What is Heroic Drama? its Definitions, Exponents, and Examples

What is Heroic Drama:

Heroic drama, also known as the heroic tragedy was a popular 1iterary form during the Restoration period. Heroic drama had larger than life heroes and heroines, highly rhetorical dialogue and exotic locales. Like heroic poems or epics, it was written in heroic couplets. Dryden defined heroic play as ‘an imitation of a heroic poem’. The plot of the play involved the fate of an empire. Love and courage were the subjects of the heroic plays. They were influenced by French classical tragedy and its dramatic unities.

The exponent of Heroic Drama:

Though Dryden was the leading exponent of heroic drama, it was Sir William D’Avenant who first established the mode. A playwright during the reign of Charles I and later the manager of the theatrical troupe the Duke’s Company-William D’Avenant wrote what is considered the first heroic drama, The Siege of Rhodes. Cazamian terms the play as “The germ both of English opera and heroic tragedy.”

Put up on the stage before the restoration, when the Puritans were in power, and the theatres were lying close to popular entertainment, the play was written by the author on a heroic theme with the avowed aim of recommending virtue “Under the forms of valor and conjugal love.”

The play deals with the siege of Rhodes (an island off Greece) by the Turkish king Solyman the Magnificent. The valor of the Sultan is matched by the conjugal devotion of Lanthe, wife of the Sicilian Duke Alphonso, who succeeds in saving her husband and those who are defending the island from the Turkish hordes.

Examples of Heroic Drama:

Dryden’s first heroic drama, The Indian Queen (1664), was a joint effort with Robert Howard. His other heroic plays were Tyrannic Love (1669), The Conquest of Granada (1670), Amboyana (1673) and Aureng-Zebe (1675). Other practitioners of heroic drama include Elkanah Settle, Nat Lee, and Thomas Otway.

Heroic Drama also received its share of criticism. Blamires in his A History of the English Literature states that “The heroic drama of this period too often sacrifices naturalness and artistic discipline to the supposed force of impact, and it fails to purchase sympathy through overselling astonishment.” Dryden and his genre of heroic plays were also mocked by Buckingham’s burlesque The Rehearsal (1671).