Dryden is one of the important literary critics in English. He has been aptly called as the ‘Father of English Criticism’.
‘An Essay of Dramatic Poesy’ is the only formal criticism written by Dryden. Other than this, his critical views are found in the various prefaces he has written. This manner of critical writing, he learnt from French- notably Montaigne and Corneille. It gave him liberty to discuss more than one subject at a time.
Of his more important prefaces, two were written before the ‘Essay of Dramatic Poesy’: the ‘Epistle Dedicatory of the Rival Ladies’ and ‘Dedication to Annus Mirabilis’. After‘An Essay of Dramatic Poesy’, he wrote ‘ A Defence of an Essay of Dramatic Poesy’, ‘Of Heroic Plays’, ‘The Apology for Heroic poetry’, ‘The Grounds of Criticism in Tragedy’, ‘A Parallel of Poetry and Painting’ and ‘The Preface to the Fables’. In this way, he gives a new turn altogether to English Criticism which combines the merits of both the native tradition and the classical. According to him, the work comes first and the preface comes afterwards to justify it.
The Nature of Poetry: Dryden defines poetry as a process of imitation. It imitates the facts past or present, popular beliefs and superstitions. In the Grounds of Criticism in tragedy, he defends Shakespeare’s use of the supernatural. The generally accepted view of poetry is that it kept to facts past or present.
The Function of Poetry: The poet in his day did not unburden his soul only to himself. Whatever was written was intended for the reader or the audience. According to Dryden, poetry was to delight and transport rather than instruction. A poet is neither a teacher nor a bare imitator-a photographer, but a creator who with life of nature as his raw material produces a new thing altogether, resembling the original in its basis but different from it in the superstructure, a work of art rather than a copy.
Dramatic Poetry: Dryden gave much importance to drama. The French...