The Conquest of Granada
The Conquest of Granada is a Restoration era stage play, a two-part tragedy written by John Dryden that was first acted in 1670 and 1671 and published in 1672. It is notable both as a defining example of the "heroic drama" pioneered by Dryden, and as the subject of later satire.
The original 1670 production by the King's Company featured Edward Kynaston as "Mahomet Boabdelin, last King of Granada," Charles Hart as Almanzor, Nell Gwyn as Alimahide, Rebecca Marshall as Lyndaraxa, Elizabeth Boutell as Bezayda, Michael Mohun as Abdemelech, William Cartwright as Abenamar, and William Wintershall as Selin. The Prologue to Part 1 was spoken in the theatre by Nell Gwyn.
The play was revived in the early 1690s.
Dryden wrote the play in closed couplets of iambic pentameter. He proposed, in the Preface to the printed play, a new type of drama that celebrated heroic figures and actions in a meter and rhyme that emphasized the dignity of the action. Dryden's innovation is a notable turn in poetic diction in England, as he was attempting to find an English meter and vocabulary that could correspond to the ancient Latin heroic verse structure. The closed iambic couplet is, indeed, referred to as the "heroic couplet" (although couplets had certainly been used before, and with a heroic connotation, as Samuel Butler's parody in tetrameter couplets, Hudibras shows). As for subject matter, the hero of a heroic drama must demonstrate, Dryden said, the Classical virtues of strength and decisiveness. Inasmuch as the British Restoration stage was already under attack for the licentiousness of its comedies and the example set by its lewd actresses, Dryden was attempting to turn the tide to admirable subjects.
The play concerns the Battle of Granada fought between the Moors and the Spanish at the historical fall of Granada. The Spanish are kept generally in the background, and the action mainly concerns two fractions of Moors, the Abencerrages and the Zegrys. The hero is Almanzor, who fights for the Moors. He falls in love with Almahide, who is engaged to Boabdelin, king of the Moors. She loves him, too, but she will not betray her vows to Boabdelin, and Boabdelin is torn between his jealousy and need for Almanzor. Almanzor and Almahide remain separated until the death of Boabdelin in the last act, when impediments are removed and the forbearing lovers can be united. There are two other crossed love plots in the play as well. Abdalla, brother of king Boabdelin, and Abdelmelich, the head of the Abencerrages faction, vie in love for the hand of Lyndaraxa, the sister of the leader of the Zegrys. Also, Ozmyn, a young Abencerrage man, loves Benzayda, a Zegry. It turns out during the play that Almanzor is the lost son of the Duke of Arcos, a Spaniard, but he fights for the Moors for his duty.
The exceptional tangle of the plot, and especially the bombast of the speeches Almanzor makes, made The Conquest of Granada the play satirized by The Rehearsal, written by George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham. Furthermore, Henry Fielding, in Tragedy of Tragedies, or the Life and Death of Tom Thumb the Great (1730) also takes aim at the silliness of some of The Conquest of Granada. The build up of the lofty aims of the "Preface" to the play seem mismatched to the performance of the play. That said, the play was extremely successful in the theater and provided a great deal of spectacle for theater-goers.
A modern assessment
"No one, not even Alexander Pope, is better than Dryden at driving narrative through rhyme, but the aural effect is like that of being pelted with a succession of pellets. When, as in The Conquest of Granada, the pelting continues for ten acts, the impact is deafening."
- John Downes, Roscius Anglicanus, London, 1708; Montague Summers, ed., Fortune Press [no date]; reprinted New York, Benjamin Blom, 1963; pp. 14-15.
- Peter Thomson, The Cambridge Introduction to English Theatre, 1660–1900, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2006; p. 43.
- Poetic diction
- Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage
- The Rehearsal (play)
- Restoration comedy for a discussion of the charges of scandal that spurred renewed seriousness