Heroic Play of the Restoration Period in English Literature

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       Heroic play was a form mainly specific of the Restoration period, though instances continued to be written in the earlier eighteenth century. Dryden was particularly distinguished in the composition of heroic plays. Heroic plays were not the result of classical influence. They preserve in their composition the freedom of the national theatre. They took their rules from neither Latin nor Greek. They owed much to France, but more in content than in form. They reproduced the extraordinary adventures typical of the eleventh century French novels. Here are superhuman feats, sentiments refined to absurdity, magnificent and sometimes execrable passion. There are no characters, only extremely effective situations allowing of high sounding pompous speeches. The heroes are models. They are unequalled in valour and are incomparable lovers. The plays are generally full of magnificent speeches as they are found in the French novels.

Heroic plays of Restoration period
Heroic Drama

      The influence of the french heroic romances and tragedies explains why most of the themes turn on the conflict between love and honour. The conflict is found in Beaumont and Fletcher. But the Restoration rationalises it. Dryden says in one of his prefaces that love and honour- the mistaken topics of tragedy were quite worn out. Dryden in his essay. on heroic plays points out: "An heroic play ought to be an imitation of heroic poem and consequenty-love and valour ought to be the subject of it." By "heroic poem he meant epic and the plays attempted to emulate the epic by including a large Scale warrior as hero, an action involving the fate of an empire, and an elevated and elaborate style, usually cast in the epigrammatic form of the closed heroic couplet. A noble hero or heroine are typically represented in a situation in which their passionate love conflicts with the demands of honour and the hero's patriotic duty to his country; if the conflict ends in disaster, the play is called an heroic tragedy.

      Dryden popularised this type of drama, although he was anticipated by Orrery's The Black Prince and George Cartwright's The Heroic Lover (1661). Dryden gave at-least five of these dramas to the theatre between 1664 and 1677 - The Indian Emnperor, Tyrannic Love, The Couquest of Granada, Awreng zebe and Allfor Love. His highest achievement is his adaptation in All For Love of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra to the heroic formula, He wrote this play in blank verse, while other plays were written in rhyme. Antony is torn between love and duty and he is described in images that suggest his superhuman qualities.

      There were other heroic dramatists who are of little account Settle's Cambyses, Nathaniel Lee's The Rival Queens, Hannibal's Overthrow. Thomas Otway wrote Don Carlos which is one of the most perfect of these heroic dramas. Thomas Otway's Venice Preserved is a fine tragedy that transcends the limits of this form. We also owe indirectly to heroic tragedy two of the most divesting of dramatic parodies: The Duke of Buckingham's The Rehearsal and Henry Fielding's The Tragedy of Tragedies.

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