Synopses & Reviews
In this revisionary study of Dryden's thought, David Haley argues that Dryden was the first English poet after Shakespeare to engage in historical reflection upon his own culture. Addressing an audience for whom literature was bound up with religion and politics, Dryden exercised the moral integrity of a public poet and brought home to them the meaning of their historical experience.
Haley has made an original synthesis of literary and cultural history, examining Dryden's works before Absalom and Achitophel and showing that throughout this period the Great Rebellion remained the matrix of Dryden's thought. Cromwell, who had inspired the regicides but then abolished the Commonwealth, was the one man able to control the army, and he became Dryden's model of authority. Cromwell's death, however, unleashed republican radicals who threatened to bring in tyranny by the people. At the Restoration, Dryden looked to Charles II and his brother to prove that their authority was no less providential and effective than Cromwell's had been.
Dryden's religious and literary opinions evolved likewise out of his tumultuous early career. Haley finds that as late as 1682, Dryden, a Puritan who had yet to convert to Catholicism, failed to see that the radical freedom of the republicans was cousin to the freedom of thought he always championed against spiritual tyranny. Dryden's belief in private judgment drove him finally to reject the most subtle tyrant of all, the Restoration Church of England. In similar fashion, Dryden wrestled with the problem of freedom in his heroic plays, whose subjectivity reflects the morally irresponsible imagination. By 1680, the poet had grown alarmed at a moral relativismthat promised, like republicanism, to lead to anarchy, and he took refuge in satire.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 245-275) and index.