Luminarium: Anthology of English Literature Rose of King Charles II John Dryden

18th-Century Literature | John Dryden | Quotes | Biography | Works | Essays | Resources | Bookstore | Discussion Forum



Seventeenth Century

Eighteenth Century



Portrait of Dryden

John Dryden (1631-1700)

John Dryden was born at the vicarage of Aldwinkle, Northamptonshire, on August 9, 1631, son of Erasmus Dryden and Mary Pickering. His family were Parliamentary supporters with Puritan leanings. He attended Westminster School as a king's scholar under Richard Busby and was an avid student of the classics. While at Westminster, Dryden published his first verses, an elegy "Upon the Death of Lord Hastings", in Lachrymæ Musarum (1649). He entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1650, and took a BA in 1654.
       Dryden moved to London around 1657, and first gained notice with his 'Heroic Stanzas' (1659) on the death of Lord Protector Cromwell. In the Royalist climate of the Restoration, he sensibly wrote Astraea Redux (1660) to celebrate the return of King Charles II. For the coronation, Dryden wrote "To His Sacred Majesty, A Panegyric" (1661). In 1662, Dryden wrote verses "To My Lord Chancellor" Clarendon, and was elected to the Royal Society. The theatres had been reopened, demand for entertainments was high, and Dryden set to writing plays. In 1663, Dryden married Lady Elizabeth Howard, the sister of his theatrical partner Sir Robert Howard, and the eldest daughter of the Earl of Berkshire. His first play was the prose comedy of humours A Wild Gallant (1663), a wholly unremarkable piece, followed by the tragicomedy The Rival Ladies (1664) and The Indian Queen (1664). In 1665, the theatres were closed down because of the plague that raged in London, and the King's court relocated to Oxford. There, Dryden finally established a reputation as a playwright with The Indian Emperor (1665), a heroic drama.
       The year 1666 was eventful in English history, including both the naval war with the Dutch, and the Great Fire of London. Dryden commemorated this 'year of wonders" in his long poem, Annus Mirabilis, in 1667. This poem secured him the position of Poet Laureate on the death of William D'Avenant in 1668. The same year, he was also given the degree of M. A. by the Archbishop of Canterbury. As a fellow of the Royal Society, he was furthermore made Historiographer Royal in 1670, which brought him an annual income of £200.
       In 1668, Dryden began a fruitful period of both critical and dramatic writing. His first major critical work was the Essay of Dramatic Poesy (1668), followed by A Defence of an Essay (1668), and Essay of Heroic Plays (1672). His plays from this period include the comedy Secret Love (1667); the heroic drama Tyrannic Love (1669); the two-part The Conquest of Granada (1670-71); and the comedy Marriage á la Mode (1672). In 1674, Dryden published a tribute to Milton in the form of a musical adaptation of Paradise Lost, entitled The State of Innocence—it was never performed. The tragedy Aureng-Zebe (1676) was Dryden's first play in blank verse, followed by his masterpiece All for Love (1678), based on the story of Anthony and Cleopatra.
       The success and fame Dryden enjoyed naturally garnered him enemies. He was ridiculed in Buckingham's The Rehearsal (1671), and brutally beaten in an attack in Rose Alley, Covent Garden, on December 18, 1679. It has been suggested, though never proved, that Lord Rochester had a hand in hiring the ruffians responsible for the attack. Rochester had lampooned Dryden earlier, and had in turn suspected of Dryden for complicity in ridiculing him in Lord Mulgrave's Essay on Satire.
       With the the unsuccessful prose comedy "Limberham" (1678), the poor adaptation of Troilus and Cressida (1679), and the play "Spanish Friar" (1681), Dryden left his career as dramatist for a time and turned his attention to satire. His political satire on Monmouth and Shaftesbury, Absalom and Achitophel, appeared in 1681. It is one of the great English satires, and it brought him further favor with Charles II, who was pleased at this attack against the Whigs during the Exclusion Crisis. Dryden dutifully wrote the Second Part of Absalom and Achitophel in collaboration with Nahum Tate, as well as another attack on Shaftesbury's supporters, The Medal (1682). These naturally provoked counterattacks, including Thomas Shadwell's The Medal of John Bayes. Dryden in turn responded Mac Flecknoe, full of ridicule for Shadwell, perhaps his most entertaining poem, pirated in 1682, and officially printed in 1684.
       Dryden also had a keen interest in theology, and this resulted first in the publication of Religio Laici (1682). This work, the title of which translates as "A Layman's Faith", was a long religious poem arguing Christianity over Deism, the Bible as the guide to salvation, and the Anglican Church over the Catholic Church. This period saw some of Dryden's best poems, the Pindaric ode "Threnodia Augustalis" (1685) at the death of Charles II, the beautiful lyrical ode "To the Pious Memory ... of Mrs Anne Killigrew" (1686) written to commemorate a painter who drowned in the Thames, and "A Song for Saint Cecilia's Day" (1687).  Dryden had long grappled with religious uncertainty, and converted into Roman Catholicism in 1686, the year after the ascension to the throne of King James II, a Catholic. In 1687, Dryden published The Hind and the Panther, an allegorical fable criticizing the Anglican church. Dryden suffered for this almost immediately. The Revolution of 1688, which placed the Protestant William III on the throne, caused him to be deprived of his laureateship, and what was worse, he was replaced by his old enemy, Shadwell.
       Dryden returned to the theatre. He wrote the libretto to Purcell's opera King Arthur (1691); a tragicomedy, Don Sebastian (1690); a comedy of errors, Amphitryon (1690); and Cleomenes: the Spartan Hero (1692). Dryden's Love Triumphant (1694), the prologue of which announced it as his last play, was a failure. Dryden turned to writing translations, including the satires of Perseus and Juvenal (1693) and Virgil's Aeneid (1697). He also wrote more poetry, including "An Ode, on the death of Mr Henry Purcell" (1696) commemorating the composer, a second ode for St. Cecilia's Day, "Alexander's Feast" (1697), which was later incorporated into his Fables Ancient and Modern (1700), paraphrases of Ovid, Boccaccio, and Chaucer.
       Dryden died on April 30, 1700, soon after the publication of the Fables, of inflammation caused by gout. He was buried in Westminster Abbey. Dryden was a good playwright and poet, a fine translator, a solid critic, and an excellent satirist whose works are still worthy of much admiration.


  • Bredvold, Louis Ignatius. The Intellectual Milieu of John Dryden.
            Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1956.
  • Hooker, Edward Niles, H. T. Swedenberg, Jr., Vinton A. Dearing, et al. eds.
            The Works of John Dryden. 18 vols.
            Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1956.
  • Eliot, T. S. Homage to John Dryden.
            London: The Hogarth Press, 1924.
  • Eliot, T. S. John Dryden: The Poet, The Dramatist, The Critic.
            New York: Terence & Elsa Holliday, 1932.
            (Repr. New York: Haskell House, 1965, 1968)
  • Frost, William. John Dryden : Dramatist, Satirist, Translator.
            New York: AMS Press, 1988.
  • Gelber, M. W. The Just And The Lively: Literary Criticism of John Dryden.
            Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999.
  • Hammond, Paul. John Dryden: A Literary Life.
            New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991.
  • Hammond, P. and D. Hopkins, eds. John Dryden: Tercentenary Essays.
            New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • Hammond, Paul and David Hopkins, eds. The Poems of John Dryden. 4 vols.
            New York: Longman, 1995-2000.
  • Kirsch, Arthur C. Dryden's Heroic Drama.
            Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press, 1965. (Repr. 1972).
  • Miner, Earl Roy, ed. John Dryden.
            London: Bell, 1972.
  • Myers, William. Dryden.
            London: Hutchinson, 1973.
  • Saintsbury, George. Dryden.
            New York, Harper, 1881.
            (Repr. London: Macmillan, 1930)
            (Repr. New York, AMS Press, 1968)
  • Scott, Walter, Sir. The Life of John Dryden.
            Edited with an introd. by Bernard Kreissman.
            Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press [1963]
  • Sutherland, James. John Dryden; The Poet as Orator.
            Glasgow: Jackson, Son, 1963.
  • Van Doren, Mark. John Dryden: A Study of His Poetry.
            New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1946.
            (Repr. Bloomington & London: Indiana U. Press, 1960, '63, '67, 1973)
  • Van Doren, Mark. The Poetry of John Dryden.
            New York, Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920.
            (Repr.& Rev. Ed. Cambridge: Gordon Fraser/The Minority Press, 1931)
            (Repr. New York: Haskell House, 1969)
  • Ward, Charles Eugene. The Life of John Dryden.
            Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, [1961].
    Winn, James Anderson. John Dryden And His World.
            New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987.

Article Citation:

Jokinen, Anniina. "Life of John Dryden." Luminarium.
         21 May 2002. [Date when you accessed the page].


Site copyright ©1996-2011 Anniina Jokinen. All Rights Reserved.
Page created by Anniina Jokinen on May 11, 2002. Last updated March 24, 2011.


Restoration & 18th-century:

Samuel Butler
John Dryden
Samuel Pepys
John Bunyan
Aphra Behn
John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester
Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea
Mary Astell
William Congreve
Matthew Prior
Daniel Defoe
John Gay
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
Jonathan Swift
Joseph Addison
Sir Richard Steele
James Thomson
Alexander Pope
Dr. Samuel Johnson
Thomas Gray
William Collins
Christopher Smart
Oliver Goldsmith
George Crabbe
William Cowper
James Boswell
Essays and Articles
Additional Sources

Search | Luminarium | Encyclopedia | What's New | Letter from the Editor | Bookstore | Poster Store | Discussion Forums