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Dryden and Restoration Satire

Dustin Griffin

Subject Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405119559.2007.00014.x


John Dryden (1631–1700) has long been regarded as the greatest of the Restoration satirists. His “Absalom and Achitophel” (1681) and “MacFlecknoe” (1682), routinely regarded as the best satires of the period, and commonly anthologized, are often the only Restoration satires that non-specialists know. But in fact Dryden was not primarily a satirist. In the eyes of his contemporaries, he was primarily a dramatist and poet laureate (who discharged those duties in both historical poems and panegyrics), and latterly a translator of Virgil, as well as of the Roman satirists Juvenal and Persius. His work in satire, apart from his translations, consists only of three poems: the aforementioned “Absalom and Achitophel” and “MacFlecknoe,” along with “The Medall” (1682). And Dryden took steps to de-emphasize his association with satire as a literary kind. “MacFlecknoe” was first published anonymously, and not claimed by Dryden for perhaps six years. Although “MacFlecknoe” and “The Medall” were identified on their title pages as “Satyr,” “Absalom and Achitophel” was called simply “A Poem.” Dryden was perhaps being disingenuous, and scholars often cite his own words that “Satire will have Room, where e'er I write” (“To Kneller,” line 94). But it remains true that satire constitutes but a small part of Dryden's canon, and that (for his contemporaries, if not for present-day readers) he was not ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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