John Dryden's Theory of Poetry

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      Contrary to popular opinion, Dryden's theory of poetry did not advocate the slavish imitation of the ancients. Due respect was to be paid to the ancients, but art was a dynamic force which had to take into consideration "the disposition of the people." Dryden's main critical essays, in which his theory of poetry is to be found, are - An Essay of Dramatic Poesy (1667), Defence of Dramatic Poesy (1668), Preface to Troilus and Cressida (1679), and Discourse Concerning the Origin and Progress of Satire (1693).

      The aim of poetry; according to Dryden, was delight as well as instruction. But Dryden assigned first position to delight, and second place to instruction. He says: "Poesy only instructs as it delights." The delight, however, was not to be a hedonistic pleasure, but the delight of the soul. But both ends of poetry are important. Dryden merely means that poetry instructs through delight.

      The poet is to imitate nature in order to produce pleasure. Imitation was not copying but presenting "a beautiful resemblance of the whole." The representation would be more beautiful than life. Creative imagination would also play a role in the proper imitation of nature. Workmanship would also be required.

      Dryden does not ignore the importance of imagination. It is the "principal quality required" in a poet. But judgment is equally important to restrain imagination from becoming too wild and over-exuberant.

      Rhymed verse is more appropriate for poetry than blank verse in Dryden's opinion. Rhyme regulates the fancy and involves judgment. It helps memory with its pleasant and regular measures. Poetry is thus an imaginative representation of life in rhymed verse, involving delight and instruction.

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