John Dryden was one of the few extraordinary names in the history of English Literature that worked for the restoration of Literature. What Dryden exactly did was continued the restoration of literature from where Philip Sydney had left it. His main subject was Drama and he worked to restore Drama as a legitimate form of art. The essay is catchy because of the style it is written in. Dryden has set four people to dialogue for his essay and his marvellous work on the restoration of Drama. These four characters are named Crites, Eugenius, Lisideius and Neander.
The essay has all the elements a drama needs to have therefore it can be said that his work on drama was presented in form of a drama. The four people are sailing through Thames observing the British and Dutch navies fighting in the very beginning of the essay. The major issues that have been raised by the essay and later discussed by the four characters are three. Firstly, the issue of the ancient and modern poetry has been discussed in terms of merit. It has been discussed if poetry is becoming a greater influence or fading away and which of these eras were better for poetry. Secondly, the four men have been seen debating about the French and English Drama and which one is better than the other. Thirdly, there has been a debate about importance of ‘rhyme’ in Drama.
Later in the essay we see Ben Jonson being compared to Shakespeare. Crites comes up and proposes his admiration for Ben Jonson because of his classic writing and holds that the classic poetry was better than the modern. Ben Jonson proceeds ‘‘… he loved their fashion when he wore their clothes…’’ and contrast Ben Jonson who wrote regular plays and also obeyed all the Classical rules, with William Shakespeare who broke these dramatic rules. Eugenius holds a different point of view. He believes modern poetry to be stronger because the poets of the modern age have learned from their previous generations. Crites disagrees and says that an agreement is impossible since the masters of poetry are the ancient poets who were original. He believes that the modern-aged poets simply change appearance of the same poetry that was once done by old poets so they are not original.
Moreover, there is another debate in the essay to choose a winner amongst the English drama and the French Drama. Lisideius is adamant that French Drama is better than English Drama since it is similar to the Greek Dramas of Aristotle’s era. His main focus of criticism is the tragicomedy of the English Drama. Lisideius finds it absurd to combine these two elements together. Neander defends English Drama and tragicomedy. He explains that tragicomedy increases emphasis on both these elements and he moves forward by defending Shakespeare. Neander thinks of Shakespeare as better than Ben Jonson because, for Neander, Shakespeare has “the largest and most comprehensive soul” and Ben is “the most learned and judicious writer which any theatre ever had.”
Lastly, Crites rejects rhyme in his dialogue ‘‘Rhyme is incapable of expressing the greatest thought naturally, and the lowest it can not with any grace: for what is more unbefitting the majesty of verse, than to call a servant or bid a door be shut in rhyme?’’ His stance is that no man speaks like that in life and if stage is a reflection of real life then one should not do it on stage either. Neander contradicts and believes in natural rhymes that enhance the meaningfulness of the drama. He believes a natural rhyme gets stage closer to real life and brings an emotional effect so it should be encouraged.