Biography of John Dryden

John Dryden was an English poet, critic, and playwright active in the second half of the 17th century. Over the span of nearly 40 years, he dabbled in a wide range of genres to great success and acclaim. As a poet, Dryden is best known as a satirist and was England's first poet laureate in 1668. In addition to satires, Dryden wrote elegies, prologues, epilogues, odes, and panegyrics. His most famous poem is Absalom and Achitophel (1681). Dryden was so influential in Restoration England that the period was known to many as the Age of Dryden.

Born at a vicarage in Northampshire in 1631, Dryden was the son of parliamentary supporters, but exhibited royalist sympathies early. His poem “Upon the Death of Lord Hastings” supports a royalist agenda. Three years after graduating from Trinity College, Cambridge, he moved to London and wrote his "Heroic Stanzas" in 1659. After writing the poem "Annus Mirabilis" in 1667, Dryden was named poet laureate of England.

Dryden wrote plays throughout the 1670s, and was at the forefront of Restoration comedy. His best-known plays were Marriage à la Mode in 1673 and All for Love in 1678. However, his plays were never as successful as his poetry, and he eventually turned back to satires. In the satires that he wrote, Dryden often took aim at the Whigs, which earned him attention from Charles II. In the 1680s, Dryden converted to Catholicism and set to work criticizing the Anglican church, which ultimately lost him the position of Poet Laureate.

At the end of his career, Dryden returned to theatrical writing and also took up translation. He died in 1700 from gout.


Study Guides on Works by John Dryden

“Absalom and Achitophel” is a heroic satire written by John Dryden in 1681-1682. John Dryden is an English poet, playwright, translator, essayist, and literary theorist. Along with Shakespeare and Milton, he is considered as one of the most...

Dryden himself acknowledged that his 1667 play All for Love is an imitation of William Shakespeare's Anthony and Cleopatra, which was written in the early 1600s). It is a heroic drama that follows many of the same story beats of Shakespeare's ...

The poem To The Pious Memory of the Accomplish'd Young Lady Mrs. Anne Killigrew, published in 1686, is an elegy written by John Dryden in the memory of Anne Killigrew, a British poet who lived between 1660 and 1685.

Even if Anne Killigrew is...

Those who subscribe to such beliefs will confidently assert that one of Nostradamus’ many intricately abstruse quatrains foretells the coming of the Great London Fire of 1666. As far as city-wide conflagrations go, the 1666 blaze that made its way...

"Happy the Man" is one of John Dryden's most familiar short poems to the modern reader. And yet, this poem is not entirely of his own making. In addition to being a playwright and prodigious creator of unique poetic flights of fancy, Dryden began...

The poem "The Hind and the Panther" was written and published in 1687 by Dryden, being an allegory regarding religion. During the time Dryden wrote his poem, he left the Church of England and converted to Catholicism. The poem is the longest poem...

Mac Flecknoe is one of the four major satires of esteemed English poet John Dryden. The poem is personal satire that has for its target Thomas Shadwell, another poet who had offended Dryden with his aesthetic and political leanings. It is also...

Marriage à la Mode is widely regarded as John Dryden's most famous play. It was first performed in London by the King's Company in 1673, and centers around two different plots that entangle in a tragicomic web of mistaken identity, romantic...

In 1681, a grand jury was convened in Middlesex to consider a bill of charges filed against the Earl of Shaftesbury on the grounds of having committed high treason. The Earl of Shaftesbury had already been earlier immortalized through his infamous...

John Dryden’s “A Song for St. Cecilia's Day" is a long-form poem published in 1687, in celebration of a religious holiday commemorating St. Cecilia, a Catholic martyr and patron saint of music and musicians. Dryden, in this poem, celebrates music...

The poem was written by John Dryden who grieved the death of the poet John Oldham, whom Dryden admired as a “ generous and vigorous “ poet who can breaks the rule of simply writing “ to the dull sweets of rhyme.”

The whole poem is lamenting that...