An…An Essay of Dramatic Poesy gives an explicit account of neo-classical theory of art in general. It was probably written during the plague year of
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Doubtless many things appear flat to us, whose wit depended upon some custome or story which never came to our knowledge, or perhaps upon some Criticism in their language, which being so long dead, and onely remaining in their Books, 'tis not possible they should make us know it perfectly.
To read Macrobius, explaining the propriety and elegancy of many words in Virgil, which I had before pass'd over without consideration, as common things, is enough to assure me that I ought to think the same of Terence; and that in the purity of his style which Tully so much valued that he ever carried his works about him there is yet left in him great room for admiration, if I knew but where to place it.
In the mean time I must desire you to take notice, that the greatest man of the last age Ben. Johnson was willing to give place to them in all things: He was not onely a professed Imitator of Horace, but a learned Plagiary of all the others; you track him every where in their Snow: If Horace, Lucan, Petronius Arbiter, Seneca, and Juvenal, had their own from him, there are few serious thoughts which are new in him; you will pardon me therefore if I presume he lov'd their fashion when he wore their cloaths.
But since I have otherwise a great veneration for him, and you, Eugenius, prefer him above all other Poets, I will use no farther argument to you then his example: I will produce Father Ben.
And now having laid down this as a foundation, to begin with Crites, I must crave leave to tell him, that some of his Arguments against rhyme reach no farther then from the faults or defects of ill rhime, to conclude against the use of it in general.
May not I conclude against blank verse by the same reason? If the words of some Poets who write in it, are either ill chosen, or ill placed which makes not onely rhime, but all kind of verse in any language unnatural; Shall I, for their vitious affection condemn those excellent lines of Fletcher, which are written in that kind?
Is there any thing in rhyme more constrain'd than this line in blank verse? I Heav'n invoke, and strong resistance make, where you see both the clauses are plac'd unnaturally; that is, contrary to the common way of speaking, and that without the excuse of a rhyme to cause it: Therefore, Crites, you must either prove that words, though well chosen, and duly plac'd, yet render not Rhyme natural in it self; or, that however natural and easie the rhyme may be, yet it is not proper for a Play.
If you insist upon the former part, I would ask you what other conditions are requir'd to make Rhyme natural in it self, besides an election of apt words, and a right disposing of them?
For the due choice of your words expresses your sence naturally, and the due placing them adapts the rhyme to it.
If you object that one verse may be made for the sake of another, though both the words and rhyme be apt; I answer it cannot possibly so fall out; for either there is a dependance of sence betwixt the first line and the second, or there is none: He may break off in the Hemystich, and begin another line: Variety of cadences is the best rule, the greatest help to the Actors, and refreshment to the Audience.
Now the Plots of their Plays being narrow, and the persons few, one of their Acts was written in a less compass then one of our well wrought Scenes, and yet they are often deficient even in this:Dryden essay of dramatic poesy quizilla.
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