Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
Abandonment of Rhyme in Tragedy: Imitation of Shakespeare
By John Dryden (1631–1700)
From Preface to All for Love.

IT remains that I acquaint the reader, that I have endeavoured in this play to follow the practice of the ancients, who, as Mr. Rymer has judiciously observed, are and ought to be our masters. Horace likewise gives it for a rule in his Art of Poetry,
                    “Vos exemplaria Græca
Nocturnâ versate manu, versate diurnâ.” 1
  Yet, though their models are regular, they are too little for English tragedy; which requires to be built in a larger compass. I could give an instance in the Œdipus Tyrannus, which was the masterpiece of Sophocles; but I reserve it for a more fit occasion, which I hope to have hereafter. In my style, I have professed to imitate the divine Shakespeare; which that I might perform more freely, I have disincumbered myself from rhyme. 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 dramatic 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 betwixt 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 between Antony and Ventidius in the first act, to anything which I have written in this kind.  2
Note 1. Vos exemplaria Græca, etc.  Do you turn ever in your hands by day, and in your hands by night, the models of the Greeks. [back]

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