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Dryden's Definition of Drama

John Dryden is a great literary figure of his age. He saw the great plague of 1665; it drove him to Charlton in Wilt-shire where he lived for eighteen months and wrote dramatic poesy. The work is in dialogue form, consisting of four characters, discussing about drama. It was proved a popular literary form and reigned supreme in England during the next seventy-five years. It is an Aristotelian form because several persons with different wits and faculties participate in the discussion and contribute to it by giving or adding their views and ideas. In this dramatic poesy, the center of discussion is drama. Dryden’s definition of drama really covers a wide range. It can be applied to heroic poems, epics and romance or dramas. He treats drama as a form of imaginative literature that appeals to poetry.

According to him, drama is a just and lively image of human nature, representing its passions and humours, and the changes of fortune to which it is subject, for the delight and instruction of mankind. He insists on the words ‘Just’ and ‘lively’ image of human nature. In support of the words, it must be admitted that material of all topics is drawn from a society. The society is made of mankind or living things, and without them, society is nothing. Dryden implies word ‘Image’ as an imitation or appearance of human nature must be just. Just means exact or as it is. It means an exact copy of reality. Dryden is different; he does not like only the slavish or exact copy of reality, but it must be lively. David Diaches expresses that the image of human nature is implied for drama as well as imaginative literature, which shows the acting of people in such a way as to reveal what they are like. He further says that Dryden has used the word ‘Image’ for the appearance of human actions. The human actions must be just and lively. Plato described the imitation of imitation or copy of the copy. He is not different, but he adds the word ‘lively’.

In poetic imitation, the word ‘Just’ is not sufficient, but the word ‘Lively’ must be added. ‘Lively’ means interesting. David Diaches interprets it as interesting. R.A Scott James agrees and interprets it as beautiful and so delightful. Such interpretation admits that the poet is a maker or a creator. He finds material, works on and makes it beautiful by heightening its quality. John Dryden gives value to labour. If one reveals it as rough as it was, it must be a rough work with a trivial value. If it is represented lively, the work would be lively, and the poet would be valued.

Dryden is really a great critic and supporter of imagination. In his age, he is rather different from all the poets. He calls imagination as a special faculty of a creative artist without rules and regulations. It enables the artist to create the work of beauty that makes him distinctive. Indeed, imagination is like a polisher that makes the material elegant. Such labour uplifts its value more and more. In other words, it is more needed to say that imagination is a shaping power. Through it, the poet selects, orders, rearranges and heightens his material. In result, the more distinctive and more beautiful material is achieved. Through imaginative creation, the just images of human nature become lively.

The writers or creative artists don’t hold the imagination of same power. Each has his own, and it brings something different and peculiar in his work. Indeed, it forms the personality of a writer. According to Dryden, it is an inherent element that is found different in Shakespeare, Jonson and Fletcher. Each poet has his own qualities, and through such qualities, their work is analyzed and valued. Dryden admits that Shakespeare writes better between man and man; Fletcher betwixt man and woman. The one describes friendship better and the other love. He is of the opinion that imaginative work gives birth to qualities and peculiarities of a writer; by which he is known in the world of literature. So, such qualities or peculiarities make him more distinctive writer. Actually, he talks about the individual qualities of the creative artists which are named and contrasted. By pursuing such qualities, he accepts Shakespeare as the Homer, or the father of dramatic poets, and Jonson is accepted as the Virgil, or the pattern of elaborate writing. He concludes that he admires Jonson, but loves Shakespeare. All depends on the faculty of imagination. The rich faculty forms rich work and makes the writer eminent.

In the definition of drama, John Dryden gives primary importance to delight, and the secondary to instruction. The function of poetry is delight, and to instruct is the function of prose. It is he who combines the both. It is examined that the instruction comes out of the delight. A bare imitation gives birth to bare instruction that is quite ineffective, but when the bare imitation is selected, ordered and shaped by the poet’s imagination, the work becomes beautiful and lively. David Diaches expresses that the function of poetry is to inform the reader in a lively and agreeable way, or the way that human nature likes.

Scott James stresses on aesthetic pleasure or delight. Aesthetic delight is concerned to poetry which springs from a beautiful thought. Shamasuddin Bulbul, the great poet of Mehar city, also emphasized on aesthetic pleasure as the chief function of poetry. Scott James says that the pleasure which a work of art produces is of a certain kind; it is that which comes up from a sense of the lively creativity. For Dryden, speaking of poetry is speaking of beauty. If one speaks the pleasure of poetry, it means a pleasure that comes out of the beautiful art. The aesthetic pleasure has the power to move and to transport. According to Dryden, the power of aesthetic pleasure affects the soul and excites the passion, and above all, it moves admiration. The soul, thus, is moved by reading the beautiful work, and it compels the reader to value it.

The poetry instructs as it delights. A bare imitation of reality does not have such power. It lies on poet’s imagination that makes beautiful works of art. John Dryden lives in the age of prose, but follows such concept that makes him distinguished from the others. His concept of poetic imitation is not mere imitation, but it is the work of a poet, a maker or a creator, whose endeavor is to produce some piece of art but beautiful. Such lively work gives pleasure or delight, and the delight gives birth to instruction that is very effective and resultant.

Source by Ali Asghar Joyo

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