyes of the world, and the dreadful consequences of lawless and boundless power” (4:349). Adolphus Ward consequently belittles Crowne: “He seems to have had no hesitation in changing his political colors in deference to the times, becoming in turn an ardent servant of the Stuart Court and an upholder of the Protestant principles of the Revolution.” After 1689, according to John Loftis in Politics of Drama in Augustan England, both Crowne and Thomas D'Urfey “now wrote Williamite satire as they had earlier written royalist.” Finally, Thomas Southerne, in Clifford Leach's opinion, belonged to “that large company of writers who have changed their political opinions for the sake of personal gain.”9 The evidence for Southerne's alleged disloyalty consists partly of his having offered to provide evidence against papists in the pay of the French and partly of his having supported James II in The Loyal Brother (1682) and later helping John Dennis with the Whiggish Liberty Asserted (1704).

Both the claim that Restoration heroic drama and tragedy are essentially not concerned with politics and the repetitive claims that individual writers were politically disloyal seem to me misguided. (Though these claims are not necessarily logically inconsistent. One might argue, for instance, that political positions were so unimportant to the playwrights that they changed them freely whenever convenience seemed to dictate.) I would like to argue, on the contrary, that the plays are often intensely political and that much of their interest lies in their concern with the problems of political authority and obligation. Many plays explore the dilemmas of subjects who have to determine the legitimacy of rival rulers and the limits of their own obedience. In these plays we can trace the gradual assimilation of the political experience of the Civil War and, finally, see the emergence of new political myths to correspond to the new secular and utilitarian ideology of Locke and his eighteenth-century followers. It is no accident that accusations of bad faith multiply around writers who lived through the Exclusion crisis or the Glorious Revolution in roughly the same way they multiplied around the many poets who wrote successive panegyrics to Cromwell and Charles. During this period parties were much more fluid than the labels or our inheritance from the Whig and Tory mythmakers would have us believe. Those who are so freely accused of disloyalty and timeserving for the most part had little to be loyal to. Furthermore, what has appeared to many later readers the frivolity and preposterousness of the political ideas and situations represented in the drama, I think, reflects not so much the dissociation of Restoration drama from politics as the extravagance and preposterousness of Restoration political experience itself: civil war and revolution followed by an unexpected counterrevolution and then another revolution all within fifty years.

Apart from the plays themselves, there are several extrinsic reasons for regarding suspiciously claims that Restoration drama is essentially unreal and apolitical. Many dramatists were personally involved with politics and administration. Roger Boyle, Buckingham, and Sir Kenelm Digby sat in the House of Lords; Sedley, Sir John Denham, Sir William Killigrew, and Sir Robert Howard were in Commons. Howard exerted himself to defend Boyle when the Duke of Ormonde tried to have Boyle impeached. Buckingham was a member of the Cabal. John Wilson was impeached as recorder in Ireland. John Caryll was committed to the Tower on suspicion of being involved in the Popish Plot, later appointed James II's agent at the court of Rome, and finally in William's reign attainted for high treason. Henry Nevil Payne was accused of being an architect of the Meal Tub Plot and later tortured (unsuccessfully, and in Scotland where torture was legal) to force a confession of his involvement in the Montgomery Plot.10 Colley Cibber joined his father in arms for William in 1688. Nicholas Rowe served as Secretary of State for Scotland.

Many dramatists also wrote directly about politics. Dryden's satirical poems are most familiar, but Dryden also wrote His Majesties Declaration Defended (1681) and A Defence of the papers written by the late King (1686). Nahum Tate collaborated with Dryden on the second part of Absalom and Achitophel; Settle and Shadwell each responded with Whig versions of the Absalom story. D'Urfey wrote at least seven satires against Shaftesbury and William Sherlock. Sir William Killigrew was the author of A Proposal showing how the Nation may be vast Gainers by all the Sums of Money given to the Crown without lessening the Prerogative (1663). Sir Robert Howard wrote histories of the reigns of several English kings that reflected on contemporary political issues, attacks on Danby, a defense of the Whig propagandist Samuel Johnson, and a vindication of William's title to the throne, A Free Discourse Wherein the Doctrines which make for Tyranny are Displayed … And the mischievous Tendency of the odious distinction of a King de Facto, and de Jure, discovered (1697). John Dennis was also a defender of the Glorious Revolution, secured a government appointment through Marlborough, and wrote several political tracts, including The Danger of Priestcraft to Religion and Government, with some Political Reasons for Toleration (1702). John Wilson, on the other hand, offered A Discourse of Monarchy … with a close … as it relates to the succession of his Royal Highness, James, Duke of York (1684) and Jus Regnum Coronae, or, the King's Supreme Power in dispensing with the Penal Statutes (1688). The political tracts and treatises written by playwrights show not so much that playwrights were especially interested in politics—as a class the Anglican clergy probably produced more political tracts than did playwrights and poets put together—as that political issues during the Restoration, especially the issues of sovereignty and the limits of the sovereign's authority over his subjects, were sufficiently urgent and interesting to engage the attention of literate men generally. That some of this writing was undoubtedly done with an eye to preferment says nothing special about playwrights in the days of the Pension Parliament. Even Samuel Johnson, a clergyman prominent among the Whig theoreticians, supported himself as chaplain to the great Whig Lord Russel.

We know, moreover, that the government took the political implications of plays seriously enough to censor and to prohibit quite a number of them. At one time or another many Restoration writers had difficulty with the politics of a play they had written, either because their intention had been to touch upon a dangerous issue or to satirize a prominent political figure or because the censors had seen fit to discover a dangerous implication or parallel history. Buckingham and Sir Robert Howard were never allowed to produce The Country Gentleman (1669). Dryden had trouble with Mr. Limberham, The Spanish Friar, The Duke of Guise, and Cleomenes; Lee with Lucius Junius Brutus and The Massacre of Paris; Crowne with Henry VI, Part I and City Politiques; John Banks with The Island Queens and The Innocent Usurper; Tate with The Sicilian Usurper; and Cibber with Richard III. Several playwrights who were consciously supporting the government got themselves into trouble merely by representing the opposition and allowing antigovernment arguments to be articulated, even in a context that made it clear they were to be rejected. The best documented cases of such loyalist plays are probably John Wilson's Cheats and Thomas Southerne's Spartan Dame. In The Cheats (1663) Wilson obviously intends to ridicule the subversive, nonconformist parson, Scruple. Yet when Scruple urges his followers not to despair in their days of trial after the Restoration, not to give up the good old cause “lest the Malignants reioyce,” the censor cut those lines.11 In most cases, of course, we simply do not know about deletions forced by the censors, and, unless the author happens to complain later in print or to be able to bring out his play in more sympathetic times, we do not know about plays that were forbidden altogether. Southerne must have thought The Spartan Dame, begun in 1684, would be acceptable because it supports James II's position so thoroughly, but the censor apparently considered that the arguments of the revolutionaries were articulated too fully. Over four hundred lines were cut, enough to make the play incomprehensible and to persuade Southerne to withdraw it until 1714. A citizen's speech in the first act is typical of the passages cut: “The old king Leonideas is fled to the Temple of Juno; the Ephori have cited him to answer some Misdeameanors; but he not appearing, has forfeited his Recognizance to the People so they have depos'd him according to law, and proclaim'd Cleombrotis King in his Roome” (2:355). Restoration governments, at least, did not consider these plays notably unreal.

The best evidence for the claim that Restoration heroic plays and tragedies have genuine political interest, however, cannot be such extrinsic evidence as censorship or the careers of the writers provide. The evidence must come from the plays themselves. For my purposes, it is convenient to discern three rough stages in the development of the Restoration political play: first, the heroic romance; second, the political tragedy; third, the democratic romance. These stages are dictated not simply by aesthetic or dramaturgical principles but by the massive changes in political ideology between the Restoration and the establishment of the Glorious Revolution. The heroic romance mirrors the counterrevolutionary politics of the Restoration, the political tragedy reflects the break down of the new Tory myths, and the democratic romance attempts to establish the new Whig myths of the Glorious Revolution.


Heroic romances dominate the sixties and early seventies. They include plays like Boyle's Generall (1664), Edward Howard's Change of Crowns (1667), Dryden's Conquest of Granada (1670-71), and Crowne's Juliana, or the Princess of Poland (1671). These plays customarily present civil wars, revolutions or counterrevolutions, serious confusions about the title to the throne, and deposed or otherwise legitimate claimants who are miraculously restored. Much concern is lavished upon noble-minded subjects who wish to preserve their honor intact under such difficult conditions. In one common version of this romance, an apparently rebellious subject is discovered to be a true king who has been unaware of his own claim to the throne. These heroic romances are the most obvious candidates for labels like “frivolous” and “preposterous” and are wonderfully burlesqued in Buckingham's Rehearsal.

Nevertheless, frivolous as they may appear, the heroic romances do constitute one stage of the culture's gradual assimilation of the civil war experience. The heroic drama indulges in a fantasy of pure honor while simultaneously acknowledging such honor to be impossible. Its early protagonists are the creatures of wish-fulfillment dreams. They always behave well and always preserve honor intact under kaleidoscopically shifting circumstances—and are thus quite unlike the vast majority of real royalists who endured the Civil War, compounding for their estates when given a chance in the forties, deserting the cause by taking the Covenant and Negative Oath, and accepting the inevitability of Cromwell's rule in the fifties. Characters like Boyle's Mustapha behave as their creators and their audiences would like to have behaved, but, for the most part, did not.12 The preposterous complexity and wild exaggeration of the circumstances in which the heroic protagonist finds himself reflect an awareness of the heroic ideal as impossible. There is a dream logic: the political crises of the war had seemed as wild and as impossible; so if the situations in which one found oneself were indeed absurd, then not having coped with them very well must be excusable. At first the political crises people had lived through were both unassimilated and unassimilatable. That the audiences' reaction to the heroic protagonists mingled admiration and amusement reflected both their lingering respect for the ideal and their awareness that it was unrealistic. As Mrs. Evelyn said after seeing The Conquest of Granada, it is “a play so full of ideas that the most refined romance I ever read is not to compare with it: love is made so pure, and valour so nice, that one would imagine it designed for an Utopia rather than our stage. I do not quarrel with the poet, but admire one born in the decline of morality should be able to feign such exact virtue.”13

The relation between the protagonists of heroic drama and real life is particularly clear in the case of Roger Boyle, often considered the creator of the genre. Boyle, a son of the Earl of Cork, not unnaturally had strong royalist sentiments in the 1640s. After the execution of Charles I he “vowed to devote the rest of his life to revenge for the king's death; ‘to bear with all sorts of men for this purpose’; and to impose a curse on his sons if they should slaken in that duty.”14 But in 1649, even as Boyle was in London preparing to join Charles II on the Continent, Cromwell visited him, said that his treasonable intentions were known, produced incriminating letters, and offered him a choice of punishment or of serving the protestant cause in Cromwell's war against the native Irish. A protestant himself, Boyle chose to fight in Ireland and later held several high administrative posts under Cromwell. Later when Richard Cromwell succeeded, Boyle at first advised him, and then intrigued for Charles's Restoration. As Kathleen Lynch says, Boyle's heroic plays mirror his own life “in their recurring images of formidable usurper, restored warrior king, and king-restoring general.”15 In The Generall (1664) the other characters are repeatedly struck with admiration for the scrupulous behavior of Clorimun in affairs of love and valor. The subject and general of a usurper, Clorimun is in the middle of the play asked why he does not take advantage of his control over the army to restore the true king, Melizer. He replies:

Justice herself wou'd blush, shou'd shee receive
A right which treachery does to her give,
And virtuous Melizer wou'd never owne
From falsehood the possession of the Throne.
Disgrace I feare lesse than to be unjust.
'Tis such to take and then betray a trust.


However the virtuous Melizer might feel, it would be unreal to suppose that Charles II would have been loath to owe his throne to an act of treachery. The ethical and political dilemmas Clorimun faces are real though, and so is Boyle's desire for self-justification.

Boyle's very popular Tragedy of Mustapha, Son of Solyman the Magnificent (1665) is less obviously autobiographical. Mustapha is a general whose popularity with his soldiers arouses the jealousy of his father, who is attempting to usurp the throne of Hungary. The play presents a phantasmagorical political world where policy is constantly at odds with nature. The givens of Turkish politics place an enormous strain on the characters: the Sultan may marry anyone except the mothers of his sons; he must exile his oldest son to rule over an outlying province until his own death; and, hardest of all, when the eldest son does succeed to the throne he must kill his younger brothers. The Sultan Solymna has found this harsh political tradition too difficult to accept and has already married Roxolana, Zanger's mother, and failed to send Mustapha, his oldest son, into exile. Mustapha is even more critical and decides to value his friendship with Zanger over tradition and power:

How can that wisdom in our Sultans be,
Which of it self is fear and cruelty? …
And who would not a Monarchy refuse,
When, to gain power, he must his nature lose?
The vertue of that man was never strong,
Who fear'd not more to do than suffer wrong.


Mustapha and Zanger therefore exchange vows, Mustapha pledging not to kill Zanger, Zanger pledging to kill himself should Mustapha die. Boyle seems attracted to the spectacle of Turkish polity because it presents such an impossible set of givens. Solyman and Mustapha cannot bring themselves to conform to it, but their efforts to escape also lead to disaster. Boyle's sense of the impossibility of his own political choices—loyalty to Charles entailed indictment for treason and desertion of the protestant cause in Ireland, loyalty to the protestant cause in Ireland and the preservation of his country as he knew it entailed betrayal of his rightful sovereign—finds an objective correlative in Turkish politics.

Unlike Boyle, however, Mustapha and several other characters manage to preserve honor intact. Romance complications develop when first Zanger and then Mustapha fall in love with the captured and newly widowed Queen of Hungary. Rustram also seeks to find favor with Roxolana by inciting Solyman's jealousy against Mustapha and manages to have Mustapha banished. The several characters are thus confronted by the impossible choices typical of the heroic drama and articulate their predicaments in set speeches. Roxolana is tempted to have Mustapha killed as the only way of protecting her own son. Mustapha reflects:

Fortune did never in one day design
For any heart, four torments great as mine;
I to my Friend and Brother rival am;
She, who did kindle, would put out my flame;
I from my Fathers anger must remove,
And that does banish me from her I love. …


Like Mustapha, the Queen of Hungary throughout defends strict virtue against policy. When Hungary has just been conquered at the opening of the play, she refuses to yield her crown and shows contempt for death. She refuses also to purchase safety by surrendering the infant king and scorns her subjects who advise such a course. Later the Cardinal urges her to abandon loyalty to the dead king and to submit to her new suitors:

Be taught by Nature; she forsakes the Dead;
Your precious tears you but on ashes shed. …


Cynically, he at last tells her to pretend to love both Mustapha and Zanger and to wait to see which one triumphs. Rejecting this advice, the queen decides to flee. Then Roxolana, who earlier has interceded on behalf of the infant prince, enters to suggest the queen pretend to love Mustapha. Again the queen rejects pretense and compromise. Her speech to Roxolana poignantly expresses Boyle's sense of the value of that strict honor he had found impossible to preserve:

But Honour, Madam, quickly will forget
And lose it self whilst it does counterfeit;
As men a little us'd to speak untrue,
The just remembrance lose of what they knew,
Till their first shapes grow to themselves unknown.


Mustapha also contrasts the aristocracy's honor morality with the mob's morality of self-preservation. The Turkish and Hungarian mobs bear a suspicious resemblance to the English. Solyman heaps contempt on the religious leaders of his people:

Divans like Common-wealths regard not fame,
Disdaining honour they can feel no shame;
Each does, for what they publick safety call,
Venture his Vertue in behalf of all,
Doing by pow'r what Nature does forbid,
Each hoping, amongst all, that he is hid. …


“Publick safety” recalls the language of the parliamentary party during the war and the reference to commonwealths comes oddly from a Turkish sultan, though not from Boyle.

Yet Boyle knew very well that it was not only the mob that thought of present safety, and, more seriously, Mustapha also contrasts honor with nature, ultimately suggesting that honor may be the feebler force. Roxolana and the queen debate in verse as pointed as that of Dryden's early heroic plays:

I ever was without dissembling bred,
And in my open Brow my thoughts were read:
None but the guilty keep them selves unknown.
No wonder we so soon subdu'd your Throne.


Duty and loyalty are opposed to power and desire for power; ties of friendship are opposed to ties of blood. Roxolana, Solyman, and the Cardinal are the most frequent spokesmen for force and for the more primitive passions: pride, desire for dominion, self-preservation, and a mother's love for her child. Expressing his suspicion of Mustapha, Solyman says:

Pride is more natural than duty is;
Duty is only taught by care and Art,
Pride is by nature planted in the heart.


When Solyman perceives his son as a threat to his power, he sacrifices him. Roxolana, torn between her duty to her husband and her love for her son, sacrifices duty (1:283).

On the other hand, the Hungarian queen, Mustapha, and Zanger set themselves against what they understand to be the cruelty and bad faith of natural savagery and win limited victories. Very early Mustapha proclaims, “Friendship's a stronger tye than that of blood” (1:235). Roxolana, by contrast, later says, “Friendship, to Love and Pow'r, seems but a name” (1:270). Absolutely alone, deserted by her people and given bad counsel by her spiritual advisor, the queen rejects the lies that could apparently save her son and herself. Warned that Solyman is setting a trap for him, Mustapha insists on confronting his father: “Rather than duty lose, I'le lose my life” (1:286). Mustapha is killed; the queen is awarded the Hungarian crown but determines to fly from power and retire to a cloister. Though tempted by the possibility of becoming king himself and tortured by jealous love, Zanger remains true to his vow and his friend, finally stabbing himself. Thus Boyle's “patterns of perfect virtue” preserve honor in the face of incredible odds and serve as a powerful wish-fulfillment fantasy for the audience of the sixties—even though they have no impact on the public world and even though Boyle's own experience does not permit him to save Mustapha in the tragicomic denouement more usual in heroic romances.

Boyle's other plays differ from Mustapha in being more concerned with the rights of the reigning sovereign to the throne. Also, since the action of these other plays usually replaces an illegitimate de facto sovereign with a powerful legitimate sovereign, the most virtuous characters are left alive at the end. The History of Henry V (1664), for instance, begins with Henry at Agincourt about to assert his claims to Anjou, Normandy, and Aquitaine; depicts Henry's struggle against the French queen, the Dauphin, and various French nobles; and concludes (unhistorically) with representatives of the French people recognizing the legitimacy of Henry's claim. Characters debate the strength of claims based on force or possession, the confusions of title left in the wake of Lancastrian and Yorkist civil war in England, and the French invocation of the Salic law to bar Edward III's claims.

In Tryphon (1668) the central issue is whether the murder of a successful usurper can be justified. As someone who had good opportunities to murder both Oliver and Richard Cromwell, but failed to take advantage of them, Boyle had every reason to be personally interested in this question. As in The Generall, the simple fact that Tryphon's usurpation has been successful appears to be one reason for not resisting his power. Demetrius argues at the beginning of the play:

What ever sins to gain a Crown are done,
The Gods do pardon when they put it on.
We ought, when Heav'ns Vicegerent does a Crime,
To leave to Heav'n the right to punish him.


The wise and elderly Nicanor later concurs:

He whom the Gods into the Throne do call,
Should therefore only by their Justice fall.


Their logic is the same as that of Marvell's “'Tis madness to resist or blame / The force of angry heaven's flame.” Unlike Cromwell, though, Tryphon has apparently complicated the woes of the legitimists by murdering not only the real king, but also everyone else who has any title to the throne. This twist makes the predicament of the virtuous subjects more difficult and so increases our sympathy for their reluctance to act. Demetrius, serving the usurper, argues that he is thus at least able to moderate his excesses and also asks:

Were Tryphon kill'd, who should the Scepter sway?
All the Ambitious for the throne wou'd fight,
For where none has the Title, all have Right.


Tryphon himself justifies his usurpation by pointing out that the old king gave him too much power and then jealously plotted to kill him. He killed the king in self-defense:

But Natures Dictates which no man can wave
Obliges everyone his life to save.

Nicanor retorts with passive resistance:

Nature whose Dictates in defence you bring,
Ties Subjects by their Deaths to save their King.


As the characters argue their way from act to act, the spectator is not sure whether a counterrevolution would be justified. Finally, however, Tryphon tries to force Stratonice to marry him by threatening to kill her father unless she consents. He also agrees to let Aretus and Demetrius, who he has discovered is his rival for Stratonice, be killed as traitors. Aretus, who has from the beginning been the chief advocate of overthrowing the usurper, now pronounces his doom: “This Crime for Heavens Revenge makes Tryphon ripe” (1:425). Demetrius at last consents:

But since to this vile way he hath recourse,
'Tis just to end such Tyranny by Force.


Love here provides escape from political impasse, as it often does in Boyle. Romance complications are used to incite the heroes to actions that cannot otherwise be justified, and that, indeed, are often wildly irresponsible from a political or military point of view. In The Generall Clorimun cannot decide whether to lead the revolution against the usurper or to accept heaven's apparent judgment setting him on the throne until the usurper threatens to rape the woman he loves. In Henry V Henry goes in disguise to the French court to press his suit to Princess Katherine, provoking Warwick to comment:

Would Love had led the King a safer way.
Kings, in whose chances Nations fall or rise,
Hazard too much in private Gallantries. …


The plays as a whole, though, invite us to respect the heroes both for their valor and their dedication to love, not to condemn them as reckless or insufficiently concerned with public issues. Rape and threats of rape or forcible marriage are consistently used by Boyle and in Restoration serious drama generally as the ultimate signs of absolutist tyranny; sympathetic male characters are regularly provoked to revolt by threats against their women. Especially since rape and forcible marriage were felt to be as much if not more property crimes against the man whose woman was attacked than they were crimes of violence against the woman, they make convenient stand-ins for the confiscations and trespasses against property rights that in reality helped provoke Englishmen to revolution. At the same time threats of rape are easier to assimilate into an essentially romantic drama than tax increases or arbitrary ejections from revenue-producing offices would be. Rape, also, was finally to become a favorite political metaphor for the abuses of arbitrary power, as in Burnet's complaint that James II's standing army if unchecked would soon proceed to “a rape upon all our Liberties, and a Destruction of the Nation.”16

When the counterrevolution succeeds in Tryphon, Nicanor abruptly reveals that Aretus is the son of the dead king. Such revelations are also used by Dryden in The Conquest of Granada and in the upper plot of Marriage à la Mode. A character, apparently only a private citizen, who has throughout the play shown contempt for an illegitimate monarch and maintained that his tyranny ought to be resisted turns out in the end to be the legitimate monarch himself. We are left puzzled as to whether his arguments are supposed to be universally applicable or whether they are only valid for legitimate monarchs. Boyle seems to adopt this strategy because he himself is not certain. On the one hand, he sees something in the claim that heaven has revealed its will by installing a particular person on the throne and he appreciates the chaos likely to ensue if private citizens take it upon themselves individually to settle the problems of succession. On the other hand, he cannot imagine passively submitting to tyrannical threats to murder or rape his friends and relations. In this play, since his heroes unite their resistance to Tryphon's tyranny with the resistance of a true prince who had undoubted right they are understood to be blameless. The problems in Boyle's heroic drama are genuine enough and clearly articulated, though the solutions depend upon romance. Boyle had no realistic solutions, and in the sixties neither did anybody else.

That Boyle's exploration of the relationships of subjects and illegitimate sovereigns confronts problems the culture found genuinely difficult is evident in the law of treason in this period. In the years immediately following the Restoration jurists were forced to create legal fictions rivaling those of the heroic drama in extravagance. For centuries in England the fount of most treason prosecutions was the Treason Act of 1351, 25 Edw. 3, stat. 5, c. 2. One part of this statute made it treason to compass or imagine the death of the king and another made it treason to levy war against the king. In its preface the statute declared that Edward's subjects had recently suffered from the vagueness with which treason had been defined and that the statute intended to remedy this grievance by limiting and defining the crime. As Sir James Stephen pointed out, this statute was drawn up in relatively tranquil times and, perhaps consequently, does not deal with several sorts of political behavior apt to be troublesome in less quiet times: imprisoning or deposing the king, challenging the king's title or right to rule, conspiring to levy war against the king, sedition, and so on (2:250). Not surprisingly, therefore, 25 Edw. 3, stat. 5, c. 2. was later embellished with various constructive treasons—judicial declarations that acts not obviously compassing the death of the king or levying war against him nevertheless amounted to the same thing—and with further statutes adapted to particular political circumstances, several of which remained in force only during the life of one sovereign. After the Reformation several Tudor statutes made it treason to maintain the supremacy of the pope, to deny the validity of Henry VIII's various divorces, or to deny the right of parliament to establish the succession.17

Ordinarily the question of who is king has an obvious answer. When the line of succession is broken, however, the question of who is king within the terms of the Treason Act becomes more interesting. Under Henry VII, the first of the Tudors, an act was passed providing that “hensforth no manner of persone ne persones whatsoever he or they be, that attend upon the king and sovereign lord of this lande for the tyme being” shall be attainted of treason. This act was still in force during the Restoration and was generally thought to protect supporters of de facto kings, including successful usurpers, from later prosecution for treason by a de jure king who managed a successful counterrevolution.18 Since Cromwell refused the title of king—a bad mistake in this context—it became necessary for the interregnum parliament to remodel the Treason Act to suit his title, which was accordingly done in 1654. The State Trials, of course, relate the cases of a number of royalists executed for treason during the interregnum. In 1649 parliament had already passed an “Act declaring what offences shall be adjudged treason.” J. T. Tanner calls this act “a wide departure from the older conceptions of treason as mainly consisting of an overt act proving the traitorous imagination of compassing the king's death or levying war against the king” because it included such offenses as writing, printing, or openly declaring that the Commonwealth is unlawful or that Commons are not the supreme authority of the nation, yet the language of the act seems patterned on the Tudor statutes making it treason to deny the sovereign's title, to declare him a heretic, or to support papal claims.19 One of the arguments advanced to Cromwell to persuade him to accept the title of king was that his doing so would, under 11 Hen. 7, c. 1, protect his supporters from later treason prosecutions.

At the Restoration the interregnum legislation fell into the oblivion sometimes created for memories of the past by modern totalitarian regimes. Restoration and eighteenth-century writers all regard the question of who is king under the Treason Act as an important one, but all also ignore the interregnum acts—which were also not printed in the statute books. A few key acts were publicly burned by the hangman.20 Justice Kelyng explains in his law reports that in 1660 the judges decided to proceed against the regicides under 25 Edw. 3, stat. 5, c. 2, using the murder of Charles I “as one of the overt acts to prove the compassing of his death.” When Sir Henry Vane was tried in 1662 for compassing the death of Charles II during the fifties, Kelyng says, “he justified that what he did was by the authority of Parliament, and that the king was then out of possession of the kingdom; and the Parliament was the only power regnant; and therefore, no treason could be committed against the King.” To this theoretically plausible but practically hopeless argument the court replied: “It was resolved, that tho' King Charles the 2d was de facto kept out of the exercise of the kingly office by traitors and rebels; yet he was King both de facto & de jure. And all the acts which were done to the keeping him out were high-treason.”21 Had Cromwell taken Boyle's advice to have himself declared king (Boyle also advised him to marry his daughter Frances to Charles), Justice Kelyng might have found this argument to Vane harder to make. As it is, to declare Charles II king de facto throughout the fifties seems a high flight of legal fancy.

The greatest of the Restoration jurists, Sir Matthew Hale, entangles himself when he tries to discuss treason in Historia Placitorum Coronae. Hale ignores Cromwell but discusses usurpers at some length, citing Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI, Richard III, and Henry VII as examples. Though he says that usurpers may be considered kings within the statute, he is close enough to believing in a divine right theory of indefeasible hereditary succession that he cannot bring himself to neglect the claims of kings de jure not in possession. He maintains that attempts to compass the death of a usurper “have been punished as treason, unless they were attempts made in the right of the rightful prince, or in aid or assistance of him” (HPC, 1, 10, 60-61). Later he claims that acts of hostility against a usurper “in assistance of the rightful heir of the crown, which afterwards obtained,” were not treason, but that acts in aid of a usurping de facto king have later been punished as treason (HPC, 1, 13, 102). Hale here wants to forge a union between legitimist theory and historical practice, a union that does not exist. (Wilson's notes complain about Hale's misuse of cases here.) Whether attempts against a usurper are made in the name of a rightful prince is irrelevant to whether they will be punished as treason or not; the usurper will punish them no matter in whose name they are made; the prince in whose behalf they are made will not punish them if they are successful, whether or not he is a “rightful prince.” Hale is too close to Cromwell to admit that the idea of a de jure king who is not also king de facto can have no force in law. The law may declare past kings usurpers, but no present king can possibly be a usurper in law. There may be governments in exile and popes in Avignon, but the law proclaims whoever is king “for the tyme being” king in law as well as in fact.

Hale, Kelyng, and Boyle all share similar quandaries, find themselves in similar impasses, and experiment with similar fictions. In spite of the traditional insistence that subjects are not proper judges of the legitimacy of a sovereign's title, all three are sufficiently influenced by events and by divine right theory that they are unwilling to think of acts against a “usurper” in the name of a “rightful prince” as treason. Hale's acquiescence in this principle is really more surprising than Boyle's.

But legitimacy was not the only political issue of the 1660s. Another heroic romance of this decade, Sir Robert Howard's Duke of Lerma (1668), is less concerned with reliving the Civil War traumas and more interested in the post-Restoration struggle between an admittedly legitimate monarch and his subjects. Howard's play is both a propaganda piece against favorites and evil counselors and another exploration of the problems of subjects confronted with wrong rule. Since Howard as an M.P. had recently been in the forefront of the fight to have Clarendon impeached, this topic had immediate relevance for him. Clarendon's downfall had many causes, chief among them Charles's own impatience with his moralistic and dominating advisor and Clarendon's opponents' desire to get places for themselves. Nevertheless, the overt attack on Clarendon was based on the premise that he was an evil counselor. One genuine ideological grievance against him was that he desired to make the king too independent of other advisors, especially parliament. Clarendon, for example, had complained that a bill permitting parliamentary audit of money spent in the Dutch War was an encroachment on the king's rights. Warning Charles that the Cavalier Parliament was behaving too much like its revolutionary predecessors, he recommended dissolution in both 1666 and 1667. His opponents charged he had advised Charles to do without parliament altogether. Howard intends no point for point correspondence between Clarendon and Lerma, simply an exploration of the problems raised by bad counselors.

As the play opens, King Philip of Spain has just died and the Duke of Lerma, who has been the king's favorite, fears his enemies will now succeed in banishing or even killing him. Prompted by his confessor, Lerma determines to use his beautiful daughter Maria to capture the favor of the new king, young Philip. Maria is appalled at the idea of prostituting herself, but promises obedience when Lerma says that otherwise he may have to kill the young king in self-defense. Philip does fall in love with Maria and promptly restores her father to favor. Lerma's brother, the Duke of Medina, speaks out forcefully against favorites, “lawful” traitors “by permission,” who usurp power kings ought to exercise personally. (Charles in the sixties was, in fact, inclined to allow parliament more leeway than Clarendon thought wise.) Medina's rebukes endanger him, but he considers it his duty to speak out:

I think it is no Treason
To snatch a King from falling down a precipice. …(22)

The dialogue between King Philip and Medina might well be dialogue between Charles and any member of parliament who was attacking one of the ministers he had chosen, Clarendon in the sixties or later the Duke of Lauderdale or the Earl of Danby, whom he persisted longer in wanting to retain:

'Tis boldness, and not duty, to question
Princes favours.
But not to beg 'em Sir, no more than 'tis
To pray, That Heav'n wou'd turne a vengeance from us,
Threatening in Lerma's power. …
Turne, mighty Sir, your lookes the other way,
And see your widow'd People want their King,
Drooping like dayes unlook'd on by the Sun.
Your Councel wither'd more with care then Age,
Grown as much strangers to your great Affaires
As unto Lerma's pleasure. …
Must Princes favours then be limited,
Or Judg'd by common Breaths?
'Tis restless Envy, that urges Mutinies
Shelter'd under Duty.                                                  [Exit]
So the lesson is learn't perfect.
Oh Impudence! to make the Majesty of Kings
The pawn of all their villanies.

[pp. 31-32]

Restoration parliaments avoided attacking the king directly, proclaiming enthusiastically “the king can do no wrong,” but interpreting that old maxim to mean that whatever wrong was done was the responsibility of the king's ministers. Howard writes from the point of view of those who sought to control the king's policies by exerting parliament's power to impeach his ministers, sometimes to impeach them for high treason.

The Duke of Lerma is an exceptionally focused and lucid play that succeeds in capturing the spectator's interest not only in the daring Lerma, but also in the plight of his intelligent daughter Maria. Like any decent Cavalier heroine, Maria is prepared to protect her father's life, no matter how villainous he may be. On the other hand, she is a virtuous and public-spirited girl not prepared to become either a whore or a traitor. She therefore invents a ruse to teach the king a lesson. Ordered by Lerma to have Philip sign warrants that will send two of his faithful counselors to distant posts, Maria urges upon the king all the arguments for his absolute power and persuades him to disregard the need to consult his advisors on such an important matter. Having got Philip's signature, she then shows him how he has betrayed his better judgment, gets his promise to spare her chastity and her father's life, and warns the good counselors of the plot against them. The moral of the play is simple enough, but carefully articulated: in the relations between sovereigns and subjects, parents and children, the inferior cannot abandon his own moral sense. As Maria tells Philip when he points out that Lerma has obviously intended him to enjoy her:

Yet his Commands makes not my Guilt less,
For Heaven allows no pious wickedness.

[p. 21]

Obedience may entail eschewing active rebellion, but it cannot entail blind conformity to the superior's will. The good inferior tries to change the will of his superior if it is wrong and will not cooperate in evil. In Stuart days of paeans to absolutism and passive obedience and of angry rebukes to Commons when it tried to advise about church policy, foreign policy, or the governance of the militia, this lesson seems to have been less than obvious.

Dryden's Conquest of Granada (1669-70) provides a final illustration of how political arguments about authority and obligation function in heroic romance.23 At the conclusion of The Conquest of Granada and in Dryden's similar heroic romances we are offered the same formula Boyle relied on: the possessor of the best legal title to the throne is identical to the mythical natural law sovereign who best dispenses justice, who listens sympathetically to the genuine grievances of his subjects, and who never forces them to choose between their obedience to him and their own integrity. Like Boyle too, though, Dryden constructs problematic political situations and allows his characters to argue their way through them. Granada, like several of the countries in Dryden's heroic plays, is being torn apart by civil war between hard-to-distinguish rival factions and by what soon turn out to be rival kings, Boabdelin and the Duke of Arcos representing King Ferdinand of Spain. “The last king of Granada,” Boabdelin is weak and decadent. Granada itself, expiring in the supercivilization of “soft peace,” is obviously in need of an infusion of raw power and new blood, an infusion Almanzor is able to provide. Even Ozmyn, one of the most attractive and virtuous of Boabdelin's courtiers, is effete in comparison to Almanzor. Like the bull he fights in the first act, Almanzor is a natural monarch. His right to rule is based on his own superiority (and on his as-yet-undiscovered birth) and not on a corrupt social order.

Almanzor begins by denying the supposed sovereignty of Boabdelin. When Almanzor draws his sword in the monarch's presence and kills a man, Zulema points out:

Outrage unpunished, when a prince is by,
Forfeits to scorn the rights of majesty.


But Almanzor's outrage remains unpunished and the king's majesty is successfully scorned. Almanzor himself explains:

I saw the oppressed, and thought it did belong
To a king's office to redress the wrong:
I brought that succour, which thou ought'st to bring,
And so, in nature, am thy subjects' king.


He then proceeds to give Boabdelin a cameo political science lecture on the folly of letting factions grow in a kingdom. Later when the Abencerragos and Zegrys threaten civil conflict again, Boabdelin pleads with them in vain, but a word from Almanzor commands instant obedience.

We then learn that not only does Boabdelin fail to protect his subjects or to make them feel his authority, but that his claim to the throne is itself a weak one. Boabdelin and the Duke of Arcos debate the title to Granada's throne. Boabdelin asserts his right rests on the “long possession of eight hundred years.” Arcos replies that the Spaniards were there first and that Boabdelin's claim comes only from force. The king retorts:

'Tis true from force the noblest title springs:
I therefore hold from that, which first made kings.


But we also learn that Ferdinand has earlier conquered Boabdelin, receiving from him a “contract” pledging that Boabdelin would remain a tribute-paying vassal for his life and then “lay aside all marks of royalty” when his father dies. Boabdelin now declares, “the force used on me made that contract void”—apparently disagreeing with Hobbes's dictum that covenants entered into by fear are obligatory, but vindicating Hobbes's warning that “before the time of civil society, or in the interruption thereof by war, there is nothing can strengthen a covenant of peace agreed on, against the temptations of avarice, ambition, lust, or other strong desire, but the fear of that invisible power, which they every one worship as God” (1, 15, 93). Thus, the most ancient claim to Granada does not belong to Boabdelin, and whatever title he might have had has already been given to Ferdinand. To add to Boabdelin's other failings, he is not a Christian.

Part of the exposure of Boabdelin as not exemplifying the mythical natural law sovereign suggests a second way in which the problem of the sovereign's legitimacy is explored: what may loosely be called Hobbist arguments are offered and attacked. The idea that Dryden was himself a political Hobbist has been advanced, but it is now generally recognized that though Dryden was obviously interested in Hobbes's ideas, those ideas are usually expressed by his villains and attacked by his heroes. I would, though, seriously disagree with Louis Teeter's claim that both in Dryden and in Restoration drama generally the use of Hobbist ideas was essentially decorative and that the ideas were primarily “valuable to the dramatists who wished to have their political villains up to date.” Like some more recent critics, Teeter also resents the messiness with which Hobbist ideas are used and the general lack of coherent and correct explication of particular philosophical points, commenting, for example, on one passage: “The passage illustrates to perfection the clever way in which Dryden made use of any handy theory for dramatic effect. It is a weird mosaic of contradictory conceptions and unwarranted applications of ideas.” It is, I think, unreasonable to expect dramatists who were interested in Hobbist ideas to provide technically correct accounts of them. Teeter's analysis also rests on the assumption, now successfully challenged by Quentin Skinner, that Hobbes's political ideas were notorious but unique.24

In The Conquest of Granada Boabdelin and Lyndaraxa, both clearly undesirables, are the main proponents of Hobbist ideas. With the utmost cynicism imaginable, Lyndaraxa attempts throughout to seduce the successor to the throne as a husband. Unfortunately for her, the tempestuous fluctuations of Granada's political climate leave the identity of that successor in constant doubt. After five acts, she is provoked into spurning Abdalla with this Realpolitik definition of a king:

A king is he, whom nothing can withstand;
Who men and money can with ease command.
A king is he, whom fortune still does bless;
He is a king, who does a crown possess.


Lyndaraxa herself is like man as Hobbes envisioned him in a state of nature; in fact, she may be seen as an alternate version of the noble savage and therefore as an antithesis to Almanzor. Almanzor, at least until the revelations at the end of the play, and Lyndaraxa, throughout, refuse to acknowledge the rules or covenants of society and so live outside it. Almanzor exemplifies the noble savage of soft primitivism, while Lyndaraxa exclaims:

Yes! I avow the ambition of my soul,
To be that one to live without control!
And that's another happiness to me,
To be so happy as but one can be.


Engaged in “the war of every man, against everyman,” she discovers that “there is no way for any man to secure himself, so reasonable, as anticipation; that is, by force, or wiles, to master the persons of men … till he sees no other power great enough to endanger him” (1, 13, 83, 81).

Dryden, typically, does not seem to perceive any contradiction in the coexistence of two such characters as Almanzor and Lyndaraxa in the same play. That is, he does not seem to feel Almanzor and Lyndaraxa are two mutually exclusive answers to the question, “What is the nature of man: is he essentially generous and peaceful or essentially greedy, vicious, brutal, and power-crazed?” Lyndaraxa's way is clearly rejected; her view of the world leads to catastrophe. Nevertheless, because she exists and because her view is fully expressed, the play is an agon where the view ultimately rejected is sufficiently interesting and persuasive to be considered.

The political dilemmas Dryden, Howard, and Boyle treat seriously, if abstractly, are brilliantly burlesqued by Buckingham and his collaborators in the extraordinarily popular Rehearsal (1671). Many heroic romances present legitimate or illegitimate sovereigns who are challenged by rebellion, but perhaps the Restoration anxieties over political authority and obligation are nowhere better reflected in the theater than in The Rehearsal, usually thought of as a purely literary satire of the absurdities of heroic romance. A given of Buckingham's play within a play is that there are two kings of the same place. Bayes explains:

Now the people having the same relations to 'em both, the same affections, the same duty, the same obedience, and all that; are divided among themselves in point of devoir and interest, how to behave themselves equally between 'em; these kings differing sometimes in particular; though, in the main, they agree.25

(Note the mordant balancing of “in point of devoir,” with its belittling court French, and “interest,” the plain English word unconvincingly relegated to second place.) As S. Briscoe very early observed in his Key to the Rehearsal, there were two kings in Henry Howard's United Kingdom (now a lost play) and “Mr. Dryden has, in most of his serious plays, two contending kings of the same place.” So does Boyle. With baroque exuberance, Edward Howard's Change of Crowns (1667) has not only two contending kings of Lombardy, but two contending queens of Naples. A cheerful chiasmus occurs in the ending when the true king of Lombardy can marry the false queen of Naples and the true queen of Naples can marry the false king of Lombardy, thus providing thrones for all. And Howard here only doubles the suggestion Boyle seriously made in 1657 that Cromwell's daughter should marry Charles, an idea that crops up again in The Generall when the usurper tries to marry his son to the princess Rosocleere. Banks later preferred to draw from authentic British history to produce two queens of the same place: Elizabeth and Mary, Queen of Scots, in The Island Queens and Lady Jane Grey and Mary Tudor in The Innocent Usurper.

Buckingham proceeds to develop what is, after all, not only the germ of countless heroic plays and Restoration tragedies, but also the problem of Cromwell and Charles, James and William. The burlesque reduces the issue to farce by making the two kings quite indistinguishable. They enter hand in hand and they do not have separate names, being called simply “1st King” and “2nd King.” Further absurdity is introduced by baroque doubling: there are not only two kings, but two usurpers. This is the same joke Gilbert and Sullivan use with the chorus of twenty love-sick maidens in Patience. One love-sick maiden might be pathetic enough, but a massed phalanx of twenty love-sick maidens is ludicrous. One rightful king and one usurper might be taken seriously, but two indistinguishable kings and two usurpers is absurd.

The doubling is also like a dream fantasy. Minds wearied with the serious problems of divided loyalties see them as resistant to solution and excuse themselves from responsibility or guilt by reducing them to impossibility: “Claimants to my loyalty have multiplied uncontrollably—they seem merely doubles of one another—certainly it's not my fault if I can't choose among them or if I make the wrong choice.” Just as the kings are indistinguishable, the motives of the usurpers are rendered unintelligible. All the conspirators' reasons are offered in whispers the audience cannot hear. Challenged on his use of whispering, Bayes defends this dramatic practice with wonderfully misapplied logic: “Why, Sir (beside that it is new, as I told you before), because they are supposed to be politicians; and matters of state ought not to be divulged” (p. 47). When the usurpation itself comes in The Rehearsal there are no soldiers, no rioting mobs, and no bloodshed. The two usurpers are talking quietly in the throne room and suddenly decide to sit down on the throne:

And, since occasion now seems debonair,
I'll seize on this, and you shall take that chair.

Bayes comments with self-approbation: “There's now an odd surprise; the whole state's turn'd quite topsy-turvey, without any puther or stir in the world, I gad” (p. 52). The joke is very funny, though exactly why it should be is perhaps not immediately obvious. Partly, Buckingham simply parodies the frequent suddenness of revolution and counterrevolution in heroic romance. Yet there is a deeper comedy of baffled expectation. After the initial traumas of the civil war, anxiety itself is mocked. The absurdity is taken one step further in the fifth act when, instead of using the position they have seized to offer fierce resistance to the rightful sovereigns, the two usurpers merely slink away at the apparition described by Prince Pretty-Man:

Behold, with wonder, yonder comes from far
A god-like cloud, and a triumphant car;
In which our two right kings sit one by one,
With virgin vests, and laurel garlands on. …

[The two right Kings of Brentford descend in the clouds, singing in white garments; and three Fiddlers sitting before them, in green.]

[pp. 77-78]

But then where was Richard Cromwell when Londoners were celebrating Charles's Restoration with even more elaborate pageants? Where, for that matter, was James II when William marched on London?26

During the earlier years of Charles II's reign the heroic romance dominated the serious theater. As unreal as these tales of hidden true kings miraculously restored may seem to us now, they had a certain relevance in the decade or two immediately following Charles's restoration. It was comforting, too, that so many of these restored kings were willing to overlook any deviations from the path of strictest loyalty of which their subjects might have been guilty. These theatrical kings not only tended to echo Charles's sentiments at Breda, but also are not infrequently reminded that whatever loyalty was displayed ought to be rewarded. At the end of Edward Howard's Usurper (1667), for instance, the true king proclaims:

There shall be an Indemnity for those
Whose frailty, and not malice, made 'em Act
Under the Tyrannt.

Cleomenes, described in the dramatis personae as “a Faithful noble Person,” reminds him:

Mercy becomes a king, which as it flows
Upon your Enemies, should have a free
Stream to your Friends, whose Faith, Sir, has been try'd;
You else would break their Honest hearts.(27)


  1. Henry Neville, Plato Redivivus in Two English Republican Tracts, ed. Caroline Robbins (London: Cambridge University Press, 1969), p. 147.

  2. See also Max Beloff, Public Order and Popular Disturbances, 1660-1740 (London: Oxford University Press, H. Milford, 1938), for smaller scale uprisings. Michael McKeon, Politics and Poetry in Restoration England: The Case of Dryden's “Annus Mirabilis” (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1975), chapters 2 and 4, offers a useful account of plots, allegations of plots, and political dissatisfaction generally during the sixties and his book reveals an admirable awareness of Dryden's rhetorical strategies, his exaggeration of Englishmen's happiness with Charles, and the general fictionality of his political poetry.

  3. James Yonge, The Journal of James Yonge, Plymouth Surgeon, 1647-1721, ed. Frederick N. L. Poynter (Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1963), p. 192.

  4. John Loftis, The Politics of Drama in Augustan England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963); Anne T. Barbeau, The Intellectual Design of John Dryden's Heroic Plays (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1970); Geoffrey Marshall, Restoration Serious Drama (Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press, 1974).

  5. Bonamy Dobrée, Restoration Tragedy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1929), p. 13; Louis Teeter, “Political Themes in Restoration Tragedy” (Ph.D. diss., Johns Hopkins University, 1936), p. 434; D. W. Jefferson, “The Significance of Dryden's Heroic Plays,” Proceedings of the Leeds Philosophical and Historical Society 5 (1940), reprinted in Restoration Dramatists, ed. Earl Miner (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, Twentieth-Century Views, 1966), p. 34; Eric Rothstein, Restoration Tragedy (Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press, 1966), p. 109; Anne Righter, “Heroic Tragedy,” in Restoration Theatre, ed. John Russell Brown and Bernard Harris (New York: Capricorn Books, 1967), p. 135.

  6. Dryden is most notably defended in Louis Bredvold, The Intellectual Milieu of John Dryden (Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press, 1934), and Philip Harth, Contexts of Dryden's Thought (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968). Cf. John Wallace, Destiny His Choice: The Loyalism of Andrew Marvell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968).

  7. Frances Barbour, “The Unconventional Heroic Plays of Nathaniel Lee,” Studies in English: University of Texas (1940), 115; Thomas B. Stroup and Arthur L. Cooke, “Introduction” to The Works of Nathaniel Lee, 2 vols. (New Brunswick, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1954-55), 1: 17.

  8. Frank C. Brown, Elkanah Settle: His Life and Works (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1910), p. 69; Elkanah Settle, A Narrative: Written by E. Settle (London, 1983), p. 25; Brown, Elkanah Settle, p. 26.

  9. Adolphus Ward, A History of English Dramatic Literature, vol. 3 (London, 1899), p. 399; Loftis, Politics of Drama, pp. 23-24; Clifford Leach, “The Political ‘Disloyalty’ of Thomas Southerne,” Modern Language Review 28 (1933): 421.

  10. Willard Thorp, “Henry Nevil Payne, Dramatist and Jacobite Conspirator,” in Essays in Dramatic Literature: The Parrott Presentation Volume, ed. Hardin Craig (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1935), pp. 347-81.

  11. Milton C. Nahm, ed., John Wilson's The Cheats (Oxford: B. Blackwell, 1935), p. 187; this edition is prepared from a MS with deletions and marks for revision by Sir Henry Herbert, then Master of the Revels.

  12. I would have to disagree with Geoffrey Marshall's claim that all the protagonists of Restoration serious plays are flawed (Restoration Serious Drama, p. 138). I think his analysis suffers from conflating what I am treating as separate categories of romance and tragedy. At a later point he elaborates upon the meaning of flawed by adding “at least to the extent that they are unable to bring about external or internal harmony” and so concludes that Mustapha is flawed because his selflessness “is not sufficient to heal the suffering of his brother and rival” (p. 191). This notion of an “external flaw” does not seem to me very useful and I prefer to regard a character like Mustapha or Clorimun as exemplary.

  13. “Letters of Mrs. Evelyn” (1671) in Diary and Correspondence of John Evelyn, ed. William Bray and John Forster, 4 vols. (London, 1854), 4: 25-26.

  14. Kathleen Lynch, Roger Boyle, First Earl of Orrery (Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 1965), p. 67.

  15. Ibid., p. 159.

  16. Gilbert Burnet, An Enquiry into the Measure of Submission to the Supream Authority (London, 1688), p. [B3v].

  17. E.g., “An act concerning the King's succession,” 25 Hen. 8, c. 22, viii (1533); “An act concerning the succession of the crown,” 28 Hen. 8, c. 7 (1536); “An act for the establishment of the King's succession,” 35 Hen. 8, c. 1 (1543); “An act for the repeal of certain statutes concerning treasons and felonies,” 1 Edw. 6, c. 12 (1547); “An act to restore to the crown the antient jurisdiction,” 1 Eliz. 1, c. 1, xxvii-xxx (1558); “Certain offences made treason,” 1 Eliz. 1, c. 5 (1558); “An act for the assurance of the Queen's royal power,” 5 Eliz. 1, c. 1 (1562). 25 Edw. 3, stat. 5, c. 2 is a more complex statute than my summary would indicate, including also such crimes as violating the queen and counterfeiting. John G. Bellamy in The Law of Treason in England in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970) explains its complexities and also discusses its relation to developing ideas of sovereignty. Here I am only interested in it as necessary background to the Restoration law of treason.

  18. “None that shall attend upon the King … shall be attained,” 11 Hen. 7, c. 1, and see A. M. Honoré, “Allegiance and the Usurper,” Cambridge Law Journal (1967), p. 217, who argues that in spite of later interpretations the original framers did not mean king de facto by “king for the time being.”

  19. J. T. Tanner, English Constitutional Conflicts of the Seventeenth Century (1928; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961), pp. 161-62.

  20. 3 Acts & Ords. Interregnum xxxiv-xxxvi.

  21. Kel. J. 15.

  22. Robert Howard, The Great Favourite, Or, the Duke of Lerma (London, 1688), p. 24; Howard notes in his preface that he was prompted to write his play when a gentleman, whom he does not name, brought a play called The Duke of Lerma to the King's Company. He advised the players to reject the script, but Hart persuaded him to rework the material himself. I see no reason to doubt Howard's statement that he made very substantial alterations or his statement that he changed the character of Maria into a virtuous one. Maria is a chief agent of the moral he wishes to draw from Lerma's story. (Subsequent citations in the text are to this edition.)

  23. Barbeau, The Intellectual Design, pp. 105-26, also considers this play to have political interest, though she argues its purpose is to establish the following pious moral: “that justice is restored on earth through the instrumentality of lawless, ambitious men who act unwittingly to bring on their own destruction and the success of the virtuous” (p. 106).

  24. Louis Teeter, “The Dramatic Uses of Hobbes's Political Ideas,” ELH 3 (1936): 140-69; John A. Winterbottom, “The Place of Hobbesian Ideas in Dryden's Tragedies,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 57 (1958): 665-83; Quentin Skinner, “The Ideological Context of Hobbes's Political Thought,” Historical Journal 9 (1966): 286-317.

  25. George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, et al., The Rehearsal, in The Rehearsal … and the Critic, ed. A. G. Barnes (London: Methuen and Co., 1927), p. 40. Subsequent citations in the text are to this edition.

  26. George McFadden, “Political Satire in ‘The Rehearsal,’” Yearbook of English Studies 4 (1974): 120-28, has recently argued for more topical political satire, identifying Bayes with Arlington and the two kings with Charles and James. The 1704 Key does suggest that the two kings were supposed by some to be the king and the Duke. It is conceivable to me—though certainly not obvious—that Buckingham and his collaborators may have had this in mind. However, to argue, as McFadden seems to, that the final descent of the two right kings from the clouds was intended to show the audience of 1671 that Charles had not regained his throne because of his divine right to it but because parliament “acting as an independent body” had given it to him as “a free gift” seems to me pressing things too far.

  27. Edward Howard. The Usurper: A Tragedy (London, 1688), p. 70.

J. Douglas Canfield (essay date 2000)

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SOURCE: Canfield, J. Douglas. “Heroes and States: Heroic Romance.” In Heroes and States: On the Ideology of Restoration Tragedy, pp. 6-25. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2000.

[In this essay, Canfield uses Dryden's Conquest of Granada as an exemplary heroic drama in order to uncover the political and ideological values that underlie the genre.]

The restored king and court had been quite taken with French drama in their exiled sojourn on the continent, particularly the rhymed romances and tragedies of France's greatest dramatist at midcentury, Pierre Corneille. So Charles II invited his courtier playwrights to follow suit. The very formal style of such plays, with their oratorical declamations, can only be appreciated today if we view them as operatic spectacles (indeed, such spectacles developed alongside them). Despite Puritanical strictures against the theater, Sir William Davenant had already staged the first version of the Restoration rhymed heroic play, The Siege of Rhodes, in 1656, an operatic romance he expanded into a two-part version for the stage in 1661. Heeding the king's call in addition were Roger Boyle, earl of Orrery, Sir William Killigrew, and Sir Robert Howard. Howard was assisted by a professional playwright, the great John Dryden. In the early sixties, these authors developed the rhymed heroic romance as a celebration of the king's restoration and a reinscribing across the pages of a disintegrating cultural scripture of the chivalric code which had underwritten aristocratic society for centuries. They portrayed the aristocracy as naturally superior, born and bred and divinely appointed (if not anointed) to rule. They portrayed their enemies as self-interested statesmen and unruly mobs, who might mouth the rhetoric of rights but who simply desired power through revolt and usurpation. The villains of these plays critics call Machiavels, so named after the (in)famous Niccolò Machiavelli, who had preached in The Prince that it was better for a ruler to be feared than loved, that the end justifies the means, and that might makes right. Machiavelli's theories of de facto as opposed to de jure government had been brought home to England by Thomas Hobbes, who wrote his treatise of de facto absolutism, The Leviathan, while in exile with Charles II.

However beleaguered, the heroes and heroines of these romances are always vindicated; right finally makes might. The implication of this poetical justice is that it is underwritten by divine providence. If it were not, then the aristocratic politics of de jure hereditary monarchy and its ethics of obligation and loyalty and virtue would be exposed as the mere rhetoric that the Machiavels claimed it to be.

The Machiavels are as often women as men. The Restoration introduced actresses on the English stage, and the playwrights created great villainess roles for them, from Roxalana in Davenant's Siege of Rhodes; to Zempoalla in the Howard-Dryden Indian-Queen (1664) and her successors, Lyndaraxa in Dryden's Conquest of Granada (1670-71) and Nourmahal in his Aureng-Zebe (1675); to the versions of Alexander's scorned Roxana in John Weston's Amazon Queen (not acted; publ. 1667), Samuel Pordage's Siege of Babylon (1677), and Edward Cooke's Love's Triumph (probably not acted; publ. 1678); to the Queen Mother in William Whitaker's Conspiracy (1680).1 Whatever the setting, this uppity-woman type symbolized the rebellious aspects of England, which should be the submissive bride of her king. Her promiscuous sexuality threatened the patrilinearity upon which the succession of property—and the very kingdom itself—depended. Against her was juxtaposed the virtuous woman, constant as lover, wife, queen. This concept of constancy or trust is central to aristocratic monarchial ideology. God entrusts kings and queens with government. The people owe them allegiance. Thus constancy, loyalty, trust are central to conflict on several levels: between friends, couples, subjects and kings, man and god.

Two of the early playwrights establish the pattern, for the conflicts in Davenant's Siege and Orrery's first plays are resolved in terms of trust. In the Siege, herself a model of constancy to her doubting lover Alphonso, Ianthe trusts so much to Solyman's honor that, even without safe passage, she goes to him to sue for peace, a design that Villerius says has Heaven's blessing. Thus Christian Rhodes is saved, at least temporarily. In Orrery's Generall (first acted as Altemira in Dublin, 1662; again as The Generall in London, 1664), trust in the ultimate might of the right is vindicated when the rightful king defeats the usurper in a trial by combat. And the code is validated by Altemira's apparent death for her constancy, her resurrection and reunion with her lover (the drug was not fatal), and her conversion of the Herculean Clorimun to virtue and mutual trust. In Orrery's History of Henry the Fifth (1664), the entire conflict between England and France is portrayed as one between might and right, the latter carrying the day. Meanwhile, when Henry trusts so much to Katherine that he enters the French camp disguised, she refuses to betray him. Friendship is such a powerful tie that, though he loves her himself, Tudor courts Katherine for his friend Henry, affirming, “Friendship above all tyes does bind the heart; / And faith in Friendship is the noblest part” (IV.288-89). Even enemies, Henry and Chareloys, trust each other. And the play concludes in a treaty between the English and the French, a sign of mutual trust. In what might serve as an epigraph to these heroic romances, Henry concludes, “Trust is the strongest Bond upon the Soul” (V.168).2

Rhymed heroic romance as continued by Orrery and Dryden and as created by their followers through the sixties and into the late seventies reinforces this ideology. As with Orrery's Clorimun, sometimes the valorous are diamonds in the rough who must be polished, usually by the power of love; they must be taught the chivalric code. The most obvious examples are Dryden's Montezuma, Almanzor, and Morat. Even Aureng-Zebe must learn to trust absolutely his lover Indamora. Sometimes when lovers or husbands distrust or violate their own vows, virtuous women seek a greater lover, a higher form of constancy—in a nunnery, as in George Cartwright's Heroick-Lover (probably not acted; publ. 1661).

The relationship between subjects and kings in these plays is depicted as ideally one of reciprocal trust. Not only must subjects remain loyal, but kings are bound, too. For example, Queen Cleandra in Sir William Killigrew's Ormasdes (1664?) says, “'Tis a Prince his chief Businesse to be Just, / The Gods impose on us no higher Trust” (II, 18). Even when faced with rulers who are usurpers or who break their sacred trust with their subjects, in almost all of these plays the heroes refuse to rebel, leaving vengeance to Heaven, as in Cartwright's play or Orrery's Tryphon (1668) or Dryden's Aureng-Zebe or Elkanah Settle's Cambyses, King of Persia (1671).

In every one of these rhymed heroic romances, the wicked antagonists are finally overthrown, the virtuous protagonists triumphant. And as the ultimate inscription of aristocratic ideology, somebody usually explicitly attributes the dénouement to an underwriting Logos, a verbum dei that underwrites word-as-bond. To take random examples, in John Caryll's English Princess (1667), a Richard III play, Richmond concludes, “Heaven, thou art just, and good! / So Tyrants rise, and so they fall in Blood” (V.vii, 58). The usurper Tryphon overthrown by his own hand, in Orrery's play of that name, the rightful king Aretus declares, “Now let us to the Gods Oblations pay, / For all the Blessings of this Glorious day” (V, 435). Darius concludes Settle's Cambyses, “Thus the gods guard those Virtues they inspire” (V, 84). In Settle's Conquest of China (1675), the apparently victorious, blasphemous Machiavel Lycungus condemns the hero and the heroine to death, exulting,

                                        Fate grants the High command
Of this Great Empire to a Martial Hand.
And to confirm my Interest with heaven,
The Gods to my Just Cause success have given.

[V, 62]

The pious hero Quitazo responds, “Savage Infidel, can you believe, / That there are Gods, and such a sentence give?” (64). The virtuous attribute their rescue to “th'high Powers” (67). “The Hand of Providence” is manifest in the dénouement of Thomas Rymer's Edgar (V.xi, 59; probably not acted; publ. 1678). “The gentle Calm of Peace from Heav'n descends” at the end of Cooke's Love's Triumph (V.xv, 62). In Pordage's Siege of Babylon, at the moment the heroes appear to have lost the lovers for whom they fought, they are cautioned that “The ways of Providence, do Riddles seem,” that they must nevertheless have trust (V.i, 51); indeed, the women are restored by divine agency, the villainess Roxana goes mad, blasphemes, and stabs herself, and the constant Statira concludes, “Thus Gods their Judgment show, / That poor ambitious Mortals, here may know, / They sit above, and see, and govern all below” (V.ii, 61).

Not all Restoration heroic romances are rhymed, and as we shall see in the following chapters, not all rhymed heroic plays are romances. But the unrhymed heroic romances embody the same aristocratic ideology, from Henry Cary, Viscount Faulkland's Marriage Night (1663) and the anonymous Irena (unacted; publ. 1664), both of which have providential endings in support of loyalty; to John Banks's Cyrus the Great (1695, but written earlier) and Edward Ravenscroft's version of the story of Edgar (1677, but also apparently written earlier), both of which have bizarre romance endings; to Nahum Tate's (in)famous adaptation of King Lear (late 1680), which ends with Lear alive, Cordelia married to the triumphant Edgar, and the pronouncement, “Then there are Gods, and Vertue is their Care” (V, 65); to Charles Saunders's Tamerlane the Great (1681), which ends with the title character recalled to aristocratic virtue, reconciled to his estranged loyal son and his bride, and thanking “Propitious Heav'n” (V, 59); to the anonymous Romulus and Hersilia (1682), which concludes with the title couple overcoming treason and distrust.

Thus, as one observes the dates of performance, it is obvious that the heroic romance, whether rhymed or unrhymed, figures prominently at least through the Exclusion Crisis of the early 1680s.3 It is not just a genre spawned by the restoration of Charles Stuart and petering out quickly as the euphoria waned. In the midst of that crisis comes Whitaker's Conspiracy; or, The Change of Government (1680), a retelling in an exotic Turkish setting of the English Civil War with the death of one sultan at the hands of rebels and the restoration of his son. As late as 1683, Thomas Southerne penned an unrhymed heroic romance, The Loyal Brother, whose title indicates its ethos. Despite the machinations of the play's Machiavellian statesman, the younger brother's undying loyalty to his sovereign brother—and his mirroring constancy to his beloved—are finally rewarded, and the chastened ruler, Seliman, exhorts, “[M]ay succeeding Monarchs learn from me, / How far to trust a Statesmans policy” (V.iii.295-96).

The greatest writer of these heroic romances was, hands down, John Dryden. Let us examine in detail his best contribution, with a final glance at his farewell not just to rhyme but to heroic romance on the stage. Dryden's Conquest of Granada by the Spaniards (two parts, Dec.-Jan. 1670-71) opens with key imagery from the two games being held to celebrate the Granadan king Boabdelin's imminent marriage to Almahide. The first game is a juego de cañas and the second a juego de toros. The former is a ritualized form of combat consisting of darting blunted spears or “canes” between mock armies. In this particular game, groups of thirty or more of the two feuding factions in Granada are conducting (offstage) a typical “flying skirmish,”4 that is, fighting “like Parthyans” (158), until Tarifa, a Zegry, breaks the rules of combat, changes “his blunt Cane for a steel-pointed Dart” (162), and wounds Ozmyn, an Abencerrago. The act is characterized as “Treason” (164), because it violates fundamental sociopolitical codes designed to sublimate the very deadly rivalry it now precipitates, a rivalry governed only by rules of revenge.

Instead of ritual, Granada is faced with what René Girard in Violence and the Sacred calls a “sacrificial crisis” that threatens to destroy the city from within. The rivalry is imitated everywhere in the play. The old Abencerrago Abenamar is already a deadly rival of the Zegry chief, Selin, and their inveterate hatred causes them to violate the bonds of nature and attempt to kill their children, Ozmyn and Benzayda, who, like Romeo and Juliet, fall in love despite their clans' feud. Prince Abdalla and the Abencerrago chief, Abdelmelech, become deadly rivals for Lyndaraxa's hand. Abdalla also becomes a rival for his brother Boabdelin's throne, violating both the bonds of nature and of society. Lyndaraxa eventually becomes a rival with Almahide for the love of the heroic Almanzor. Almanzor becomes a rival with Boabdelin for the love of Almahide. And, of course, the Moors are deadly rivals with the Christians for the last Islamic stronghold in Western Europe. This is a world threatening to come apart in the “flying skirmish” of dialectical forces.

The bullfight is really an image of the same skirmish, as if the chief bull were a figure for what Girard calls the “monstrous double” of the sacrificial crisis, the unheimlich monster that really lurks within.5 The bull charges the stranger, Almanzor, who spears him once, sidesteps, and then decapitates him in one swordstroke. This is an image for Almanzor's conflict with himself, with his unruly passion. But it is also an image for Almanzor's contest with Boabdelin, for Christianity's contest with the Moors, and finally for the entire culture's struggle with a displaced version of its worst enemy—deadly rivalry brought about by the breaking of words, the perjury that eventually destroys Granada from within.

Almanzor is a great warrior summoned to help the Moors raise the Christian siege of Granada. His immediate past is extremely significant, but Boabdelin fails to read its lesson aright. Almanzor had been summoned to a similar scene of rivalry in Fez, where the Xeriff brothers feuded for the throne of Morocco. At first Almanzor fought for the Elder, the “juster cause,” but when he waxed ungrateful, Almanzor changed sides and placed the Younger on the throne (1.I.i.248-52). There are two lessons here: a people without a clear principle of succession, as Islamic peoples were popularly portrayed, is always in danger of civil war; a leader who is ungrateful for services rendered is liable to reap unhappy consequences.

The lesson of the consequences of ingratitude is clear.6 Nevertheless, Boabdelin fails to read the lesson and thus is doomed to have history repeat itself. In Almanzor's first battle for the Granadans, he wins a victory and captures the mighty duke of Arcos, but then he heroically pledges to set him free to fight again. Boabdelin refuses to honor Almanzor's “promise” and absolves him from his “word” (1.III.i.5-6). Almanzor's response not only insists upon his right to his word but characterizes the king as a troth-breaker whose faction-ridden state is the result of his inconstancy:

He break my promise and absolve my vow!
'Tis more than Mahomet himself can do.
The word which I have giv'n shall stand like Fate;
Not like the King's that weathercock of State.
He stands so high, with so unfix't a mind,
Two Factions turn him with each blast of wind.


Predictably, Almanzor, who, as Dryden insists in the prefatory essay, “Of Heroique Playes,” “is not born their Subject whom he serves” (Works 11:16) and therefore owes them no allegiance, deserts Boabdelin and joins the rebellion of his rival brother, Abdalla.

Abdalla himself, however, though witness to Almanzor's Moroccan history, learns its lesson no better than Boabdelin. Nor does he profit from his brother's mistake, but breaks his own word to Almanzor, reneging on his agreement to let him set another captive free—this time, the beauteous Almahide, with whom Almanzor has fallen instantly in love. Abdalla yields to Zulema's threat to withdraw the support of the Zegrys, and Almanzor accuses him of rationalizing his “ingratitude” with empty “words” (1.III.i.502-4). Thus, Almanzor returns to Boabdelin, not to vindicate the latter's claim to the throne but simply to rescue Almahide and set her free. But after Almanzor keeps his “Promise” to Boabdelin (1.V.i.185) and again turns the tide, Boabdelin makes the mistake of swearing by “Alha” to grant him any desire (225). When Almanzor then asks for Almahide, Boabdelin naturally refuses to surrender his betrothed. Furious, Almanzor responds, “I'll call thee thankless, King; and perjur'd both: / Thou swor'st by Alha; and hast broke thy oath” (268-69). Almanzor deserts both brothers and departs for Africa. Even if there be an inadequate political system for succession and legitimation, pledged words ought to bind. Almanzor rejects a world where they do not.

With the loss of the heroic defender and with Abdalla's escape to join the Christians, Boabdelin's fortunes precipitately decline, and his people begin to rebel. In other words, his troth-breaking has produced anarchy. The “many-headed Beast” (2.I.ii.29), the mob, rebels in “The name of Common-wealth,” where “the People their own Tyrants are” (47-48). Boabdelin argues that “Kings who rule with limited Command / Have Players Scepters put into their Hand” (49-50), and Abenamar describes the results of the destabilizing dialectic that occurs when kings must contend for power, a dialectic that divides within and leads to conquest from without. Then, the mob will “want that pow'r of Kings they durst not trust” (58). Thus Dryden rouses memories in his audience of his own country's civil war—as well as fears lest it return, with its ultimate tyranny, as a result of factionalism—and of quarrels over principles of succession.

Boabdelin has been incapable of commanding the trust of his people from the beginning. He has always been a troth-breaker. As he often does, Dryden provides some original sin of distrust that lies like a curse over the land. Ferdinand's claim to Granada is twofold. The Spaniards have a prior “just, and rightful claim” to Spain because they were there before the Moors, who simply took it by conquest and therefore rule merely by “force,” de facto and not de jure (1.I.i.295, 303). Moreover, Arcos had once captured Boabdelin and his father and released them upon their “Contract” to resign the crown of Granada and rule as Ferdinand's vassals until the death of the father, when Boabdelin would “lay aside all marks of Royalty” (317-22). When that time came, however, Boabdelin refused to yield the throne, and Arcos accuses him, “[L]ike a perjur'd Prince, you broke your oath” (316). Such a king, according to the pattern of feudal literature, of which this baroque drama is a late example, will inevitably suffer a poetical justice that is a sign of a divine justice that avenges forswearing. Boabdelin is “slain by a Zegry's hand” (2.V.iii.171)—killed not by a Spaniard but by one of his own rebellious, troth-breaking Granadans.

Boabdelin might as well have been killed by his own brother, but Dryden has another fate in store for Abdalla, whose political rivalry with his brother, though it is based in part upon Zulema's Hobbist perversion of words, of such concepts as “Vertue” (1.II.i.208-13), “Justice” (226-27), and primogeniture (247-51), is complicated by a sexual rivalry with Abdelmelech over that central chivalric figure, the inconstant woman. Abdalla rebels because only with a crown can be obtain Lyndaraxa, who is preengaged, she maintains, to Abdelmelech.

Lyndaraxa's manipulation of her lovers at times borders on the comic. But she epitomizes the very grave threat of uncontrolled desire that seduces men away from the code of loyalty to participate in a rebellion against the very order of patriarchy. Jealous of Almahide, she wishes to be a queen—not simply a royal consort. No, she would “be that one, to live without controul” (1.II.i.148). Figuratively, she is the Dread Maternal Anarch, who threatens all the bonds of patriarchal society. She provokes Abdalla to Oedipal rebellion: “For such another pleasure, did he live, / I could my Father of a Crown deprive” (172-73). Abdelmelech laments, “With what indifference all her Vows she breaks!” (1.III.i.150), as she mockingly taunts him with libertine doctrine, “'Twas during pleasure, 'tis revok'd this hour. / Now call me false, and rail on Woman-kind” (141-42). She is also capable of manipulating by perverting the code of the word and accusing her two puppets of being the ones who are “faithless” and “false” (1.IV.ii.63, 75). When Abdelmelech tries to leave her because of her “falshood” (59), she hypocritically accuses him, “[Y]our breach of Faith is plain” (77). When Abdalla demands constancy from her, she explains that frailty's name is woman: “Poor womens thoughts are all Extempore” (180). He complains, “Is this the faith you promis'd me to keep?” (1.V.i.38), then calls her a “faithless and ingrateful maid!” (67). Old Selin properly brands her “faithless as the wind” (2.II.i.110).

Lyndaraxa is a symbol of the faithlessness always threatening feudal aristocracy. Mythologically, she is associated with Circe (1.III.i.93-96), that seducer of heroes who distracts them from the paths of true glory and turns them into beasts. More prominently, Lyndaraxa associates herself with the goddess Fortune, who, as she believes, governs events (265-69). And yet, as the Middle Ages and the Renaissance portrayed her, Fortune is ultimately a whore. Abenamar proclaims, “I have too long th' effects of Fortune known, / Either to trust her smiles, or fear her frown” (1.IV.i.7-8). Lyndaraxa proves incapable of being Fortune, of controlling events, and thus she turns eventually to Almanzor, who himself claims to Boabdelin, “I am your fortune; but am swift like her, / And turn my hairy front if you defer” (30-31). Lyndaraxa plans to assault him with her wiles, because “In gaining him, I gain that Fortune too / Which he has Wedded, and which I but Wooe” (2.III.iii.61-62).

To win Almanzor, Lyndaraxa must destroy “his vow'd Constancy” to Almahide (2.III.iii.65), and her ultimate weapon is to declare her nominalism and proclaim:

There's no such thing as Constancy you call:
Faith ties not Hearts; 'tis Inclination all.
Some Wit deform'd or Beauty much decay'd,
First, constancy in Love, a Vertue made.


When he resists her, she spitefully taunts, “The Fate of Constancy your Love pursue! / Still to be faithful to what's false to you” (181-82). Thus according to her—and to the secular, self-interested philosophy for which she stands—the faithful are the fools. And yet, despite all her wiles, despite perjury against Almahide and dirty tricks against Almanzor and Ozmyn, Lyndaraxa does not triumph. Abdelmelech kills Abdalla and then resists and rejects Lyndaraxa, throwing her philosophy back in her teeth and berating her for her inconstancy, which has been justly rewarded (2.IV.ii.130-33). Not finished yet, she finally joins the Christians in the last assault and is rewarded with the crown of Granada. She exults, “I knew this Empyre to my fate was ow'd: / Heav'n held it back as long as 'ere it cou'd” (2.V.iii.238-39). But she taunts Abdelmelech once too often, and he stabs her. Lyndaraxa, Queen of Rebellion itself, ironically charges her “fate” with “Rebellion” (262), but Abenamar passes the final judgment on her and her quest to master Fortune: “Such fortune still, such black designs attends” (267). In other words, however capricious be Fortune in her own person—and therefore a fitting figure for Lyndaraxa the Inconstant—Fortune is finally only an instrument of Nemesis. No “Blind Queen of Chance” rules this world (2.III.ii.17) but a Providence that underwrites the code of constancy.

Contrasted with the faithless Lyndaraxa, as Penelope with Circe, is the faithful Almahide, model of chivalric female behavior. When Almanzor falls in love with her, she protests she is “promis'd to Boabdelin” (1.III.i.376). He would disregard such bonds as mere “Ceremony” (388), but she tries to explain to this “noble Savage” (1.I.i.209), “Our Souls are ty'd by holy Vows above. … I gave my faith to him, he his to me” (1.III.i.392, 396). Later, when Almanzor again presses his suit, she protests, “My Fathers choice I never will dispute” (1.IV.ii.428), though this time she allows Almanzor to try to change that father's mind and retrieve her hand from Boabdelin. When Boabdelin breaks his oath to Alha to grant Almanzor any wish, denies him Almahide, condemns him to death, and then proceeds to demand that Almahide keep her promise to marry him, Almahide exclaims, “How dare you claim my faith, and break your own?” (1.V.i.347-48). How can there be troth among troth-breakers? Nevertheless, when her father insists, “No second vows can with your first dispence” (350), and when he guarantees that Almanzor shall only be exiled, Almahide capitulates—“honor ties me” (356)—and she gives her “oath” to be Boabdelin's wife (404).

Married to Boabdelin in the second part of the play, Almahide remains constant despite Boabdelin's jealousy, insisting, “That hour when I my Faith to you did plight, / I banish'd him [Almanzor] for ever from my sight” (2.I.ii.158-59). Forced to recall Almanzor to save her husband's throne, she fully intends to “square” her love by virtue (219). Unfortunately, she miscalculates Boabdelin's response to her yielding to Almanzor's request and giving him her scarf “for my Husbands sake” (2.II.iii.111)—that is, as a sign that he is their Champion. Of course, the scarf has the same significance as Desdemona's handkerchief: it is the very badge of marital chastity, a “publick” sign of a “private” “Gift,” an “Embleme” of “Love” (2.III.i.55-56). Consequently, at its sight in Almanzor's possession, Boabdelin breaks into a jealous rage and concludes Almahide “False” (54). Insisting on her “Loyalty” (127), she demands the scarf back and returns it to her husband. And she even makes the sullen Almanzor fight to save him.

Almahide's most crucial trial comes when Almanzor sneaks into her palace chambers and demands a tangible reward for his services. Unable to deter him by any of her arguments and unable to deny her own desire for him for a moment longer, she resorts to the ultimate remedy of the chaste matron, at least from the time of Lucrece—suicide: “You've mov'd my heart, so much, I can deny / No more; but know, Almanzor, I can dye” (2.IV.iii.265-66). Immediately Almanzor aborts both her and his attempts, and her chastity is preserved alive. Ironically, however, this temptation of Almahide takes place in the context of her imminent rape by Zulema and Hamet—as if to underscore the nature of Almanzor's assault as a form of rape. After Almanzor leaves, the second rape is begun, and Almahide, who calls on “heav'n” for help (293), seems to be saved only by the providential appearance of Abdelmelech: “I thank thee, heav'n; some succour does appear” (296). But hers appears to be a hasty interpretation, for Lyndaraxa and her brothers perjure themselves and accuse Almahide and Abdelmelech of adultery. Despite all the signs of fidelity his wife has given, Boabdelin immediately concludes her—and all women—false: “O proud, ingrateful, faithless womankind!” (362). He condemns her to summary execution without trial. But what is much more surprising is that Almanzor, who has just had such indelible proof of her chastity, likewise misogynistically concludes her—and all women—“false” (369): “She was as faithless as her Sex could be: … She's faln! and now where shall we vertue find? / She was the last that stood of Woman-kind” (2.V.i.3-6).

Thus, Hobbist philosophy seems momentarily to have triumphed: the faithful appear to be the fools, their code inefficacious, with no supernatural validation. It is as if the old gods have been overthrown, as Abdelmelech complains (2.V.i.15-18). Without such validation, to be virtuous is a joke on oneself, as Almahide complains nominalistically:

Let never woman trust in Innocence;
Or think her Chastity its own defence;
Mine has betray'd me to this publick shame:
And vertue, which I serv'd, is but a name.


In other words, the play has brought us to the point of asking crucial questions about the chivalric code: What protection is there against perjury and hypocrisy? Why be virtuous if the innocent suffer? Are oaths and vows mere breaths of air? Either the rebels are right or some sign of divine protection must appear. That is why Dryden has Ozmyn demand a Trial by Combat, a jugement de Dieu as the French call it. Boabdelin begins by proclaiming, “And may just Heav'n assist the juster side” (2.V.ii.24). All the combatants swear the justice of their cause and kiss the Koran. The implication of the contest is clear: even if Almanzor is fighting only for reputation's sake, the audience knows Almahide is chaste and expects that Heaven will indeed assist the juster side. Almahide's Christian lady-in-waiting, Esperanza, urges her to “Trust” in a higher power than mere stoic virtue, “the Christians Deity” (2.V.ii.9-14), and Almahide asks that god for a sign of his “succour” (18).

Despite Lyndaraxa's dirty tricks, Almanzor and Ozmyn win. The truth emerges as Zulema confesses his party's treachery and perjury. Appropriately, Abdelmelech, who before had doubted the gods, concludes, “Heav'n thou art just” (2.V.ii.88), and Almahide thanks her new god, upbraids her husband for his distrust, and plans never to see him or Almanzor again, but to sublate her love upward “to Heav'n,” to a new “plighted Lord” (2.V.iii.63-64). At the end of the play, Almahide's constancy is not just vindicated but rewarded. By Boabdelin's death she is free from her former vow, and her new “Parent,” her godmother Queen Isabella, dispenses with her constancy to his ghost and gives her hand to Almanzor, whom she will marry after her “year of Widow hood expires” (331-37). Then she—and not her antithesis, Lyndaraxa—will receive a “Coronet of Spain” from Almanzor's family and will reign as princess (307), but one properly subordinated to her new husband, her new king, and her new god.7

Meanwhile, the young and heroic Almanzor is only potentially a culture hero. He is one of those diamonds in the rough who must be polished; he is a great source of martial and sexual energy that must either be socialized or remain anarchic and destructive. He must learn to control the raging bull of his own passion and to respect the code of the word, the bonds of society—ethical, political, metaphysical. Though he takes the side of the oppressed Abencerrages when he first arrives, he owes allegiance not only to no king but to the wrong god and to virtually no code of ethics. When Abdalla seeks his help rebelling against Boabdelin, Almanzor eschews talk of what's “right” or of the bonds of nature and society Abdalla is violating and bases his response on his “friendship” with Abdalla and on his desire for revenge against Boabdelin (1.III.i.22): “True, I would wish my friend the juster side: / But in th' unjust my kindness more is try'd” (27-28). In an important sense, within a culture with no clear principle of legitimation and where brother often fights with brother, there is no “juster” side; there is always the threat of Girardian anarchy. When Almanzor helps Boabdelin regain the throne, again he does so out of revenge against Abdalla for breaking his word—and also to have his will in setting Almahide free. What in this world exists to control his Will to Power?

But it is Almahide who tames him, and she does so especially by teaching him the value of constancy. She refuses to yield herself as a spoil of the war not only because brute force is wrong but also because she has plighted troth to Boabdelin. Thus she ennobles the savage. At one point Almanzor exclaims: “There's something noble, lab'ring in my brest: / This raging fire which through the Mass does move, / Shall purge my dross, and shall refine my Love” (1.III.i.422-24). Nevertheless, considering Almahide his “Right” by war (1.IV.ii.423), he still has no respect for the king's right to her (442) and little more for her father, who has given her to Boabdelin. He is justified in being angry with Boabdelin for breaking his word to grant his request, but he is not justified in demanding Almahide with no respect for her vows, and she upbraids him for it. Only her honoring her word saves him from death, as he is sent into exile. Upon his departure, she tries to teach him to have faith that “Heav'n will reward your worth some better way” than by having her (1.V.i.422). Finally, he stubbornly decides to live and “not be out-done in Constancy” (482), but his understanding of the term includes more obduracy than fidelity.

When Almahide calls him back from exile, she demands an even higher form of service: “Unbrib'd, preserve a Mistress and a King,” and he pledges, “I'le stop at nothing that appears so brave” (2.II.iii.100-101). She has apparently raised his love from the self-interest of a Lyndaraxa to the selflessness and even self-sacrifice of herself and the other models of such a love, such a constancy, Ozmyn and Benzayda. But he backslides, stubbornly contending with Boabdelin over the scarf, stubbornly refusing to fight after Almahide makes him give it back. Then when Boabdelin is captured, Almahide berates Almanzor for breaking his word (2.III.i.174-80). Stung by her rebuke, he honors his promise and fights again.

Against Lyndaraxa's temptation to inconstancy, Almanzor maintains his own constancy to his pledge, despite the lack of reward, though he still is too sullen:

Though Almahide, with scorn rewards my care;
Yet; than to change, 'tis nobler to despair.
My Love's my Soul; and that from Fate is free:
'Tis that unchang'd; and deathless part of me.


But from this joyless resolution Almanzor proceeds once more after victory to press his suit to Almahide. In the name of the needs of “flesh and blood” (2.IV.iii.264), he demands payment for his services. As the ghost of his mother warns him, he pursues “lawless Love”—adultery, that is, the adulteration of aristocratic patrilinearity (132). Almanzor rejects the ghost's warning, however, and takes refuge in his theory of predestination. Though she has just informed him he is a Christian, he has not learned to trust in their god.

Almanzor now resembles his libertine counterpart in Restoration comedy. He excuses himself from his “bond” with the specious argument that it was compelled by “force” (2.IV.iii.164). He rejects as idealistic nonsense the notion that “purest love can live without reward” (166). When Almahide appeals to “honour” as “the Conscience of an Act well done,” “[t]he strong, and secret curb of headlong Will; / The self reward of good; and shame of ill” (190-95), he nominalistically responds that honor is “but a Love well hid” (191) and that her words are but “the Maximes of the day” (196) to be discarded at night, the time for “warm desire” (201). “Enrag'd” with such desire, he paints a vivid, lurid picture of the sexual “Extasie” they will have if she but yield (210-34). In vain are her appeals to his previous “Myracle of Vertue” (258) in serving her “unbrib'd,” her attack on his request as “mercenary” (244-46). Only her attempted suicide enables him to defeat that raging bull of his “desire” (274).

Having overcome his passion thus, Almanzor appears to have earned what his mother's ghost has promised: the secret of his birth. In the ensuing battle, as the duke of Arcos relates, “Heav'n (it must be Heav'n)” intervenes and reveals to him his son through unmistakable signs (2.V.iii.187), and Almanzor's mother, expressly sent from Heaven (2.IV.iii.106), restrains him by crying twice, “Strike not thy father” (2.V.iii.196). Himself a child of passion, born in exile, raised in captivity, Almanzor is an embodiment of his father, who rebelliously married the king's sister without permission. Therefore, he is a perfect double of the monstrous bull, an energy that must be contained and socialized or it will wreak havoc. And the restraining order is the patriarchal monarchial code: he is brought to know and kneel at the feet of his father (205), to acknowledge and pay allegiance to his kinsman as king—his cousin Ferdinand (278-85)—and to respect the laws of sexual constancy, which protect the patrilineal genealogy, and legitimate succession. Finally, he is brought to serve the ultimate validating ideological patriarch, the Christian god, to spread his “Conqu'ring Crosses” to the rest of Spain (346). It is that god who has ratified the code of the word by his repeated providential interposition.

Hence, rivalry and revenge have finally been conquered in this Christian conquest of Granada, and they have been overcome by a countervailing set of values, best epitomized in the Ozmyn and Benzayda subplot. In the face of their fathers' inveterate hatred, they refuse to accept the code of revenge. Despite her father's commands, Benzayda refuses to kill Ozmyn as payment for her brother Tarifa's death. Out of her “pity” grows love between them (1.IV.ii.240). They are rescued by his father, Abenamar, only to have to flee his hatred, as Ozmyn refuses to renege his “vows and faith” to Benzayda (1.V.i.141). Succored by the Christians, who respect such noble pity and love, they yet refuse to turn against their own country. Then, Ozmyn rescues Selin from his own father, being careful to preserve both elders. Selin is vanquished by his generosity and embraces both youngsters, surrendering his revenge. When Selin is later captured by Abenamar, Ozmyn and Benzayda go separately to offer themselves as sacrifices in his stead: as Selin says of his daughter, she “comes to suffer for anothers fau't” (2.IV.i.49). Finally, this spirit of sacrifice, of selfless love, vanquishes even Abenamar.

Self-sacrifice rescues civilization from endless rivalry. Ozmyn and Benzayda do not actually die. But their actions recall the significance of the Cross in which sign the Christians conquer. It is as if their faith—as well as that of Almahide—is sublated upwards, converted into the Faith. What Abdalla has said to Lyndaraxa in scorn is, of course, true in the world of the play: “There is more faith in Christian Dogs, than thee” (1.V.i.71). The Zegrys scorn the Abencerrages for possessing not only some Christian blood but even the Christian value of charity to prisoners. The real conquest of Granada is the triumph of Christian values. As Isabella expresses it, Granada is finally “At once to freedom and true faith restor'd: / Its old Religion, and its antient Lord” (2.I.i.26-27). That “Lord” is at once its rightful king and its god, a god that the Spaniards—and all peoples, Dryden seems to imply by those “Conqu'ring Crosses” that spread out over not only Spain but the New World—should serve by keeping faith: to lovers, fathers, kings, and the Christian father-king-god.8

Richard Braverman has provocatively argued that this play does not follow the typical pattern of the aristocratic family romance—and a pattern with particular appeal during the Restoration—where the perdu, the lost son, is restored in the end to his legitimate throne (Plots and Counterplots 118-25). Indeed, like Corneille's Cid, Almanzor will earn Almahide by his service to a legitimate monarch, and he will be rewarded by sharing the throne of Granada—but not that of Spain itself. Thus the aristocratic ethic of trust is underwritten, but perhaps a subtle message is sent not only to potential rebels in England but even presciently to the king's illegitimate son, the duke of Monmouth: that the throne of the realm is not open to him, despite his heroic energy.

Oedipal rebellion lurks at the heart of feudal patrilineal monarchy.9 As the emperor in Dryden's Aureng-Zebe (1675) puts it, “What love soever by an Heir is shown, / He waits but time to step into the Throne” (II.i.426-27). Other heroic romances have tended to displace rebellion onto others, particularly Machiavels, and from the beginning in Orrery's Generall they have developed a figure for loyalty—he who does not himself merit the throne but who, sometimes late, like Almanzor, comes to support it. But in his last rhymed heroic romance Dryden confronts the problem head on. Morat, the emperor's youngest son, is an Oedipal rebel whose “Will” to “Pow'r” (IV.i.322, 376) drives him to fully supplant the father who invited him to the throne by laying claim to his father's intended paramour, the beautiful queen of Kashimir, Indamora: “I've now resolv'd to fill your useless place; / I'll take that Post to cover your disgrace, / And love her, for the honour of my Race” (350-52). Girard's reinterpretation of the Oedipus complex in Violence and the Sacred enables us to interpret the son's desire as not for his mother as object libido but for the sign of his father's power, potency. Morat is the Oedipal “Monster” his father fears (354). He defies Father as Superego:

Could you shed venom from your reverend shade,
Like Trees, beneath whose arms 'tis death to sleep;
Did rouling Thunder your fenc'd Fortress keep,
Thence would I snatch my Semele, like Jove,
And midst the dreadful Rack enjoy my Love.


A new Jove defies the thunder of the old, even as he assumes Jove's divine potency. Morat will “secure the Throne” by “Paricide” (IV.ii.170).10

The Oedipal triangle is tripled in the play. Aureng-Zebe too desires Indamora, who has been granted to him by his father—a grant on which the emperor would now renege because his own desire for her has been aroused. And his right to her is the one right that Aureng-Zebe refuses to relinquish to his father. Meanwhile, the emperor's current queen, Nourmahal, like Phaedra, falls in love with her stepson but, unlike Phaedra, nominalistically defies traditional morality:11

I stand with guilt confounded, lost with shame,
And yet made wretched onely by a name.
If names have such command on humane Life,
Love sure's a name that's more Divine than Wife.
That Sovereign power all guilt from action takes,
At least the stains are beautiful it makes. …
Custom our Native Royalty does awe;
Promiscuous Love is Nature's general Law.

[III.i.364-69; IV.i.131-32]

She herself leads a rebellion that ironically costs her own son, Morat, his life, and she dies in classical fashion, poisoned with her own monstrosity. Morat, too, receives a condign punishment, dying at the hands of other rebels against his father's throne.

Juxtaposed to these figures of inconstancy, disloyalty, radical rebellion are Morat's wife, Melesinda, Indamora, and Aureng-Zebe. Despite Morat's unfaithfulness to her, Melesinda remains absolutely faithful to him—to the point of committing suttee. Dryden's editors fall over backwards trying to make sense of this Hindu action by a Moslem. Dryden seeks not cultural geographical but ideological consistency, however. Melesinda is a Penelope figure of absolute constancy. The “better Nuptials” she goes to knit anticipate those of Dryden's Cleopatra (V.i.620). As opposed to those dominated by “Int'rest,” her “love was such, it needed no return” (628). The piety of her constancy is contrasted with the impiety, the impiousness, the impudence of Nourmahal's promiscuity. She figures forth the pure, unadulterated vessel of patrilineal seed absolutely necessary to (the ideology of) late feudal aristocracy.12

Aureng-Zebe is a figure of filial piety. Dryden attempts to negotiate the Oedipal crisis by having Aureng-Zebe not rebel against his father. He fights for his father throughout and actually at the end restores the emperor to the throne Morat has briefly usurped: “[A]ll the rightful Monarch own” (V.i.504). In direct contrast to the emperor's statement that every heir waits impatiently for the death of his father, Aureng-Zebe proclaims, “Long may you live! while you the Sceptre sway / I shall be still most happy to obey” (I.i.320-21). Critics who find Aureng-Zebe unbelievable do not understand the genre; they are like his follower, Dianet:

The points of Honour Poets may produce;
Trappings of life, for Ornament, not Use:
Honour, which onely does the name advance,
Is the meer raving madness of Romance.


Aureng-Zebe is indeed a figure out of romance whose piety is not supposed to be psychologically but ideologically believable.

Not that he is perfect. Like pious Aeneas, he has an Achilles heel: “by no strong passion sway'd / Except his Love” (I.i.102-3). That passion causes him momentarily to draw his sword against his father, a “Crime” his “Virtue … Exerts it self” to rectify immediately, thanks to Indamora (462-64). And that passion causes him to distrust her through jealousy twice, almost at the price of losing her. But Aureng-Zebe's distrust is not just some domestic concern. It is related to the mega-theme of trust in the play. All trusts are interrelated, the domestic and the political, for the world of aristocratic ideology is built on trust.

Indamora, like a Spenserian heroine, teaches Aureng-Zebe and even Morat the value of aristocratic virtue. When Aureng-Zebe draws his sword against his father to assert his right to her, she speaks in the imperative:

Lose not the Honour you have early wonn;
But stand the blameless pattern of a Son.
My love your claim inviolate secures:
'Tis writ in Fate, I can be onely yours.
My suff'rings for you make your heart my due:
Be worthy me, as I am worthy you.


This is Cornelian worth, related to the gloire that Indamora's superannuated admirer seeks in his self-sacrifice to save Aureng-Zebe, to the gloire that Melesinda seeks as “a glorious Bride” in self-immolation (V.i.635). It is the gloire to which Indamora summons Morat, experienced “when to wild Will you Laws prescribe” (V.i.108). Morat becomes her “Convert” (511), and finally turns to his wife to ask her forgiveness before he dies.

As emperor at the end of the play, Aureng-Zebe would seem to have merited succession to the throne by worth instead of birth, for he is not the eldest of the four sons of the emperor. Is Dryden suggesting a counterplot to the normal aristocratic plot, as Braverman would have it (125-34)? I think not. First, the play is not proposing a bourgeois theory of political succession. Despite the fact that early in the play we are apprised that Aureng-Zebe's “elder Brothers, though o'rcome [by war], have right” (II.i.466), Dryden submerges them (and history: see Works 12:385-86) into forgetfulness and makes the conflict between Aureng-Zebe as elder and Morat as younger brother. Aureng-Zebe insists on no “right” to the throne (476). When his father willfully misunderstands his claim to “the birth-right of my mind” (that is, his self-possession) as a claim to succession (III.i.208), Aureng-Zebe insists again, “I, from my years, no merit plead” (217). Yet later the emperor will berate himself for ignoring both “Right” and “Nature” in his surrendering Aureng-Zebe's succession to his younger brother (IV.i.366). Moreover, Morat sees the contest in classical primogenitive terms:

Birthright's a vulgar road to Kingly sway;
'Tis ev'ry dull-got Elder Brother's way.
Dropt from above, he lights into a Throne;
Grows of a piece with that he sits upon,
Heav'ns choice, a low, inglorious, rightful Drone.
But who by force a Scepter does obtain,
Shows he can govern that which he could gain.
Right comes of course, what e'r he was before;
Murder and Usurpation are no more.


The play certainly does not support this de facto position. Implicitly, “Heav'ns choice” appears no “inglorious rightful Drone” but the glorious, rightful, active Aureng-Zebe. There also seems to be an implicit form of criticism of the Muslim model, where the father's choice may be arbitrary and where his son's path to the throne is a different form of parricide (literally, killing one's relatives): fratricide. Victor in his father's name, Aureng-Zebe extends his virtue of piety by decree: “Our impious use no longer shall obtain; / Brothers no more, by Brothers, shall be slain” (V.i.412-13). Finally, Aureng-Zebe finesses the Oedipal crisis by restoring his father to the throne—only to have the latter abdicate in his favor. So he accedes to the throne with no parricidal blood on his hands, not even over the emperor's dead body. And the emperor also withdraws from sexual rivalry with his son(s), regranting to Aureng-Zebe his beloved, constant Indamora:

The just rewards of Love and Honour wear.
Receive the Mistris you so long have serv'd;
Receive the Crown your Loialty preserv'd.
Take you the Reins, while I from cares remove,
And sleep within the Chariot which I drove.


No supplanting Jove, Aureng-Zebe passively succeeds, married to his non-passive, instructive royal consort, whose wit and wisdom may suggest a figure of Sophia.

Implicit in the endings of Dryden's two great exotic heroic romances, The Conquest of Granada and Aureng-Zebe, is that a country without a clear mechanism for succession, one preferably sanctified with religious rhetoric, is in danger of the endless reciprocal violence of feuding brothers, clans, factions. England could take comfort in having such a mechanism. But as all Englishmen knew, it was a mechanism damaged by regicide and only tenuously restored. The message of the plays would seem to be that patrilineal, primogenitive succession must be rigorously adhered to lest another civil war erupt.

As James Thompson has suggested, throughout The Conquest of Granada runs a subtext of imperialism, what Laura Brown has called “the romance of empire.”13 King Ferdinand's “Conqu'ring Crosses” represent not only La Reconquista of Spain from the Moors but also the conquest of the New World. They represent the rationale for the conquest and colonization of the entire world by Western Europe because its god is the One True God. The dramatic prologue to Dryden and Robert Howard's Indian Queen features an Indian boy and girl waking from an idyllic sleep at the invasion of the New World by the Old. They are mindful of prophecies that foretold this event, but the sight of the conquerors puts them at ease, for “Their Looks are such, that Mercy flows from thence. … By their protection let us beg to live; / They came not here to Conquer, but Forgive.” Forgive for what? Obviously, for being pagans.

Thus, even as Restoration heroic romance represents a late feudal swan song for aristocratic ideology, in its ubiquitous exotic settings it reveals a subtext of Western Europe's struggle for cultural and economic hegemony—over the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Indian oceans. In a couple of remarkable operatic tableaux, Sir William Davenant, manager of one of the two legitimate theaters in London after the Restoration, portrayed incipient English hegemony in particular: The History of Sir Francis Drake and The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru, both written and performed during the Interregnum but resurrected and cobbled together as part of a drollery to pass the summer doldrums in 1663, The Play-house to Be Let. Drake's English sailors sing,

Then Cry One and all!
Amain, for Whitehall!
The Diegos we'll board to rummidge their Hold;
And drawing our Steel, they must draw out their Gold.

[Works 90]

A chorus sings of granting “clemency” to those Indians who submit to England, who shall then “seem as free as those whom they shall serve” (93). Thus England portrays itself as Liberator. And her destiny reaches beyond America. A maroon takes Drake to a famous tree in Panama whence he can see the two Atlantics, north and south. Drake cannot wait first to see, then to sail, the south Atlantic, which yet no English ship has sailed. The maroon, a former Spanish slave now liberated by Drake, prophesies that Drake will appropriate that ocean for his isle as well. The chorus sings

                              This Prophesie will rise
                              To higher Enterprise.
The English Lion's walk shall reach as far
As prosp'rous valour dares adventure War.
As Winds can drive, or Waves can bear
Those Ships which boldest Pilots stear.


Of course, the lament of the Peruvians anent their colonization by the Spanish subverts for the wise the jingoism of the English liberators, who will treat their West Indian servants, whom they benignly forgive and protect, no differently:

Whilst yet our world was new,
                              When not discover'd by the old;
                              E're begger'd slaves we grew,
For having silver Hills, and strands of Gold.
                    Chorus. We danc'd and we sung
                              And lookt ever young,
And from restraints were free,
As waves and winds at sea.


Dryden and his colleagues can appropriate and romanticize American and Asian Indians, but it is an act of cultural imperialism that is part and parcel of incipient British imperialism.14


  1. Dates are of first performances insofar as we know them (as in The London Stage, corrected by the scholarship of Hume and Milhous over the years). References to plays are by act.scene.line or by act.scene, page. Sometimes scene numbering is absent or superfluous, as in Clark's edition of Orrery and Todd's edition of Behn, where they have numbered lines continuously throughout acts without clear scene divisions.

  2. For a provocative and persuasive reading of these two plays by Orrery as reaffirming Stuart ideology even as they negotiate class heterogeneity, see Flores, “Orrery's The Generall and Henry the Fifth.

  3. There are rhymed heroic romances I have not mentioned: Sir Robert Howard, The Vestal Virgin (1665); Orrery, The Black Prince (1667); John Crowne, The History of Charles the Eighth of France (1671); Settle, Ibrahim the Illustrious Bassa (1676); Banks, The Rival Kings (1677). Note their dates as well.

  4. Works 11:23 (part 1, act I, scene i, line 10, hereafter abbreviated as 1.I.i.10).

  5. For the concept of the unheimlich, see Freud's classic essay, translated as “The Uncanny.”

  6. John Wallace brilliantly analyzed the theme of ingratitude in “John Dryden's Plays and the Conception of an Heroic Society.”

  7. Quinsey argues that Almahide's subjectivity is thus suppressed. It is important to remember that she is merely a trope in a patriarchal paradigm, the trope of the faithful Penelope, guardian of her chastity. True, she wishes to be free of both Boabdelin and Almanzor after they doubt her faith. But like Isabella in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, her function is not to sequester her reproductive role but to play it out.

  8. For a complementary interpretation, see Barbeau, The Intellectual Design of John Dryden's Heroic Plays 105-26.

  9. See my Word as Bond, esp. chap. 6; see also Boehrer, esp. 5-11, and Tumir, 415.

  10. The California editors in their notes to this word when it occurs in the play fail to see that it has the specific meaning of seizing a throne by both regicide and patricide.

  11. For a good contrast between Nourmahal and Racine's Phèdre, see McCabe 264-72, although he seriously misreads Aureng-Zebe's metaphor of virtue centering on itself; moreover, to quote with approval his father's sarcastic misrepresentation of Aureng-Zebe's piety as “‘self-denying cant’” is disingenuous. For the philosophical implications of the metaphor of circle and center, especially as used by Dryden, see my “Image of the Circle in Dryden's ‘To My Honour'd Kinsman.’”

  12. She may also, as Bhattacharya suggests, be a figure for the feminized exotic, needing the conquest of dominant British masculinity. The “emasculated” Aureng-Zebe that Bhattacharya sees may, on the other hand, be not so much a feminized exotic other ripe for dominance as a potential Oedipal rebel weak from the return of the repressed. For Dryden's appropriation of the Indian other into Britain's own self-image with incipient imperial consequences, see Choudhury, chap. 5.

  13. Thompson, “Dryden's Conquest of Granada and the Dutch Wars”: “The religious victory of the distant empire in historical Granada promotes the immediate, commercial ends of the immediate empire, as Dryden's play celebrates both the origin and the extension of European hegemony over the third world. … The aged Empire [of Ferdinand's remarks at the opening of the play] is not Moorish, but the Moorish conquerors, Portugal, Spain, and by extension, France, whose hegemony will shortly be overrun by ‘some petty State,’ the maritime nation and future commercial giant, England” (219). Brown's title of her watershed article on Behn's Oroonoko, first published in 1987, was “The Romance of Empire: Oroonoko and the Trade in Slaves,” which now, in an expanded, further theorized version, constitutes chap. 2 of Ends of Empire.

    See also Barthelemy, Black Face Maligned Race 186-97, for a reading of the distortion of Moorish culture in both The Conquest of Granada and Don Sebastian for purposes of cultural imperialism. Seeing the connection between the political and the sexual in these plays, Barthelemy notes quite rightly, “Fathering children through the women of the enemy represents the ultimate symbol of political and cultural conquest” (197).

  14. Another prediction of Rule, Britannia, amazing in its anachronicity, occurs in Orrery's History of Henry the Fifth. The war with France is won as much at sea as at land! Henry, whose brother, of course, commanded the fleet, predicts English imperial hegemony:

    That Prince, whose Flags are bow'd to on the Seas,
    Of all Kings shores keeps in his hand the Keys:
    No King can him, he may all Kings invade;
    And on his Will depends their Peace and Trade.
    Trade, which does Kings and Subjects wealth increase;
    Trade, which more necessary is than Peace.



Barbeau, Anne T. The Intellectual Design of John Dryden's Heroic Plays. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1970.

Barthelemy, Anthony Gerard. Black Face Maligned Race: The Representation of Blacks in English Drama from Shakespeare to Southerne. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1987.

Bhattacharya, Nandini. “Ethnopolitical Dynamics and the Language of Gendering in Dryden's Aureng-Zebe.Cultural Critique 25 (1993): 153-76.

Boehrer, Bruce Thomas. Monarchy and Incest in Renaissance England: Literature, Culture, Kinship, and Kingship. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1992.

Brown, Laura S. “The Divided Plot: Tragicomic Form in the Restoration.” ELH: A Journal of English Literary History 47 (1980): 67-79.

———. Ends of Empire: Women and Ideology in Early Eighteenth-Century English Literature. Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1993.

Canfield, J. Douglas. “The Image of the Circle in Dryden's ‘To My Honour'd Kinsman.’” Papers on Language and Literature 11 (1975): 168-76.

———. Word as Bond in English Literature from the Middle Ages to the Restoration. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1989.

Flores, Stephan P. “Orrery's The Generall and Henry the Fifth.Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation 37 (1996): 56-74.

Freud, Sigmund. “The Uncanny.” In On Creativity and the Unconscious: Papers on the Psychology of Art, Literature, Love, Religion, 122-61. Ed. Benjamin Nelson. New York: Harper and Row, 1958.

McCabe, Richard A. Incest, Drama, and Nature's Law, 1550-1700. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993.

Quinsey, Katherine M. “Almahide Still Lives: Feminine Will and Identity in Dryden's Conquest of Granada.” In Broken Boundaries: Women and Feminism in Restoration Drama, 129-49. Ed. Katherine M. Quinsey. Lexington: Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1996.

Thompson, James. “Dryden's Conquest of Granada and the Dutch Wars.” Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation 31 (1990): 211-26.

Wallace, John M. “John Dryden's Plays and the Conception of an Heroic Society.” In Culture and Politics from Puritanism to the Enlightenment, 113-34. Ed. Perez Zagorin. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1980.


Criticism: Definitions And Overviews


Criticism: Early Plays: Dryden And Orrery