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Dryden’s All For Love As a Heroic Play

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The beginning of the heroic play may be traced back to the works of Beumont and Fletcher. But the heroic play proper is a product of the Restoration age. With the closing of the thetres during the puritan rule in England the earlier dramatic tradition came to an end. When they were reopen after Restoration, the taste of the court brought in the French influence, mainly that of Corneille. The English heroic plays combined some of the features of an epic poem with some features of drama, and were remarkably different from the Elizabethan drama. They were written almost always in heroic couplets, though Nathaniel Lee, used blank verse for his play Rival Queens. The subject of the heroic play has to be love and valour or love and honor. The protagonists of the plays were elevated to such romantic and superhuman heights that they appeared nonsensically unrealistic. Absurd self-service and supernatural bravery of the hero combined with amorous perfection made the hero devoid of all naturalness.

Dryden is certainly the best and probably the first of the typical restoration heroic play writer who contributes to the true heroic pattern. All the heroic plays of Dryden are written on the same pattern. In each is portrayed a hero of larger than life prowess and sublime ideas. Also there is a heroine of rare beauty. In several of the characters we find in the inner conflict, between love and honor. The story stirs martial enthusiasm leading to great dramatic interest. The scope of Dryden’s appears to be as the same as that of Shakespeare, if allowance is given to the happy ending of them, a characteristic of Restoration age. May be it is an influence of the structure of the epic and heroic poetry. On comparison with Shakespearean tragedies Dryden’s plays show certain similarities. In the words of Allardyee Nicol we find in both.

Though there are some elements of heroic play in All For Love, it cannot be strictly called one. While heroic plays are written in heroic couplets, we find Dryden using blank verse here. In the language of the play too, we find deviation from that of the heroic play. Very little of absurd and probable events are to be found in this play. No incident of the play appear as incredible to us, However, the grandiose manner of the hero found in heroic plays is not given to Antony of All For Love. He does not display any superhuman bravery. Vinditius talks of Antony’s war like qualities, but it is concerned with a distant past. All these facts make All For Love, far from a perfect historic play.

The Heraculean qualities showed to be possessed by Antony which is another characteristics of the heroic play. In All For Love, Antony goes in quest of unbounded love. We do not see Antony discharging his duty as an emperor anywhere in the play. At the most, we hear descriptions, mostly his own about his glorious past. Despite the best efforts put in by Vendidius we do not find Antony taking any interest in state affairs. The two exceptions are the surprise victory he springs over Octavius and his watching the naval battle from lighthouse. Even those are only reported by others. At the end of the play, we keep not any heroic picture of Antony, but the picture of a love-lorn man dying in the arms of his beloved giving a last kiss to her. How different is the picture of Antony at the end of Shakespeare’s play.

What we find, the, is a play where the heroism shown in conquer the world substituted by a different heroism, one to conquer the empire of love. This reasoning, however, places All For Love slightly, at least, different from the conventional Heroic plays.

In Cleopatra’s portrayal too Dryden displays the characteristics of the heroic play. She is model perfection. Nowhere in the play, not even when she is banished, she deviates from her steadfast love for Antony. She considers her love so sacred that even the pretence of love she displays for Dollabella is done with great reluctance. Such a portrayal of heroine of perfection is found only in heroic plays.

In spite of some of limitation, All For Love definitely is the best dramatic work and the finest literary contribution of the Restoration period to English literature.

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