"All greatness is in virtue:" Heroic Ethos and the Ideals of Citizenship in John Dryden's Aureng-zebe

Çimen R.

World Languages and Literatures Symposium, Denizli, Turkey, 1 - 03 June 2022, pp.1-2

  • Publication Type: Conference Paper / Summary Text
  • City: Denizli
  • Country: Turkey
  • Page Numbers: pp.1-2


The term “Restoration theatre” has come to represent a set of assumptions about the trajectory of the English theatre in the aftermath of the Interregnum period. One common tendency in dramatic criticism is the premise that the period somehow marks the beginning of the “decay” of the English theatre due to the dominance of the comedy genre that incorporates aristocratic licentiousness and lavish urban lifestyles. While comedy is, from a Russian formalist perspective, the dominant in theatre of the age, the body of works produced during the period is in fact remarkably diverse. Ranging from comedy to tragicomedy, from musical theatre to Shakespeare adaptations, dramatic literature in the Restoration years manifests both thematic and generic diversity. “Heroic drama” is among the leading dramatic modes of the period in which the conditions of a political settlement are explored with propositions for a new socio-political order. Heroic plays mainly focus on how the new social contract between the monarchy and the citizenry would be negotiated and carried out. Alongside such thematic content, heroic plays modelled after the heroism and “epic grandeur” of mythological figures, warriors, and political leaders, which suggest that the presence of a powerful monarch is an essential component of the new political regime built after the Civil War. However, such a “heroic ethos” is not without its reservations; for a proper functioning of the political system, each constituent of the political spectrum - monarchy, nobility, parliament, and citizenry- are to establish a reciprocal relationship in which “virtues” are the basis for the settlement. In other words, both the monarchy and the other constituents of the political system are expected to maintain a logic of virtuous co-existence in heroic plays. John Dryden’s Aureng-Zebe (1675) attests to such characteristics of the heroic drama. Set in the exotic land of India during the Mughal Empire, the play openly expresses a disdain for political extremism while exploring the questions of just government and public loyalty. In this presentation, I will take a look at how John Dryden uses theatre as a space for intellectual involvement in politics. By paying attention to the verbal exchanges between various characters where political roles are discussed, I will historicise the play as a Restoration dramatic piece in which the conditions of a political settlement are surveyed with a theatrical outlook on the socio-political responsibilities of the period.