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therefore, almost every species of incongruity and contradiction can authenticate a narrative, this anecdote must be rejected as wholly unworthy of credit.
A month only having been employed on The STATE OF INNOCENCE, our author had full leisure for the composition of AURENG-Zebe, a tragedy, which was exhibited in the spring of 1675, or before, being entered in the Stationers' Register, on the 29th of November in that year, and published probably in the pext month, though according to the usual practice of booksellers it bears the date of 1676. In the Prologue to this tragedy, which is written in heroick couplets, he confessed that he was become weary of “ his old mistress, rhyme,” and accordingly this is the last heroick tragedy which he produced. The reason assigned for this change of opinion is so forceable, with respect to dramatick compositions, that it is surprising he should not have been struck by it at an earlier period :
“ Passion's too fierce to be in fetters bound,
The interest which Charles the Second took in the exhibitions of the stage is well known, and is strongly evinced by a passage in the dedication of this piece to the Earl of Mulgrave, from which we learn that the manuscript was perused by the King, before it received the author's last hand, and that “ the most considerable event of it was modelled by his royal pleasure.”
In 1676 and 1677, Dryden appears to have been employed in writing the tragedy of ALL FOR Love, and the comedy of LIMBERHAM,' which were both printed in 1678. His friend Sir Charles Sidley had produced, probably in the winter of 1676, a tragedy in rhyme on the subject of AnTONY AND CLEOPATRA, with some success; but doubtless it was driven from the stage, as soon as “ the only play which our author wrote for himself,” made its appearance. « The rest, (he tells us,) were given to the people.”
For many years after the Restoration, the reputation of Ben Jonson stood so high, that to deny his superlative merit above all the other dramatick writers of England, was considered as a kind of sacrilege. About this time a better taste began to dawn, and chiefly by Dryden's means the transcendent excellencies of Shakspeare began to be understood, though he was yet but little studied, and few of his plays were acted. As in the Prologue to AURENG-ZEBE, Dryden had paid that incomparable poet a high compliment,' so in the conclusion of the Preface to ALL FOR Love he thus extols him : :
· 9 All For Love was entered at Stationers' Hail by
* Invades his breast at Shakspeare's honour'd name :
« I hope I need not to explain myself, that I have not copied my author servilely. Words and phrases must of necessity receive a change in succeeding ages : but it is almost a miracle that much of his language remains so pure; and that he who began dramatick poetry amongst us, untaught by any, and as Ben Jonson tells us, without learning, should by the force of his own genius perform so much, that in a manner he has left no praise for any who come after him. The occasion is fair, and the subject would be pleasant, to handle the difference of styles between him and Fletcher, and wherein and how far they are both to be imitated. But since I must not be over-confident of my own performance after him, it will be prudence in me to be silent. Yet I hope I may affirm, and without vanity, that by imitating him I have excelled myself throughout the play; and particularly that I prefer the scene betwixt Antony and Ventidius to any thing which I have written in this kind.”
Of the comedy of LIMBERHAM, which was acted at the Duke's theatre, the fate is well known: it expired, by the author's own confession, on the third night," for having,” as he states, “ expressed too much of the vices it decries.” Langbaine suggests, that it was condemned for exposing the keeping part of the town. I have, I think, somewhere read, that the author, in the character of Limberham, had Lord Shaftesbury particularly in view ; whose partisans were probably highly offended, and joined heartily in its condemnation.
Much of what displeased on the stage, we are told, was either altered or omitted in the print. This comedy is, however, I believe, yet extant in its original state ; for some years ago I saw a manuscript copy of it, which had been found by Lord Bolingbroke among the sweepings of Pope's study, in which a pen had been drawn through several exceptionable passages, that do not appear in the printed play.
The contract which had subsisted for many years between Dryden and the King's Company of comedians, appears about this time to have been dissolved, in consequence of some disagreement, now beyond the reach of discovery. Hence we find his three next dramas, as well as that last mentioned, exhibited at the theatre of their opponents, in Dorset Gardens.
Of the tragedy of OEDIPUS, which was written in conjunction with Nat. Lee, and acted with great applause ten nights successively,' I have not found any notice in the Stationers' Register. This play, of which Dryden formed the general scheme, and contributed the first and third acts," was published in 1679, as was the alteration of Shakspeare's TROILUS AND CRESSIDA, under the title of TRUTH
* In the Prologue to All For Love, acted not long before, we have
“ In short, a pattern and companion fit
“ For all the keeping Tonies of the pit." 3 Rosc. ANGL. P. 37. - Vindication of THE DUKE OF GUISE, vol. ii. p. 129. FOUND TOO LATE. The Essay prefixed to it “On the grounds of Criticism in Tragedy,” appears to have been an after-thought; for the play itself was entered at Stationers' Hall by Jacob Tonson, now become our author's bookseller, April 14, 1679, and on the 18th of the following June the Critical Essay was separately registered, having probably been written in the intervening period.
Qur aụthor's pension having been withheld for some time, this circumstance, if we are to believe a lampoon of that day,' gave rise to the tragicomedy of THE SPANISH FRIAR : but however he might complain of the tardiness of payment, it is highly improbable that he should thus express his resentment at a delay which he must have known arose solely from the poverty of the Exchequer. It was acted with great success, probably in Feb. 1681-2, for the concluding lines of the Prologue seem to allude to the recent murder of Mr. Thynne on the 12th of the preceding month.
The two Companies of Players called the King's and the Duke's Servants, who had for above twenty years continued a contention detrimental to them
s The LAUREAT, folio, 1687.
o “ It was excellently acted, (says Downes,) and pro. duced a vast profit to the company.” Rosc. Ang. ubi sup. Nokes, the celebrated actor, was much admired in the part of Gomez, and Antony Leigh in that of the Friar; in which character Leigh was drawn at full length by Kneller, for Charles, Earl of Dorset.