1691
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

King Arthur, or, the British Worthy.

King Arthur, or, the British Worthy a Dramatick Opera: perform'd at the Queens Theatre by their Majesties Servants. Written by Mr. Dryden.

John Dryden


A dramatic entertainment with music by Henry Purcell. John Dryden coins the phrase "Fairy kind of writing" in the preface. Not seen.

Giles Jacob: "This Play consists more of Singing and fine Scenery, than of Excellency in the Drama. The Incidents are extravagant, and Mr. Dryden's great Genius shines very little in it. The Inchanted Wood, and Osmund's Art, are borrow'd from Tasso; and the salubrious Story of King Arthur, you may read in Geoffry of Monmouth" in Poetical Register: or the Lives and Characters of the English Dramatick Poets (1719) 85.

Charles Gildon: "This Play is writ more for the sake of the Singing part and Machines, than for any Excellence of a Dramatick Piece; for in it shines none of Mr. Dryden's great Genius, the Incidents being all extravagant, many of them Childish; the Inchanted Wood, as well as the rest of the Wonders of Osmond's Art, he entirely owes to Tasso; where Rinaldo performs what Arthur does here. I shall not presume to expose any of the Faults of this great Man in this particular piece, he having suffered so much under the Hands of my Predecessor in this Undertaking" Lives and Characters of the English Dramatick Poets (1699) 45.

Samuel Johnson: "King Arthur is another opera. It was the last work that Dryden performed for King Charles.... In the dedication to the marquis of Halifax there is a very elegant character of Charles, and a pleasing account of his latter life. When this was first brought upon the stage, news that the duke of Monmouth had landed was told in the theatre, upon which the company departed, and Arthur was exhibited no more" "Life of Dryden" in Lives of the English Poets (1779-81); ed. Hill (1905) 1:364-65.

Arthur Murphy: "The original is in Dryden's wildest manner. Arthur, the British worthy, does not appear in that grandeur, which might be expected. He retains too much of fabulous history from Geoffrey of Monmouth. The scene lies in Kent, where Oswald, a Saxon, and a heathen, is the reigning king. He is assisted by Osmand, a Saxon magician, and by Grimbald, a gloomy sullen spirit. In the adverse camp, Merlin, the British enchanter, protects King Arthur, and employs in his service Philidel, an airy spirit. The Saxon magician raises an enchanted wood, and contrives to make the British worthy believe that Emmeline is there enclosed in an oak-tree. Merlin counteracts these magic arts, and not only produces to the British king the real Emmeline, but bestows on her, who was born blind, the organs of sight. The Britons triumph over the Saxon king, and with that catastrophe the piece concludes. The fable abounds with a multitude of absurdities, but the genius of Dryden intermixed beautiful poetry and a variety of songs, which, with machinery, ensured success on the stage" Life of David Garrick (1801) 304.

Walter Scott: "Encouraged by the revival of his popularity, Dryden now ventured to bring forward the opera of 'King Arthur,' originally designed as an entertainment to Charles II.; 'Albion and Albanius' being written as a sort of introductory masque upon the occasion.... The music of 'King Arthur' being composed by Purcell, gave Dryden occasion to make that eminent musician some well-deserved compliments, which were probably designed as a peace-offering for the injudicious preference given to Grabut in the introduction to 'Albion and Albanius.' The dances were composed by Priest; and the whole piece was eminently successful. Its good fortune, however, was imputed, by the envious, to a lively song in the last act, which had little or nothing to do with the business of the piece. In this opera ended all the hopes which the world might entertain of an epic poem from Dryden on the subject of King Arthur" Life of Dryden (1808; 1834) 306-08.

Herbert E. Cory: "The cherished project of his own life was to write an epic about Arthur, the hero of The Faerie Queene, or the Black Prince, 'wherein, after Virgil and Spenser, I would have taken occasion to represent my living friends and patrons of noblest families, and also shadowed the events of future ages, in the succession of our Imperial lines' [Essay on Satire]" Critics of Edmund Spenser (1911) 116.

Roberta Florence Brinkley: "Unlike Milton, Dryden gave up his Arthurian epic from no sense of conviction but purely because of financial inability to devote the time to it. It was necessary for him to continue the more profitable occupation of writing plays. The subject retained its interest for him, however, and we find him adapting it to dramatic opera, patterned after 'The Tempest,' which Dryden terms 'tragedy mixed with opera.' Dryden's 'King Arthur' was written with a definite political purpose and was to be produced to strengthen the power of Charles II; but it was so delayed in production that it did not appear until after William and Mary came to the throne, and, therefore, had to be revised until it was unrecognizable" Arthurian Legend (1932) 142-43.

Reginald Berry: "Arthur is a British Christian hero functioning in a romance context. Part of Act 4 imitates the Bower of Bliss: Dryden's Arthur encounters a silver stream with two naked 'Syrens' in it to tempt him, but 'Honour calls'" Spenser Encyclopedia (1990) 228.

David Bywaters: "The sources of King Arthur have been long recognized. Philidel, Grimbald, and Merlin derive from The Tempest, the bathing sirens from The Faerie Queene, the enchanted forest from Gerusalemme Liberata, and various motifs concerning heaven and hell, the recovery of Emmeline's sight, and her deliverance from rape, from Paradise Lost and Comus" Dryden in Revolutionary England (1991) 84.