Heroic Friendship in Drydens Troilus and Cressida

Thomas Luxon, Dartmouth College


John Dryden deployed classical teaching on the ethics of friendship in his Troilus and Cressida in an effort to encourage Charles II to stand by his royal brother James, Duke of York, during the greatest crisis of his reign, known since as the Exclusion Crisis. Since John M. Wallace convincingly demonstrated Drydens programmatic use of Senecas and Ciceros Stoic ethics in plays designed to instruct his betters at court, the heroic plays have received more attention, but the ethical foundation and topical significance of Troilus and Cressida has been pretty much ignored. Wallace saw that Drydens plays spoke to matters of urgent and topical concern and set his formalist and historicist skills to the task by claiming that Dryden was as totally committed in his drama to political and constitutional positions as he was in his great nondramatic poems, and that the issue at stake for him was no less than the survival of the Restoration settlement itself (114). His essay opened our eyes to the systematic Stoic ethics that informs the heroic plays and to the Restoration courts desperate need for such delightful (and sometimes slightly painful) instruction.