chapter  5
32 Pages

Detachment and Involvement in Artistry and Good Government

WithWinifred Ernst

Dryden explores multiple versions of detachment and involvement in Fables, important for art and good government alike. The ideal for Dryden is illustrated in Ulysses, who maintains perfect control, but who remains fully committed to the situation at hand. He also embodies the characteristics of both an ideal king and an ideal citizen. In contrast to Ulysses, there are examples of extremes of controlled but amoral artistry (Timotheus) versus uncontrollable personal passion (Ajax). Detachment from familial furies and loyalty, and involvement by way of shared principles, is preferable in Dryden’s fables, and this has political indications: Perhaps England, like Athens, must find a new way. Dryden is not predicting another Athens in either Fables or The Secular Masque, but as he recreates in his fables a version of English politics rife with familial and partisan tumultuous cycles, it becomes evident that a third option only is available through an appropriate combination of detachment and involvement, another iteration of concordia discors. He reclaims his place as national poet and offers readers a way forward that is peaceful, without vengeance, but full of compromise. It’s not clear that they will take it, but he offers it all the same. To John Driden of Chesterton, Of the Pythagorean Philosophy, The First Book of Homer’s Ilias, The Speeches of Ajax and Ulysses, The Grounds of Criticism, Alexander’s Feast, Baucis and Philemon, and Ceyx and Alcyone are discussed.