Dryden certainly had rhyme in mind as he penned his defense Of Heroique Plays, which appeared with the published text of The Conquest of Granada.1 After making the bold initial claim that “it is very clear to all, who understand Poetry, that serious Playes ought not to imitate Conversation too nearly” (8), Dryden addresses the public reception of rhyming lines, which has suffered as a result of literary tastes too influenced by habit:
But it was only custome which cozen’d us so long: we thought, because Shakespear and Fletcher went no farther, that there the Pillars of Poetry were to be erected: That, because they excellently described Passion without Rhyme, therefore Rhyme was not capable of describing it. But time has now convinc’d most men of that Error. ’Tis indeed, so difficult to write verse, that the Adversaries of it have a good plea against many who undertake the task.(8)
Like Milton’s preface to Paradise Lost, Dryden’s defense scolds “custome,” though he concludes that poets have not gone far enough with rhyme, where Milton dismisses it as the technique of a “barbarous age.” Despite Dryden’s frequent rhetorical efforts to extol the value of plays written in rhymed verse, the best defense of his heroic plays lies in the lines themselves. With The Conquest of Granada, Dryden not only proves that rhyming verse can convey a “Passion,” but he also sustains that passion across ten acts and 4,880 rhymed lines, a relatively large number of which rely on triple—rather than double—rhymes.
The Conquest of Granada marks a significant increase in the triplet’s appearance in Dryden’s dramatic works. While he first employs the triplet in his third [End Page 41] heroic drama, Tyrannick Love, it figures much more prominently in his fourth. Only 0.78% of the lines in Tyrannick Love form triplets, yet in the very next play, this percentage more than quadruples: 3.81% of the lines in The Conquest of Granada belong to triple rhymes. Because of its relative brevity, The State of Innocence causes a minor plateau in the overall scheme; 3.79% of its lines fall into triplets. The general trend, however, is an upward one, and Aureng-Zebe rounds out the set with a concentration of 5.33% triplets. This general increase agrees with the pattern of triplet usage in Dryden’s non-dramatic works, but here I am primarily interested in the question of why the triplet appears so often in The Conquest of Granada.2
Although Dryden uses triplets quite frequently in this fourth work, he does not distribute them evenly among his characters. Almanzor, the mysterious warrior who arrives at Boabdelin’s court early in the play, performs more triplets than any other character.3 Of the sixty-three triplets in The Conquest of Granada, Almanzor speaks or contributes to twenty-six, and several of those spoken by other characters refer to him. Dryden assigns a mere eight triplets to Abdelmelech, chief of the Abencerrages, and no other character speaks more than six times in triple rhyme. It makes sense, then, that in his treatise on heroic drama, Dryden defends his hero as fervently as he defends his lines. Almanzor, Dryden’s most extreme version of the hero, is his most expansive rhymer.
The playwright compares Almanzor to such classical warriors as Achilles and Rinaldo, and devotes the bulk of his apology to charges of inconstancy. “Almanzor is tax’d with changing sides,” acknowledges Dryden, but “what tye has he on him to the contrary? he is not born their Subject whom he serves: and he is injur’d by them to a very high degree” (16). Critics of this character had apparently found fault with his capacity for accomplishing “impossibilities” including “being a stranger” who “appeases two fighting factions, when the Authority of their Lawful Sovereign could not” (17), but Dryden provides swift justification for his hero, conceding the point, then answering it cleverly: “This is, indeed, the most improbable of all his actions: but, ’tis far from being impossible. Their King had made himself contemptible to his people, as...