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An Essay of Dramatic Poesy/Notes


Page 1. Charles Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, afterwards Earl of Dorset, author of the well-known song 'To all you ladies now on land,' and Lord Chamberlain to William III after the Revolution, was always a kind friend and patron to Dryden, and liberally assisted him when the loss of his office as poet-laureat, through his refusal to take the oaths to William, brought the poet to great distress. See the long dedication to Dryden's Essay on Satire (Yonge's edition).

2. 1. 17. The Tragedy of Pompey the Great, 'translated out of French by certain persons of honour': 4to. 1664. From Dryden's eulogium it appears that the fourth act was translated by Lord Buckhurst; the first was done by Waller. (Malone.) Sir Charles Sedley, Malone says in another place, had also a hand in this translation, which was from the Pompée of Corneille. The act translated by Waller is published among his works.

3. 6. See Valerius Maximus, 1. iv. c. 5. (Malone.)

8. Hor. Epod. xvi. 37.

13. To allow, in the last age, signified to approve. (Malone.)

3. 27. I have not, any more than former editors, succeeded in discovering from what French poet these lines are taken.

4. 13. These lines are found in a poem by Sir William Davenant, printed in 4to. in 1663, and republished in his works, fol. 1673, p. 268. (Malone.)

28. In the Dedication to The Rival Ladies [1664] (Malone.); where Dryden argues very ably for the superiority of rhyme over blank verse.

5. 18. See Cicero's Letters to Atticus, xii. 40, and Plutarch's Life of Julius Caesar, chap. 54.

7. 5. Dryden often uses adjectives as adverbs. In this particular instance he had Shakspere's example before him. See Henry VIII, iv. 2. 52:—

'Exceeding wise, fair-spoken, and persuading.'

8. 15. The engagement between the English and Dutch fleets took place [off Southwold] in Suffolk. In this memorable battle 18 large Dutch ships were taken, and 14 others were destroyed; Opdam, the Dutch admiral, who engaged the Duke of York, was blown up beside him, and he and all his crew perished. (Malone.)

11. 5. This is probably a reference to the Act of 1664, commonly called the Conventicle Act, 'to prevent and suppress seditious and unlawful conventicles.'

16. Cic. pro Archia, c. 10.

21. Perhaps the writer first alluded to was Dr. Robert Wild, author of Iter Boreale, a panegyric on General Monk, published in April 1660, and often reprinted; which may be the 'famous poem' alluded to in p.13. His works were collected and published in a small volume in 1668. The other poet may have been Richard Flecknoe. Both these poets celebrated the Dutch defeat. (Malone.)

13. 2. Martial. Epigr. viii. 19.

13. 23. George Wither, probably because he was a Puritan and one of Cromwell's major-generals, was the mark for much malicious satire on the part of Tory and Royalist poets. They give him no credit for the lovely lyrical pieces which are for ever associated with his name. Butler (Hudibras, Part I, canto 1), addressing the Puritanic muse, says:—

'Thou that with ale, or viler liquors,
Didst inspire Withers, Prynne, and Vickars.'

Dryden speaks contemptuously of him in the passage before us, and Pope in the Dunciad (i. 296) numbers 'wretched Withers' among 'the dull of ancient days.'

30. 'Auction by inch of Candle, is when, a piece of candle being lighted, people are allowed to bid while it burns, but as soon as extinct, the commodity is adjudged to the last bidder.' (Chambers' Dictionary.) At land sales in France this practice is still in force.

14. 17. T. Petronius, Satyricon, cap. ii.

15. 6. Hor. Epist. ii. I. 76.

9. Ib. 34.

16. 21. Malone rejects 'Eugenius his opinion' as 'ungrammatical phraseology,' but says, supporting himself on the authority of Bishop Lloyd, that Dryden ought to have written 'Eugeniusis opinion'!

17. 26. It is not perfect, because it does not include a differentia, and is therefore too wide; it is applicable to epic and heroic poems, and to romances, equally with plays.

18. 11. See Veil. Paterc. i. 16. 17. v (Malone.)

19. 14. Historia Romana, i. 17.

20. 22. Aristotle's treatise on Poetry 'is a fragment, and while promising to treat of tragedy, comedy, and epic poetry, it treats only of tragedy, adding a few brief remarks on epic poetry, and omitting comedy altogether.' (Encyc. Brit. 9th ed., art. 'Aristotle.')

23. 18. Ben Jonson's Discoveries, p. 765 of Routledge's edition of his Works.

27. 9. Historia Romana, ii. 92.

28. 23. Horace's line is: —

'Neve minor, neu sit quinto productior actu.'

(Malone.) Ars Poet. 189. Horace lays it down as a rule applicable to all plays, not comedies only.

29. The term 'Jornada' was introduced into Spain by the dramatist Naharro early in the sixteenth century. It is equivalent to day's work, or day's journey. 'The old French mysteries were divided into journées or portions, each of which could conveniently be represented in the time given by the Church to such entertainments on a single day. One of the mysteries in this way required forty days for its exhibition.' (Ticknor, Spanish Literature, i. 270 note.)

29. 7. τὁ μῡθος. This is a singular slip; it should of course be ὁ μῡθος.

28. 'Good cheap' is a literal translation of bon marché.

31. 24. The Supplices.

34. 14. The satyric drama of the Cyclops, by Euripides, a kind of farce, is the only specimen remaining to us of a form of theatrical entertainment which all the Greek tragedians had recourse to, in order to relieve the mental tension consequent on witnessing the performance of a long tragedy. It must be remembered, however, that with them a tragedy was merely a drama written in an intense and serious style; it was not necessary that it should have a disastrous ending. Thus the Alcestis, the Ion, and the two Iphigenias of Euripides, and the Electra and Œdipus Coloneus of Sophocles, since none of these plays end unhappily, do not fall under the definition of a tragedy as now understood.

35. 6. Ter. Eunuchus, Act. ii. Sc. I. 17, 18.

16. Our author has quoted from memory. The lines are, At nostri proavi, etc., and afterwards, Ne dicam stulte mirati. (Malone.) Hor. A. P. 270.

23. Hor. A. P. 70.

28. Catachresis is the improper or abusive employment of a word.

29. Virg. Ecl. iv. 20.

36. 4. Virg. Æn. viii. 91.

8. Ovid, Met. i. 175; and (below) ib. 561. Malone says that the true reading is pompae, and this is certainly adopted in Burmann's edition; but longas . . . pompas occurs in some MSS. Malone also points out that in the preceding quotation, for verbo we should read verbis, and for metuam summi, timeam magni.

31. From The Rebel Scot, by Cleveland.

37. 1. Juv. Sat. x. 123.

22. Many Medeas were produced by the ancients; Delrio tells us that it was treated as a subject for comedy by the Greek authors, Eubuius, Stratis, and Cantharus, and for tragedy by (besides Euripides) Herillus, Diogenes, Philiscus, and Demologus; it was also dramatized by the Latin writers Ennius, Attius, Pacuvius, Varro, and Ovid. (See Schroder's Seneca; Delft, 1728.)

25. Ovid, Tristia ii. 381.

30. Our author (as Dr. Johnson has observed) might have determined this question upon surer evidence, for it [Medea] is quoted by Quintilian as Seneca's, and the only line which remains of Ovid's play, for one line is left us, is not found there. (Malone.) Ovid's line, cited by Quintilian in his eighth book, as stronger and more impressive than the adage Nocere facile est, prodesse difficile; is—Servare potui. Perdere an possim rogas?

38. 20. Juv. Sat. vi. 195.

39. 17. Virg. Æn. i. 378; parts of two lines.

28. Hor. Sat. x. 68.

41. 10. Pierre Corneille was born at Rouen in 1606, and produced his first play, Mélite, a comedy, in 1625.

42. 28. The Red Bull, in St. John's Street, was one of the meanest of our ancient theatres, and was famous for entertainments adapted to the taste of the lower orders of the people. (Malone.) In Strype's edition of Stow's London there is a plan of the parish of St. James, Clerkenwell, on which is marked 'Red Bull Yard,' between St. John's Street and Clerkenwell Green. This must have been the site of the theatre. The ground formerly belonged to the priory of St. John at Jerusalem; and it is not unlikely that, as Shakspeare and his company turned the ruinous buildings of the Blackfriars, near St. Paul's, to account for a theatre, the patrons of the Red Bull made a similar use of the monastic ruins at Clerkenwell. In his Annals of the Stage (iii. 324) Mr. Collier collects a number of notices, more or less interesting, of the Red Bull Theatre. Wither, in his satires, Randolph in his Muses' Looking Glass, and Prynne in the Histriomastix, all make mention of it. It was pulled down not long after the Restoration, and Drury Lane was regarded as having taken its place.

29. Hor. Epist. ii. 1. 185. Horace wrote:—

'Si discordet eques, media inter carmina poscunt
Aut ursum aut pugiles.'

43. 13. Ars Poet. 240.

22. Ib. 151.

28. Dryden here used 'success' in the sense of the Spanish suceso, which means 'event,' or 'issue.'

44. 3. The writers from whom we learn the story of Cyrus are Herodotus, Ctesias, and Xenophon. Of these Herodotus, as living nearest to the time, is the most trustworthy. The Cyropaedia of Xenophon is a historical romance, nor does the writer himself pretend that it is anything more. Herodotus makes Cyrus, when advanced in years, invade the country of the Massagetae, whose queen was Tomyris, and lose his life in battle. (Smith's Class. Biogr. Dictionary.)

21. Hor. de Arte Poet. 188.

25. Hesiod, Theog. 27.

45. 15. The Bloody Brother, also called The Tragedy of Rollo Duke of Normandy, by John Fletcher, was first printed in 1639. The plot is taken from the fourth book of Herodian; it is Roman imperial history transferred to new times, places, and persons; Caracalla and Geta become Rollo and Otto. Whatever merit the piece may have in respect of uniformity, the versification and style are both of a low and rude type.

26. Oleo, or oglio, is a corruption of olla in olla podrida, a Spanish dish consisting of a stew of several kinds of meat and vegetables. Oleo, therefore, means a mess or mixture.

47. 3. Dryden appears to have borrowed this word from Corneille, who speaks (Rodog. Exam.) of a 'personage protatique,' i.e. an introductory character; it is from the Greek προτατικός.

50. 13. Hor. A. P. 180-187. Horace writes 'Ne pueros': a line is omitted after 'trucidet.'

25. The reference is to Act iii, Sc. i. 2, of Jonson's comedy of The Magnetic Lady.

51. 9. The title of this play, the joint work of Beaumont and Fletcher, and first acted in 1611, was A King and no King. In the last act Gobryas, a noble, reveals to Arbaces, king of Illyria, that he is really his son, and not the son of Arane, the queen mother; Arbaces, thus become a subject and 'no King,' marries Panthea, the true heir to the throne, and all ends happily.

52. 2. The Scornful Lady, a joint play, was produced some time between 1609 and 1615. 'The sudden conversion of the usurer Morecraft is imitated from the Adelphi of Terence, where the same change takes place in the character of Demea.' (Dyce.)

53. 19. Velleius Paterculus, i. 17. (Malone.)

54. 17. The Menteur of Corneille (see Geruzez, Lit. Française, ii. 90) was founded on one of the chefs d'œuvre of the Spanish stage, the Truth itself Suspected of Ruiz de Alarcon. It appeared in 1642.

23. It seems impossible to compare such plays as the Menteur and the Fox of Jonson. The latter is real life, though in a coarse form; the other, with its polished rhymes and regular movement, is a fine work of art, but has little to do with life. Each has its merits, but they are referable to no common standard.

55. 5. Cardinal Richelieu died in 1642. (Malone.)

9. The Cornelia and Double Marriage of Beaumont and Fletcher, which are founded on two of Cervantes' novels, are cases in point.

11. The Adventures of Five Hours, written by Sir Samuel Tuke, and printed in 1663. Diego is a character in it. (Malone.)

56. 1. 6. 'Contraries are the two most opposite qualities of the same class of subjects, e.g. black and white, as colours of bodies; virtue and vice, as habits of the soul.' (Mansel's Artis Logicae Rudimenta, 19.)

57. 4. The doctrine of the primum mobile belongs to the Ptolemaic astronomy, which made the sun and stars revolve round the earth.

58. 12. Cinna, or the Clemency of Augustus, produced in 1639, is generally allowed to be Corneille's finest tragedy. On the Pompey, see the note on p. 129. The Polyeuctus, a story of Christian martyrdom referring to the persecution of the Emperor Decius, appeared in 1640. The author's 'Examen' on this play is of great interest.

60. 10. The Maid's Tragedy is by Beaumont and Fletcher; the other plays here mentioned, by Ben Jonson.

61. 16. The Andromède, from the gorgeousness of its mythological mise-en-scène, bore some resemblance to the masque, while from the use of recitative and the introduction of many songs it approached the modern opera. Among the 'dramatis personae' there were only ten human beings against twelve gods and goddesses. The opening scene showed a huge mountain, pierced by a grotto, through which appeared the sea; Melpomene entered on one side, and the Sun on the other, in a 'char tout lumineux,' drawn by four horses.

62. 9. There is no passage in Ben Jonson's works in which he directly censures Shakspere for the non-observance of the unities of Time and Place. Dryden can only refer to the Prologue to Every Man in his Humour. This prologue first appeared in 1616, and its intended application to Shakspere may well have been traditionally known in the theatrical world fifty years later. In it Jonson, among the 'ill customs of the age ' which he will not imitate, enumerates—

'To make a child now swaddled to proceed
Man, and then shoot up, in one beard and weed,
Past threescore years; or, with three rusty swords,
And help of some few foot and half-foot words,
Fight over York and Lancaster's long jars,
And in the tyring-house bring wounds to scars.
He rather prays you will be pleased to see
One such to-day, as other plays should be;
Where neither chorus wafts you o'er the seas,
Nor creaking throne comes down the boys to please,' etc.

Other dramatists may have been included in the censure; but it seems clear that Shakspere was principally intended, the three parts of whose Henry VI extend over the events of nearly fifty years, including the whole of 'York and Lancaster's long jars,' whose Perdita is born and grows up to be a woman between the first and fifth acts, and who makes the Chorus in Winter's Tale say—the play having begun in Sicily —

'imagine me,
Gentle spectators, that I now may be
In fair Bohemia.'

64. 19. A servant in Sir Samuel Tuke's Adventures of Five Hours, who is described by the author as 'a great coward, and a pleasant droll.' Philipin is, I suppose, a character in the French play alluded to. (Malone.)

65. 23. This subject had been imperfectly examined at the time when Dryden wrote, and his statement is not quite accurate. It is true that most of the old comedies before Shakspere, such as Ralph Roister Doister and Gammer Gurton's Needle, were written in rude twelve-syllable lines, to class which with the elegant French Alexandrines of the period is to pay them much too high a compliment. But there were exceptions; the Misogonus of Richards (about 1560) is in fourteen-syllable alternate rhymes; the Supposes of Gascoigne (1566) is in prose; the Promos and Cassandra of Whetstone (1578) is in the heroic couplet; and the Taming of a Shrew (1594) is in blank verse. See Collier, Annals of the Stage, vol. iii.

30. The unfinished pastoral drama of The Sad Shepherd, or A Tale of Robin Hood, must have been written not long before Jonson's death in 1637; the prologue opens with the line—

'He that hath feasted you these forty years.'

66. 3. The pastoral drama of The Faithful Shepherdess, by Fletcher, was brought out about 1610.

18. Dryden truly says that The Merry Wives of Windsor is 'almost exactly formed'; that is, that the unities of time and place are nearly observed. The time of the action is comprised within two days; the place is, either some house in Windsor, or a street in Windsor, or a field near the town, or Windsor Park.

67. 11. It is curious to observe with what caution our author speaks, when he ventures to place Shakspere above Jonson; a caution which proves decisively the wretched taste of the period when he wrote. (Malone.)

31. Virg. Ecl. i. 26.

68. 23. Chiefly on account of the woman-page Bellario, in whose mouth are put a profusion of pretty and graceful things which might often deserve to have been said by Shakspere's Viola. Lamb says (Eng. Dramatic Poets, p. 308), 'For many years after the date of Philasler's first exhibition on the stage [1608], scarce a play can be found without one of these women pages in it, following in the train of some pre-engaged lover.'

69. 10. Mr. Dyce, in his excellent edition of Beaumont and Fletcher (1844), enumerates the following plays as certainly, or almost certainly, the joint work of the two: —

Three others—Wit without Money, The Custom of the Country, and Bonduca—he is disposed to add to the above list, but with less confidence. The other plays, in number about thirty-nine, published under their joint names, he would assign either to Fletcher alone, or to Fletcher assisted by some other dramatist, not Beaumont.

71. 9. The Discoveries, not published till after Jonson's death, are like the contents of a commonplace book, and of very unequal merit; here occurs the well-known criticism on Shakspere as having 'never blotted out a line.' The praise which Dryden gives to the book is excessive. To go no further, the 'Examens' annexed by Corneille to his dramas are incomparably more valuable than anything in the Discoveries

13. Epicæne, or the Silent Woman, appeared in 1609.

73. 14. τὁ γελοῑν (to geloion), the laughable or ridiculous element.

26. ἧθος, disposition; πάθος, passion (ethos, pathos).

75. 25. Hor. Epist. ii. 1. 168.

76. 19. The prose comedy of Bartholomew Fair was produced in 1614.

77. 17. Of the piece on which our author has given so high an encomium, Drummond of Hawthornden, Jonson's contemporary and friend, has left the following anecdote: 'When his play of The Silent Woman was first acted, there were found verses after on the stage against him, concluding that the play was well named The Silent Woman, because there was never one man to say plaudite to it.' (Malone.)

78. 18. Hor. de Arte Poet. 90.

25. Vell. Paterc. ii. 36.

80. 13. Macrob. Saturnalia, ii. 13. The 'other poet' was Publius Syrus.

81. 1. Aristotle's Poetics, iv. 18.

24. Virg. Ecl. vii. 4.

83. 9. M. Seneca, Controv. ix.,5, quoting from Ovid, Met. xiii. 503-5.

11. Ovid, Met. i. 292. This line is quoted by Lucius, not by Marcus Seneca.

29. The Indian Queen and The Indian Emperor were the only plays, altogether in rhyme, which Dryden had produced before this was written. The Rival Ladies is partly prose, partly rhyme.

84. 3. Sir Robert Howard (Malone.); in the preface to his plays, published in 1665.

85. 29. 'prevail himself,' se prévaloir, a Gallicism.

87. 10. 'Vide Daniel, his Defence of Rhyme.' (Dryden's note.) This short tract was written by Daniel in 1603, in reply to Campion's Observations in the Art of English Poesie.

88. 4. The Siege of Rhodes (1656) was one of the plays produced by Sir William Davenant under the Protectorate; 'a kind of nondescript entertainments, as they were called, which were dramatic in everything but the names and form; and some of them were called operas.' (Hazlitt.)

90. 3. Virg. Georg. iii. 9; for possum should be read possim.

19. Geo. Sandys, son of an archbishop of York, published a metrical version of the Psalms in 1636.

90. 24. Our author here again has quoted from memory. Horace's line is [Epist. ii. 1. 63]:—

'Interdum vulgus rectum videt; est ubi peccat.'


30. Mustapha was a popular tragedy of the day, by Roger Boyle, Earl of Orrery. There was an earlier play of the same name by Fulke Greville, afterwards Lord Brooke.

91. 27. Hor. A. P. 90; and below, ib. 231.

95. 11. This simple avowal of the true poetic workman, that his work does not appear to him perfect till he has clothed it in rhyme, is highly instructive; it is a chapter in the ' Natural History of Poetry.'

96. 2. The Water-poet, John Taylor, was so called from his having been long a waterman on the Thames. He seems to have been a rhymester of the same order as 'Poet Close,' a character well known to all who visit Windermere. Wood gives an account of him in the Athenae, and Hazlitt devotes rather a lengthy article to him in his edition of Johnson's Lives. Taylor enjoyed a great popularity. 'If it were put to the question,' says Ben Jonson (Discoveries, Routledge, p. 746), 'of the water-rhymer's works against Spenser's, I doubt not but they would find more suffrages; because the most favour common vices, out of a prerogative the vulgar have to lose their judgments, and like that which is naught.'

7. Cicero in his Brutus (cap. 73) quotes this as a maxim laid down by Caesar in his work 'on the method of speaking in Latin,' to which the name 'De Analogia' was given.

13. Seneca's tragedy of Hippolytus, 1. 863.

97. 28. Sir Robert Howard, in the Preface to his Plays, before referred to.

99. 22. 'Somerset House,' says Stow in his History of London (ed. Strype, 1720), 'hath been used as the Palace or Court of the Queen Dowagers; it belong'd of late to Katharine Queen Dowager, the wife of King Charles the Second. At the entrance into this Court out of the Strand is a spacious square court garnished on all sides with rows of freestone buildings, and at the Front is a Piazza, with stone Pillars which support the buildings, and a pavement of freestone.' He goes on to say that there were steps down to the river, and a 'most pleasant garden which runs to the water side.' This way from the river bank up into Somerset House has long been closed.

105. 28. Hor. A. P. 362.

30. Ib. 50.

106. 10. 'lazar' sometimes = 'lazar-house'; and the reference seems to be to Bartholomew's Hospital, which is the scene of the play of Bartholomew Fair.

111. 9. Lucan, Phars. i. 12.

114. 3. Hor. de Art. Poet. 338.

115. 5. Il. viii. 267.

118. 4. See above, pp. 6 and 8.



This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.