Dryden wrote plays, poems, and essays and translated classical works into the idiom of his time. His abundance can scarcely be guessed at from the offerings in our text. As for his overall stature, he must be ranked with Pope, Swift, and Johnson as a top literary figure in the Neoclassical Era. Of note is the fact that Dryden established the Neoclassical style in poetry. During the last third of the 17th century, his contemporaries read his poetry, liked it, and adopted its style as their own. For over 130 years, from the beginnings of the Restoration till the end of the 18th century, poets would continue to write poetry in this style. One of the chief signs of literary revolution with the advent of Romanticism was the abandonment by Romantic poets of the Neoclassical style.
Neoclassical Literary Traits:
Neoclassical writers made (1) abundant allusion to classical literature and mythology. They admired imitations of classical Greek and Roman models (Virgil, Horace, Homer) and translations of classical works and saw them as appropriate activities for a creative poet. In keeping with (2) the spirit of satire, much neoclassical writing was didactic and aimed at correcting vices and foibles through ridicule. Neoclassical taste had (3) a respect for reason and a rational control of the passions. Imagination and fantasy were distrusted. Finally, Neoclassical verse was characterized by the (4) heroic couplet, also called heroic verse. The term heroic verse derives from Dryden's use of rhyming couplets in iambic pentameter in his heroic plays.
“Mac Flecknoe” Discussion Questions
1. Explore how and why Dryden references classical literature and mythology. How is this a “mock heroic”?
2. Examine the use and effect of heroic couplet. Where and why is there an occasional triplet (three rhymed lines rather than two)? Are there other ways you think the language witty – “thought and words elegantly adapted to the subject”?