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Quarrel of the Moderns and the Ancients

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Quarrel of the Moderns and the Ancients

"Those beauties of the French poesy are such as will raise perfection higher where it is, but are not sufficient to give it where it is not: they are indeed the beauties of a statue but not of a man" (Poesy Abridged). Dryden wrote this essay as a dramatic dialogue with four characters representing four critical positions. The four critical positions are ancients verses moderns, unities, French verses English drama, separation of tragedy and comedy verses tragicomedy and appropriateness of rhyme in drama (Brysons). Neander is in favor of the moderns but he respects the ancients, he also favors English drama while having critical views towards French drama. In "An Essay of Dramatic Poesy" Dryden used character to represent four critical positions, but he cleverly disguised himself as one of them Throughout Dryden's "An Essay of Dramatic Poesy" Neander is believed to represent Dryden's point of view on the different critical issues discussed.

Living from 1631 to 1700 John Dryden was the leading literary figure of the Restoration ("John Dryden" Encarta). Dryden was an accomplished poet, playwright and critic. Speaking English, Latin and Greek Dryden was also a successful translator. Writing "Heroic Stanzas," a poem commemorating the death of Cromwell, Dryden secured a place in London's literary circles. After converting to Christianity under the Christian rule of James II, Dryden was appointed poet laureate where he later lost the title under the Protestant rule of William and

Mary (Selected Poetry). John Dryden was a neoclassic critic who's criticisms deal with issues of form and morality in drama (Brysons).

Discussing four critical positions in his essay "An Essay of Dramatic Poesy" Dryden uses four characters: Eugenius, Crites, Lisideius, and Neander. Neander is believed to portray the beliefs of Dryden while Lisideius and Crites are believed to have the reciprocal beliefs. Eugenius shares the view of favoring the moderns over the ancients, but the essay does not discuss whether Eugenius also shares Neander's views on French and English drama (Brysons). In his essay, Dryden writes very positively of Shakespeare who was a modern English dramatist:


He was the man who, of all the modern and per-

haps ancient poets, had the largest and most

comprehensive soul. All the images of nature

were still present to him, and he drew them,

not laboriously, but luckily; when he

describes anything, you more than see it, you

feel it, too. (Literature- The Reader's Choice 507)

Dryden then goes on to talk about the superiority of the English language used in their plays:

I am apt

to believe the English language in them

arrived to its highest perfection; what

words have since been taken in are rather

superfluous than ornamental. Their plays are

now the most pleasant and frequent enter-

tainments of the stage, two of theirs being

acted through the year for one of

Shakespeare's or Jonson's. (Literature- The Reader's Choice 508-509)

Eugenius shares one critical position with Neander, Eugenius favors the moderns over the ancients. Eugenius believes that the moderns are better than the



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