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In his introduction to The Cambridge Companion to John Dryden (2004), Steven Zwicker maintains that "Dryden seldom wrote of, or even seems to have imagined, a coherent and progressive literary career of the kind that was often on Spenser's or Milton's mind."1 In the same 2004 Companion, Annabel Patterson challenges Zwicker's claim. Patterson reminds us that in fact Dryden was driven, almost from the beginning of his career, by a "grand ambition"—to redefine "the heroic," both in subject and in form. She advances the fascinating (and counterintuitive) thesis that Dryden's ambition to reinvent English heroic poetry for his age probably also drove his political affiliations: "Most of this has to do, obviously, with Dryden's idea of the heroic, as something that writers, especially if they have the laureateship in mind, must redefine for their own place and time."2 I cannot let it go without saying that John Milton was driven, from a very young age, by much the same ambition. Milton realized his ambition in three heroic poems (Paradise Lost, Paradise Regain'd, and Samson Agonistes) published between 1667 and 1674, exactly the years [End Page 199] when Dryden was experimenting with his reinventions of heroism for the Restoration stage.3

This essay will sketch out the very different modes by which Milton and Dryden pursued this ambition of redefining heroism for an age that was gradually coming to recognize itself as postheroic. What could convincingly count as heroic behavior in an age like theirs? What depiction of heroism could survive the corrosive context of Stuart England from the late 1630s on without degenerating into satire or even farce?4 Both poets regarded their ambitions as crucial to the future of the English people. Both believed that heroic virtues bound civil societies together and that poets could inspire such virtues in people and rulers alike. The task of redefining heroism for a post-heroic age looked very different to these two poets, one a disappointed republican and the other an ambitious "Servant to His Majesty," and critics have justifiably belabored those differences. But after reviewing those, I want to concentrate some attention on an important, but misunderstood, intersection of their ambitious paths—Dryden's adaptation of Milton's great epic as a heroic drama: The State of Innocence and the Fall of Man.5

Dryden imagined that his project was to restore traditional heroism for what he regarded as a new age. As Marcie Frank puts it, he took advantage of Milton's own self-presentation as "old fashioned" by exaggerating it, as if Paradise Lost belonged to a pre-Restoration era.6 For Dryden, "old fashioned" is largely code for the "good old cause," and royalists were ever anxious to depict that as hopelessly outdated. But far from being old-fashioned, Milton actually wanted to start fresh. He chose to celebrate versions of heroism hitherto ignored.7 In book 9 of Paradise Lost, the narrator dismisses first the classical "argument[s]" of Homer and Virgil (PL 9.13–19), and then the romance subjects of Ariosto and Tasso (9.27–41), proposing instead tragic "disobedience" and "Patience and Heroic Martyrdom," subjects hitherto "Unsung" (9.32–33).8 Milton also used Adam, Eve, and Raphael to illustrate and promote more domestic forms of heroism such as condescension, marital conversation, friendship, self-esteem, and sacrifice. As late as 1693, Dryden still maintained that Milton's "Subject is not that of an [End Page 200] Heroique Poem; properly so call'd: His design is the Losing of our Happiness; his Event is not prosperous, like that of all other Epique Works" (Works 4:14–15). Nevertheless, twenty years earlier, he chose a version of the Miltonic subject for his latest experiment in heroic drama, an opera in five acts, dedicated to celebrating, among other things, heroic beauty and the more domestic virtues of human behavior, marriage, mutual submission, love, and the cultivation of a "Paradise within." The literature of the coming centuries, in novels and plays, would continue to explore these more domestic heroisms long after Dryden's earlier experiments with heroic drama turned into fodder for satire.

John Milton searched for heroic subjects in British history and the Bible.9 When he finally settled on the double subject of "Mans First Disobedience … / With loss of Eden" and the restoration of "the blissful Seat" by "one Greater Man" (PL 1.1, 4–5), it was after a period of "long choosing, and beginning late" (9.26). Unlike Milton, Dryden did not bide his time; he experimented in rapid succession with one heroic subject after another. Apparently unafraid of failure he jumped from the heroism of the Lord Protector Cromwell (Heroique Stanzas, 1659) to Charles II (Astraea Redux, 1660). The first proved a political embarrassment and the second unconvincing.10 Dryden tried exotic heroes like Montezuma, Almanzor, and Aureng Zebe and foreign heroes like Cortez and Ferdinand.11 Most often the exotic heroes were meant to remind readers of heroes closer to home like James, the Duke of York. Annus mirabilis celebrates a plethora of heroes and subjects. An incomplete list, compiled from the program Dryden outlined in his "Letter" to Sir Robert Howard, of "the most heroic Subject[s] which any Poet could desire," includes "War," the "prudence of our King," the "valour of a Royal Admiral" (James), two "incomparable Generals" (George Monck and Prince Rupert), and "the invincible courage of our Captains and Seamen" (Works 1:50).12 King Charles had to settle for an accompanying rather than leading role in this poem. He is praised for "management and prudence," and later for "Piety and Fatherly Affection," traits hardly as heroic as the courage, valor, and loyalty ascribed to the nameless seamen. [End Page 201] Even the City of London, praised for "courage[,] loyalty and magnanimity," appears more of a hero than the king. Eventually, the "Letter" that introduces the poem admits that several of the king's subjects come in for more heroic praise than he, and then praises him for tolerating the slight without taking offense: "the peculiar goodness of the best of Kings, that we may praise his Subjects without offending him" (1:52). There is an air of desperation in Dryden's experiments with heroes, but also a whiff of change.

The Conquest of Granada, arguably Dryden's most successful experiment, is a good example of this desperation. If Charles proved an increasingly poor choice for heroic song, perhaps his brother James might do. The dedication tells James that Almanzor and his deeds are "faint representations of your own worth and valor" (Works 11:3). By insisting that his "feign'd Heroe" Almanzor is but a faint shadow of James, even that James's own virtues inspired his invention, Dryden risks turning his own account of the public purpose of heroic poetry on its head. Traditionally, "the feign'd Heroe inflames the true," rather than the other way around. But Dryden deftly saves appearances by stating that these plays, by reminding James of his own heroic parts and deeds in the fiction of Almanzor, will stimulate still more virtuous actions in the future: "Heroes may lawfully be delighted with their own praises, both as they are farther incitements to their virtue, and as they are the highest returns which mankind can make them for it" (11:3). Instead of choosing an ancient Briton or Scot as an example of "the dead virtue" that "animates the living," Dryden chose the King's brother and heir-apparent as an instructive example of "Heroique vertue" to all of the English, including, awkwardly enough, the king.

This choice of heroic subject is awkward for still other reasons. Almanzor is a legendary version of a real prince, a successful expansionist ruler of Muslim Iberia. As the play begins, the audience may well have taken Almanzor's religion, Islam, as some kind of code for James's Catholicism, which by mid-1672 was common knowledge, and had been suspected by courtiers and others for several years before that.13 How could the quintessential English hero be a Roman Catholic? [End Page 202]

Then, in act 4 of The Conquest of Granada, the ghost of Almanzor's mother appears to him and reveals that he was born and baptized a Christian, a Roman Catholic, and, even more troubling for an English audience, a Spanish Roman Catholic. Suddenly, his earlier Islam registers as a mistaken, or false religion. Some in the audience must have found themselves confused, but others, I believe, saw this as a thumbnail sketch of James's conversion narrative. Like Almanzor, James was a warrior, "preoccupied," in John Miller's words, "with love and war, but when he returned to England, he began to think more deeply about religion," as did his wife, Anne.14 James regarded his conversion as a return to Mother Church, a kind of personal restoration of the ancient religion.

The Conquest of Granada asks to be read as a celebration not only of the duke's military prowess and valor but also of his successful efforts at reconciling the competing demands of Love and Honor, with significant help from his beloved wife. Almahide, who captures Almanzor's heart (and more) giving rise to the obligatory heroic struggle between Love and Honor, hardly resembles Anne Hyde, but some may have regarded her perfect negotiation of the competing claims of Honor and Love as a counterexample to the scheming Lyndaraxa and the royal mistresses she suggests. Almahide is also a royal mistress before King Boabdelin marries her, but once married she becomes the perfect image of loyalty and self-control, while Boabdelin, who often suggests an inept Charles, degenerates into quite the opposite. Almahide's pure love for Almanzor, proved in Lucrece fashion, saves him from disgrace, and together they lead Granada to a restoration: "At once to freedom and true faith restor'd: / Its old religion, and its antient Lord" (Conquest II 1.1.26–27).

Dryden may well have believed that James's and Anne's conversions to Catholicism held the promise of a similar restoration in England. He needn't have known about the secret Treaty of Dover (June 1, 1670) to gauge which way the wind was blowing and set course accordingly.15 I don't mean to suggest that he was cynical; quite the reverse. He looks, in hindsight, naïvely idealistic, and he never swerved in his loyalty to James. He sincerely hoped that [End Page 203] James would become the hero England needed. And, as Jackson Cope points out, Almanzor does appear, by the end of part 2, to set aside his outsized martial heroics and adopt a more domesticated set: chaste love, temperance, and even patience.16 Dryden was trying to learn something from Milton's new heroisms.

But The Conquest of Granada failed in every way Dryden believed a heroic poem should succeed. The supposedly epic struggle between Love and Honor in act 4 is so overdone that it almost slides into satire of its own accord. Almanzor, only recently outed as a Christian by his Purgatory-bound mother, tries to seduce (maybe even force) chaste Almahide with carpe diem arguments of near-Marvellian potency. His dignity (and her chastity) is saved only by her threat to slay herself. This puts the hero only a halfstep away from tyrannical rape; in fact he is guilty, in the next scene, of forcing kisses on Almahide in front of her husband, the king. Dryden seems almost to invite the ridicule we find in The Rehearsal 3.2. His hero is a Catholic warrior with Tarquinesque tendencies; King Mohamet Boabdelin is debauched, plagued with Othello-like jealousy, a troth-breaker, and a misbeliever—Muslim now is code for stubbornly Protestant. Almanzor calls the king's word "that weathercock of State" (Conquest I 3.1.10). Perhaps Charles failed to recognize himself in Dryden's incompetent king, but at least a few others, especially those who knew of or suspected his dealings with Louis XIV, surely did. In The Rehearsal 1.1, Buckingham mocks the title Dryden held most dear, "Servant to His Majesty," suggesting that his "last Play" (Conquest), exposed him as less a servant to His Majesty than to His Highness, the Duke, and more intent on receiving royal favors than in serving His Majesty (1.1.44–60).17 The "plot" of Mr. Bayes, it seems, was not obscure to everyone, and his experiments with the heroic failed to promote civic virtues in the mighty.

With The State of Innocence and the Fall of Man, Dryden tries a new take on the heroic. No more invincible warrior. Love and Honor appear in a much more domestic context, as they do in Paradise Lost. The Duke of York is still his chosen hero, but now the focus is on his domestic virtues and how they are inspired and [End Page 204] supported by the heroic beauty of his new wife, Mary of Modena. It would take a few more years for Dryden to give up on rhyming couplets as the heroic medium, but as he adapts the story of Milton's heroic pair for the stage, we can see him reconsidering, in unexpected ways, what could count as heroic in postheroic England.18

Milton cared not a whit for the restorations Dryden so longed to celebrate and strengthen—the "ancient freedom" that he believed could only be guaranteed by absolute monarchy, and the "old Religion" of prelates, perhaps even popes. Milton sings of quite a different restoration—of "the blissful Seat," a paradise within, but only after many lines that pour scorn on all of the heroic virtues to which Dryden stubbornly clings. Most of what Steven Zwicker says of Paradise Regain'd as a refutation of Dryden's heroic drama could also be said about Paradise Lost: Satan is a satire on monarchy, empire, and conquest.19 Milton believed that there were far better ways to demonstrate loyalty to God than by military valor, and his angelic guards and warriors, for all their martial grandeur, are also noticeably ineffectual. The most effectively heroic of the archangels is Raphael because he is heroic in condescension, conversation, and careful teaching.20 In place of the heroic drama's shopworn heroic struggle between Love and Honor, Milton offers us Adam's struggle between obedience to God and his love for Eve. Fallen Eve, as if her transgression had turned her into a Restoration courtly mistress, regards Adam's struggle as wonderfully heroic—a "glorious trial of exceeding Love, / Illustrious evidence, example high" (PL 9.961–62). But in Milton's anticourt heroic world, he deserves a scolding rather than pity and admiration:

Was shee thy God, that her thou didst obeyBefore his voice, or was shee made thy guide,Superior, or but equal, that to herThou did'st resigne thy Manhood, and the PlaceWherein God set thee above her made of thee,And for thee, whose perfection farr excell'dHers in all real dignitie: AdorndShe was indeed, and lovely to attractThy Love, not thy Subjection, and her Gifts [End Page 205] Were such as under Government well seem'd,Unseemly to beare rule, which was thy partAnd person, hadst thou known thy self aright.

(10.145–56; emphasis mine)

Self-knowledge, something that only belatedly dawns on Dryden's Almanzor, is for Milton more heroic than deeds of any kind. All this rises to an even higher pitch in Paradise Regain'd, but the diffuse epic has paved the way for the brief one. There is much to be gained from trying to discover, from a close reading of Dryden's play, what he learned (and resisted learning) from Milton's Paradise Lost.

Steven Zwicker's insistence that Dryden meant to "do a job" on Milton's epic by "trivializing, domesticating," and rendering its subjects "ridiculous or comic" tends to obscure evidence that Dryden's ongoing efforts to redefine the heroic for the Restoration court owe a great deal to Milton.21 The State of Innocence is much more than "a recondite form of ridicule."22 Zwicker understands the dedication to Mary of Modena, the young bride of "the most feared Roman Catholic in England," as a "humiliating" application of Milton's heroic "blest pair" to James and Mary, the Duke and Duchess of York, a couple who to many Londoners increasingly personified the threat of popery and arbitrary rule.23 All of this ignores what Dryden learned from Milton about the promise of more domesticated forms of heroism like friendship and marriage, and more inward notions of restoration—finding "Paradise within" (State of Innocence 5.4.267). And though Zwicker finds Dryden's exaggerated praise of the duchess's beauty particularly offensive, even bordering on sacrilege and idolatry, we shall see in a moment that Dryden borrows much of this rhetoric of praise from Milton's (and Adam's) own words about Eve.24

By dedicating the published version of State of Innocence in 1677 to the duchess, Dryden signals his continued support of a highly controversial alliance. Mary of Modena was Louis XIV's choice for the recently widowed Duke of York. News of her betrothal to James renewed fears of a "Popish successor" and a more general tendency toward "arbitrary" rule. The couple was quietly married [End Page 206] in Italy by proxy on September 30, 1673, a few days after Mary turned fifteen. When the House of Commons resumed meeting on October 20, its first act was to petition the king to prevent the consummation of this marriage and insist that the duke, presumptive heir to the throne, marry a Protestant.25 The king responded by proroguing Parliament for a week and then informing them that the marriage had already been "completed, according to the forms used amongst Princes, and by his Royal Consent and Authority."26 Actually, it had been a Catholic wedding performed by proxy in the duchy of Modena; Henry Mordaunt, James's proxy, chose to absent himself from the parts of the service he deemed "obnoxious" to a Protestant.27 The Commons, the majority of whose members thought this marriage spelled disaster for English Protestantism, refused to back down and sent a longer address on November 2, expressing their great fear (couched as an implied threat) that "this might be an occasion to lessen the affections of the people to his Royal Highness, who is so nearly related to the Crown" and that "this kingdom will be under continual apprehensions about the growth of Popery."28 James and Mary had not yet been married in a Protestant ceremony, so many MPs believed there was still hope for an annulment. Charles responded to Parliament's second address by proroguing it until January.29 In the meantime, Mary and her mother arrived in England on November 21 and the new Duchess of York met her husband for the first time at their Protestant wedding on the 23rd. So unpopular was Mary, and this wedding, that the English ceremony was held far from London, where scandalous broadsides depicted her as an agent of the pope.30

At the time, even to some of those who supported the king's prerogative to arrange royal marriages as he saw fit, this looked like a match made anywhere but in heaven. No one in the House of Commons thought of this couple as that "blest Pair," Adam and Eve in paradise. Dryden's conceit was politically explosive but also impressively supportive of the king's prerogative. From the perspective of the Court, Dryden was doing heroic service as poet laureate and Historiographer Royal: he was supporting the heir apparent in what was becoming his darkest hour. And more, [End Page 207] he was trying to praise the royal couple in some of the new language of heroic virtue he had gathered from Milton's great poem. As Jackson Cope suggests, Dryden learned several lessons from "the larger poet" about the heroic.31 The years from 1673 to 1681 were the most tumultuous of Charles II's reign, culminating in the Exclusion Crisis. With benefit of hindsight one might well consider 1673 the beginning of that crisis, and this marriage the second major step down that path, the first being James's open refusal to submit to the Test Act, passed by Parliament in March. This marriage was part of the back-channel foreign policy that came to be popularly feared as the "growth of Popery" and the threat of arbitrary rule. Dryden's dedication reinforces his commitment to York's politics—alliance with France, tolerance (or even more) for English Catholics, and James as heir to the throne (rather than Monmouth or some other Protestant solution).

Besides the politics, Dryden's choice is notable for poetic reasons. Maria Beatrice Anna Margherita Isabella d'Este personified more than a century of aristocratic patronage of epic poets, and Dryden calls attention to this: "I can yield, without envy, to the Nation of Poets, the Family of Este to which Ariosto and Tasso have ow'd their patronage; and to which the World has ow'd their Poems" (Works 12:81). Not only were her ancestors patrons of epic poets, their annals are crowded, writes Dryden, with heroes and "Princes, famous for their Actions both in Peace and War," scores of likely subjects for heroic song (81). Dryden also lists all of the heroic virtues of her new husband the duke: "Courage, and Success in War," "Fidelity to His Royal Brother," "Constancy," "Justice," "Magnanimity," and patriotism (82). But for this new heroic drama, Dryden resigned to others all these traditional subjects in favor of Maria Beatrice's beauty: "But I could not without extream reluctance resign the Theme of Your Beauty to another Hand. Give me leave, Madam, to acquaint the World that I am Jealous of this Subject; and let it be no dishonor to You, that after having rais'd the Admiration of Mankind, You have inspir'd one Man to give it voice" (81). Her beauty is both his chosen heroic argument and his muse. Her "Greatness" (82), her "Conjugal Virtues" (84), even the "indowments and qualities of [her] Mind" (85) could have served as [End Page 208] subjects for heroic song, but Dryden chooses beauty above all other arguments, because beauty "is more peculiarly Yours": "Greatness is indeed communicated to some few of both Sexes; but Beauty is confin'd to a more narrow compass: 'Tis only Your Sex, 'tis not shar'd by many, and its Supreme Perfection is in You alone" (82). Just what are we to make of this? Over-the-top Petrarchism? Certainly that, and more.

Like Dante's Beatrice, whose name means "bearer of beatitude," Dryden singles out Maria Beatrice's beauty as his guide to paradise, or as he calls it, The State of Innocence.32 And her first name, Maria, reminds us of Mary, second Eve, whom Dante's Saint Bernard called "Virgin Mother, daughter of thy Son."33 Once again, like his excessive praise for James in the dedication to Conquest of Granada, Dryden runs a significant risk of slipping, whether he means to or not, into satire. He casts himself as a latter-day Dante whose love for the duchess's beauty is more "a Zeal than Passion": "'Tis the rapture which Anchorites find in Prayer, when a Beam of the Divinity shines upon them: that which makes them despise all worldly objects, … a single vision so transports them, that it makes up the happiness of their lives, … has power enough to destroy all other Passions. You render mankind insensible to other Beauties: and have destroy'd the Empire of Love in a Court which was the seat of his Dominion" (Works 12:83). But Dryden's praise has less to do with the salvation of humankind than with emergent Tory politics. Not only will Mary's beauty turn heads at court and outdo all the charms of the official royal mistresses, Dryden humorously suggests that already she has "subverted … even our Fundamental Laws; and Reign[s] absolute over the hearts of a stubborn and Freeborn people tenacious almost to madness of their Liberty," as if being a slave to her beauty could free a stubborn people from their misguided addiction to "their Liberty" at the monarch's (and nation's) expense. Where does this allegedly new idea of heroic beauty come from? Let's pay some attention to the ways Dryden paid attention to Milton's Eve.

Eve, Milton insists, was a great beauty, and in Paradise Lost her distinctly female beauty presents a number of problems—interpretive, metaphysical, and moral. For present purposes, I shall attend to [End Page 209] the poem's many suggestions of the power of Eve's beauty—power over herself, over Adam and Raphael, and even over evil itself in the person of Satan.

First, beauty's power over Eve herself. Eve tells the story, in book 4, of the captivating power of her own beauty, as reflected in the "cleer / Smooth Lake" (PL 4.458–59). At first she mistakes her reflected beauty for another being "Bending to look" on her, with "sympathie and love" (4.462, 465). Milton radically changes Ovid's Narcissus story by insisting that the first vector of desire seems to Eve to originate from the "Shape" that appears in the pool. Both Narcissus and Eve mistake the image for another being, but Narcissus is so fixated on that being's beauty that all he cares about is his desire to possess it. He does not imagine the beautiful shape cares anything for him; indeed, this episode is in part his just deserts for having never cared a whit for anyone's desire for him, man or woman.34 Milton invokes Narcissus only to insist that Eve is quite different; unlike him, she takes great pleasure in being desired, or, in this case, in thinking she is desired. Milton would have us believe that Eve was purpose-built to respond to desire, and not just man's desire.35 Eve imagines that the being in the pond answers her, but we know what she does not—that the "answering looks" are hers to begin with. Narcissus's flaw was to scorn anyone's desire for him. That is what makes his comeuppance so poetically just. Eve is all response to, and her beauty is all initiation of, sympathy and love.

But what has all this to do with beauty's power? When Eve imagines agency in the reflected shape, the poem invites us to share her mistake, to imagine that her beauty, abstracted from herself into two dimensions, a mere reflection in a pond, is endowed with power over her person, and over her will, a power she cannot help but respond to, and, more importantly, a power that is not her own. Crudely put, her "looks" look at her and, so she thinks, initiate a conversation of "answering looks/Of sympathie and love."36

As I bent down to look, just opposite,A Shape within the watry gleam appeardBending to look on me, I started back, [End Page 210] It started back, but pleas'd I soon returnd,Pleas'd it returnd as soon with answering looksOf sympathie and love; there I had fixtMine eyes till now, and pin'd with vain desire,Had not a voice thus warnd me, What thou seest,What there thou seest fair Creature is thy self,With thee it came and goes.

(PL 4.460–69)

What Adam later refers to as her beauty's "powerful glance" is so powerful that it requires nothing less than the warning voice of God to break its spell (8.533). And this omniscient voice may be read as authorizing a version of Eve's initial mistake. The voice tells her that the image she sees in the lake, the one she imagines is a person who desires her, is actually her "self." In addition to the misogynist implication that her self is nothing more than her outward appearance, this locution also threatens to perpetuate the confusion of abstracted beauty with agency, powerful agency. The voice goes on to lend the abstracted beauty even more agency: "With thee it came and goes."

Starting from the caesura in line 465, Eve betrays a new perspective; with the benefit of hindsight she now knows that her response to her own beauty can lead nowhere, that she only thinks her image loved her first. Created to respond to desire, she has been responding to a response—a brilliant example of "vain desire." That is why we are so startled to read only a few lines further on that Eve almost "returnd" with pleasure to the "smooth watry image" in the lake because Adam, for all his tallness, is just not as beautiful to look at. Even after she knows the reflection is not a person; even after the invisible voice of God has told her that her beauty is merely a reflection of Adam; still she turns back with desire. Now, though not before, Eve risks imitating Narcissus, until another voice, Adam's, tries once again to break the spell: "Return faire Eve, / Whom fli'st thou?" (PL 4.481–82). Adam's cry, together with his breathless answers to her original questions about who she is, where she came from, and how she got here are not enough to keep Eve from turning back to the "answering looks" of her abstracted beauty. He must resort to force (however gently) by seizing her [End Page 211] hand and, to preserve the notion of her freedom of choice, she must yield. Only then can she be free of the power of her own beauty. Adam's cry echoes that of Narcissus to Echo in Metamorphoses (3.381–82), raising the specter of disaster once again, but, according to Eve's own story, Adam has succeeded in teaching her to "see / How beauty is excelld by manly grace / And wisdom, which alone is truly fair" (PL 4.489–91).

John Guillory refers to this lesson as a kind of beauty contest in which wisdom and manly grace, Adam's invisible qualities, win the prize, leaving "beauty," presumably female beauty, in second place. This makes sense in Milton's metaphysics where the image of God in Adam is his invisible inward grace and wisdom, and Eve reflects God's image only secondarily.37 But the poem leaves us in no doubt about the power of this secondary visible beauty. Unlike the invisible God, and Adam's inward version of God's image, one can actually see Eve's "looks Divine" (PL 4.291). Even Eve knows that, as far as visible things go, her beauty is far more "winning" than Adam's outward appearance (4.479). The poem allows that conviction to stand, even though elsewhere it sounds so committed to the idea that invisible masculine wisdom is more God-like (see 8.540–45 and 564–75). We shall see in a moment how in several places the poem's celebration of visible female beauty bumps uncomfortably up against its stated doctrines.

Dryden, of course, omits from his poem any such contest between outward and inward fairness. His Eve is simply the most beautiful human being ever, with the possible exception of the Duchess of York.38 Critics typically regard all this as the most obsequious sort of flattery, an awkward return to an outmoded tradition of Petrarchan praise, but it is more than that. Dryden has deliberately chosen, in the face of Milton's Paradise Lost, this "Subject," this "Theme of Your Beauty," for his heroic song (Works 12:81). He doesn't hearken back to the rage of Achilles, the cleverness of Odysseus, or even, as Anthony Welch argues, to the "Bases and tinsel Trappings" of "gorgeous Knights," typical of Ariosto (PL 9.36).39

In what appears to be a direct contradiction of Milton's beauty contest, Dryden alleges that female bodily beauty is true beauty, not just outward show; both men and women can have greatness, [End Page 212] but "Beauty is confin'd to a more narrow compass: 'Tis only in Your Sex, 'tis not shar'd by many, and its Supreme Perfection is in You alone. And here, Madam, I am proud I cannot flatter" (Works 12:82). His Lady, the duchess, is his epic muse, his god, his subject, and his heroic theme all rolled into one. Singing of her beauty, Dryden believes, will fulfill the twin purposes of heroic verse—to delight and instruct. Dryden seems deliberately to reverse Milton's inward/outward theory of what is truly fair when he tells the duchess: "Your Person is a Paradice, and your Soul a Cherubin within to guard it. If the excellencie of the outside invite the Beholders, the Majesty of your Mind deters them from too bold approaches; and turns their Admiration into Religion. Moral perfections are rais'd higher by you in the softer Sex: as if Men were too coarse a mould for Heaven to work on, and that the Image of Divinity could not be cast to likeness in so harsh a Metall" (12:84). Female beauty, like poetry, has more power to move human beings to piety and moral action than the "harsh Metal" of prosaic (manly?) rationality. Dryden's Raphael steals a page from Milton's Tetrachordon when he tells Adam that Eve is "design'd / For thy soft hours, and to unbend thy mind" (State of Innocence 2.2.64–65).40

On his first glimpse of Eve, Dryden's Adam immediately surrenders his "boasted Soveraignty" to the "Fair Vision":

        Fair Vision stayMy better half, thou softer part of me,To whom I yield my boasted Soveraignty,I seek my self, and find not, wanting thee.

(State of Innocence 2.3.4–7)

There is simply no contest. Softer is better; she is the self he seeks, not the other way around. Milton's Eve learned the doctrine of what is "truly fair"—invisible manly wisdom—somewhat reluctantly. Dryden's Eve and Adam (and even the angels) appear instinctively to know that she is the fairest image of their maker:

Adam. O Virgin, Heav'n begot, and born of ManThou fairest of thy great Creator's Works;Thee, Goddess, thee th'Eternal did ordain [End Page 213] His softer Substitute on Earth to Reign:And, wheresoe'er thy happy footsteps tread,Nature, in triumph, after thee is led.Angels, with pleasure, view thy matchless Grace,And love their Maker's Image in thy Face.


When Satan showers Eve with similar-sounding praise in Paradise Lost, we are expected to demur. Even Eve gets suspicious. Eve responds to his flattery with "Serpent, thy overpraising leaves in doubt / The virtue of that Fruit" (PL 9.615–16 and 599–600). Nevertheless, Eve's lesson in beauty doctrine has failed to inoculate her against the Serpent's continued praise of her beauty; when he addresses her as "Fairest resemblance of thy Maker faire," she no longer objects. The narrator tells us that Satan's words about Eve's "Celestial Beautie" and the gaze of "all things living" make their way into her heart (9.539–40, 550).

In Dryden's poem, none of this rhetoric of praise counts as flattery, much less satanic flattery because although I am arguing Dryden imitates Milton's insistence on the power of female beauty, he does not share Milton's fear that such power will undermine the sovereignty of male rationality.41 Dryden's Adam responds to Eve's beauty almost instantly by surrendering his "boasted Soveraignty" (superior rationality) to love and serve her beauty. Unlike Milton's, Dryden's Eve does not begin her subject-formative wondering by looking downward. In fact Dryden endows his new-waked Eve with an upward rising attitude and an address to creation that Milton had reserved for Adam: "Tell me ye Hills and Dales, and thou fair Sun, / Who shin'st above, what am I? whence begun?" (State of Innocence 2.3.8–9). But when Eve looks at the beasts, she notices that they all gaze on her "as if I were to be obey'd," and as if they all long to be like her (2.3.13–14). And her self-regard sounds firm, firmer than in the case of Milton's Adam: "I myself am proud of me" (2.3.15). When she comes across her image in the lake, she also at first believes that it is another being who, like the beasts, desires to imitate her, to be like her, even to love her:

And now a Face peeps up, and now draws near,With smiling looks, as pleas'd to see me here. [End Page 214] As I advance, so that advances too,And seems to imitate what e're I do:When I begin to speak, the lips it moves;Streams drown the voice, or it would say it loves.Yet when I would embrace, it will not stay.


The initial vector of desire here is the same as that in Paradise Lost, book 4: Eve thinks that the being "draws near" to her with love and pleasure.42 But Dryden's Eve is utterly confident that this being, like all the other beings in paradise, is attracted to her beauty and naturally wants to draw near it. Once she understands that it is an image, not a being, she condemns the abstracted image of her beauty as "fair, yet false," a "Being, form'd to cheat, / By seeming kindness, mixt with deep deceit" (2.3.26–27). Critics unfailingly take this as satire, as if Eve herself proclaims her own beauty a "deep deceit," but another reading makes more sense. Dryden invites us to regard abstracted beauty, beauty apart from the "Person" herself, as deceitful. We recall that he proclaimed the duchess's "Person," her body, a "Paradice," guarded by her virtuous soul. Separate her image from her person and deceit is inevitable—one cannot draw near it or embrace it, and embracing beauty is the path Dryden's Adam believes is the way to love. Eve's beauty prompts him to resign his birthright of command and volunteer his obedience because her beautiful person begets love:

Adam. Made to command, thus freely I obey,And at thy feet the whole Creation lay.Pity that love thy beauty does beget:What more I shall desire, I know not yet.First let us lock'd in closed embraces be;Thence I, perhaps, may teach my self, and thee.


Eve's beauty, embraced in person, offers a road to knowledge through love and sexual pleasure; Eve's beauty, abstracted in the lake offered only deceit and disappointment. Here Dryden revises one of the most apparently misogynist parts of Milton's poem: when the divine voice implies that Eve is little more than her outward beauty. This claim does not govern the entire poem's [End Page 215] treatment of Eve, but Dryden brilliantly re-attaches female beauty to female subjectivity, power, and agency.

Some will object that Dryden's Raphael defines Eve as a being designed to be subject to Adam:

An equal, yet thy subject, is design'd,For thy soft hours, and to unbend thy mind.Thy stronger soul shall her weak reason sway;And thou, through love, her beauty shalt obey;Thou shalt secure her helpless sex from harms;And she thy cares shall sweeten, with her charms.

(State of Innocence 2.2.62–67)

Once again, these lines are often misread, or only partially read. It looks like Dryden's Raphael endorses the female subjection Milton describes in book 4. For once, Dryden appears more a devotee of ancient English liberties than Milton. His Eve is both equal, and a subject; Milton's poem claims for Adam "Absolute rule" (PL 4.301). Dryden depicts original sovereignty in the state of innocence as an ongoing negotiation between masculine reason and feminine charms. We must pay attention to something Dryden's Raphael certainly does not borrow from Milton; Adam, he says, should "sway" her "weak reason" with his stronger soul, but also "thou, through love, her beauty shall obey" (State of Innocence 2.1.65–69; my emphasis). Jean Gagen correctly reminds us that in Paradise Lost, "this is precisely what Raphael insists that Adam should not do."43 Dryden's Raphael suggests a kind of originary contract of marriage, one in which sovereignty and obedience are more complicated than in Milton's paradise, where Adam's rule and Eve's subjection come built in, where Eve is created already married and already subjected.44 Dryden's Eve is not created already married; they marry themselves to each other. They negotiate a relationship of sovereignty and subjection, not unlike the constant negotiation implied by England's ancient notion of sovereignty—the king in Parliament. Adam's reason should hold sway over hers, but her beauty should prompt his obedience "through love."

And that is exactly what happens. Dryden's Adam knows he was made to command, but Eve's beauty prompts him to resign his [End Page 216] sovereignty and lay Creation at her feet. When Eve responds coyly to his direct proposal that, without hesitation, they get "lock'd in close embraces," he exercises his stronger reasoning power and convinces her to grant his "suit" and submit to his embraces without delay: "If not to love, we both were made in vain" (State of Innocence 2.3.60). Eve knows that when she submits to his desire, she will lose the "much-lov'd Soveraignty" she has briefly held by virtue of her beauty. And so they come to an agreement—an erotic variant of the Hobbesian social contract: "Here, my inviolable Faith I plight, / So, thou be my defence, I, thy delight" (2.3.76–77). Eve's beauty gives her a potential for sovereign power; Adam's superior reason and strength endow him with another sort of sovereign power. Unlike Milton's pair, Dryden's couple strikes a deal—she agrees to submit to his stronger reason and desire and, in return, he agrees to obey her beauty's call to love her and protect her. Critics usually regard Dryden's Eve as some sort of Restoration coquette because she responds to Adam's sexual overtures by saying, "some restraining thought, I know not why, / Tells me, you long should beg, I long deny" (2.354–55). But both come to realize there is good reason for a brief delay: they need to negotiate the terms of shared sovereignty and submission first. One might actually argue that Milton's Eve is more the coquette; her "coy submission, modest pride, / And sweet reluctant amorous delay" (PL 4.310–11) appear, given the circumstances, simply gratuitous.

Let's now turn to other Miltonic descriptions of beauty's power. In every case, Eve's beauty exercises its power as if it had an agency of its own, apart from her will. For example, Milton asks us to see her as a "Queen" attended by "A pomp of winning Graces" which, like supernatural courtiers, "waited" on her (PL 8.61). These graces exercise special powers in her service, shooting "Darts of desire / Into all Eyes to wish her still in sight" (8.62–63). Winning graces shooting darts of desire—these personify Eve's beauty as if they were supernatural courtiers acting on her behalf, but not at all under her command. The narrator tells us in book 5 that Eve's "Beautie … / Shot forth peculiar graces" even when she was asleep (5.14–15). In book 8, as she retreats from sight, her beauty actively [End Page 217] recruits attention, even as her own attention is on her "Fruits and Flours," which "toucht by her fair tendance gladlier grew" (8.44, 47). At this particular moment, however, Adam and Raphael are so intent on each other, as together they enter "on studious thoughts abstruse," that none of these darts reach their destination in their eyes.

In her absence, Adam tells Raphael just how powerfully Eve's beauty affects him. Nothing else in creation prompts in him such "vehement desire" or effects disturbing changes in his mind:

        But hereFarr otherwise, transported I behold,Transported touch; here passion first I felt,Commotion strange, in all enjoyments elseSuperior and unmov'd, here only weakeAgainst the charm of Beauties powerful glance.

(PL 8.528–33)

"Glance" here recalls the narrator's earlier description of "winning Graces" shooting "Darts of desire," inviting us to imagine Eve's beauty as a glancing blow from an arrow or bolt. Adam worries that he is not "proof enough" against even a glancing blow from such a charming dart. Her charms are hardly passive, awaiting another's gaze; they are aggressive, even threateningly so. That they are glancing blows even suggests they are somewhat promiscuously targeted; "all eyes" in range will be affected. Looking ahead to book 9, the narrator describes Adam's fall, his willful disobedience, as a matter of being "fondly overcome with Femal charm" (9.999). One way to think of Adam's fall is that his reason was defeated in a heroically tragic single combat with the power of Eve's beauty, though the word "fondly" robs the image of whatever pity or fear, whatever manly heroism, it might otherwise have suggested.

Milton's Adam describes to Raphael just how much Eve's beauty threatens his reason. Rationally, he knows she is his inferior in the mental and "inward Faculties" of wisdom, purity, and dominion that mark him as more resembling "his Image who made both" (PL 8.541–45): [End Page 218]

        yet when I approachHer loveliness, so absolute she seemsAnd in her self compleat, so well to knowHer own, that what she wills to do or say,Seems wisest, vertuousest, discreetest, best;All higher knowledge in her presence fallsDegraded, Wisdom in discourse with herLooses discount'nanc't, and like folly shewes;Authority and Reason on her waite,As one intended first, not after madeOccasionally; and to consummate all,Greatness of mind and nobleness thir seatBuild in her loveliest, and create an aweAbout her, as a guard Angelic plac't.

(PL 8.546–59)

We saw how Dryden's Adam approached Eve's beauty, responding to its power with obedience—love. Once "lock'd in close embraces," he expects to learn even more about love and desire (State of Innocence 2.3.50).45 Milton's Adam confesses that as he approaches Eve's "loveliness," he comes close to losing his reason altogether (PL 8.546–59). Raphael remonstrates with him, trying to devalue the power of female charm—"things / Less excellent," "An outside," "all her shows" (8.565–66, 568, 575)—and urging him to resist subjecting himself to female charm and the brutish passion it moves. Dryden suggests instead that Adam would do better to obey beauty's command to love and desire rather than try to resist it and end up, like Milton's Adam, "fondly overcome."

Milton's Raphael warns Adam against passion: "In loving thou dost well, in passion not" (PL 8.588), but no such warning appears in Dryden's poem. In Paradise Lost, Adam and Raphael talk about sex, even angelic sex, but Adam never shares with Eve what he learned from Raphael; in Dryden's State of Innocence Adam and Eve talk, quite frankly, about sexual pleasure and Adam expects to gain new knowledge from enjoying sex with her. Obeying her beauty, he loves her; there's no talk of reason being trumped or corrupted by passion. Adam looks forward to an eternal "perfect bliss" of desire and satisfaction. The blessing of paradise is that desire does not die with the fleeting satisfaction of possession: [End Page 219]

Adam. Thus shall we live in perfect bliss, and seeDeathless our selves, our num'rous progeny.Thou young and beauteous, my desires to bless;I, still desiring, what I still possess.

(State of Innocence 3.1.23–26)

Dryden's Adam is in love for the long haul. Desire does not die once he possesses Eve; rather, it grows into a desire to learn more about such beauty and the person who embodies it. In act 3's opening aubade, Adam gushes to Eve about how the earth moved when she brought to his arms her "Virgin Love" (3.1.31–34). God himself, "nodding" in approval, "shook the Firmament," while "Conscious Nature gave her glad consent" to sexual pleasure in a kind of triumphant masque:

Roses unbid, and ev'ry fragrant Flow'r,Flew from their stalks, to strow thy Nuptial Bower:The furr'd and feather'd kind, the triumph did pursue,And Fishes leapt above the streams, the passing Pomp to view.


And Eve describes to Adam how blessing his desire to enjoy her beauty brings her to orgasm as well. Dryden borrows some of the language Milton's Adam used to describe how conversation with God left him "Dazl'd and spent" (PL 8.457) for Eve's description of her first sexual "extasie":

Eve. When your kind Eyes look'd languishing on mine,And wreathing Arms did soft embraces joyn,A doubtful trembling seiz'd me first all o'r;Then, wishes; and a warmth, unknown before:What follow'd, was all extasie and trance;Immortal pleasures round my swimming eyes did dance,And speechless joys, in whose sweet tumult tost,I thought my Breath and my new Being lost.


Adam, in obedience to Eve's beauty, desires to enjoy her charms; when she submits to that desire, Eve experiences something like desire—"wishes"—which in turn brings her more ecstatic pleasure than any we hear of in Paradise Lost. Dryden employs an [End Page 220] alexandrine in line 45, as if to invite us to bask a bit, at least rhetorically, in something like the "Immortal pleasures" she describes.46 Dryden and Milton appear to agree on the power of female beauty, but Milton's poem responds to that power with fears and anxieties absent from The State of Innocence. Dryden's "blest pair" (PL 4.774; State of Innocence 3.1.100) fall almost willingly from their state of innocence, and the poem allows us to admire Adam's sacrifice of immortality for love, without such narrated judgments as "compliance bad" and "fondly overcome" (PL 9.994, 999).

One last comparative example of beauty's power in each poem could well be the exception that proves the rule just articulated above. Dryden's Lucifer responds to the sight of Adam and Eve's sexual bliss with jealousy, as if he were an injured lover bent on revenge:

Lucifer. Why have I not like these, a body too,Form'd for the same delights which they pursue?I could (so variously my passions move)Enjoy and blast her, in the act of love.Unwillingly I hate such excellence;She wrong'd me not; but I revenge th'offenceThrough her, on Heav'n whose thunder took awayMy birth-right skyes!

(State of Innocence 3.1.92–99)

Lucifer, jilted by God, wants to revenge himself by raping Eve, and Dryden's Eve (unlike Milton's) truly is the "fairest of [the] great Creator's Works," a "Goddess" ordained by God to be "His softer Substitute on Earth" (2.3.29–31). To "enjoy" and destroy the most powerful beauty in Creation, the clearest human image of the Creator, would be revenge well aimed. Milton's Satan plots his revenge on God through both Adam and Eve, and he imagines it, not as violent rape but, ironically, as a (perverse) bond of friendship, or even an unfortunate marriage—"mutual amitie so straight, so close, / That I with you must dwell, or you with me" (PL 4.376–77). A far more important difference, however, is that in Milton's poem, Eve's beauty threatens to take away Satan's fierce intent "with rapine sweet" (9.461). Not Eve, but her beauty, the power of her "Heav'nly forme" (9.457). Eve's intentions, as we noted in earlier [End Page 221] examples, don't figure in this threatened aggression; she doesn't even know Satan is nearby:

Such Pleasure took the Serpent to beholdThis Flourie Plat, the sweet recess of EveThus earlie, thus alone; her Heav'nly formeAngelic, but more soft, and Feminine,Her graceful Innocence, her every AireOf gesture or lest action overawdHis Malice, and with rapine sweet bereav'dHis fierceness of the fierce intent it brought:That space the Evil one abstracted stoodFrom his own evil, and for the time remaindStupidly good, of enmitie disarm'd,Of guile, of hate, of envie, of revenge.


Milton may have insisted on Adam's absolute authority and Eve's submission. Elsewhere his narrator is very clear that God's image shines more authentically in Adam than in his fair spouse, but here we are tempted to forget such metaphysical technicalities.

Face-to-face with evil, Eve's beauty is clearly the most powerful thing in Creation. It's hard to imagine Satan being abstracted from his evil by looking at Adam. It certainly doesn't happen when he encounters Uriel, one of the seven brightest angels (PL 3.648–665). The narrator refers to "her Heav'nly forme" at line's end, with the briefest of pauses before the qualifying "Angelic" appears in the next line. As we read, and as Satan gazes, we already have supplied "Divine," before dropping our eyes to that next line. The poem displaces "Divine" or "Godlike" with "Angelic," but the echo does not die. I imagine that when he read this, Dryden appreciated how "soft, and Feminine" enhance beauty's power to the point where it can ravish "fierceness" from the fierce, and evil itself from "the Evil one." Dryden might have admired the power of female beauty as Milton first imagined it, but he allowed its possessor an agency Milton denied her, and he deemed such powerful beauty worthy of heroic song instead of fear, suspicion, and blame. In the end, Milton chose not to celebrate beauty's power to overcome evil. He leaves that task to Satan, who sings "Shee fair, divinely fair, fit [End Page 222] Love for Gods" (9.489), as if to celebrate female beauty is somehow satanic or, as in Adam's case, "effeminate."

Milton's narrator pours contempt on Adam's "choice to incur / Divine displeasure for her sake, or Death" (PL 9.992–93). What Eve calls a "glorious trial of exceeding Love, / Illustrious evidence, example high," in other words, a heroic deed, the narrator dismisses as "compliance bad" (9.961–62, 994). The epic power of female beauty dwindles in the narrator's estimation to "Femal charm" (9.999) whose power renders Adam "effeminate" (11.634). Eve thinks Adam's choice heroic; we are tempted to think so too, but the narrator discourages any such sentiment. This is one of those places where the poem moves us one way, and the narrator, not entirely successfully, points another.

Having done away with a narrator, Dryden chooses the poem's path. When Lucifer begins his temptation speech with "Hail, Sovereign of this Orb! Form'd to possess / The world, and, with one look, all nature bless," we are not to think he overpraises her or allows his reason to be subject to passion (State of Innocence 4.2.36–37). Adam, we recall, first responded to Eve's beauty with obedient love and laid at her feet "the whole Creation" (2.3.76–77). And disobedience does not deface her beauty or cloud it with flushes of distemper (PL 9.901, 887). Dryden's Adam corrects Eve's silly conviction that tasting the fruit has turned her into a goddess; she already is a goddess. The fruit, he says, has not strengthened her reason or improved her knowledge. But more important, disobedience has not dimmed her beauty: "you have beauty still, and I have love" (State of Innocence 5.1.68). That beauty still commands him to love: "Not cozen'd, I, with choice, my life resign: / Imprudence was your fault, but love is mine" (5.1.69–70).

Imprudence—Dryden reduces Eve's transgression to something merely venial. At the same time he advances Adam's transgression to something like the heroic status Milton's Eve believed it to be. He ventures death for her, in obedience to her beauty. Not "compliance bad," but obedience, and to her beauty and the love it prompts, not to God. That his deed brings death into the world, with all our woe, doesn't really tarnish its heroic quality. The same [End Page 223] love beauty commanded when they first met will also repair the ruin of death brought on by Adam's willingness to venture death for love. How will obedience to beauty accomplish this? Dryden allows this to remain a mystery. As Barbara Lewalski observes, there is not even a whiff of redemption theology or soteriology in Dryden's poem.47 Raphael promises that the human race will revive, escape death's dominion, and live eternally "in deathless pleasures," but we are not told how (State of Innocence 5.4.223). Dryden was more content than Milton for his faith to remain mysterious.

In fact, it's not at all clear to what Dryden's poem attributes the salvation of the human race, but it invites us quite confidently to embrace Eve's notion that the Fall was quite a good thing, for it enables heaven to turn evil into good: "Ravish'd with Joy, I can but half repent / The sin which Heav'n makes happy in th'event" (State of Innocence 5.4.235–36). It also implies that Adam's heroic disobedience to the divine interdiction, which was obedience to beauty's command to love, proves that human beings are not puppets of necessity. Without heroic disobedience, human obedience could never be distinguished from fate, or what Adam calls "the chain which limits men / To act what is unchangeably forecast, / Since the first cause gives motion to the last" (4.1.53–55). In this Dryden appears more committed than Milton's narrator to the Miltonic conviction that good means nothing without the presence of evil, and virtue without the temptation of vice is nothing but a "fugitive and cloister'd virtue," unworthy to be praised (Areopagitica, YP 2:514–15).

When Dryden praises the duchess's beauty in heroic terms borrowed from Paradise Lost, he hails her as "Mother of Mankind" and mother of God combined: "Providence has done Justice to it self, in placing the most perfect Workmanship of Heaven, where it may be admir'd by all Beholders. Had the Sun and Stars been seated lower, their Glory had not been communicated to all at once; and the Creator had wanted so much of His Praise, as He had made Your condition more obscure" (Works 12:84). Dryden here echoes Milton's Satan, who claimed that Eve's "Celestial Beautie" [End Page 224] was "best beheld / Where universally admir'd" rather than alone in "this enclosure wild" (PL 9.540–43). But Dryden, unlike Satan, is sincere. Members of Parliament in the Commons were afraid to have such a woman so near the crown, but Dryden boldly celebrates it because he wants to believe, just as Lord Peterborough believed, that she could wield her heavenly beauty as a power for good:

But He has plac'd You so near a Crown, that You add a Lustre to it by Your Beauty. You are join'd to a Prince who only could deserve You: whose Conduct, Courage, and Success in War, whose Fidelity to His Royal Brother, whose Love for His Country, whose Constancy to His Friends, whose Bounty to His Servants, whose Justice to Merit, whose Inviolable Truth, and whose Magnanimity in all His Actions, seem to have been rewarded by Heaven by the Gift of You. You are never seen but You are blest: and I am sure You bless all those who see You.

(Works 12:84)

Of course, heroic beauty failed to restore England to a state of paradise, or even moral uprightness, let alone heroic dignity. James and Charles survived the Exclusion Crisis, thanks to the Tory reaction this poem anticipates so confidently. But in the end, James II became increasingly absolutist and his relations with the political nation deteriorated, despite the stunning beauty of Queen Maria Beatrice. Not long after she bore him a son and Catholic heir on June 10, 1688, James was harried from the throne and replaced by the Protestants William and Mary. Was Dryden naïve to believe in the power of female beauty to save the Restoration settlement and the Stuart dynasty? Perhaps, but versions of this heroic naïveté live on today.

Thomas H. Luxon
Dartmouth College


1. Steven N. Zwicker, "Composing a Literary Life: Introduction," in The Cambridge Companion to John Dryden, ed. Zwicker (Cambridge, 2004), 3. In the dedication of Aureng Zebe to John Sheffield, third Earl of [End Page 225] Musgrave, Dryden does, in fact, state his ambition to write an epic poem. He says he has talked about the project with King Charles and his brother and welcomes an opportunity to do so again. His plan is to represent the king "and his Royal Brother" as "the Heroes of the Poem" in the discreet guise of "their Warlike Predecessors." The Works of John Dryden, ed. Vinton A. Dearing (Berkeley, Calif., 1994), 12:154–55. The royal brothers are also suggested by Boabdelin and Almanzor in both parts of The Conquest of Granada (1670–71, 1672) (Works, vol. 11) and by Hector and Troilus in Troilus and Cressida (1679) (Works, vol. 13). Dates given here for plays are, first, the date of first performance, then the date of publication, unless they are the same. The California Dryden is referred to throughout as Works by volume and page or by act, scene, and line in the case of drama.

2. Annabel Patterson, "Dryden and Political Allegiance," in Zwicker, Cambridge Companion to Dryden, 222.

3. Paradise Lost a Poem in Ten Books, 1667; Paradise Regain'd and Samson Agonistes, 1671; Paradise Lost a Poem in Twelve Books, 1674. Milton died in 1674.

4. Jackson I. Cope pointed out some time ago how liable Dryden's heroic plays, even his best ones, are to satirical treatment; see his "Paradise Regained: Inner Ritual," in Milton Studies, vol. 1, ed. James D. Simmonds, 51–65 (Pittsburgh, 1969). Eric Rothstein, Restoration Tragedy: Form and the Process of Change (Madison, Wisc., 1967), 24–76, reminded us even earlier that the popular attack upon heroic plays came swift and included many more satirists than Milton's heroic poems and Buckingham's The Rehearsal. John Evelyn's wife, Mary, marveled that The Conquest could represent love "so pure," and "valour so nice" in an age she characterized as "the decline of morality." Diary and Correspondence of John Evelyn, ed. William Bray (London, 1852), 4:25. Paul Stevens astutely reminds us how even the most serious of intentions can morph into satire given the political contexts in which things are written and read. See his "Lament for a Nation? Milton's Readie and Easie Way and the Turn to Satire," in The Oxford Handbook of Literature and the English Revolution, ed. Laura Lunger Knoppers (Oxford, 2012), 602–07.

5. Marcie Frank provides a succinct overview of critical commentary up until the early 1990s; see "Staging Criticism, Staging Milton: John Dryden's The State of Innocence," Eighteenth Century 54 (1993): 51–53. Since then, the most significant pieces have been by Candy B. K. Schille, "The Two Faces of Eve: Milton's 'Pamela,' Dryden's 'Shamela,' and The State of Innocence," New Perspectives on the Eighteenth Century 3 (2006): 10–20; Jennifer Airey, "Eve's Nature, Eve's Nurture in Dryden's Edenic Opera," Studies in English Literature 50 (2010): 529–44, both of which offer much-needed feminist perspectives, and Steven Zwicker, "Milton, Dryden, and the Politics of Literary Controversy," in Culture [End Page 226] and Society in the Stuart Restoration: Literature, Drama, History, ed. Gerald MacLean (Cambridge, 1995), 137–58. I shall take issue with the latter in what follows.

6. Frank, "Staging Criticism," 46. Nathaniel Lee refers to Milton as "the dead Bard" in his prefatory poem, "To Mr. Dryden, on his Poem of Paradice," printed in the 1677 edition (omitted from the California Dryden), although Milton was still alive when Dryden composed it in 1673.

7. But see Sarah Van der Laan, "Milton's Odyssean Ethics: Homeric Allusions and Arminian Thought in Paradise Lost," in Milton Studies, vol. 49, ed. Albert C. Labriola, 49–76 (Pittsburgh, 2009).

8. All quotations from Milton's poetry are from The John Milton Reading Room online at (1997–2017).

9. See the Facsimile of the Manuscript of Milton's Minor Poems, preserved in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge (Cambridge, 1899), which contains notes for proposed poems on ancient British, biblical, and Scottish themes. See also the opening pages of the second book of The Reason of Church-Government, in The Complete Prose Works of John Milton, 8 vols., ed. Don M. Wolfe et al. (New Haven, Conn., 1953–82), 1:810–17; hereafter cited as YP.

10. Patterson goes so far as to claim there is "nothing in either the tone of Astraea Redux or its direct statements [to] suggest that Dryden now saw the Restoration as the rebirth of a heroic era" ("Dryden and Political Allegiance," 225).

11. Montezuma and Cortez are competing heroes of The Indian Emperor (1665, 1667); Almanzor is the hero of The Conquest of Granada (1670–71, 1672); Ferdinand is the victorious king of The Conquest of Granada and Boabdelin the loser; Aureng Zebe, a south Asian Indian, is the hero of Aureng Zebe (1675, 1676). Though Aureng Zebe is usually called Dryden's last heroic play (Zwicker, "Composing a Literary Life," x), I would argue that his lifelong quest for a proper heroic subject and proper heroic verse form continues in works such as All for Love (1677, 1678) and Troilus and Cressida (1679).

12. It is tempting to argue that the real hero of Annus mirabilis, strategically hidden in plain sight among the crowd, is James, "Victorious York" (line 73), who, as royal admiral, commanded the surviving, but hardly victorious, fleets of both Albemarle (Moncke) and Prince Rupert. Unlike the subsequent battles fought by the general and the prince, James's triumph at Lowestoft was a clear victory for the English. Dryden's "Verses to Her Highness the Dutchess," which immediately precede the poem, remind us of this. With the dedication in 1672 of The Conquest of Granada, Dryden is ready to be explicit: "the most glorious victory which was gain'd by our Navy in that war, was in that first engagement [Lowestoft]. … All our [End Page 227] achievements against them afterwards, though we sometimes conquer'd and were never overcome, were but a copy of that victory: and they still fell short of their original" (Works 11.5).

13. John Miller, James II (New Haven, Conn., 2000), 64.

14. Ibid., 57.

15. The secret treaty, agreed to by Charles II and James, Duke of York, obliged France to assist England financially so that it could wage war on the Dutch Republic without calling Parliament; as part of the treaty Charles promised to return himself and the English people to the Roman Catholic Church.

16. Cope, "Inner Ritual," 60–61.

17. Plays, Poems, and Miscellaneous Writings associated with George Villiers, Second Duke of Buckingham, vol. 1, ed. Robert D. Hume and Harold Love (Oxford, 2007). From 1668, when he was officially made poet laureate, until 1685, Dryden proudly proclaimed himself "Servant to His Majesty" on the title pages of his serious plays, even though no one would have recognized any of his heroes as a representation of Charles.

18. Dryden included quite a successful soliloquy in blank verse for Lucifer in State of Innocence 2.2. With All for Love he finally bids farewell to his now shopworn and discredited rhyme. Even as early as Aureng Zebe, he sounds ready to declare that Milton was right about rhyme, as he was about so many other matters concerning the heroic.

19. Zwicker argues, convincingly, that "Milton shaped his brief epic (Paradise Regain'd) as an answer to and a refutation of the heroic drama: its rhyming couplets, its bombast and cant, its aristocratic code of virtue and honor, its spectacle and rhetoric, its scenes and stage machines, its exotic lands and erotic intrigues, its warring heroes and virgin queens, its exaltation of passion and elevation of empire," but he declines to consider that Dryden's poetic practice was positively influenced by Milton's earlier epic ("Milton, Dryden," 139–40).

20. I am grateful here for Paul Stevens's meditations on Miltonic "condescension" and its afterlife in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice at the Eleventh International Milton Symposium in Exeter, England, in July 2015.

21. Zwicker, "Milton, Dryden," 156.

22. Ibid.

23. Ibid., 154, 156.

24. Ibid., 155.

25. Anchitel Grey, ed., Debates of the House of Commons from the Year 1667 to the Year 1694 (London, 1764), 2:282.

26. Ibid., 2:189.

27. Henry Mordaunt, Earl of Peterborough, Succinct Genealogies of the Noble and Ancient Houses (London, 1685), 429.

28. Grey, Debates, 2:215. [End Page 228]

29. Ibid., 2:223.

30. N. A. M. Rodger, The Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain, 1649–1815 (New York, 2004), 85.

31. Cope, "Inner Ritual," 60.

32. Dante Alighieri, Paradiso, trans. with commentary by Charles S. Singleton (Princeton, N.J., 1975), commentary, 3.

33. Ibid., 33.1.

34. Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. Frank Justus Miller (Cambridge, Mass., 1977), 3:402–510.

35. The poem at various points expects us to see Eve as desirable to plants, flowers, a serpent, devils and angels alike, as if gazing on female beauty were not a matter of a gazer's gender.

36. For Milton's use of the word "looks" in this sense, see PL 4.291.

37. John Guillory, "Milton, Narcissism, Gender: On the Genealogy of Male Self-Esteem," in Critical Essays on John Milton, ed. Christopher Kendrick, 165–93 (New York, 1995). See also PL 4.292–93. In Tetrachordon, Milton glosses Genesis 1:27's "image of God" as "Wisdom, Purity, Justice, and rule over all creatures" (YP 2.587).

38. See Simon Verelst's portrait of the Duchess of York in men's hunting dress, in Brett Dolman, Beauty, Sex, and Power: A Story of Debauchery and Decadent Art at the Late Stuart Court (1660–1714) (London, 2012), ii.

39. Anthony Welch, "Losing Paradise in Dryden's State of Innocence," in Uncircumscribed Mind: Reading Milton Deeply, ed. Charles W. Durham and Kristin A. Pruitt, 222–42 (Selinsgrove, Pa., 2008).

40. See Tetrachordon, in YP 2:596–97. And see Schille's similar remark ("The Two Faces of Eve," 13).

41. See the Chorus in Samson Agonistes, 1003–07, and Belial's speech in Paradise Regain'd 2.153–71.

42. Alexander Nehamas uses exactly the same language to describe the way a person's beauty affects him: "the desire to draw near," to "come close to you," "to possess beauty" in Only a Promise of Happiness: The Place of Beauty in a World of Art (Princeton, N.J., 2007), 53–55.

43. Jean Gagen, "Anomalies in Eden: Adam and Eve in Dryden's The State of Innocence," in Milton's Legacy in the Arts, ed. Albert C. Labriola and Edward Sichi Jr. (University Park, Pa., 1988), 142.

44. See PL 4.297–311, where Adam and Eve's looks are said to declare their respective roles.

45. Adam's expectation that by obeying beauty's call to erotic love he will learn about things not yet understood comes uncannily close to the way Nehamas describes the power of beauty to initiate learning: "What we can say … is never enough to explain the beauty that marks the object of love, and that makes love inseparable from wanting to learn" (Only a Promise of Happiness, 72). And "there is more to learn about the object before me that is valuable in ways I can't now specify" (76). [End Page 229]

46. Many thanks to Ivy Schweitzer for pointing out the alexandrine here. See also the "immortal nuptials" promised to Damon in Epitaphium Damonis (215–19) and the promise of "Elysian dew" in A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle (999).

47. Barbara K. Lewalski, "Paradise Lost and the Contest over the Modern Heroic Poem," Milton Quarterly 43, no. 3 (2009): 159. [End Page 230]

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