Monday, 14 November 2016

All for Love by John Dryden.

All for Love is a Restoration tragedy by John Dryden, written in 1677. It was written in imitation of William Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra (1606), a play I have recently read but unfortunately not got around to writing about yet.

It begins with the prologue:
What flocks of critics hover here today,
As vultures wait on armies for their prey,
All gaping for the carcass of a play!
With croaking notes they bode some dire event,
And follow dying poets by the scent.
Ours gives himself for gone: y' have watched your time!
He fights this day unarmed - without his rhyme; -
And brings a tale which often has been told,
As sad as Dido's; and almost as old...
This tale is of course that of the doomed love affair of Mark Antony and Cleopatra VII. Act I begins full of dark omens:
Portents and prodigies have grown so frequent,
That they have lost their name. Our fruitful Nile
Flowed ere the wonted season, with a torrent
So unexpected, and so wondrous fierce,
That the wild deluge overtook the haste
Even of the hinds that watched it: Men and beasts
Were borne above the tops of trees, that grew
On the utmost margin of the water-mark.
Then, with so swift an ebb the flood drove backward,
It slipt from underneath the scaly herd:
Here monstrous phocae panted on the shore;
Forsaken dolphins there with their broad tails,
Lay lashing the departing waves: hard by them,
Sea horses floundering in the slimy mud,
Tossed up their heads, and dashed the ooze about them.
It is feared that Antony's interest in Cleopatra is waning despite her devotion to him. Meanwhile Ventidius, a Roman General, wishes to discourage Antony's relationship with Cleopatra and attempts to bribe him by giving more troops if he leaves her. Antony, though angry, accepts his bribe, so Cleopatra's maid Charmion and Alexas, a eunuch, are sent to persuade then bribe him to reconsider. Eventually Cleopatra wins him back and he declares his love for her until his estranged wife Octavia intervenes, telling him that if he returns home and leave Cleopatra the war will be over. He consents, despite Cleopatra's best efforts, having heard a false rumour she is romantically involved with Dolabella. Later, he hears another false rumour from Alexas, that Cleopatra is dead. He kills himself, however she has not died: she finds him on the point of death. After he dies, she then kills herself. The play ends with these words:
See how the lovers sit in state together,
As they were giving laws to half mankind!
The impression of a smile, left in her face,
Shows she died pleased with him for whom she lived,
And went to charm him in another world.
Caesar's just entering: grief has now no leisure.
Secure that villain, as our pledge of safety,
To grace the imperial triumph.—Sleep, blest pair,
Secure from human chance, long ages out,
While all the storms of fate fly o'er your tomb;
And fame to late posterity shall tell,
No lovers lived so great, or died so well.
I've been looking forward to this play: the Shakespeare homage, the fact that I enjoyed Dryden's translation of Virgil's Æneid, and my curiosity - I've been reading a fair amount of Elizabethan and Jacobean plays this year and have struggled with almost all of them, and I wondered how I'd manage with a play written some fifty years after the Jacobean era had ended. It wasn't an easy read, but it wasn't exceptionally tough either. I enjoyed the elements of fate and the Shakespearean and Ancient dark omens that haunted it from the beginning, and I did find I followed it with somewhat more ease than some of the Elizabethan plays I've been reading of late. It is a play about love, that goes without saying, and also gender identity with regards to love: Antony was accused of being almost womanly in his love for Cleopatra:
O Antony!
Thou bravest soldier, and thou best of friends!
Bounteous as nature; next to nature's God!
Couldst thou but make new worlds, so wouldst thou give them,
As bounty were thy being! rough in battle,
As the first Romans when they went to war;
Yet after victory more pitiful
Than all their praying virgins left at home!
It is a great play, insightful, and I'm looking forward to reading more Dryden, specifically The Tempest written in collaboration with William D'Avenant in 1667, another reworking of a Shakespeare play.

All for Love was my 46th title for the Deal Me In Challenge, and also the final play on my list. Next week - The Phoenix and the Turtle by William Shakespeare.


  1. Outstanding. I want to strongly recommend to you Dryden's Essays which are mostly prefaces to the published versions of his plays. They are readable, almost conversational. Dryden is something close to the first person to write essays about how literature worked just because he loved literature.

    1. I've looked it up, I see it's online. I'll definitely read it, hopefully I can get a copy. Until then I'll read a few online, some look very intriguing! I think I'll add a couple to 2017's Deal Me In Challenge.


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