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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

John Dryden: The Old Lion in 1700
by Ernst, Winifred Watkins, Ph.D., The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2011, 221; 3464908
Abstract (Summary)

Poetry and politics were important to Dryden throughout his career. They are no less important to Fables and The Secular Masque. My dissertation explores the idea that Fables involves an earnest, if covert, appraisal of both the merits and the flaws of William and Mary, as well as a reappraisal of the strengths and weaknesses of the monarchs before them, including all of the Stuarts in relation to the legendary Plantagenets. In assessing the connections and evaluating the careers of past and present monarchs, Dryden draws on several themes, particularly the tensions between family and individual, love and war, persuasion and force, involvement and detachment, and ultimately the historical versus the personal. And throughout, he is aware of the analogy between the ordering art of the poet (or narrator) and that of the King.

In the first chapter, I begin with Palamon and Arcite and The Secular Masque. The traits of an ideal king traditionally have been expressed in terms of concordia discors and the balance between Mars and Venus. Edward III is an ideal king in English culture, as Theseus is in Palamon and Arcite. The satirical epilogue The Secular Masque touches on the failures of subsequent English monarchs. Chapter Two focuses on a related pattern involving persuasion (Venus) and force (Mars), which is explored further through marriage (persuasion) and rape (force). These symbols have political significance: James I and Robert Filmer codified the typical views in the 1660s regarding the state as a family, and rape was a common image for usurpation. Finally, Dryden's genius in Fables lies in the artist's eye that perceives large historical patterns, but remains acutely aware of the individual characters that are part of those patterns. Chapter Three explores this aspect of Dryden's poetry in 1700.

I suggest that Dryden's loss of political favor has not handicapped the urbane wisdom that is his signature. However, despite his ability to provide his readers with dispassionate yet committed patterns of both kingship and poetry, it isn't clear whether or not Dryden feels that he himself has achieved such an ideal.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Stumpf, Thomas A.
Commitee: Barbour, Reid, Reinert, Tom, Thompson, James, Wolfe, Jessica L.
School: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Department: English
School Location: United States -- North Carolina
Source: DAI-A 72/11, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: European history, British and Irish literature
Keywords: Dryden, John, English Civil War, Fables, Secular Masque, Venus and Mars, William III, King of England
Publication Number: 3464908
ISBN: 978-1-124-81783-5
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