Dryden's Fables and the Judgment of Art


Zwicker, Steven N.


I pass my time sometimes with Ovid, and sometimes with our old English poet, Chaucer; translating such stories as best please my fancy; and intend besides them to add somewhat of my own: so that it is not impossible, but ere the summer be pass’d, I may come down to you with a volume in my hand, like a dog out of the water, with a duck in his mouth. Dryden's Fables Ancient and Modern; Translated into Verse, From Homer, Ovid, Boccacce, & Chaucer: with Original Poems appeared less than two months before his death on 1 May 1700. This personal miscellany closed a prolific career shaped by contention and contest in what Dryden had come increasingly to call “this bad Age.” The volume also marked the end of a decade, and of a century, of intense print quarrels. The two central debates of the 1690s, to which Fables responds, are the controversy between the ancients and the moderns and, more urgently and the subject of this chapter, the Collier controversy over the morals and purposes of theatre. The nonjuring clergyman Jeremy Collier and Sir Richard Blackmore, the physician-poet, were two of a wave of controversialists attacking Restoration theatre as libertine and atheistic. Their critique of the theatre of Dryden and his satanic “fraternity” and their defense of home, marriage, and Christian sensibility were part of a public campaign against vice and in defense of the sanctity of family, a campaign led by the government of the Dutch-speaking king who himself had seemed to abandon home for war. In this his final work, Dryden appears to be elevated above the fray, absorbed by new literary interests, by frail health, and at home among literary friends and relations. Yet in Fables he refuses to sidestep the print quarrels; rather, Dryden complicates their dichotomies and underscores the constant round of battle, predation, and judgment.


English and Technical Communication

Time Period

1600 - 1700

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Book - Chapter

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