The Spanish Friar is a modified form of John Dryden’s earlier heroic drama. Features in this play common to the mode are a noble hero of great ability and renown, violently torn between his love for a lady and his honor, which impels him to give her up; an exaggerated, often bombastic style of language; an intricate (and often barely credible) plot, sometimes with a comic, dramatically parallel subplot; and a dramatic movement that threatens to, even if it does not actually, end in tragedy. The Spanish Friar is a considerably more controlled example of the genre than Dryden’s The Conquest of Granada by the Spaniards (1670-1671), but the resemblance is clear.
It is easy enough to ridicule the fantastic plot complications of heroic drama, and the often extravagant language in which the heroes and heroines express themselves—as in the line “Despair, Death, Hell, have seized my tortured soul . . .”—but it must be remembered that these plays were designed primarily as entertainment, not as historical dramas or as studies of character. “’Tis my interest to please my audience,” Dryden noted in his preface. The final revelation that old King Sancho is really alive, saved by Bertran’s better nature, tends to render nonsensical Torrismond’s earlier anguish over whether or not he must turn against Leonora, and the queen’s own painful resolve to renounce her husband and retire to a convent. Nevertheless, the earlier dramatic action that leads to this crisis is no less fanciful than the conclusion.
Apart from the unlikely plot twists and the larger-than-life...
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