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Annus Mirabilis Poem Analysis Essays

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Annus Mirabilis (poem): Wikis

This article is about the poem by John Dryden. A poem named Annus Mirabilis was also written by Philip Larkin .

Annus Mirabilis is a poem written by John Dryden published in 1667. It commemorated 1665–1666, the "year of miracles" of London. Despite the poem's name, the year had been one of great tragedy, including the Great Fire of London. Johnson writes that Dryden uses the term "year of miracles" for this period of time to suggest that events could have been worse. [ 1 ] Dryden wrote the poem while at Charlton in Wiltshire. where he went to escape one of the great events of the year: the Great Plague of London. [ 1 ]

Contents Historical context

The title of Dryden's poem, used without capitalisation, annus mirabilis. derives its meaning from its Latin origins and describes a year of particularly notable events. According to the Oxford English Dictionary. Dryden's use of the term for the title of his poem constitutes the first known written use of the phrase in an English text. [ 2 ] The first event of the miraculous year was the Battle of Lowestoft fought by English and Dutch ships in 1665. The second was the Four Days Battle of June 1666, and finally the victory of the St. James's Day Battle a month later. The second part of the poem deals with the Great Fire of London that ran from September 2 – September 7, 1666. The miracle of the Fire was that London was saved, that the fire was stopped, and that the great king (Charles II ) would rebuild, for he already announced his plans to improve the streets of London and to begin great projects. Dryden's view is that these disasters were all averted, that God had saved England from destruction, and that God had performed miracles for England.

Structure

The poem contains 1216 lines of verse, arranged in 304 quatrains. Each quatrain follows an ABAB rhyme scheme referred to as a decasyllabic quatrain. Rather than the write in the heroic couplets found in his earlier works, Dryden used the decasyllabic quatrain exemplified in Sir John Davies ' poem Nosce Teipsum in 1599. The style was revived by William Davenant in his poem Gondibert. which was published in 1656 and influenced Dryden's composition of Annus Mirabilis. [ 3 ] This particular style dictates that each quatrain should contain a full stop. which A.W. Ward believes causes the verse to become "prosy". [ 3 ]

References
  1. ^ a b Johnson, Samuel. "Johnson on Annus Mirabilis" Annus Mirabilis. John Dryden and William Dougal Christie. Clarendon Press (1915) p.xi-xii.
  2. ^The Oxford English Dictionary "Annus Mirabilis".
  3. ^ a b Ward, A.W. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature. "Dryden: Annus Mirabilis". Volume 8: The Age of Dryden. [1]
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Annus mirabilis poem analysis essays


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

§ 5. Annus Mirabilis.

The whole of the first group of Dryden’s poems may be said to be brought to a close by Annus Mirabilis, or The Year of Wonders (1666); but, before the production of this work, he had already brought out several plays. It was, not improbably, in this way that he was brought into contact with Sir Robert Howard, a younger son of the earl of Berkshire, who had long been connected with the Stewart court and whose wife was a daughter of the great lord Burghley. On 1 December, 1663, Dryden married lord Berkshire’s daughter Elizabeth, then twenty-five years of age. The marriage took place with her father’s consent, and lady Elizabeth seems, sooner or later, to have brought her husband some addition to his estate. She was, no doubt, his superior in rank, but not in any unusual measure. That Dryden was not, at this time, leading the life of a bookseller’s hack is shown, inter alia, by his election, in November, 1662, as a fellow of the Royal Society, in its early days often as much of a social as of a scientific honour. 19 The circumstances of Dryden’s marriage and wedded life, whether actual or fictitious, were an inexhaustible fund of scandal to the malevolent. One story ran that lady Elizabeth’s brothers had bullied Dryden into the match; another, that it was made up to cover a faux pas on the part of the lady with another man. It is clear that she had led no cloistered life; but Dryden seems to have been throughout on easy terms with Sir Robert Howard, even during their literary controversy, and sufficiently acknowledges his personal goodwill. 20 The general character of Dryden’s long married life remains obscure; it has been freely described as unhappy, and, in its last period, cannot but have been darkened by his wife’s mental decay; on the other hand, there are indications in their correspondence of pleasant relations between them. That the husband provoked or requited the wife’s infirmities of mind or temper by infidelities is a conjecture resting on an assumption; for the assertion that “Dryden was a libertine” remains unproved. 21

Annus Mirabilis, though not written in the heroic couplet with which Dryden had already familiarised himself in both dramatic and non-dramatic composition, offers unmistakable proof of the ease and self-confidence which by this time he had already acquired as a writer of verse. The stanza form of decasyllabic quatrains here adopted had already been used by Sir John Davies in his philosophical poem Nosce Teipsum (1599), where it well suits both theme and treatment, 22 and had been revived by D’Avenant in Gondibert (1656), where the poet, in order to satisfy his principle that each quatrain “should contain a period,” often becomes prosy in consequence. For the rest, Gondibert, though composed under the critical eye of Hobbes, and compared by him to the Aeneid and the Iliad, notwithstanding the advantage which accrued to these as dating from “what is called old time, but is young time,” contained little that invited imitation; while the long and not uninteresting critical Preface, though it may have helped to suggest the writing of those critical essays of which Dryden composed the earliest in the year before that in which Annus Mirabilis appeared, clearly did not serve as a model for them. 23

Like Gondibert, Annus Mirabilis was the fruit of exile; but, while part of the former was written at the Louvre, Dryden had been driven from London, by the great plague and the great fire commemorated in his poem to take refuge at his father-in-law’s country seat at Charlton in Wiltshire. In An Account of the Ensuing Poem, in a letter to Sir Robert Howard, dated November, 1666, Dryden, although he utters some heterodox opinions about Vergil, declares that “he has been my master in this poem,” which, indeed, is distinguished by a masculinity of tone and a richness of imagery which lend force to the assertion. The admirably chosen title was not original, though the application seems to have been new. 24 Dryden describes Annus Mirabilis as a historical poem, apparently implying that it does not make any pretensions to being an epos, for which it lacks both the requisite unity and the requisite length of action. On the other hand, it treats its twofold theme, the Dutch war and the fire of London, with great skill, both in the selection of topics, and in the management of the transitions which give coherency to the whole. As for the war, its final cause lay in the commercial jealousy between the two nations, which made itself felt wherever English mercantile enterprise was seeking to compete with that of a more successful rival, and which, of course, came home most nearly to the city of London. But it was also due to a general antipathy on the part of the English against the Dutch, as of the naturally stronger, to the actually wealthier, community. Dryden, accordingly, takes care to dwell on the strength of England, as contrasted with the meanness, baseness and so forth, of Holland. Moreover, the upper class of English society was offended by Dutch burgherism and republicanism, while the court resented the act excluding the house of Orange from the stadholdership. When, therefore, war was declared, a good deal of enthusiasm (of a kind), especially among the gentry, hailed the event; and Evelyn gives an amusing description of the outbreak of a universal passion for taking service in the fleet. Dryden, in his preface, describes that part of his poem which treats of the war as “but a due expiation” on his part for “not serving his King and country in it.” The navy, as the favourite service of both the king and his brother the duke of York, was, at this time, extremely popular; and Dryden’s confessed anxiety to have his sea terms correct was pedantry in season.

Altogether, his account of the progress of the war—from the dearly-bought victory 25 of Solebay to the barren triumph off the North Foreland 26 —is full of fire and spirit; and it was not any part of the poet’s business to expound how, when the campaign of 1666 came to an end, the feeling began to spread that, with or without further naval victories, the situation of the country, against which France was intriguing in every part of the king’s dominions, would, before long, become untenable. Thus, when Dryden represents the terrible visitation of September, 1666,—the destruction of the far greater part of London by fire,—as having befallen England at a season of undiminished confidence, and as a nemesis of this national pride—he is putting a gloss of his own upon the actual sequence of affairs. He had, moreover, omitted any account of the plague, whose ravages were at their height at a date considerably earlier than that of the events described in the introductory part of his poem, and had thus made it easier to represent the fire as a calamity which overtook the nation when “palled” with the long succession of its “joys.” The fury of the fire at its height is depicted with splendid energy, and the daring figure of the witches’ sabbath, danced by the ghosts of traitors who have descended from London Bridge, 27 is not less apposite to the wild scene than that of the divine extinguisher by which the fire is put out is preposterous. The poet’s prophecy that a “greater and more august” London would arise “from her fires” was fulfilled; but the companion political prophecy had a lamer ending in the peace of 1667, which was all that England gained from the glories of the “wonderful” year. Yet the literary achievement itself was wonderful. Without the assurance to be derived from any great previous success, Dryden had undertaken a task so full of pitfalls that nothing but a most extraordinary impetus could have carried his course past these to its goal—and this, though he had hampered himself with a metrical form which, as he knew and confessed, had made a far more exacting claim upon his ingenuity and skill than the couplet already familiar to him. The courage and dash of the whole performance, which cast into the shade its lesser features, its far-fetched conceits and other reminiscences of poetic schools that were nearing their end, could not but apprise the critical world, including king and court, that a combatant had descended into the arena who was unlikely to find an equal there.

Note 19. The immediate cause of Dryden’s election may have been the lines addressed by him in this year, To my Honoured Friend Dr. Charleton, on his learned and useful Works, and more particularly this of Stone-heng, by him Restored to the true Founders, which may be summed up as a rather shallow eulogy of Bacon and some later English scientific luminaries at the expense of Aristotle. [ back ]

Note 20. See letter prefixed to Annus Mirabilis. [ back ]

Note 21. The unknown “W. G.,” whose letter, in vol. XV of The Gentleman’s Magazine for February, 1795 (p. 99), mentioning that he remembered seeing Dryden in company with the actress Anne Reeve at the Mulberry gardens, has been repeatedly cited, also observes that “in company” he was “the modestest man that ever conversed”—not a common characteristic of libertines in general, or of those of Charles’s days in particular. [ back ]

Note 22. See Vol. IV, p. 187. As to the metre, cf. post, Chap. IX. [ back ]

Note 23. As to Gondibert, see ante, Vol. VII, Chap. III. Hobbes’s praise of the story of Gondibert and Birtha, the great magician’s daughter, as an “incomparable description of Love,” is discounted by its resemblance, in its opening passages at all events, to the scenes in The Tempest between Prospero, Miranda and Ferdinand. [ back ]

Note 24. See Somers Tracts, vol. VII, pp. 644–5, for a notice of pretended prophecies as to the fire of London, stated to have been printed in 1661 or 1662, in the nonconformist interest, under the title Annus Mirabilis primus et secundus. For a full account of the proceedings against Francis Smith and others, supposed to be concerned in the printing of Mirabilis Annus, or the Year of Prodigies and Wonders, printed 1661, see Index Expurgatorius Anglicanus, pp. 183–8. The expression “The Wonderful Yeere” had, however, been used more than half a century earlier, and, curiously enough, of the plague year 1602, when more than 30,000 persons were said to have fallen victims to the epidemic in London. See Dekker’s The Seven Deadly Sinnes of London (Arber’s edition), p. 5. Burnet, in his Life and Death of Sir Matthew Hale (1682), p. 102, mentions that, “in the year 1666, an Opinion did run through the Nation, that the end of the world would come that year.” Though Burnet says that this belief was possibly “set on by Astrologers,” and Dryden had a penchant for astrology, he does not seem to make any reference to it in his poem. [ back ]

Note 25. The laments of “sea-green Sirens” for the death of admiral Sir John Lawson are of a piece with “the mermaid’s song” at the end of The Battle of the Baltic, and must be censured or extolled in its company. [ back ]

Note 26. This was the occasion on which de Ruyter (whom Dryden compares to Varro at Cannae) saved his ships, as has been observed, in order to sail up the Medway with them “another day.” [ back ]

Note 27. That they then seated themselves on the roof of Whitehall is a supposition due to a persistent misprint in st. 224, pointed out and corrected in Sargeaunt’s edition of Dryden’s Poems (1910). [ back ]

Annus Mirabilis (poem)

Annus Mirabilis (poem)

Annus Mirabilis (poem)

At least two significant poem s in English literature have shared the title "Annus Mirabilis" :

Annus Mirabilis is a poem written by John Dryden and published in 1667. It commemorated 1665–1666, the "year of miracles" of London. In fact, the time had been one of great tragedy. Dryden wrote the poem while at Charlton in Wiltshire. where he went to escape one of the great events of the year: the Great Plague of London.

The poem is written in quatrain s with an ABAB rhyming pattern; this form is sometimes called the heroic stanza. The first event of the miraculous year was the Battle of Lowestoft fought by English and Dutch ships in 1665. The second is the Four Days Battle of June 1666, and finally the victory of the St. James's Day Battle a month later. The second part of the poem deals with the Great Fire of London that ran from September 2 – September 7 1666. The miracle of the Fire was that London was saved, that the fire was stopped, and that the great king (Charles II ) would rebuild (for he already announced his plans to improve the streets of London and to begin great projects). Dryden's view is that these disasters were all averted, that God had saved England from destruction, and that God had performed miracles for England.

The title of Dryden's poem is now sometimes used without capitalization, annus mirabilis. to indicate a year of particularly notable events. When Queen Elizabeth II called the 1992 fire at Windsor Castle part of her " annus horribilis ," she was knowingly evoking Dryden's poem.

The phrase "Annus Mirabilis" was also used by Philip Larkin in 1967 as the title for one of his best known poems, regarding the onset of more relaxed sexual morals in 1960s Britain: There are 4 verses, the first reads:-

"Sexual intercourse began":"In nineteen sixty-three ":"(Which was rather late for me) -":"Between the end of the Chatterley ban":"And the Beatles ' first LP ."

* [http://www.gutenberg.org/files/11488/11488-8.txt Dryden's "Annus Mirabilis" ]
* [http://www.poetryconnection.net/poets/Philip_Larkin/4761 Larkin's "Annus Mirabilis" ]

* List of poems by Philip Larkin
*1666
* Annus mirabilis

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Annus mirabilis — is a Latin phrase meaning wonderful year or year of wonders (or year of miracles ). It is used particularly to refer to the years 1665 ndash;1666. The Year of Wonders (1666)According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first known written usage … Wikipedia

Annus horribilis — is a Latin phrase meaning horrible year. It alludes to annus mirabilis meaning year of wonders. Queen Elizabeth II Although cited by the Oxford English Dictionary as being in use as early as 1985, Queen Elizabeth II brought the phrase to… … Wikipedia

John Dryden — For other people named John Dryden, see John Dryden (disambiguation). John Dryden Born 9 August 1631(1631 08 09) Aldwincle, Thrapston, Northamptonshire, England … Wikipedia

Decasyllabic quatrain — is a term used for a poetic form in which each stanza consists of four lines of ten syllables each, usually with a rhyme scheme of AABB or ABAB. Examples of the decasyllabic quatrain in heroic couplets appear in some of the earliest texts in the… … Wikipedia

Philip Larkin — Infobox Person name = Philip Arthur Larkin birth date = birth date|1922|8|9|df=y birth place = Coventry, Warwickshire (now in West Midlands), England death date = death date and age|1985|12|2|1922|8|9|df=y death place = Hull, Humberside (now in… … Wikipedia

literature — /lit euhr euh cheuhr, choor. li treuh /, n. 1. writings in which expression and form, in connection with ideas of permanent and universal interest, are characteristic or essential features, as poetry, novels, history, biography, and essays. 2.… … Universalium

W. G. Grace — W.G. Grace W.G. Grace Personal information Full name William Gilbert Grace Born … Wikipedia

Restoration literature — is the English literature written during the historical period commonly referred to as the English Restoration (1660 ndash;1689), which corresponds to the last years of the direct Stuart reign in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. In general … Wikipedia

Dryden, John — born Aug. 9, 1631, Aldwinkle, Northamptonshire, Eng. died May 1, 1700, London British poet, dramatist, and literary critic. The son of a country gentleman, Dryden was educated at the University of Cambridge. His poetry celebrating the Restoration … Universalium

Dryden, John — (1631 1700) Poet, dramatist, and satirist, was b. at Aldwincle Rectory, Northamptonshire. His f. from whom he inherited a small estate, was Erasmus, 3rd s. of Sir Erasmus Driden; his mother was Mary Pickering, also of good family; both… … Short biographical dictionary of English literature

Project MUSE - Annus Mirabilis at the End of Stuart Monarchy: Repackaging a Year of Wonders in 1688

Repackaging a Year of Wonders in 1688

For all the scholarly attention devoted to John Dryden's Annus Mirabilis. few researchers have investigated the poem's multiple editions, the first of which appeared in 1667, followed by subsequent reprintings in 1688, 1693, 1694, and 1695. 1 This deficit likely comes as a result of periodizing reading practices that identify Annus Mirabilis exclusively with 1666, "the year of wonders" that Dryden set out to chronicle and editorialize in support of the recently restored monarch, Charles II. 2 Annus Mirabilis was first printed in 1667 during the second Anglo-Dutch War and the ongoing reconstruction of post-fire London. Dryden transforms the calamities of naval war and urban fire into signs that God had tested but ultimately affirmed the reinstated Stuart government. Refuting anti-Stuart prognosticators who predicted "a year of portents and disasters," Annus Mirabilis fashions itself as an authoritative retrospective on the year 1666, a decisive "historical poem" (Winn 168 ).

But how does the poem's self-understanding as history work in the context of its second, third, fourth, and fifth editions, all published after the death of Charles II in 1685? Even when these reprintings faithfully retain the original 1667 verse, they do so in a manner responsive to shifting contemporary political contexts, print shop labor configurations, copyright arrangements, and even the geographical repositioning of bookshops around Restoration London. 3 Such changes in context call for reconsideration of the prophecy and pedagogy of Annus Mirabilis each time the text rematerializes. Comparison of the different editions' material properties and targeted readerships suggests that, while Annus Mirabilis emerged out of an early Restoration partisan fray as a journalistic rehashing of recent events, by 1688, Dryden's lively panegyric was being remarketed as an account of retrospective mourning. [End Page 21]

This essay analyzes the production, dissemination, and consumption of the first two major editions of Annus Mirabilis. published in 1667 and 1688. While the texts of these editions are almost identical, they perform different kinds of political work for different readerships. In 1667, Charles II presided over a kingdom embroiled in a disastrous war with Holland and traumatized by the Great London Fire. Annus Mirabilis would reappear in the winter of 1688 during another critical juncture for Stuart rule. 4 In that spring, James II would reissue the Declaration of Indulgence, his deeply controversial mandate for religious tolerance. In June, his queen, Mary of Modena, would give birth to James Francis Edwards, unleashing the prospect of a Catholic succession on the English throne. In November, William of Orange landed at Torbay at the start of an invasion that would exile James to the continent. It is no coincidence that Annus Mirabilis first appeared during a moment of crisis for the newly restored monarchy of Charles II and that the poem regained its urgency two decades later when the crown was again threatened. How Dryden's verse articulates support for different Stuart regimes reflects both the status of monarchy at the time each edition was published, as well as the poet's own evolving relation to royalist politics and Catholic theology.

The 1667 edition of Annus Mirabilis defended Charles II and his court against a minority opposition. The 1688 edition, appearing at the front of the first exclusive collection of Dryden verse, could only elegize the late king, propping up James II's crumbling reign by recirculating accounts of his brother's heroic leadership during the 1660s. Simultaneously, this collection elevated Dryden's status as a royalist poet worthy of anthologizing, even as the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution marginalized his political voice and eliminated his laureate standing. 5 By showing how stationers reworked a "historical poem" of the early Restoration into historical evidence for the managerial talents of Stuart kings, this essay argues that the reception of Dryden's poetry and the reputation of Dryden himself were mediated by the relationships between publishers, booksellers, and the reader markets they sought to cultivate and exploit. When read across its first two editions, Annus Mirabilis is not only the highly-specific vindication of one Stuart monarch, but a versatile apology for Stuart monarchy.

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Annus Mirabilis, poem - Philip Larkin poems

Annus Mirabilis

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) -
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles' first LP.
Up to then there'd only been
A sort of bargaining,
A wrangle for the ring,
A shame that started at sixteen
And spread to everything.
Then all at once the quarrel sank:
Everyone felt the same,
And every life became
A brilliant breaking of the bank,
A quite unlosable game.
So life was never better than
In nineteen sixty-three
(Though just too late for me) -
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles' first LP.

Last updated May 02, 2015

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  • Annus Mirabilis (poem): definition of Annus Mirabilis (poem) and synonyms of Annus Mirabilis (poem) (English)

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    definition - Annus Mirabilis (poem) Annus Mirabilis (poem)

    This article is about the poem by John Dryden. A poem named Annus Mirabilis was also written by Philip Larkin .

    Wikisource has original text related to this article:

    The Great Fire of London, which took place on September 2, 1666, was one of the major events that affected England during Dryden's "year of miracles".

    Annus Mirabilis is a poem written by John Dryden published in 1667. It commemorated 1665–1666, the "year of miracles" of London. Despite the poem's name, the year had been one of great tragedy, including the Great Fire of London. Johnson writes that Dryden uses the term "year of miracles" for this period of time to suggest that events could have been worse. [ 1 ] Dryden wrote the poem while at Charlton [ disambiguation needed ] in Wiltshire. where he went to escape one of the great events of the year: the Great Plague of London. [ 1 ]

    Contents Historical context

    The title of Dryden's poem, used without capitalisation, annus mirabilis. derives its meaning from its Latin origins and describes a year of particularly notable events. According to the Oxford English Dictionary. Dryden's use of the term for the title of his poem constitutes the first known written use of the phrase in an English text. [ 2 ] The first event of the miraculous year was the Battle of Lowestoft fought by English and Dutch ships in 1665. The second was the Four Days Battle of June 1666, and finally the victory of the St. James's Day Battle a month later. The second part of the poem deals with the Great Fire of London that ran from September 2 – September 7, 1666. The miracle of the Fire was that London was saved, that the fire was stopped, and that the great king (Charles II ) would rebuild, for he already announced his plans to improve the streets of London and to begin great projects. Dryden's view is that these disasters were all averted, that God had saved England from destruction, and that God had performed miracles for England.

    Structure

    The poem contains 1216 lines of verse, arranged in 304 quatrains. Each quatrain follows an ABAB rhyme scheme referred to as a decasyllabic quatrain. Rather than write in the heroic couplets found in his earlier works, Dryden used the decasyllabic quatrain exemplified in Sir John Davies ' poem Nosce Teipsum in 1599. The style was revived by William Davenant in his poem Gondibert. which was published in 1656 and influenced Dryden's composition of Annus Mirabilis. [ 3 ] This particular style dictates that each quatrain should contain a full stop. which A.W. Ward believes causes the verse to become "prosy". [ 3 ]

    References
    1. ^ ab Johnson, Samuel. "Johnson on Annus Mirabilis" Annus Mirabilis. John Dryden and William Dougal Christie. Clarendon Press (1915) p.xi-xii.
    2. ^The Oxford English Dictionary "Annus Mirabilis".
    3. ^ ab Ward, A.W. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature. "Dryden: Annus Mirabilis". Volume 8: The Age of Dryden. [1]
    External links

    John Dryden, MacFlecnoe, Annus Mirabilus, Criticism

    John Dryden, "MacFlecknoe" (1684 ) "Annus Mirabilis" (1667 ) Criticism

    Genre: Verse satire ("Mac"), commendatory or "public" verse ("Annus"), and prose essay.

    Form: rhyming couplets ("heroic couplets," though "Mac" is "mock epic verse"), four-line stanzas of rough iambic pentameter rhyming abab ("Annus"), and prose. For a modern parody of the "mock heroic" style, see "Al Pope"'s Ratiad (1994).

    Characters:"MacFlecknoe" is the mocking Scottish form for "son-of-Flecknoe," and the character stands for Thomas Shadwell, whose pretention to be taken for the inheritor of Ben Jonson's poetic tradition Dryden skewers by making him the son of Richard Flecknoe, a poet even Shadwell would see was dull. Other characters represent contemporary or recent poets (Heywood, Decker, Shirley, Fletcher), or they are allegorical, part of the epic "machinery of the gods" by which Dryden mocks Shadwell, making him inherit the throne of Nonsense. "Annus Mirabilis" personifies London as a Queen in ways that strongly evoke the late Elizabeth I, but in the context of Dryden's imperial vision, she is courted now by merchant fleets who bring her jewels and other trade goods from the Empire's far-flung colonial "suitors."

    Summary: Click here for some small-group discussion guides on each of these works.
    • "MacFlecknoe" traces its "hero"'s rise to stupidity in verse deliberately mimicking the style of and alluding to the Aeneid and other epics. Like the Odyssey. it starts in a kind of Olympus, only it's the realm of Nonsense, until recently ruled by Flecknoe. The dying king of dullness searches for a successor and, by virtue of his vices (as it were) MacFlecknoe (Shadwell) gets the nod. The rest of the poem develops by a pattern of mock praise of poetic vices wherein "success" is failure and the slightest deviation from the stultifying norm is a clear sign that somebody's got poetic talent.
    • "Annus Mirabilis" salutes London upon her survival of the plague and the Great Fire (in 1666), looking back to the Civil War as a fatal flirtation with factionalism and forward to a time of imperial dominion over "the British ocean" and the new colonies of India and the rest of Asia.
    • "An Essay of Dramatic Poesy" was written two years after the Restoration and the reopening of the theaters, trying to call the English to a new sense of poetic tradition that would take the best of the Elizabethan and Jacobean poets and infuse it with a sense of neoclassical balance, clarity, and profundity.
      • His critique of Bad poets begins with the Metaphysicals, which he defines by their most notorious example, John Cleveland. The exotic, Mannerist images with which Donne and Herbert populated their similes and metaphors could become enormously irritating and distracting when used by poets with less skill and less serious intention. The other sort of poets he condemns are the Dull. who affect classical balance to a fault, making the counting of syllables their primary occupation rather than the expression of noble sentiment. How does Dryden understand the "job" of being an Author and how does this affect the standards he applies to other poets in his criticism?
      • His definition of "wit" emphasizes using common words rather than new coinages or words borrowed from other languages (vs. Milton, for example, though he names Cleveland as his archetypal bad example). For a historical discussion of the development of comedy as a genre, click here .
      • His "Shakespeare vs. Jonson" comparison contrasts the former's appeal to Nature as a model for his characters with the latter's use of classical models. Famous is Dryden's praise of Shakespeare for having "the largest and most comprehensive soul," which enabled WS to sympathize with and represent anything in Nature, but it is a Nature he found when he "looked inwards" (2117). This reminds us of Sidney in A&S #1, and the notion that human nature is grounded in some unmovable knowledge which it is sin or folly to deny, to ignore, or to seek to improve (Faustus, Satan, Mosca). Shakespeare's comedy is faulted for its "clenches" (puns), but he is generally praised as the best of his generation in their one judgment. Jonson is praised as one who was best when a satirist, and whose classical knowledge was wholly digested in his art rather than merely decorating it: "[H]e has done his robberies so openly, that one may see he fears not to be taxed by any law [but h]e invades authors like a monarch; and what would be theft in other poets is only victory in him" (2118). This passage commonly is used when distinguishing poetic adaptation of the tradition from mere plagiarism. Also, Dryden faults Jonson's attempt to "Romanize our tongue" with Latin loan words (2118).
    • "The Author's Apology for Heroic Poetry and Heroic License" defends the heights of expression demanded by the epic form, and mentions Milton specifically as a descendent of Homer and Virgil in the line of those whose extraordinary tasks required extraordinary language (vs. his recommendation of "easy" diction above). Nature, however, is to be the poet's first and foremost source for imitation, though imitation of other great poets may help to form the poet's style. Continuing his attempt to define "wit," Dryden says it "is a propriety of thoughts and words; or, in other terms, thought and words elegantly adapted to the subject" (i.e. high words for high subjects, and low words for low ones). This principle could be used to defend the diction of both Milton and Rochester.
    • "A Discourse Concerning the Original and Progress of Satire" calls for more subtlety and art from satirists, who are accused of mere name-calling and abuse. The function of well-written satire is defended as inoffensive to the witty and insensible to the fools, since the wisdom of the former compels them to admit their follies and the stupidity of the latter usually prevents them from realizing they're the topic of the satire. His comparison between butchers and the legendary executioner is famous. [HINT!] However, test this measure of good satire against the effects you encounter in Mac Flecknoe. Is there a way to explain this poem's savage attack on Shadwell by thinking about its publication history? What is the difference between published, "public" satires and those circulated in private among readers who would exclude the satire's target(s)?
    • "The Preface to Fables Ancient and Modern" contains one of the most extended praises of Chaucer in early literature, after Spenser's invocation of Faerie Queene. Canto II. Chaucer is held up as the English Homer or Virgil, a founder of the national literature, though his rhyming is not commended (also see Sidney). Against those who tried to argue that Chaucer's verse was metrically regular (i.e. iambic pentameter instead of four-stress), he argues that "common sense" is the best guide for the poet and critic, and suggests "that equality of numbers in every verse which we call heroic" (i.e. the heroic couplet) "was either not known, or not always practiced in Chaucer's time" (2122). He was the first reader of Chaucer took into account the possibility of historical changes in poetic technique, and in that sense is the ancestor of all Chaucerian scholars, for which, let us honor him, though he was deaf to the "great vowel shift." Dryden also praises Chaucer as he did Shakespeare for his "wonderful comprehensive nature" (2122). He also suggests that the tales were suited to their tellers and revealed dramatically their inner lives, a thesis which remained largely unchallenged until David Benson's Chaucer's Drama of Style (in 1986). His final contribution to Chaucer scholarship is his observation that readers of the whole of Canterbury Tales tend to fall into a bemused meditation on the richness of the human condition, rather than seeing any thesis or dramatic concentration one might follow to achieve a comic or tragic catharsis, leading him to exclaim "here is God's plenty" (2122). In effect, Chaucer threatens to overwhelm Dryden's neoclassical critical vocabulary. Go Geoff!
    Issues and Research Sources:

    The Restoration confronts readers with a radically "modern" world, including naked celebrities like Charles II's courtesans daring us to look away and drunken atheists like the earl of Rochester telling us we are fools if we think we are not merely material animals. Such tradition-breaking "modes" cry out for satire. The satirist is the traffic cop and arts reviewer of the modern world run amuck. Freedom of expression and thought has its price, a fee for folly and pettiness and crime and vice that is collected by satire's public exposure of these faults. Rude children have been chalking or carving insults into public surfaces since the days of classical Greece and Rome, but nobody confuses "Rufus Cretensis has a funny looking nose" with witty satire. The former (see Sidney) mistakes for wit what is mere vulgarity and the mockery of physical deformities. The latter punctures inflated egos and makes obvious the failings of the famous (and the would-be famous). Satire's victims have done something to deserve the verbal lash, whereas mere bullying is undeserved. The most successful satires are uncomfortable for their targets to witness, and Dryden attempts to distinguish good from bad satire by the effects it has upon them by distinguishing "raillery" [overt condemnation] from artful satire: "A witty man is tickled [by satire] while he is hurt in this manner, and a fool feels it not. The occasion of an offense may possibly be given, but he cannot take it [without admitting the fault]. If it be granted that in effect this way does more mischief; that a man is secretly wounded, and though he be not sensible himself, yet the malicious world will find it out for him; yet there is still a vast difference betwixt the slovenly butchering of a man, and the fineness of a stroke that separates the head from the body, and leaves it standing in its place. A man may be capable, as [English hangman] Jack Ketch's wife said of his servant, of a plain piece of work, a bare hanging; but to make a malefactor die sweetly was only belonging to her husband" (2257-8). Dryden's "decapitation" metaphor contains at least two important meanings for the (usually male) target of the satire: headlessness a metaphor for mindlessness and life-threatening challenges to a way of thinking; and headlessness as symbolic castration, also linked to speechlessness/silence (see Freud and Lacan).

  • "MacFlecknoe" was originally circulated in manuscript and apparently never was intended for mass publication.
    • Does that give Dryden any defense against charges that he violates any of his own rules for satire?
    Note that the essay on satire (above) praises the character "Zimri" from Absolom and Achitophel--see p. 1804-5, ll. 544ff. for that excellent and accurate characterization of George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham, who was forced to admit the truth of it.
    • What does it do for a culture when people can be brought to admit their follies and repent their crimes?
    • What role does art have in that task today?
  • "MacFlecknoe" plays with the epic conventions in a manner known as "mock heroic," in which high style and the typical poetic strategies of the epic are used to satirize far lower subjects than the hero's defense or destruction of a mighty city, or his reclamation of his birthright. Compare the poem's opening lines, as they evoke Flecknoe's past greatness (ll. 1-10), with Beowulf 's opening lines on the Spear-Dane's mythic founder's great achievements (ll. 1-11). Dryden's poem also evokes the Roman historians of the Imperial Family by reference to Caesar Augustus, and he refers directly to Virgil's Aeneid in constructing MacFlecknoe's dubious "virtues." How might these English and Latin allusions affect Shadwell's claim to be Jonson's heir in the neoclassical line of poetic creation?
  • How does "Annus Mirabilis" view the English past? What key events does it draw attention to as the steps by which she arrived at this turning point in her history? What does that suggest about how Dryden might have structured and taught English 211 if it were offered in 1668?
  • M odern readers who have never seen a great city burn need to read Samuel Pepys' diary entries for September 2-5, 1666 (see the Norton excerpts). For an overview of how much of the city burned and the cultural significance of what was lost, see the Great Fire of London Map (1666). Comparisons with New York City or Washington D.C. on September 11, 2011, would be oddly inappropriate because so much more damage was done to London in this four-day-long fire. Dryden's poem quickly seizes upon the paradoxical effects of the conflagration. The fire-storm that arched over miles of the city leveled buildings that were among the oldest, almost all set within the medieval city walls, and extended the destruction to the warehouses along the northern bank of the Thames, including the Vintry Ward where Geoffrey Chaucer grew up. (Click here for the "Agas Map" of London and click on section C5 for the Vintry Ward, squarely in the center of the fire zone. ) This meant that London, alone, among the capitals of Europe, entered the modern era with a completely rebuilt central core, including the docks that were needed to support its emerging trading empires in the Far East, North America, and the Caribbean. Dryden could not know it, but the fire also largely rid the city of its deeply entrenched rat population, the reservoir from which the plague-bearing fleas brought periodic mass death to the human population.
  • Compare the London-as-"Maiden Queen" (1185) simile with Marlowe's and Ralegh's evocations of pastoral courtship in "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" and "The Nymph's Reply." Who was the real "Maiden Queen" of England's past and how does Dryden's poem use her reign to evoke the New London after the fire? How does Dryden use the "Courtship" and "Promise of Rich Presents" motifs to suggest what the future holds for England's capital, and what does that suggest about the shift of values which has overtaken the world of Marlowe and Ralegh? (Another comparison could be made, in English 212, with the dressing of Belinda in Pope's "The Rape of the Lock," especially Canto 1, ll. 121-148.)
  • In the excerpts chosen by the Norton editors, "Annus Mirabilis" concludes with a distinctly river- and ocean-oriented, naval view of London's place in the world. Previous empires centered in Macedonia (Alexander) and Rome depended on armies and land-travel to conquer and maintain their colonies. The new European imperial powers conquered by means of sea-power, using navies to subdue and exploit distant cultures. How does the land-bound view of the world differ in its assumptions about stability and power from the ocean-bound view?
  • Can you see patterns of though emerging in Dryden's criticism that make him identifiable as a man of his era? Of all those possible attitudes toward poetic experiment, poetry's place in culture, the worth of previous poets, and their meaning to his contemporaries, what did Dryden contribute to the study of English that you might find continued in the current structure of Goucher's English Department, the major, and English 211, in particular?
  • As an Englishman, Dryden identified something important about the English poets' use of classical models which, he said, made the English superior to the French, who preferred a "just imitation" with emphasis on balance, rather than the English "high" or "lively" imitation with an emphasis on "sweep of action" (in parts of the "Essay" you weren't assigned). He defends the Elizabethan greats, like Shakespeare, on the grounds that their failure to observe this or that neoclassical rule for writing resulted in a greater work, one more conforming to real Nature than to secondary models derived from literature.
    • How might you compare this with Sidney's view of the artist's position, and with Plato's?
  • Dryden's faith in Nature suggests that he did not believe that Nature was "fallen" and corrupted. This marks a welcome change from the increasingly negative views of humanity and Nature we see in the Mannerists like Donne and Herbert.
    • Can you find reasons why he should think so in "Annus Mirabilis," and might there be any hazards in his reasoning?
    Especially consider what Aphra Behn will show the English twenty years later in Oroonoko. Dryden's religious epistemology represents a type of doctrine sometimes called "fideism," a reliance on faith rather than reason for religious matters so as to unplug morality from the hard facts about society and nature which were being discovered by science. This later becomes rationalized by the "Deists" like Leibniz, who argued that God's role in the universe was reasonably demonstrable (though by circular logic) and that, therefore, this was the best of all possible worlds (since God, the omnipotent, would have done better if He could).
    • Does this suggest any dangers for the coming "Age of Enlightenment," as the Eighteenth Century sometimes is called?
    Hint: in Pope's "Essay on Man" (1733), he concludes: All Nature is but art, unknown to thee;
    All chance, direction, which thou canst not see;
    All discord, harmony not understood;
    All partial evil, universal good:
    And, spite of pride, in erring reason's spite
    One truth is clear: Whatever is, is RIGHT.

    (ll. 287-292--see the Norton for longer extracts of the whole poem)