Home  »  Volume VIII: English THE AGE OF DRYDEN  »  § 6. Dryden’s Productivity as a Dramatist

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

I. Dryden

§ 6. Dryden’s Productivity as a Dramatist

Meanwhile, like most of his would-be rivals, he had formed a connection with the theatre, and continued to maintain it. In his thirtieth year, on the very morrow of the restoration, Dryden made his earliest known attempt as a playwright. His dramatic productivity slackened very much during the latter half of his literary life; but he cannot be said to have ever wholly abandoned this form of production; indeed, in his very last year, he contributed some new matter on the occasion of the revival, for his benefit, of one of Fletcher’s plays. Within this period, he tried his hand at most dramatic forms in actual use, and, for a time, identified himself with the most conspicuous new development. In view, however, of the assertion deliberately made by him in his later days, that “his genius never much inclined him to the stage,” and of the general course of his literary career, which shows him rather falling back from time to time on play-writing than steadily attracted by it, the fact that he was the author, in whole or in part, of nearly a score and a half of plays, would be surprising, were it not for the extraordinary promptitude and adaptability of his powers. It will be most convenient, before returning to his other literary labours, to survey briefly his dramatic work as a whole. Its fluctuations were largely determined by influences which he could, indeed, sustain and develop, but into which, except in the instance of one transitory species, he can hardly be said to have infused any fresh life; so that his plays, as a whole, remain, after all, only a subsidiary section of his literary achievements.

The principal currents in what according to a rather loose terminology, it has been customary to call the restoration drama, will be discussed in other chapters of the present volume; and what is said here is only so much as is necessary to make the general course of Dryden’s productivity as a dramatist intelligible.