chapter  4
33 Pages

Shakespeare as Dryden’s Afflatus

WithWinifred Ernst

If women and Whigs were reading Dryden, they also were reading Shakespeare, as Ann Thompson, Sasha Roberts, and Maximillian Novak demonstrate. John Dryden was reading Shakespeare, too, and his unique position as a Tory and nonjuror among prominent Whigs who admired Shakespeare is an indication of his independent mind. In light of the fact that Fables was Dryden’s last major work and that he may have sensed as much, imitating A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest—the two plays that emphasize Shakespeare’s “fairy kind of writing” and frame the beginning and end of his career—may have been a profoundly satisfying endeavor: forward-looking as it prepares the way for affectivist criticism and Addison’s Spectator series on the pleasures of the imagination, retrospective in that Dryden had modernized Shakespeare for the Restoration stage. When Dryden moves Shakespeare from stage to page he finds room in his later poems for elements of Shakespeare that he had omitted from his official adaptations for the theater. He also creates another opportunity for end-of-life writing that includes a beautiful masque for England in a macabre flourishing of the imagination and a meditation on art that reinforces a powerful connection with authors and transcends time altogether, all the while tapping into a diverse world of readers that includes both modern Whigs and women. This chapter discusses The Cock and the Fox, Ceyx and Alcyone, The Flower and the Leaf, and The Enchanted Island, as well as Addison’s Spectators.