An Essay of Dramatic Poesy is an example of the literary taste of the restoration age as it became the most elaborate and popular critical document of the time.
Written by John Dryden, one of the most outstanding literary figures of the Restoration period and an admirable poet himself, the essay emphasizes the key features of English drama, the three unities of time, place, and action, and the value of the ancient Greek and Roman models when creating a modern version of the classical form.
He also pays special attention to the roles of the audience and the influence of critical reviews in places of comedy.
Dryden’s characterization of the ancient and modern modes emphasize their specific features and effects, the superiority of the ancients in terms of ‘beauty’ and ‘dignity’, and in involving multiple unrealistic and fictitious elements in order to entertain, and the simpler, yet sometimes ‘lowder’, modern works which try to maintain the classical ideal but lack nobility, instead providing a more persuasive and powerful realism.
He identifies qualities he finds admirable, such as ‘elegance’ when describing the works of the moderns, or ‘grandeur’ when praising the ancients’.
Generally, Dryden proposes a compromise, a ‘just medium’, where writers should incorporate both of these different classic and modern styles in order to fully suitable the audience’s needs.
Ultimately, he promotes composition in the form of plays, a form he describes as having a greater tendency to success as it permits the use of various modes and artificial devices, but he concludes that when writing in that form, it should not forget the profoundness and elegance of language from which poetry is construct.
He saw in poetry the ideal basis for great plays when its composing rules are combined with dramatic theater.