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3 "The Favour of Sovereign Princes": King Arthur and Cleomenes
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"The Favour of Sovereign Princes": King Arthur and Cleomenes

In Don Sebastian and Amphitryon Dryden asserts an uncompromising Jacobitism. He measures the Revolution by both the conservative constitutional principles that all responsible Englishmen had claimed since the Restoration and by the transcendent moral and political values he claims to derive from classic literature, and he finds it in violation of both. In the Convention Parliament's attempt to change kings without altering the ancient constitution, he sees elements of both republicanism and absolutism; and in the behavior of the new monarchs and their followers, he sees uncontrolled ambition, duplicity, and ingratitude. Though centrally concerned with politics, these plays lack a clear polemic agenda; they are rather contemplative than persuasive. In his next two plays, Dryden is once again seeking an audience for his political reflections, and yet these reflections are more varied and ambiguous. The Revolution loses its place at the center of the action: in King Arthur Dryden ignores it altogether, and the version of it he provides in Cleomenes is comparatively innocuous, concerned rather with its personal effects than its political causes. The moral universe he presents in these two plays is based not as in the earlier plays on legitimacy and title, but rather on war and peace, engagement and detachment, action and resignation. And Dryden presents this universe in such a way as, without abandoning his loyalty to James and Catholicism, to appeal to the sympathies of all three major political parties: the Jacobites, the Court party, and the parliamentary opposition.

By 1691 the Williamites had begun to split into two opposed factions that were to emerge later in the decade as new Whig and


Tory parties. The Court party supported William in sacrificing immediate economic interests and even some civil liberties to the great war against France; the opposition resisted these aims. According to Keith Feiling in his History of the Tory Party ,

The abuses or dangers, of which the new Opposition complained, were enormous or misapplied taxes, diversion of expenditure to continental armies—thus starving the Navy, our proper weapon—the corrupt influence of placemen, the suspension of Habeas Corpus, the ruin of trade, and these topics were dinned in by a shower of pamphlets coming equally from Tory, Whig, and Jacobite quarters.[1]

In the year preceding the first performance of King Arthur in early summer of 1691, this party had found much to occupy its attention. William's success at the Boyne in July 1690 was qualified by the defeat of the navy at Beachy Head, a blow to the national pride that excited the contempt of, among others, Dryden's friend Sir Henry Sheeres:

The Parliament may plague us with taxation,
But till they cure the grievance of the nation,
Monsieur will make the Narrow Seas his station;
Then what becomes of all our ancient rule,
Our right from Edgar and command from Thule?
Believe me, Sirs, it will be then confessed
Your flag's a dishclout, and your claim a jest.[2]

In October 1690 William asked Parliament for £1,800,000 to carry on the war. No record survives of the ensuing debate, but a contemporary satire ridicules the extravagance of William's demands, and the Tories Clarges and Seymour are known to have advocated a smaller army and a stronger fleet.[3] A record does survive of the debate held in November 1691 on a similar request. Opposition speakers argue against involvement in the continental war: "In the Rolls we find that, when money was asked by Edw. 3, to maintain what he had conquered in France, the parliament answered, 'They were concerned only to keep England, and not what was conquered in France'"; against the resulting decay of trade: "If we consider what merchants have lost, and money carried abroad, and that foreign merchants carry out your freight, I think it is a sign we are poor"; against a standing army: "Really


I am afraid of a Standing Army. We have the skeleton, though not the body, of the forces. I look upon the war with France to be merely a colour"; against heavy taxation: "If we maintain an army of 40,000 men abroad, I fear we shall have none left for common defence another year"; and in favour of a naval strategy: "As we are an island, we are to consider, that, if the French have all the seventeen provinces, and we are superior at sea, we may still be safe, and for what belongs to us."[4]

If in early 1691 Dryden had been seeking an intermediary between himself and this new opposition party, he could hardly have made a better choice than the dedicatee of King Arthur . George Savile, first marquis of Halifax, had earned a place in Absalom and Achitophel for his crucial role in the defeat of the exclusion bill. Yet he was also among the leaders of the Revolution and for the first year of William's government had served as his chief advisor. As such he had exposed himself to the vengeful attack of those who blamed him for the Tory revenge of the mid eighties and in February 1690 had resigned against William's wishes. He soon joined the opposition and by January 1691 had begun accepting conciliatory visits from James's agents.[5] As a prominent Williamite whose high principles had led him to change sides often and at last brought him to a sort of retirement, he was an unusually suitable candidate for the attentions of a Jacobite poet seeking public rehabilitation.

Halifax contributed heartily to opposition criticism of the danger and expense of the army and the neglect of the fleet. The abstract of a speech he made sometime between 1690 and 1694 shows his view of the army. He suspects William has provoked France only to provide himself with an excuse for building up a force he may later use against domestic opponents:

Necessity is alwayes a good argt if Reall but if hee that createth the necessity hath the benefit of it, the consequences are somewhat inconvenient. . . .

A Maxime in Law, that no man is to have benefit from his own wrong Act; yet here there is power by declaring warre to provoke a stronger enemy by which the necessity of self p[re]servation ariseth and that carrieth every thing along with it. . . .

It must in time make the Govt so strong that it can not bee resisted and the people so poor that they cannot resist. . . .


When ever the warre is done, Hee hath an Army at his devotion loath to bee disbanded ready to support that power which keepeth them on foot.[6]

Halifax's "Rough Draught of a New Model at Sea," published anonymously in 1694, summarizes the opposition's view of the fleet. He begins by establishing its importance to national security:

if allegiance is due to protection, ours to the sea is due from that rule, since by that, and by that alone, we are to be protected; and if we have of late suffered usurpation of other methods, contrary to the homage we owe to that which must preserve us, it is time now to restore the sea to its right.[7]

He goes on to make several suggestions for increasing the fleet's size and efficiency.

Dryden does not directly appeal to any of these principles in his Dedication , but some knowledge of them helps illuminate the meaning and purpose of what he says about his patron and his play.[8] He concludes the Dedication by reminding his readers of his long association with Halifax:

I think I cannot be deceived in thus addressing to your lordship, whom I have had the honour to know, at that distance which becomes me, for so many years. It is true, that formerly I have shadowed some part of your virtues under another name; but the character, though short and imperfect, was so true, that it broke through the fable, and was discovered by its native light.[9]

Throughout Dryden emphasizes those parts of Halifax's career in which his views coincide with Dryden's own. Now as during the exclusion crisis, both can be said to stand together against the fury of the mob; and a long passage celebrating Halifax's wise direction of Charles's policy is followed by another in praise of retirement:

But, as a skillful pilot will not be tempted out to sea in suspected weather, so have you wisely chosen to withdraw yourself from public business, when the face of heaven grew troubled, and the frequent shifting of the winds foreshowed a storm. There are times and seasons when the best patriots are willing to withdraw their hands from the commonwealth, as Phocion, in his latter days, was observed to decline the management of affairs; or as Cicero (to draw the similitude more


home) left the pulpit for Tusculum, and the praise of oratory for the sweet enjoyments of a private life; and, in the happiness of those retirements, has more obliged posterity by his moral precepts, than he did the republic in quelling the conspiracy of Catiline. What prudent man would not rather follow the example of this retreat, than stay, like Cato, with a stubborn unseasonable virtue, to oppose the torrent of the people, and at last be driven from the market-place by a riot of a multitude, uncapable of counsel, and deaf to eloquence?
(Pp. 133–134)

None of this is inconsistent with the pure Jacobitism of Don Sebastian ; but Dryden follows his attack on the government from which he and Halifax had fled with an assertion of sturdy English patriotism calculated to appeal to the parliamentary opposition:

A Roman soldier was allowed to plead the merit of his services for his dismission at such an age; and there was but one exception to that rule, which was, an invasion from the Gauls. How far that may work with your lordship, I am not certain, but I hope it is not coming to the trial.
(Dedication , p. 134)

This is an oblique attack on English naval failures: the French had followed up their victory at Beachy Head by landing troops on England's west coast and burning the village of Teignmouth; and until the battle of La Hogue helped restore allied control of the Channel in 1692, an "invasion of the Gauls" seemed possible. Dryden goes on, however, to make a profession of buoyant confidence in the navy:

In the meantime, while the nation is secured from foreign attempts by so powerful a fleet, and we enjoy, not only the happiness, but even the ornaments of peace, in the divertisement of the town, I humbly offer you this trifle.
(P. 134)

One of the principle complaints of the opposition was that the nation was not so protected;[10] and even the most dedicated court apologist might have hesitated to celebrate the blessings of peace within weeks of the loss to the French of the strategic Flemish town of Mons. Dryden praises the country for precisely those qualities it most obviously lacks; and this kind of irony recurs, as we shall see, in the play itself.


Another passage in the Dedication provides further hints of both the means and the objects of political commentary in King Arthur . In discussing Halifax's final triumph over the Whigs, Dryden makes a great show of restraint:

I might dilate on the difficulties which attended that undertaking, the temper of the people, the power, arts, and interest of the contrary party, but those are all of them invidious topics,—they are too green in our remembrance, and he who touches on them, Incedit per ignes suppositos cineri doloso .
(P. 131)

Yet he goes on to draw a lesson from those times which has at least as pointed an application to present events as would any condemnation of the exclusionists:

But, without reproaching one side to praise another, I may justly recommend to both those wholesome counsels, which, wisely administered, and as well executed, were the means of preventing a civil war, and of extinguishing a growing fire which was just ready to have broken forth among us. So many wives, who have yet their husbands in their arms; so many parents, who have not the number of their children lessened; so many villages, towns, and cities, whose inhabitants are not decreased, their property violated, or their wealth diminished,—are yet owing to the sober conduct and happy results of your advice.
(Pp. 131–132)

Such an encomium must have had an odd sound at a time when England was engaged in a military conflict on a greater scale than any since Cromwell's protectorate; yet it has several parallels in the opera itself, which, despite its heroic protagonist, is filled with catalogues of the evils of war and the blessings of peace.

The opposition political agenda, however, remains throughout the play as well as in the Dedication merely an undercurrent of irony and implication. The open support of a known Catholic Jacobite was more likely to undermine than aid the cause of the opposition; but there is another, and perhaps stronger, reason for Dryden's obliquity. He reminds us in the Dedication that

Poets, who subsist not but on the favour of sovereign princes, and of great persons, may have leave to be a little vain, and boast of their patronage, who encourage the genius that animates them; and there-


fore, I will again presume to guess that her Majesty was not displeased to find in this poem the praises of her native country, and the heroic actions of so famous a predecessor in the government of Great Britain as King Arthur.
(P. 136)

Dryden does not want us to suppose that he has wavered in his loyalty to James: in claiming Mary's patronage he is careful to withhold the least hint of praise, and he introduces the subject by reminding us that he is acting out of a kind of financial necessity in mentioning the queen at all. Further, Arthur is merely her "predecessor in the government" and not, as he would no doubt have been in the original version, the type and example of the reigning monarch. Nonetheless, Dryden wants to exhibit his potential value to the present government, and his play is constructed to serve this end among others.[11]

It is generally recognized that the meaning of King Arthur is primarily political. Those who think otherwise have commonly claimed that it has no meaning at all, that it is "a mere fairy tale, as totally divested as possible of any meaning beyond extravagant adventure"; or "a fantastic account of Arthur's battles with the Saxons," from which "all the real substance of the story had been removed."[12] Dryden himself encourages this view: he tells us in the Dedication that "this poem was the last piece of service which I had the honour to do for my gracious master King Charles II," and that in order to stage it in 1691, he has "been obliged so much to alter the first design, and take away so many beauties from the writing, that it is now no more what it was formerly, than the present ship of the Royal Sovereign, after so often taking down and altering, is the vessel it was at the first building" (pp. 129, 135). Most who have examined the opera's political reference, also taking their cue from this passage, argue that Dryden meant some sort of compliment to William III or his party, yet they are not altogether comfortable in ascribing such sentiments to a professed Jacobite.[13] In the most recent and by far the most thorough analysis of politics in King Arthur , Curtis Price attempts to solve this problem by tracing through the opera two contradictory parallels—one in which Arthur is James and William Oswald; another in which Arthur is William, James Oswald, and the battle in Act I a parallel of James's defeat at the Boyne. In addition he


points out several ironic gestures that undermine the opera's apparent meaning. He does not, however, reconcile his two parallels or explain their participation in a coherent whole, and it is not therefore clear just what these ironies are undermining.[14]

This confusion may be explained by the complexity, indeed the inconsistency, of Dryden's purposes. He wants at once to recommend himself to the court as a poet of patriotism, to protest the war in Flanders, and to reassert and justify his continuing loyalty to James. The first of these purposes is the most obvious and requires little attention. It is clear throughout in the play's cloying nationalism, and most pointed in the concluding masque. England is celebrated as the queen of islands, the envy of the world, abounding in fish, grain, and wool, stocked with hardy peasantry, and beloved of Venus. At the end of it all stands William, "Our Sovereign High," bestowing honors on his willing subjects.

Dryden's other purposes, though less immediately apparent, account, I think, more fully for his peculiar treatment of his subject. Though the play is ostensibly concerned with the successful wars for which Arthur was traditionally renowned, its battles are brief and ineffective, and Arthur's military talents rather obstruct than advance his purposes. He is introduced by his supporters in the first scene of the play and contrasted with his rival in a few pointed details. Oswald is "free and open-hearted," "Revengeful, rugged, violently brave" (p. 142); whereas Arthur, though brave, is also merciful and calm in battle (p. 143). His character is most completely described by Aurelius:

His worth divides him from the crowd of kings;
So born, without desert to be so born;
Men, set aloft to be the scourge of heaven,
And, with long arms, to lash the under-world.
(P. 143)

Thus Arthur is notable not for his military prowess, which Oswald can match, but for his lack of the sort of indiscriminate bellicosity of which William and his party were accused.[15]

Further, though the business of Act I is the decisive triumph in battle of the Britons over the Saxons, its effect is to undermine the apparent glory of war. Whereas Arthur, the victor, spends his last moments before the battle bantering with Emmeline, the Saxons


stage preposterously elaborate preparations made hollow by their coming defeat. First Oswald and Osmond solemnly implore the aid of the gods. Thor, Freya, and Woden are invited to revenge Hengist's death, to "spell you Saxons, / With sacred runic rhymes," to "edge their bright swords," but at this point Osmond interrupts the proceedings to hear Grimbald's report on the human sacrifices:

              I have played my part;
For I have steeled the fools that are to die,—
Six fools, so prodigal of life and soul,
That, for their country, they devote their lives
A sacrifice to mother Earth, and Woden.
(Pp. 147–148)

The grand solemnity of the invocation is irrecoverably dispelled by this plain comment on the value of dying for one's country. An ode follows, in which a chorus of priests sings the praises of these martyrs in absurdly inflated language:

The lot is cast, and Tanfan pleased;
Of mortal cares you shall be eased,
Brave souls, to be renowned in story.
Honour prizing,
Death despising,
Fame acquiring,
By expiring;
Die, and reap the fruit of glory,
Brave souls, to be renowned in story.
(P. 150)

It is impossible to take this seriously. Of the two promises here, the first, that the martyrs will be eased of mortal cares, is a specious euphemism, and the second, that they will win fame and "be renowned in story," is quite clearly false: the six fools are not so much as named. The Ode completed, Oswald rushes into battle boasting emptily:

Ambitious fools we are,
And yet ambition is a godlike fault;
Or rather 'tis no fault in souls born great,
Who dare extend their glory by their deeds.—


Now, Britanny, prepare to change thy state,
And from this day begin thy Saxon date.
(P. 151)

He is immediately defeated.

The act ends with the Britons' song of victory, in which a great deal of daring and charging about is interrupted by an incongruous view of the battle from the perspective, not of the Britons, but of the gods:

  Now they charge on amain,
  Now they rally again:
The gods from above the mad labour behold,
And pity mankind, that will perish for gold.
(P. 151)[16]

From this authoritative perspective, the futility of war is clearly apparent. War is an unfortunate symptom of the human condition, as regrettable and as inevitable in modern as in ancient Britain. Dryden provides no specific condemnation of William's wars: any pointed details here would both endanger the patriotic air of the opera and compromise the Olympian perspective from which in his old age he so often preferred to view comtemporary politics. But these wars are clearly open to the general charge, just as William is open to the general condemnation of the "crowd of kings."

This Olympian perspective is established in King Arthur through what Dryden calls in the Dedication "that fairy kind of writing which depends only upon the force of the imagination," and which pleases its audience with "a true taste of poetry" (p. 136); and the play is indeed firmly anchored in literary tradition. The sources of King Authur have long been recognized. Philidel, Grimbald, and Merlin derive from The Tempest , the bathing sirens from The Faerie Queene , the enchanted forest from Gerusalemme Liberata , and various motifs concerning heaven and hell, the recovery of Emmeline's sight, and her deliverance from rape, from Paradise Lost and Comus . By emphasizing that which "depends only upon the force of the imagination," Dryden may claim to soar above history and politics to a realm of sweet visions and eternal truths; and these provide him with unquestioned standards by which he may justify his principles and condemn William's belligerent policies.


After the initial battle, the "fairy kind of writing" takes control of King Arthur . The war plot, which from its elaborate exposition in the first scene we might have supposed to have carried through the play, is suddenly suspended in the second act. The battle is over, the victorious Britons are soon "drunk or whoring" (p. 161), and the management of the action reverts to the magician Merlin and his assistant Philidel. The latter is introduced in the first scene of Act II, and his first speech is yet another condemnation of war:

Alas, for pity of this bloody field!
Piteous it needs must be, when I, a spirit,
Can have so soft a sense of human woes!
Ah, for so many souls, as but this morn
Were clothed with flesh, and warmed with vital blood,
But naked now, or shirted but with air!
(P. 152)

War is again presented as a general affliction, as "human woes"; and here it is shown to be cruel as well as mercenary and futile. The validity of Philidel's judgment is confirmed by his account of himself as a fallen spirit whose tenderness and pity have raised him above his fellows and prevented him from participating in the battle. His view of war is reinforced by both speech and action throughout Act II. Merlin gives him an opportunity to redeem himself by rescuing the Britons from the marshes into which Grimbald, disguised as a homely shepherd, is endeavoring to lead them. In the ensuing contest between the two spirits, the conflict between Briton and Saxon gives way to that between good and evil, heaven and hell. Military prowess is of no avail here, as Philidel's advice to Arthur and his followers makes clear: "'Tis a fiend, who has annoyed ye;/Name but heaven, and he'll avoid ye" (p. 154). Arthur is rescued, but greater danger awaits Matilda and Emmeline. Left alone and unprotected in the British camp, they are being entertained by "a crew of Kentish lads and lasses," whose song celebrates a condition of life that may be instructively compared with that of its hearers both on stage and in the audience:

How blest are shepherds, how happy their lasses,
       While drums and trumpets are sounding alarms!
Over our lowly sheds all the storm passes;
       And when we die, 'tis in each other's arms.


All the day on our herds and flocks employing;
All the night on our flutes, and in enjoying.
(P. 158)

The song exposes the emptiness of military glory, and the action immediately confirms this lesson: no sooner do the shepherds depart than Emmeline is abducted by Oswald and the Saxons. The victory of Act I has accomplished nothing at all: in his ensuing conference with Oswald, Arthur can only bluster. Arms are impotent; justice can be restored only through the interposition of heaven through Merlin and his agents.

This lesson is a particularly important one for Dryden in 1691, for not only does it condemn William's effort, it also justifies James's—and Dryden's—inaction. The future of England is in the care of Providence: James may therefore be excused for staying in France, and Dryden for reestablishing his literary position in England. Arthur's inability to learn this lesson gives Dryden frequent occasions in Act III of having it restated. At the end of Act II Arthur is shown rushing from the stage crying "To arms, with speed, to arms!" (p. 164); but the folly of such heroism is exposed a moment later. Act III begins with Conon's weary negation of this command: "Furl up our colours, and unbrace our drums;/Dislodge betimes, and quit this fatal coast" (p. 164). Aurelius explains that Osmond has protected the approach to Oswald's fortress with enchantments which arms cannot penetrate. Arthur, however, remains unconvinced and prepares to win glory against all odds:

Now I perceive a danger worthy me.
'Tis Osmond's work, a band of hell-hired slaves:
Be mine the hazard, mine shall be the fame.
(P. 165)

His rant is interrupted by Merlin, who instructs him to "wait heaven's time" (p. 165). Arthur is forced to use patience, to rely on time and providence. The moral of his story, though not specifically applied to contemporary events, is nonetheless appropriate to Dryden's view of them. It is surely no accident that a major theme of a Jacobite work written after the battle of the Boyne on the expulsion of foreign dominance from Britain should be that one must wait patiently for heaven's reassertion of justice.


The next two scenes are dominated by Grimbald and Osmond, and their behavior obliquely reflects upon that of Dryden's enemies. In the first, Grimbald berates Philidel for his disloyalty to hell:

Thou miscreant elf, thou renegado scout,
So clean, so furbished, so renewed in white,
The livery of our foes; I see thee through:
What mak'st thou here? thou trim apostate, speak.
(P. 167)

As a Catholic convert, Dryden was frequently berated as an apostate, and he must have enjoyed the irony that lies behind Grimbald's fury at Philidel for betraying his allegiance to hell. This is followed by the cure of Emmeline's blindness, achieved, like everything else of substance, by Merlin's power. Emmeline behaves like Milton's Eve after creation: she first falls in love with her own reflection, then with Arthur, who is "of a controlling eye, majestic make" (p. 173). The Miltonic allusions continue at Arthur's departure. He is reluctant to leave Emmeline in Osmond's power, but Merlin assures him that "the enchanter has no power on innocence." Osmond has other ideas. He conjures up a masque to seduce Emmeline, which concludes thus:

He's a grateful offender
  Who pleasure dare seize;
But the whining pretender
  Is sure to displease.
(P. 179)

Rape was a popular metaphor among Jacobites for William's usurpation and among the opposition for his designs against liberty.[17] Both parties may well have felt that he was, in the eyes of too many of their countrymen, a "grateful offender." Merlin, however, proves right in his prediction: Osmond is called away at the critical instant to aid Grimbald, and for the moment heaven reasserts its protection.

In Act IV, Arthur is sent to destroy the enchanted forest, and once again his success depends, not on martial valor, but on patience and the aid of heaven. Arthur himself recognizes the irony of his position as he flees the naked sirens who tempt him to bathe with them: "How dear this flying victory has cost, / When, if I stay


to struggle, I am lost" (p. 184). He withstands also a chorus of dancing nymphs and sylvans; but unlike his counterpart Rinaldo in Gerusalemme Liberata , he falls victim to the last temptation. He strikes at a tree, it bleeds, and a vision of Emmeline emerges from it, imploring his pity and offering her love:

Em.  They, only they, who please themselves, are wise.
Disarm thy hand, that mine may meet it bare.
Arth.  By thy leave, reason, here I throw thee off,
Thou load of life. If thou wert made for souls,
Then souls should have been made without their bodies.
(P. 187)

He is in the act of pulling off his gauntlet when Philidel appears, strikes the image with his wand, and reveals it as Grimbald. Once again, martial heroism alone is of no avail in the world Dryden has constructed in King Arthur : only patience and trust in God, the virtues Dryden had been teaching himself in the years since the Revolution, are capable of success.

In the fifth act we return to history—to the history of ancient Britain in the resolution of the conflict between Arthur and Oswald and to that of modern England in the prophecies with which the play concludes. It has often been remarked that, despite his claim to have consulted "Beda, Bochartus, and many other authors," Dryden makes little use either of historical accounts of ancient Britain or legendary materials associated with Arthur. He does, however, include in the speeches of Arthur and Oswald certain allusions to their past that clearly set his play in the frame of British history as recounted by both Bede and Geoffrey of Monmouth. Oswald is the son of Hengist (p. 147), whose aid against the Picts was purchased by Arthur's predecessor Vortigern with the kingdom of Kent (pp. 161, 192). There has been some past dispute about Oswald's importing Saxons to enlarge his territory (p. 162). Oswald is now eager to avenge Hengist's death (p. 147). Except for the last detail, which only Geoffrey mentions (Bede notes the death of Hengist's brother Horsa), this follows the outline of both histories, which agree that Vortigern brought in Hengist and the Saxons to defend the Britons against the Picts, that Hengist found the Britons weak, sent home for reinforcements, and attacked them. The event of the conflict in both histories is, however, very different from that in King Arthur . In Bede, who


makes no mention of Arthur, the Saxons "established a stranglehold over nearly all the doomed island. . . . Some fled overseas in their misery; others, clinging to their homeland, eked out a wretched and fearful existence among mountains, forests, and crags, ever on the alert for danger."[18] Geoffrey describes a series of glorious victories for Arthur at home and abroad, but at length brings the island under Saxon rule. Indeed, that the aboriginal Britons were driven out by the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes is the one historical fact about ancient Britain that every learned Englishman might be expected to know.

Dryden, however, though he links his story to these historical accounts, concludes it with brazen disregard for the facts. Having beaten Oswald in single combat (with Merlin's aid), Arthur orders him to depart with his people:

Thy life, thy liberty, thy honour safe,
Lead back thy Saxons to their ancient Elbe:
I would restore thee faithful Kent, the gift
Of Vortigern for Hengist's ill-bought aid,
But that my Britons brook no foreign power,
To lord it in a land sacred to freedom,
And of its rights tenacious to the last.
(P. 192)

Price has noted the irony of this speech: the audience was indeed brooking a foreign power on the English throne while the play was being performed.[19] And if Dryden had been at liberty to construct parallels at will, he might well have presented that of ancient Britain: the English invited William and the Dutch to fight for them against the French and found themselves plundered by their protectors. This was a favorite parallel for Jacobite polemicists, and Dryden's audience would have been aware of its potential reference to William.[20] But as in the Dedication , where he refuses to cause offence by describing past quarrels between Whig and Tory, Dryden is here exercising restraint. Rather than offend by telling the true story of Britain's conquest, he will please by recounting the Britons' victory, and so flatter the delusions of their modern counterparts concerning their own political wisdom. Yet the omissions and falsifications are so glaring, the Britons and English so obviously celebrated for just those virtues that they lack, that the apparent praise becomes veiled satire. Further, this satire is calcu-


lated to appeal to the mainstream opposition as well as to the Jacobites. There was a great deal of anti-Dutch feeling among those who competed with William's compatriots for important places in the government and the army; and many who favored William opposed Ginkel and Bentinck.

Merlin provides a different view of the future relations between Britons and Saxons; it is, however, no less preposterous:

Britons and Saxons shall be once one people;
One common tongue, one common faith shall bind
Our jarring bands, in a perpetual peace.
(P. 193)

This also falsifies historical fact: the Saxons did not return to Germany, they did not unite with the Britons; rather, they conquered the island and ruled it for themselves. Its inaccuracy is even more glaring if we take it as a metaphorical reference to England's future. No one who had like Dryden witnessed and at last fallen victim to a half century of violent religious struggle could have taken such a prophecy seriously. Again, by straining to conceal what might displease the court party, Dryden in fact suggests that the revolutionary government is illegitimate and unjust.

In the final series of songs celebrating England's future, Dryden employs the same strategy of praising his country for what it notoriously lacks. At the end of this series, and of the play, Arthur remarks candidly on Merlin's misrepresentation of the future:

Wisely you have, whate'er will please, revealed:
What would displease, as wisely have concealed:
Triumphs of war and peace, at full ye show,
But swiftly turn the pages of our woe.
Rest we contented with our present state;
'Tis anxious to inquire of future fate.
(P. 199)

Arthur may rest contented, but there is no reason why Englishmen of 1691 should have done so. Dryden's prettified version of the future, already undermined by the facts as he and his audience knew them, is here overtly contradicted. The series begins with a song announcing the rise of Britannia from the sea, which emphasizes England's character as an island. The contemporary signifi-


cance of this is made clear as Pan and Nereid sing of its protected situation: "Round thy coasts, fair nymph of Britain, / For thy guard our waters flow" (p. 194). Like Dryden's remark on naval power in the Dedication , this is belied by the recent defeat at Beachy Head and its consequences. Further, it echoes the complaints of the contemporary opposition against William's continental wars: a country guarded by the sea need not squander its resources in expensive campaigns abroad.

The next song, in praise of England's profitable woolen manufacture, is also suspect. Since the beginning of the war, English trade had been crippled by the blockade against France and by the heavy losses to French privateers of merchant vessels which the navy was too weak to protect, and this also had crossed the opposition.[21] This song, filled with gentle rhythms and pastoral imagery, is followed by a rollicking chorus of drunken peasants, who "roar out" a mindless patriotism—Price has suggested the possibility of an ironic intention beneath this sudden shift in tone.[22] The next two songs, both celebrating love, are perhaps merely hyperbolic; but the allusion to William that ends the series, though superficially laudatory, may easily be construed as scathingly ironic:

Our natives not alone appear
  To court this martial prize;
But foreign kings, adopted here,
  Their crowns at home despise.
(P. 198)

This stanza clearly unites, in what appears to be a compliment, two of the most important charges against William. He was not "adopted," and he certainly did not despise his crown at home. For the Jacobites, he usurped his throne, and for a much larger proportion of the English public, he was all too fond of his native country. The opposition, as we have seen, regularly accused him of spending English money and English lives in the Dutch interest. If Dryden had truly meant a compliment, he might easily have celebrated his martial courage or his recent victories in Ireland. Instead he draws attention to precisely those points on which he was felt to be most open to condemnation by both the Jacobites and the parliamentary opposition. The last stanza continues the attack:


Our sovereign high, in awful state,
  His honours shall bestow;
And see his sceptred subjects wait
  On his commands below.
(P. 198)

Price interprets these "sceptred subjects" as Queen Mary during a regency, or perhaps King James; but neither of these possibilities seem likely. He is far nearer the mark when he analyzes a "perverse musical pun" in Purcell's setting of this line: "In this somewhat puffed-up chorus of public supplication to the 'Sovereign High,' his 'Scepter'd Subjects' discreetly reveal a stubborn independence."[23] By endowing William's subjects with scepters, Dryden points up the great potential for conflict between the sovereign and his supporters. William no doubt hoped that his subjects would wait on his commands; but Dryden suggests that at the Revolution, when lineal descent of the crown was interrupted by the popular will, the subjects took the monarchical authority in their own hands. Though very obliquely indicated here, it is the same lesson he teaches in The Hind and the Panther and Don Sebastian : a usurper lies at the mercy of those who have removed his predecessor.

King Arthur may not be among the best of Dryden's postrevolutionary works. It has been accused of disunity and extravagance, unevenness of tone and infirmity of purpose. But it is not the mere fairy tale that some of its critics have claimed; its miscellaneous character arises rather from a surplus than a deficiency of serious purpose. He wants to write a patriotic drama that will impress the court and so leavens his play with a loud and insistent nationalism. He wants to appeal to the parliamentary opposition and so makes his historic and panegyric materials fit so ill with the reality as to expose the failures of the government they purport to celebrate. Finally, he wants to define and justify his own position as a Jacobite living in passive compliance with an illegal government and so emphasizes the importance of patience and the futility of individual effort. Dryden was himself aware of the deficiencies of the resulting combination: he warns us of them in the Dedication . But even in the course of this disclaimer he provides hints of where we may look for value and meaning: the opera is "now no


more that it was formerly, than the present ship of the Royal Sovereign, after so much taking down and altering, is the vessel it was at first building" (p. 135). It seems likely that Dryden was attracted to this particular ship by its name as much as its appearance. So much taking down and altering of the sovereign of England had forced Dryden to make his opera appropriate to its subject, to substitute prettified history for truth, and condemnation of war for celebration of peace.

It may seem mere perversity to argue that in Cleomenes Dryden continues the campaign of conciliating the Williamites that he began in King Arthur . For in Cleomenes the parallel between the dispossessed and exiled kings of Sparta and England is glaringly obvious—far more so than the subtle resemblances that loom so large in my discussions of Don Sebastian and Amphitryon . Indeed, so obvious was its parallel that, whereas the earlier plays were performed to general applause, Cleomenes was very nearly banned from the stage. Apparently completed by October 1691, the play was twice scheduled and twice prohibited during the winter of 1692 and not finally performed until mid-April. According to Dryden's Dedication and Preface , it was redeemed only through the interposition of Lord Falkland, who brought evidence that Dryden had considered a dramatic treatment of its subject in prerevolutionary times; and the earl of Rochester, the queen's uncle and as of March 1692 a member of the Privy Council.[24]

Surely Dryden knew the risks involved in writing Jacobite parallels; and we may well ask why, after having so carefully guarded against these risks in Don Sebastian and Amphitryon , he chose to ignore them here. Further, his carelessness would seem the more puzzling if, as I have argued, he was seeking in 1691 to propitiate the court. Yet we have independent evidence that, even while finishing Cleomenes , he continued to hope for court favor. The day after receiving £30 from Tonson for the play, he wrote a letter to Dorset, his patron and William's Lord Chamberlain, begging a favor from Mary herself: "if I had confidence enough my Lord, I would presume to mind you of a favour which your Lordship formerly gave me some hopes of from the Queen."[25] Unless we are willing to accuse Dryden of the most calculated double-dealing—of trying to cash in on King Arthur before the appear-


ance of the Jacobite Cleomenes could antagonize the court—we must conclude either that he saw no parallel at all in his new play, or that, though aware of the parallel, he felt it involved no attack on the court.

If we may trust Dryden's own assertion in his Preface , the former of these was in fact the case: "I dare assure you, that here is no parallel to be found: it is neither compliment, nor satire; but a plain story, more strictly followed than any which has appeared upon the stage" (p. 222). He prefixed Creech's translation of Plutarch's Life of Cleomenes to the first edition of the play to show how closely he had adhered to the facts. The closeness of a historical play to its source, however, is not in itself enough to disprove its function as a parallel; the Restoration parallelist normally presents the resemblances between present and past as the result of the natural and inevitable operation of historical laws, not as his own manufacture.[26] Throughout his long career, Dryden had repeatedly demonstrated his unequalled expertise at adapting literary and historical materials to contemporary political circumstances. It is inconceivable that he would have missed entirely the obvious correspondences between James and Cleomenes; and unlikely that, if he had nothing to say by manipulating these correspondences, he would have risked offending the government merely because he happened to like the story.

We are left, then, with the second possibility—that Dryden meant a parallel of some kind but no direct criticism of the Revolution or the current government; and this, I will argue, is corroborated by his treatment of the parallel in the play itself. Dryden's political aim in Cleomenes is, I think, to show how respect and admiration for James may be reconciled with obedience to William and patriotic devotion to English interests and institutions. Poets "subsist not but on the favour of sovereign princes": both claimants to the sovereignty of England come out of Cleomenes looking rather well. Dryden carefully constructs his parallel so as to exclude from it all points of dispute between Williamites and Jacobites: William/Antigonus is neither treacherous nor despotic; James/Cleomenes is neither the national enemy waiting to resume his tyranny at the head of a foreign army, nor the wronged monarch forced into exile by ambitious and ungrateful subjects. His political circumstances matter at all only insofar


as they provide the stuff of high tragedy, the occasion for heroic fortitude and constancy.

Any attempt to read Cleomenes as straightforward Jacobite polemic must first encounter the obvious fact that, however similar in effect, the causes of Cleomenes's exile are strikingly different from those of James's. In Don Sebastian and Amphitryon Dryden directs his attack primarily against what he sees as the treachery and ingratitude of the English political nation and the ruthless ambition of the usurper. In Cleomenes there is not the least hint that Sparta is either responsible for Cleomenes's exile or able to effect his return. We are at first led to expect in Antigonus the evil foreign conqueror of Jacobite polemic; but when he is at last described at the end of Act I, he seems rather a liberator than a plunderer:

                       think some king,
Who loved his people, took a peaceful progress
To some far distant place of his dominions;
Smiled on his subjects, as he rode in triumph,
And strewed his plenty, wheresoe'er he passed.
Nay, raise your thoughts yet higher;—think some deity,
Some better Ceres, drawn along the sky
By gentle dragons, scattered as she flew
Her fruitful grains upon the teeming ground,
And bade new harvests rise.
. . . . . . . . . .
The soldiers marched, as in procession, slow;
And entered Sparta like a choir of priests,
As if they feared to tread on holy ground.
No noise was heard; no voice, but of the crier,
Proclaiming peace and liberty to Sparta.
At that, a peal of loud applause rang out,
And thinned the air, till even the birds fell down
Upon the shouters' heads: the shops flew open,
And all the busy trades renewed their tasks;
No law was changed, no custom was controlled;
That had Lycurgus lived, or you returned,
So Sparta would have shown.
(P. 284)

This is the only passage in which Antigonus and the conquest of Sparta appears; but it is enough in itself to disarm the parallel of


any Jacobite sting and to justify its author in expecting government favor. The king has changed, but the ancient constitution of Sparta remains as Lycurgus left it. Further, Antigonus has no time to plunder: he is called away to defend his native Macedonia against foreign invaders; and having won a great victory, he dies in triumph. Dryden's Jacobite view of the Revolution is retained only in Antigonus's assumption of rule by conquest, and this single detail guarantees the sincerity of the rest. Unlike the "Sovereign High" at the end of King Arthur , this king is neither adopted nor indifferent to his "crown at home." William is praised here not for those qualities the lack of which brought him into public disfavor but for those which he genuinely possessed and for which he was generally admired.

Though Cleomenes loses his throne by conquest rather than revolution, Dryden nevertheless contrives to include a revolution of sorts in his play, and his portrayal of it is no less surprising than his portrayal of Antigonus. At the end of the play, Cleomenes and his friends attempt to rally the Egyptians against the tyrant Ptolemy, whom they hope to replace with his brave and honest brother Magas. The polemic of the rebels is rather English and Whig than Greek or Egyptian: they declare for "liberty," and Cleanthes begs his father to "Engage not for an arbitrary power, / That odious weight upon a free-born soul" (p. 355). Significantly, no Egyptian Tory rises up to remind the rebels that innovation is the blow of fate. Rather, the revolution fails because of the slavish fearfulness of the people, who disperse in comic terror at the first sound of the government's approach: "Every one for himself. The government is a-coming" (p. 354).[27] Here Dryden is clearly entertaining the possibility that under certain circumstances lawful monarchs may justly be dethroned in popular insurrections. A principled Jacobite could hardly go further than this in conciliating his opponents.

As Sparta lacks England's Revolution, so Egypt lacks France's continental war. The lazy and ineffective Ptolemy bears little resemblance to any contemporary English version of Louis XIV. Yet there is one suggestive similarity. James records in his Memoirs that in the months following his return to France after his defeat at the Boyne, he had tried to persuade Louis to help him in an invasion of England:


But his most Christian Majesty was dissatisfied with the King's late conduct, either of himself or the insinuations of his minister. He was averse to another expedition, which might, he thought be as hastily relinquished. He pretended an indisposition, and would not see the King, till in fact it was too late to do any thing. When the King observed this cause of delay, his patience never in his life underwent such another trial. . . . But he was destined to be a victim to patience by Providence; which his friends, as well as his enemies, exercised by turns. He even pressed to be permitted to go on board the fleet. This was denied, as nothing, they said could be done, without land-forces.[28]

There are several suggestive similarities here to Cleomenes's dealings with Ptolemy: in addition to the denial of aid, we have the underhand "insinuations" of a minister and the humble request "even to go on board the fleet." Whether or not some hint of this story had filtered through to Dryden, he clearly needed somehow to drive a wedge between Louis and James if he hoped to succeed in celebrating James's heroism in a manner acceptable to the Williamites. He thus constructs his play from a story that allows him to transfer the blame for James's misfortunes from England to England's great adversary. In the untroubled realm of art, William, James, and England could be presented in alliance against the tyrant Louis and his slavish subjects.

Dryden, then, depicts Sparta and Egypt, Antigonus and Ptolemy, in such a way as to clear from his path the obstacles presented by their contemporary counterparts to his celebration of the heroic fortitude of his king in exile. Even this, however, is not enough; before he can display Cleomenes's heroism, he must first define and qualify the admiration he feels for it. Cleomenes may be great, but he lacks private wisdom and public benevolence; and Dryden devotes Act I to the exhibition of these deficiencies. At the beginning of the play, Cleomenes is bemoaning his misfortunes. His mother enters and chides him for his grief, whereupon he grows boastful, though still convinced of his ruin. He compares his wife and mother to

Two twining vines about this elm, whose fall
Must shortly—very shortly, crush you both.
And yet I will not go to ground,
Without a noble ruin round my trunk:
The forest shall be shaken when I sink,


And all the neighbouring trees
Shall groan, and fall beneath my vast destruction.
(P. 277)

Cleomenes's fifteen-year-old son Cleonidas, inflated, despite his age, with martial enthusiasm, applauds this resolution; declares his father will triumph; huffs at his stepmother's doubts; and resolves to fight at his side: "And though you say, I have but fifteen years, / We Spartans take ten strides before our age, / And start beyond dull nature" (p. 278). Cleomenes approvingly predicts his son will "soon shoot up a hero" and remembers begetting him in "the pride of conquest."

Such military ardor is clearly meant to seem admirable; but if we find its expression cloying and its intermixture with the most intimate domestic relations unnerving, we may take comfort in Cleora's weak and Pantheus's much stronger protests against it. The account of Cleonidas's begetting is interrupted by Pantheus's arrival. He has spent the morning merrily walking "with myself, in laughing at the world, / Making a farce of life, where knaves, and fools, / And madmen, that's all humankind, were actors" (p. 279). This is exactly the attitude toward life which Dryden himself had been cultivating in his prose; most recently in the Dedication of Amphitryon , where he finds "no disposition in my self to Cry, while the mad World is daily supplying me with such Occasions of Laughter." Pantheus goes on to express another of Dryden's recurring ideas, one with specific application to Cleomenes's circumstances. Cleomenes asks what part Pantheus acted; he answers, "As little as I could; and daily would have less, / So please the gods, for that's a wise man's part" (p. 279). Like Dryden in the Preface to Cleomenes , he has learned to possess his soul in patience. He eschews the kind of heroic endeavor Jupiter fosters in Amphitryon and, like Arthur, submits himself to the will of the gods.

Cleomenes, however, is unable to achieve such detachment:

Cleom: Would I could share thy balmy, even temper, And milkiness of blood.
Panth. You may.
Cleom. As how?
Panth. By but forgetting you have been a king.


Cleom. Then must I rust in Egypt, never more
Appear in arms, and be the chief of Greece?
(P. 280)

He goes on to swear by his "great forefather, Hercules" that he would rather face defeat than cease to struggle. He is seconded by his excitable son, who also invokes Hercules, and calls for trumpets and charges. Pantheus remarks, "If fortune takes not off this boy betimes, / He'll make mad work, and elbow all his neighbours"; and Cleonidas answers, "My neighbours! Little: Elbow all the world, / And push off kings, like counters, from the board, / To place myself the foremost" (p. 280). Cleora invites her husband to view "as in a glass, your darling fault, ambition, / Reflected in your son"; and Cleomenes answers, "My virtue rather" (p. 280). Cleomenes, the "Spartan hero," thus placed between the wise Pantheus and the overeager Cleonidas seems marred by the defect that compromises heroism in Amphitryon and King Arthur : a willingness to foster ambition at the expense of others' peace and in defiance of fate. Yet here Dryden uses this defect, not to criticize William, but to qualify his praise of James.

Once this defect has been established in the exposition, it is confirmed by Cleomenes's reaction to the first important event in the plot. Informed that the merchant Coenus has come with news of Sparta, Cleomenes anticipates his arrival with apparent dread that he will hear "how proud Antigonus / Led o'er Eurotes' banks his conquering troops, / And first to wondering Sparta showed a king, / A king that was not hers" (p. 281). He clears the stage so that his family will not be "polluted with such ills," and when Coenus arrives, can hardly contain his grief.

I pr'ythee, gentle Coenus, tell the story
Of ruined Sparta; leave no circumstance
Untold, of all their woes; and I will hear thee,
As unconcerned, as if thou told'st a tale
Of ruined Troy. I pr'ythee, tell us how
The victors robbed the shrines, polluted temples,
Ransacked each wealthy house:—No, spare me that;
Poor honest Sparta had no wealth to lose.
But [Raises his voice ] when thou com'st to tell of matrons ravished,


And virgins forced, then raise thy voice,
And let me hear their howlings,
And dreadful shrieks, as in the act of rape.
(P. 283)

When Coenus denies that this has happened, Cleomenes's loud grief gives way to a quieter but apparently deeper sorrow. Coenus tells him that his "sick imagination feigns all this"; Cleomenes declares that he knows "what follows victory"; and Pantheus suggests the real source of these fears, "You interrupt, as if you would not know." There follows Coenus's flowery account of Antigonus's merciful proclamation of peace and liberty to Sparta. In despair, Cleomenes remarks, "If this indeed be true, / Then farewell, Sparta" (p. 285). His eager anticipation of rapine and plunder has been disappointed; he seems sincerely sorry that his country has been preserved. Selfish ambition can hardly go further than this.

Cleomenes's heroism, then, however great in its kind, destroys his own peace, and threatens the world's. A wise man would retire with Pantheus to laugh at the folly of man, and a good one would never grieve to hear that Sparta's matrons remain unravished and her virgins unforced. In reminding us of this, Dryden suggests, I think, his willingness to follow himself the wisest and best course. James is the victim of a cruel destiny, and we can pity his condition and admire his fortitude. But James has also become the pawn of France, and any attempt to rectify the injustice done him is likely to bring about a purposeless destruction of life and property without achieving any political good. In Act I of Cleomenes Dryden isolates James's heroic qualities from their political causes and effects and having done so can devote the remainder of the play to uninhibited and, at times, perhaps excessive celebration of them. By placing James and his predicament within the transcendent structure of high tragedy, Dryden gives them a memorable and coherent meaning: James becomes not a blundering politician, but the victim of a tragic fate and so worthy of the respect and admiration of both poet and audience. Dryden says of Cleomenes in his Preface that "Even his enemy, Polybius, though engaged in the contrary faction, yet speaks honourably of him, and especially of his last action in Egypt" (p. 226). Dryden's Williamite audience should do the same for James.


Dryden's mood may have begun to change even before he had finished Cleomenes . In a letter dated August 13, 1691, about two months before Dryden turned the manuscript over to Tonson, William Walsh asks him whether the play is finished,[29] and Thomas Southerne, in his Dedication of The Wives Excuse , mentions that Dryden called on him to help complete the last act. In any case the Dedication and Preface of Cleomenes , written almost a year after Dryden must have begun the play, but within a few weeks of his struggles with the government over its suppression, employ a far less conciliatory tone than the Dedication of King Arthur . In their uncompromising defiance of the badness of the age and their rigorous subordination of the political to the literary, they resemble Eleanora and the Discourse Concerning Satire , both written in 1692. Like King Arthur , Cleomenes is dedicated to a prominent politician who was celebrated in Absalom and Achitophel for standing by Charles and who fell out with James before the Revolution; and, as in the earlier work, Dryden emphasizes his long association with the dedicatee. Here, however, that association is domestic and personal rather than political: he has read to his patron's family; and his daughter and wife have been especially kind to him (p. 216). Further, he barely mentions Rochester's political triumphs of either the past or the present; rather, he praises his literary accomplishments.

To describe his relation to Rochester, he employs an image of literary transcendence drawn from classic poetry: "Ariosto . . . has given us a fine allegory of two swans; who, when Time had thrown the writings of many poets into the river of oblivion, were ever in a readiness to secure the blest, and bear them aloft into the temple of immortality." He first associates Rochester with the swans, then supposes Ariosto "means only that some excellent writers, almost as few in number as the swans, have rescued the memory of their patrons from forgetfulness and time" (p. 214). In either case, Rochester and Dryden are safely placed in a realm beyond the merely temporal and upheld by literary merit. Further, despite Rochester's accomplishments as a politician, Dryden is careful to celebrate him for his apparently more important accomplishments as a reader and patron of poetry:

to your experience in state affairs, you have also joined no vulgar erudition, which all your modesty is not able to conceal: for, to un-


derstand critically the delicacies of Horace is a height to which few of our noblemen have arrived; and that this is your deserved commendation, I am a living evidence, as far, at least, as I can be allowed a competent judge on that subject. Your affection to that admirable Ode, which Horace writes to his Maecenas, and which I had the honour to inscribe to you, is not the only proof of this assertion. You may please to remember that . . . you took me aside, and pleased yourself with repeating to me . . . the Ode to Barine, wherein you were so particularly affected with that elegant expression, Juvenumque prodis publica cura . There is indeed the virtue of a whole poem in those words; that curiosa felicitas , which Petronius so justly ascribes to our author. The barbarity of our language is not able to reach it; yet, when I have leisure, I mean to try how near I can raise my English to his Latin; though in the meantime, I cannot but imagine to myself, with what scorn his sacred manes would look on so lame a translation as I could make.
(P. 215)

Beneath this self-deprecation, Dryden clearly casts himself and Rochester as the English Horace and Maecenas, men whom the details of politics cannot reach.

A similar contempt for the merely local and topical can be felt throughout Dedication and Preface . Dryden begins the Dedication by thanking Rochester for "a just and honourable action, in redeeming this play from the persecution of my enemies" (p. 213). He is careful here to play down the political motive behind its suppression: it was banned only through the malice of personal enemies. In the Preface , he proclaims his indifference to these enemies:

I know it will be here expected, and I should write somewhat concerning the forbidding of my play; but, the less I say of it, the better. And, besides, I was so little concerned at it, that, had it not been on consideration of the actors, who were to suffer on my account, I should not have been at all solicitous whether it were played or no. Nobody can imagine that, in my declining age, I write willingly, or that I am desirous of exposing, at this time of day, the small reputation which I have gotten on the theatre. The subsistence which I had from the former Government is lost; and the reward I have from the stage is so little, that it is not worth my labour.
(Pp. 221–222)


Here Dryden combines professions of age and poverty with a tone of defiance: he makes no money from public approval, and therefore has no reason to seek it. Indeed, in the current political climate, concern for such approval is likely to destroy the literary value of one's work. Dryden complains that his play

had been garbled before by the superiors of the play-house; and I cannot reasonably blame them for their caution, because they are answerable for anything that is publicly represented; and their zeal for the Government is such, that they had rather lose the best poetry in the world, than give the least suspicion of their loyalty. The short is, that they were diligent enough to make sure work, and to geld it so clearly in some places, that they took away the very manhood of it.
(P. 222)

Political slavishness, Dryden suggests, emasculates poetry; he was later to develop this theme at length in the Discourse Concerning Satire . Here he implies that the proper attitude toward the public and its topical concerns is scornful indifference, and he ends his Preface with lofty disdain: "I have learned to possess my soul in patience, and not to be much disquieted with any disappointment of this nature" (p. 227). Dryden's experiment with conciliation had come to an end.


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