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Heroic drama

Heroic drama is a type of play popular during the Restoration era in England, distinguished by both its verse structure and its subject matter. The subgenre of heroic drama evolved through several works of the middle to later 1660s; John Dryden's The Indian Emperour (1665) and Roger Boyle's The Black Prince (1667) were key developments.

The term "heroic drama" was invented by Dryden for his play, The Conquest of Granada (1670). For the Preface to the printed version of the play, Dryden argued that the drama was a species of epic poetry for the stage, that, as the epic was to other poetry, so the heroic drama was to other plays. Consequently, Dryden derived a series of rules for this type of play.

First, the play should be composed in heroic verse (closed couplets in iambic pentameter). Second, the play must focus on a subject that pertains to national foundations, mythological events, or important and grand matters. Third, the hero of the heroic drama must be powerful, decisive, and, like Achilles, dominating even when wrong. The Conquest of Granada followed all of these rules. The story was that of the national foundation of Spain (and King Charles II was known to be fond of Spanish plays), and the hero, Almanzor, was a man of great martial prowess and temperament.

Dryden's Conquest of Granada is often considered one of the better heroic tragedies, but his highest achievement is his adaptation (which he called All for Love, 1678) of Shakespeare's Anthony and Cleopatra to the heroic formula. Other heroic dramatists were Nathaniel Lee (The Rival Queens) and Thomas Otway, whose Venice Preserved is a fine tragedy that transcends the usual limitations of the form. We also owe indirectly to heroic tragedy two very amusing parodies of the type: the Duke of Buckingham's The Rehearsal and Henry Fielding's The Tragedy of Tragedies, or the Life and Death of Tom Thumb the Great



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