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The first of these debates is that between ancients and moderns, a debate that had intermittently surfaced for centuries in literature and criticism, and which acquired a new and topical intensity in European letters after the Renaissance, in the late seventeenth century.
Lisideius refers to Sir Charles Sedley, and Neander (“new man”) is Dryden himself.
The extends far beyond these two topics, effectively ranging over a number of crucial debates concerning the nature and composition of drama.
Not only do we have the collective experience and wisdom of the ancients to draw upon, but also we have our own experience of the world, a world understood far better in scientific terms than in ages past: “if natural causes be more known now than in the time of Aristotle . Turning to the unities, Eugenius points out (after Corneille) that by the time of Horace, the division of a play into five acts was firmly established, but this distinction was unknown to the Greeks.
Indeed, the Greeks did not even confine themselves to a regular number of acts (44–46). that before it came upon the stage, it was already known to all the audience.” Since the pleasure in novelty was thereby dissolved, asserts Eugenius, “one main end of Dramatic Poesy in its definition, which was to cause delight, was of consequence destroyed” (47).
As for us modern writers, he remarks, “we have added nothing of our own, except we have the confidence to say our wit is better” (38).
The most fundamental of these classical rules are the three unities, of time, place, and action.All of these elements underlie the nature of drama.In addition, Dryden undertakes an influential assessment of the English dramatic tradition, comparing writers within this tradition itself as well as with their counterparts in French drama.Crites notes that poetry is now held in lower esteem, in an atmosphere of “few good poets, and so many severe judges” (37–38).His essential argument is that the ancients were “faithful imitators and wise observers of that Nature which is so torn and ill represented in our plays; they have handed down to us a perfect resemblance of her; which we, like ill copiers, neglecting to look on, have rendered monstrous, and disfigured.” He reminds his companions that all the rules for drama – concerning the plot, the ornaments, descriptions, and narrations – were formulated by Aristotle, Horace, or their predecessors.Lisideius offers the following definition of a play: “” (36).Even a casual glance at the definition shows it to be very different from Aristotle’s: the latter had defined tragedy not as the representation of “human nature” but as the imitation of a serious and complete action; moreover, while Aristotle had indeed cited a reversal in fortune as a component of tragedy, he had said nothing about “passions and humours”; and, while he accorded to literature in general a moral and intellectual function, he had said nothing about “delighting” the audience.Kneller, Godfrey; John Dryden (1631-1700), Playwright, Poet Laureate and Critic; Trinity College, University of Cambridge; is skillfully wrought in terms of its own dramatic structure, its setting up of certain expectations (the authority of classical precepts), its climaxing in the reversal of these, and its denouement in the comparative assessment of French and English drama.What starts out, through the voice of Crites, as promising to lull the reader into complacent subordination to classical values ends up by deploying those very values against the ancients themselves and by undermining or redefining those values.Born into a middle-class family just prior to the outbreak of the English Civil War between King Charles I and Parliament, he initially supported the latter, whose leaders, headed by Oliver Cromwell, were Puritans.Indeed, his poem (1659) celebrated the achievements of Cromwell who, after the execution of Charles I by the victorious parliamentarians, ruled England as Lord Protector (1653–1658).