A CRITICAL STUDY OF THE HEROIC ENGLISH DRAMA

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The Conquest of Granada

The play The Conquest of Granada, in many ways, explained clearly the elements and standards of the heroic drama. These qualities are embodied by the hero and heroine of the play, Almanzor and Almahide while the hero in his superhuman capacity is brash, unconquerable and unencumbered by any political loyalties, “Almahide is the self – sacrificing heroine who will not abandon the bonds of honour that subjugates her to a tyrant” (www.enotes.com/heroic drama). The play, in two parts written in 1670 and 1671 respectively, is based on the historical re-conquest of Spain from the Moors by King Ferdinand in the fifteenth century, and is crafted after the neoclassical concept of propriety other than historical fact.

The interest is on characters with great soul. In part 1 of the play, the playwright examines the internal crisis between two noble houses in Granada – the Abencerrages and the Zegrys. A woman of Vice – Lyndaraxa envies the Queen and manipulates two rivals, Abdalla and Abdelmelech by pledging her love to both in order to get them rid off the king and make her Queen; because the ruling King Boabdelin is weak, he is unable to maintain control. The factions are about to go into full – scale war when Almanzor, a stranger arrives and helps the king to unite the two houses for the purposes of tackling the invading Spaniards.

In Act II, Lyndaraxa gets Abdalla to plan to overthrow his brother, and because King Boabdelin is unwilling to fulfill his promise to Almanzor, the hero switches allegiance to Abdalla and helps him to topple the king. In Act III, Almahide is bethrothed to the king steals Almanzor’s heart and he makes effort like Zulema, Lyndaraxa’s brother to win her love. Abdalla the new King supports Zulema and this once again takes Almanzor to Boabdelin whom he eventually restored to the throne. In utter joy, Boabdelin requires Almanzor to name any gift for his assistance, and he names Almahide, but the king is unwilling to give her out to him. In fact, the request provokes terrible jealousy in the King and this forces him to banish Almanzor.

In part II, the war to regain Granada commences with the Spaniards taking the upper hand. This leads to a mutiny against the king. On the Queen’s suggestion, the King unwillingly appeals to the exiled Almanzor for help of which he obliges him because of Almahide. With the presence of Almanzor, the king’s jealousy grows worse to the point that he accuses Almahide of stirring up the people in order to have Almanzor back; but in the face of all these accusations, the Queen remains chaste and virtuous. Lyndaraxa causes Abdalla and Abdelmelech to fight in which Abdalla is killed; she uses Zulema and Hamet to accuse Almahide of having sex with Abdelmelech.

This leads the Queen and Abdelmelech to be subjected to public ridicule. The Queen’s side wins the contest for justice and this leads to Zulema’s confession. However, as Lyndaraxa rejoices and taunts Abdelmelech when the Spaniards of which she now sides win the war, Abdelmelech kills her and thereby destroying her ambition to be Queen. Almahide accepts Queen Isabel’s suggestion that she marries Almanzor but with a proviso that she has to complete her one year widowhood first.

The Hero

The hero of the play, Almanzor is an epitome of the heroic drama. His actions and passions determine the direction events take at each given moment. Drawn after the like of the Greek Achillies, Almanzor is described by Dryden as not absolutely perfect but of “an excessive and overboiling courage”. In him, we find “a roughness of character, impatient of injuries, and a confidence of himself almost approaching to arrogance; but these errors are incident only to great spirits. He is full of sympathy but do not care for human commands which he looks with disdain. The first time he appears on the scene, he takes side with the minority – the Abencerrages; and it is the feeling of this minority being oppressed that informs his choice. As he reasons:

I cannot stay to ask what cause is best: But this is so to me, because opprest (Act, Scene I).

When in the same scene, the king orders that Almanzor be executed as an animal of atonement for disobeying him, he tells the king disdainfully that:

No man has more contempt than of breath, But whence hast thou the right to give me death?

Obeyed as sovereign by they subject be, But know, that I alone am king of me.

I am as free as nature first made man, Ere the base laws of servitude began

When wild in the woods the noble savage run (1, Act I Scene I).

The speech above confers the quality of divinity on Almanzor, a trait which his invincibility in war appears to demonstrate. Changes of fortune and re-groupings in the play occur according to his disposition and emotional allegiance. He is a character “for whom no odds are too great, no enemy sufficiently powerful, and who beg to be sent to fight outside the city since all he has accomplished (Downer 1950):

is too little to be done by me…

I cannot breathe within this narrow space,

My heart’s too big, and swells beyond this place.

The Theme of Love

The Conquest of Granada explores many themes such as gender relations, political dissensions, war, imperialism and so forth, but the theme of love appears to be a cardinal theme of the play. Both conditional love such as the type Lyndaraxa promises to Prince Abadalla and Abdelmelech as a means of attaining political status, and virtuous and platonic love as exemplified by Ozmyn and Bensayda as well as that championed by Almahide and Almanzor. Much of the sentiment of the play is driven by love. It has a decisive and humbling effect upon numerous characters in the play, including the seemingly immortal Almanzor.

This mighty hero is brought to his knees by his love for the virtuous and beautiful Almahide” (Downer 224). Almahide’s beauty is inflammable. It burns the heart of the king with jealousy that he is willing sink under the weight of political crisis than to cede her to Almanzor as a gift for restoring him to his throne that Abdalla usurped, temporarily. Almazor’s love for Almahide is deep, fierce and moving. The genuineness of this love is not lost to Almahide. In fact the thought of Almanzor’s deep feeling for her makes the Queen to be lost in her “own web of thought” (II, Act I Scene II).

Almanzor’s love for Almahide transcends the boundaries of nupitality. It is love ignited in the soul. Lyndaraxa tries “each secret passage to his mind” and seeks to “melt into him ere his love’s awares” (II, Act III Scene III), but Almanzor tells her:

Fair though you are

As summer mornings, and your eyes more bright

Than stars that twinkle in a winter’s night”

Though you have eloquence to warm and to move

Cold age and praying hermits into love;

Though Almahide with scorn rewards my care;

Yet than to change, ‘tis nobler to despair. My love’s my soul; and that from fate is free.

‘Tis that unchanged and deathless part of me.

(II, Act III Scene III).

The above quote indicates that if sexual gratification is the goal of Almanzor’s quest for Almahide, Lyndaraxa is clearly a wonderful alternative as she appears to possess all that can move the heart to tender feeling. But the truth is that Almanzor’s love comes from the soul and not the groin. Almahide admits that his fatal proofs of love have “moved my heart so much”, only that he “ask what honour must forbid” (II, Act IV Scene III). The text suggests that Almahide truly loves Almanzor but she is only prevented from yielding by her adamant loyalty to piety, something she defends tenaciously until her husband gets killed in the war. However, Almanzor’s constancy eventually wins him the love of Almahide at the end of the play, though he has to wait with a weight of love for her to complete her one year widowhood.

CONCLUSION

Heroic drama is the counterpart of the Restoration comedy. It is a drama in rhymed couplet, with exotic setting, overblown – character, and dialogue. In it, love and virtue contend for attention. The hero possesses divine quality, performs extraordinary actions while the highly idealised heroine struggles against odds in order to live a life of heightened piety.

The article examines the nature and qualities of heroic drama. It distinguishes the heroic drama from its counterpart, the Restoration comedy as well as shows the difference between the English neoclassical drama and the French type. This is followed by an examination of the biography of the genre’s leading playwright, John Dryde. Finally, Dryden’s The Conquest of Granada is studied as an example of heroic drama.

 

 

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