“Father of English Criticism,
BEN JONSON THE FIRST ENG CRITIC, DRYDEN THE FATHER OF CRITICISM:
Jonson is known as the first English critic but Dryden as the father of English criticism. It was Dr Johnson who conferred the title of ‘The Father of English Criticism’ on Dryden. Saintsbury, T.S. Eliot and many other modern critics support Dr. Johnson’s views. Of course by saying that Ben Jonson is the first critic of England Dryden’s position has not been degraded. That remark is based on the historical priority of Jonson and no on introducing the new rules being introduced by him. However, Jonson, contemporary of Shakespear, faced boldly the practical problems of the literature and literary aspirants of the day.
Dryden admired Jonson for various reasons but no for any merit of originality/introducing new ideas in literature. Jonson was ruthless/pitiless/cruel in his “liberal classicism” whereas Dryden was very tolerant. If it is a question of critical output, Jonson was, limited in critical range, and, vague and precise in output. Dryden was fortunately, in possession of a rich and diverse literary tradition behind him enabling him to produce more creative, productive and refined critical output. This fact entitles him to the position of the father of English practical criticism.
DRYDEN’S BOLD AND FREE SPIRIT:
Dryden’s affection for English literature was certainly deep and he had the courage of passion. He was never in favour of set rules and definitions being formulated by some French critics. Dryden was also well aware of some of the critics who were not in favour of these rules. So he was successful in realizing and hence clearing for himself the ground by brushing away all illogical bans upon freedom of composition and thought. The boldness displayed by Dryden in refusing to give slavish respect to Aristotle is also commendable. He clearly points out that Aristotle himself would have appreciated tragic-comedies if only he had seen those English plays.
DRYDEN’S MASTER OF ALL TYPES OF CRITICISM:
Careful analysis of existing literary works can be termed as “Descriptive Criticism”. As Watson explained that it is John Dryden the author of Essay of Dramatic Poesy who has given us a fine example of descriptive criticism. Dryden’s literary strength and skill has been neatly displayed in this works. There is no other literary giant who has more confidence in his own power and clarity of vision. He has clearly analysed and tried to estimate and assess all strict rules and principles.
There are two other types of criticism, namely, “legislative criticism” which enables the poet to classify what to write from what not to write and to understand the better and more graceful ways of writing. Another type, namely “theoretical criticism” deals with the artistic aspects of literature. Dryden’s works have enough examples in them to convince any later critic how much he is indebted to Dryden for the full comprehension of the different aspects of literature. Fletcher commends Jonson for the height and accuracy of judgement in his plots, his choice of characters and maintaining it to the end. But Dryden does not think him as a perfect pattern of imitation except in humour. Dryden lauds the gallantry and civility of his age, the advantages over ancients and knowledge of customs and manners. His brilliant analysis of the ancient dramatists of Elizabethan age clearly points out that Dryden was fully aware of natural greatness of Shakespeare, the artistic vigour of Jonson and the stylistic grace of Fletcher; he is not at all blind to their shortcomings and limitations.
PIONEER OF COMPARATIVE CRITICISM:
Another point to remember is the fact that Dryden also opened the new field of comparative criticism. He categorically points out that the nature of mankind varies at different times in the history of man. Hence it involves variations in taste and art....
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