Peripateticism: Neoclassical principles, Sherwood’s essay “Dryden and the Rules: Troilus and Cressida” and character in the neobaroque


This essay and the one discussed yesterday were mentioned at the conclusion of Steiner’s essay as a synthesis of the different seventeenth century French and English theories of translation (focus on audience vs. focus on poet). I haven’t the foggiest idea what these two essays have in common with the synthesis of translation theories, as the word translation is not mentioned once in either of them, nor do they have anything to do with translation indirectly. 

The only subject of interest (mostly the essay is about Dryden’s plagiarism and unoriginality) relates to the neoclassical orientation of Dryden. It should be emphasized here that you should not read this essay if you would like to learn more about neoclassicism. I am simple discussing it in this context because only this subject prompted me to consider anything related to my work.

According to Aristotle, the parts of tragedy are plot, character (Dryden’s “manners”), diction (Dryden’s “expressions”), thought, spectacle and song. (Sherwood 78) Aside from there being some morality in the plot, Dryden does not address this subject. With regard to character/manners, “Dryden defines the manners as ‘those inclinations, whether natural or acquired, which move and carry us to actions, good, bad, or indifferent, in a play; or which incline the persons to such and such actions.’” (Sherwood 78) Following a demonstration of how these ideas were derived from other critics, primarily French, Sherwood quotes Dryden:

“But as the manners are useful in this art, they may be all comprised under these general heads: first, they must be apparent; that is, in every character of the play, some inclinations of the person must appear; and these are shown in the actions and discourse...Secondly, the manners must be suitable, or agreeing to the persons; that is, to the age, sex, dignity, and the other general heads of manners: thus, when a poet has given the dignity of a king to one of his persons, in all his actions and speeches, that person must discover majesty, magnanimity, and jealousy of power, because these are suitable to the general manners of a king.” (Sherwood 79) The third rule is the representation must be “true to life” and the fourth is that they must be constant and equal. (Sherwood 80)

In our contemporary neobaroque context, this neoclassical approach to character could, but does not have to, see some alterations. Particularly shocking today is the degree to which manners in the sense of speech or behavior sometimes deviate wildly from what would be expected. Here I am thinking of the language used by men at the upper echelons of the corporate sector, where you would expect decorum, but in fact repeatedly hear reference to explicative-filled speech. This suggests that the second rule that “manners must be suitable or agreeing to the person” need not apply if person is understood in the sense of position. Furthermore, related to this and rule four, consistency is probably at odds with the drastic fluctuations in our time. Both people and current events (even the weather) exhibit a tendency toward extremes, which is gutting  the core capable of sustaining constancy.

Work cited:

Sherwood. John. “Dryden and the Rules: The Preface to Troilus and Cressida. Comparative Literature. Vol. 2. No. 1 (Winter 1950) 78-83. Online. Accessed: Apr. 23, 2012.

Steiner, Thomas. "Precursors to Dryden: English and French Theories of Translation in the Seventeenth Century." Comparative Literature Studies. Vol. 7 No. 1 (Mar. 1970). 50-81.

Additional reading:

See Peripatetic rubric above for general explanation and many links.
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