John Dryden and his drama concept on the example of his tragedy "All for Love, or the World well lost" in comparison to Aristotle’s drama concept

Seminar Paper, 2007

15 Pages, Grade: 3,0



1 Introduction

2 The classical drama concept

3 Dryden and his Concept of Drama

4 Dryden and the realization of his ideas in “All for Love”

5 Conclusion

6 Literature

1 Introduction

John Dryden was one of the most famous writers of the 17th century and one of the most brilliant drama theorists. Therefore this paper wants to show the concepts of drama by John Dryden and Aristotle on the examples of Dryden’s All for Love and Shakespeare’s play Antony and Cleopatra as the adaptation original. The theory of the drama concept is based mainly on Aristotle, which is the fundament of all tragedy and comedy and especially for John Dryden’s concept. Dryden used the theory of Aristotle very strictly and therefore shaped the tragedy writing of his time and after it will be the thesis of this paper.

To prove this thesis the classical drama concept of Aristotle, which is the fundament of Shakespeare’s and Dryden’s theory, must be explained. Secondly Dryden’s theory will be demonstrated as well as the concept of theatre in his time. Dryden lived in the Restoration era, so his thinking and his works are shaped by this time. Therefore Dryden’s theory and concept of drama will be analyzed in its historical context.

After this discussion there will be an analyses of Dryden’s way to adapt Shakespeare and his purpose by writing All for Love, which is the mostly read adaptation of Shakespeare. There will be a discussion of the character conception, the language of Dryden and the Restoration period and the so called three unities based on Aristotle’s theory. The story of this play will be explained and the characters within this story. There will also be an analyses of the very special and typical scene of All for Love when Cleopatra and Octavia, the two rivals, speak to each other, and of other scenes as well. Afterwards follows a discussion of the themes love and duty, which are very typical for the Restoration period and the distinctive interpretation of Dryden in his play. Antony as the hero of this play will be discussed in comparison to Shakespeare’s Antony and with it the hero theory of Aristotle and Dryden. All these analyses are based on the concept of drama by Aristotle and the rules Dryden invented.

2 The classical drama concept

Aristotle was one of the first philosophers who thought about drama and how it must be shaped to be good and entertaining. For his theory he analyzed different comedies, tragedies and epics of his time, for example The Odyssey from Homer or the story of Oedipus. Aristotle looked upon the language, the character constellation, the heroes and their reception, the structure and the story.

The basis of his concept consists of the theory of mimesis. Mimesis describes the imitation of the behavior of human beings. He said that all people differ in their character. They might be either evil or good. The bad and good parts in a human character make them do rather good or bad things, which are the basis for a tragedy or comedy. The difference between a comedy and a tragedy is that a comedy searches for the worse side and a tragedy searches for the better side in a human being. Because of that there are three points of imitation: the method, the topic and the manner. Mimesis is based on the facts that imitation is innated in people and that everyone is enjoyed by imitation of things. People like to watch shows and pictures because they learn something from the imitation in this show or picture. So for Aristotle there is nothing more pleasurable than a drama or an epic, which imitates human behavior and the destination of human beings.[1]

Aristotle defines tragedy as: “the imitation of an action that is elevated, complete and magnitude; in language embellished by distinct forms in its sections; employing the mode of enactment; not narrative; and through pity and fear accomplishing the catharsis of such emotions.”[2] This kind of clearance is named by Aristotle with the Greek word catharsis. It means that the audience should learn from the tragedy not to do similar things as presented.[3]

According to Aristotle the story of a good tragedy should be great and the audience should be able to remember it. That means that the story should be rather simple and comprehensive. Therefore the events in that story should follow a regular change from misfortune to fortune or from fortune to misfortune. These events, which must occur very often, should only happen to one single hero or heroine. The story in a tragedy should not be real according to the historical truth, because it is the task of the author to show what could have happened, not what really happened. Here one can see that for Aristotle a tragedy might be what we call today a historical tragedy, or a myth. So it is very important that every part of a tragedy should be joyful and entertaining[4].

Aristotle also gives us some guidelines of what should be in the action and what not. For instance he said that no bad guy runs from his misfortune to his fortune, which is then the “least tragic of all”[5] So at least he wants a hero who goes through a change from fortune to misfortune, because of a mistake he made by himself or by a better or worse person around him. This change needs to be shaped the way that the audience feels pity and fear, which is a mimesis that arouses a shock, which therefore allows catharsis. Here the three unities of action, time and place are important. The unity of action means that there is only one single serious action without any comic interludes but there can be a subplot or episodes. The unity of place just means that there can only be one single setting and the unity of time means to represent the events of the story in maximum twenty-four hours. These unities are very important to simplify the story and to arouse more pleasure in the audience.[6]

The characters in Aristotle’s theory have four traits. The hero or heroin should be good, appropriate, real and consistent. Simpler, a character shall do and say what a real person in this situation would do or say. But these characters must be better than real humans, because then the problem in the play can be solved by the plot or the characters in the plot and not by any god. Aristotle thought a tragedy consists just of linking of events and their solution. He calls these two parts complication and denouement. Complication means the part from the beginning of the play to the part with the change of events to misfortune or fortune. Denouement is logically the rest of the play, from the periperty (the point of change) to the tragical end of the play. Therefore there are four kinds of tragedy. The first is complicated and consists just of mimesis and periperty. The second one is full of the terrible suffering of the protagonist. The third kind of tragedy is the one that plays mainly in the nether world and is called Spectacle. The last one is the tragedy of character. Here the best peripeties are those of tragic and human friendly elements.[7]


[1] cf. Aristotle. Poetics. ed. by Stephen Helliwell. Cambridge (Massachusetts): Harvard Univ. Press, 1995. 27-143.

[2] Aristotle. p. 49 (chapter VI).

[3] cf. Aristotle.

[4] cf. Aristotle.

[5] Aristotle. p. 69 (chapter XIII).

[6] cf. Aristotle.

[7] cf. Aristotle.

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John Dryden and his drama concept on the example of his tragedy "All for Love, or the World well lost" in comparison to Aristotle’s drama concept
College  (Anglistisch/Amerikanistisches Institut)
Proseminar: Shakepearean plays and their literarary reception in the Restoration Period
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Doreen Bärwolf (Author), 2007, John Dryden and his drama concept on the example of his tragedy "All for Love, or the World well lost" in comparison to Aristotle’s drama concept, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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