ENL 6236:  Restoration Literature                                         Spring 2010


Feb. 22            Drama:  Introduction, Heroic Tragedy, Mock-Heroic

                        Dryden:  Aureng-Zebe; also recommended Conquest of Granada Part 1 (in Works on reserve); also read the prefatory epistle and essay “Of Heroique Playes.”

                        Buckingham: The Rehearsal (Harris 3-57)

                        Laura Rosenthal, “Restoration and Eighteenth-century Drama: New Directions in the Field,” Literature Compass 5/2 (2008): 174-194

                        (in course docs).


                        Presentation on Scholarship:  Jeffrey Spicer: Bhattacharya, Nandini"Ethnopolitical Dynamics and the Language of Gendering in Dryden's Aureng-Zebe."  Cultural Critique 25 (1993):  153-176.


                        Oroonoko presentation:  Haley Anderson

                        Post 6



Because this is the first class on Restoration drama, I have asked you to read Rosenthal’s state of the field essay on Restoration and Eighteenth-century drama.  This gives an overview of the major questions that have defined the field in the past thirty or so years, the major scholarly references, and the directions to which current scholars are turning.  It will greatly aid your understanding of the scholarship on this material and may inspire innovative research of your own.


When you have time, I highly encourage you to enrich your background reading on the theatre with the introduction from part one of the London Stage. This enormously useful historical reference will ground your understanding in the people, places, events and texts of Restoration drama.  The illustrations are particularly useful.  The London Stage Part I: 1660-1700, “Introduction,” by Avery and Scouten (see course bibliography).


As Rosenthal points out, questions of genre take on particular urgency in studies of Restoration theatre.  Our study of drama is divided primarily by genres, beginning with one of the historical oddities of theatre – the rhymed heroic drama.  For each of the genres, we should consider the following questions as the starting point of our discussion:


·         What background / context is relevant for this particular genre?

·         What is its relationship to earlier dramatic writing?

·         How did it develop in the Restoration?

·         In what ways does the genre particularly reflect the tastes of the times?

·         What are the general characteristics of the genre in form and content? 

·         What kind of ideological presuppositions does the genre embody?



Rosenthal points out the ways in which drama of this period takes on cultural conflicts more directly than other genres, such as the novel.  “The plays do not necessarily confront the period’s pressing social changes with a more progressive vision than other genres; nevertheless, they tend to address certain issues more openly and more confrontationally” (174).  What evidence do your find for this confrontation in the plays for today?


Regarding the issues that concern scholars of Restoration drama today, Rosenthal claims they “are more likely to consider whether libertinism means the same thing for women as it does for men; when, if, and why the stage reformed; and how seventeenth-century audiences understood English identity in the context of the French, Italian, Spanish, Turkish, Native American, and African figures on stage.”  The new directions for theatre research include the identification of plays as newly deemed of interest (by women, by Whigs, etc.), the performance and the culture of performance, and the sociology of the theatre.  How might these concerns open up the plays for today to new discussion?


Of the areas Rosenthal identifies for future research, she includes work on female playwrights other than Aphra Behn (who has benefited greatly from scholarly attention recently) and “a fuller appreciation of the uniqueness of theatre as a public space.”  Given how scholars recognize theatre as a social institution not defined by text, how might your readings of the plays for today benefit from recognition of theatrical space?


Please note that The Conquest of Granada actually consists of two parts, but I am only assigning the first part as a concession to your (presumed) taste.  If you want to know the conclusion, you must read part two as well.  I have assigned the prefatory materials because they reflect Dryden’s ideas on the genre, and they serve both as a commentary on the play and as an example of Dryden’s critical prose.


I.          History and Poetry


We have already discussed the role of history in Dryden’s panegyric and satire; now we must confront the issue in drama.  We might consider the treatment of history in poetry in light of well-known distinctions made between the two from Aristotle and Sydney.


“It is apparent from what we have said that it is not the function of the poet to narrate events that have actually happened, but rather, events such as might occur and have the capability of occurring in accordance with the laws of probability or necessity.  For the historian and the poet do not differ by their writing in prose or verse (the works of Herodotus might be put into verse but they would, nonetheless remain a form of history both in their metrical and prose versions).  The difference, rather lies in the fact that the historian narrates events that have actually happened, whereas the poet writes about things as they might possibly occur.  Poetry, therefore, is more philosophical and more significant than history, for poetry is more concerned with the universal, and history more with the individual.  By the universal I mean what sort of man turns out to say or do what sort of thing according to probability or necessity – this being the goal poetry aims at, although it gives individual names to the characters whose actions are imitated.  By the individual I mean a statement telling for example, ‘what Alcibiades did or experienced’”

Aristotle, Poetics.


“Thus far Aristotle:  which reason of his (as all his) is most full of reason.  For indeed, if the question were whether it were better to have a particular act truly or falsely set down, there is no doubt which is to be chosen, no more than whether you had rather have Vespasian’s picture right as he was, or at the painter’s pleasure nothing resembling.  But if the question be for your own use and learning, whether it be better set down as it should be, or as it was, then certainly is more doctrinable the feigned Cyris in Xenophon than the true Cyrus in Justin, and the feigned Aeneas in Virgil than the right Aeneas in Dares Phrygius.


   But the historian, being captivated to the truth of a foolish world, is many times a terror from well doing, and an encouragement to unbridled wickedness.


   I conclude, therefore, that [poetry] excelleth History, not only in furnishing the mind with knowledge, but in setting it forward to that which deserveth to be called and accounted good:  which setting forward, and moving to well doing, indeed setteth the laurel crown upon the poet as victorious….”

                                                                                    Sidney, An Apology for Poetry



How does Dryden’s concept of the heroic conform to these ideas?  How does his practice in heroic playwrighting conform to these ideas?  What role does parody – in the form of The Rehearsal – play in these categories?


If we consider imperialism and the quest for empire as issues with historical and current relevance, how do we understand these plays of empire?




2.         The Heroic Drama


In his essay “Of Heroic Plays,” Dryden claims “that an heroick play ought to be an imitation, in little of an Heroick Poem: and, consequently, that Love and Valour ought to be the Subject of both.”


What implications does this lineage have for Dryden’s heroic drama?  Why does he emphasize the epic?


John Wallace argues that Dryden’s heroic drama presented the picture of society united by natural bonds of obligation, an ideal which intended to counteract the myriad causes of intrigue and rebellion plaguing post-Restoration England. What evidence do we see of such a society in Aureng-Zebe or  Conquest of Granada?  How successful are they in achieving the goals Wallace describes?


The editors of the California edition argue that Dryden aims his Conquest of Granada at “those men, leaders or potential-leaders, who served as subjects for panegyric in heroic couplet or dedicatory prose and found themselves and their ancestors cast, as Sidney would have it, in golden images not brazen.  ‘For all men,’ Hobbes sourly observed, ‘love to behold, though not to practice, Vertue,’ and proceeded with grim gallantry to enlarge the audience with women: ‘the work of any Heroique Poem is to raise admiration, principally for three Vertues, Valour, Beauty, and Love:  to the reading whereof Women no less than Men have a just pretence though their skill in Language be not so universal’ (preface to Homer’s Odysses)” (p. 420).


How does the play achieve this gendered balance in morality?  Are the separate virtues for men and for women?


Earl Miner contends that Dryden’s heroic dramas differ from his tragedies and comedies because “they deal not with the reason of life but with the reasons and arguments.  Dryden seeks to delineate the boundaries of love and grandeur or la gloire by those un-English means, style and show.  Duets of debate, pirouettes on punctilios, and high-astounding assertions make up the text.  I can imagine kabuki actors bringing these plays to life by using the requisite art, but I doubt whether I shall ever see them performed adequately by American or even English actors.  The plumed helmet that designated the hero is not contemporary dress, and we can only take ourselves very much more or very much less seriously than do Almanzor or Aureng-Zebe.  The heroic plays have settings that provide chronological primitivism and cultural primitivism with energies of empire and struggles for power.  Irredeemably exotic, they are also the first clear words from an England learning to lisp her imperial slogans.”


To what extent is this genre – and its representative here – time-bound?  Can you think of modern day examples that might offer a parallel representation of heroic proportions?  How might you articulate a relationship between heroism and imperial impulse?


Keith Walker suggests that The Conquest of Granada “pushed heroic plays as far into heroic absurdity as it was capable of going” (xi).


To what extent are the foregoing assessments of Aureng-Zebe and The Conquest of Granada accurate?  In what ways might these plays be interesting to or applicable to contemporary audiences?  What characteristics contribute to its irredeemable exoticism?  Are they other ways to understand what is going on in these stage representations?


Dryden claimed that the moral of The Conquest of Granada derived from Homer: “Union preserves commonwealth, and discord destroys it.”  Mrs. Evelyn saw the play in 1671 and commented that in the play “love is made so pure, and valor so nice, that one would imagine it designed for a Utopia rather than our stage.”  Samuel Johnson in the next century alternately admires Almanzor’sromantick heat, whether amorous or warlike” and admonishes his “majestick madness” or “illustrious depravity”: his is “above all laws, … exempt from all restraints.”


What moral value does Dryden’s play embody?  How do the political and romantic plots reflect one another?  What does the play suggest about public and private behavior?  Note that James, Duke of York in 1671 was an avowed Catholic whose Protestant wife had recently died and who was in public negotiation for a Catholic bride.  What effect does Dryden’s dedication to him have on the moral and/or purpose of the play?


At the time of its debut, Dryden was involved in heated debates with other playwrights over the propriety of rhymed drama.  What effect do the rhymed couplets have in Conquest?  Aureng-Zebe was his last rhyming drama.  Was this a good or bad choice?


Consider what scenery Dryden might have employed.  Contemporary accounts suggest that the sets for Conquest were designed by Robert Streater to awe and engage the audience.




3.         The Rehearsal


This collaborative effort came to the stage in 1671 and continued to entertain audiences almost every season through 1778 (unlike The Conquest).  In this century it was performed in New York in 1952 and failed miserably.  What characteristics of the play contributed to its smashing success in the Restoration and eighteenth century?  Why might the play fail to reach audiences today?  Just what does it require today to appreciate critically a piece of literature like The Rehearsal? Does the case of The Rehearsal have implications for parodic genres in general?


Recall Dryden’s portrait of Zimri in Absalom and Achitophel.  Which of Buckingham’s personal traits does Dryden attack?  Based on this description, do you see The Rehearsal as an appropriate vehicle for Buckingham’s talents?


Robert Hume argues that The Rehearsal, staged by the same company for whom Dryden wrote, did not diminish the popularity of the heroic play, and that audiences delighted in both simultaneously.  What is the relationship between The Rehearsal and the heroic drama?  In what ways does The Rehearsal both epitomize and satirize the tastes of the Restoration?


The satire in The Rehearsal is aimed at political as well as literary targets.  In “Discourse Concerning the Original and Progress of Satire” Dryden explains why he did not respond in print to Buckingham’s portrayal of him as Bayes: “I knew that my betters were more concerned than I was.”  John O’Neill suggests that Bayes represents Arlington, who wore a black patch on his nose.  In 1671, Arlington was one of the most powerful members of Charles’ cabal and an inveterate enemy of Buckingham.  Margarita Stocker argues that the literary and political situations in the play parallel one another, reinforcing and shedding light on the absurdities of each.


To what extent is The Rehearsal a political satire?  What might be its “message” in Restoration England, and what does it share with the literary scene?


How does the character of Bayes reflect on Dryden’s criticism?  To what extent is the portrayal accurate?  What characteristics of Dryden’s criticism does it exaggerate?