chapter  3
50 Pages

Mary, Monarchy, and Dryden’s Female Readers

WithWinifred Ernst

Fables contains many happily married—and childless—couples: Ceyx and Alcyone, Baucis and Philemon, and Cyllarus and Hylonome, to name three. The examples Dryden provides of parent-child relationships are more troublesome: Tancred-Sigismonda and Althea-Meleager are two that contradict assumptions we might be tempted to make about Dryden’s thoughts regarding lineal descent, destabilizing the seemingly settled trope of the father/child allegory of a patriarchal state and divine right. Balanced against the male-centered political theories, this chapter selects out the female forces at work in Dryden’s Fables, filled as it is with female protagonists whose compelling personal histories have social and political application to Mary II and to Dryden’s own women readers, who were drawn both to Dryden’s elegies and to the combination of public and private discourse that miscellanies provided. Dryden presents mixed forms of religious terminology, suggesting he engages language that could reflect both the Catholic and the Protestant courts of Mary of Modena and Mary II, again providing harmony in difference, unifying a diverse readership, and perhaps contributing to Fables’s stamina well into the 19th century. Whig writers like Daniel Defoe and William Walsh read Dryden so carefully that they borrowed extensively from Eleonora when writing eulogies for Mary II. The Oresteia, Sigismonda and Guiscardo, Meleager and Atalanta, To the Dutchess of Ormonde, To Anne Killigrew, Eleonora, and The Monument of a Fair Maiden Lady are discussed.