All For Love


John Dryden

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All For Love Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on John Dryden's All For Love. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of John Dryden

John Dryden was one of the most popular and influential literary figures of the mid-late 1600s in England. He worked for the republican government during the Interrengum (when England didn’t have a king), but after the restoration of Charles II to the throne of England in 1660, Dryden became an outspoken supporter of the royalist cause. He also benefited professionally from the Restoration because the theaters were re-opened after decades of closure. Dryden began writing plays such as Marriage à la Mode (1673) and All for Love (1678), which were very popular with audiences. He was known as well for his literary criticism and satires, including Mac Flecknoe (1670) and Absalom and Achitophel (1681). A respected and renowned author by the time of his death, Dryden was also England’s first poet laureate.
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Historical Context of All For Love

The English Civil War dominated political, religious, and cultural life in England in the middle of the seventeenth century. During the late 1630s and early 1640s, King Charles I experienced increasing tensions with his Parliament. In 1642, a republican Puritan faction in Parliament took power and banned theater on the grounds that it was immoral. In 1649, after years of fighting between republican and royalist forces, King Charles I was executed. Following eighteen years of republican rule, his son King Charles II returned to the throne in 1660. That same year, the theaters reopened. Thus, the “Restoration” of Charles II was also a restoration of English drama. Dryden became a fierce royalist after the Restoration, and for the rest of his life he remained wary of the dangers of rebellion, civil war, and threats to hierarchical authority—a political stance reflected in All For Love.

Other Books Related to All For Love

All For Love is a play typical of the literary period known as “Restoration drama”—which is to say, plays written between 1660 and 1700. Restoration drama was notably different from earlier English drama in several important ways. For one, women were allowed to act on the English stage for the first time. The Restoration period also saw the rise of women playwrights like Aphra Behn, whose most celebrated play was The Rover (1677), a comedy of manners involving the sexual and romantic lives of a group of banished royalist noblemen. Her work is characteristic of the Restoration period in its emphasis on raunchy dialogue and sexually explicit content, themes that also typify other well-known Restoration plays like George Etherege’s The Man of Mode (1676) and William Wycherley’s The Country Wife (1675). But if Restoration comedy frequently focused on rakes, virgins, unfaithful wives, and other stock types, Restoration tragedy—the sort of play that Dryden was writing—was serious and aimed to imitate European models. Dryden was very influenced by French tragedy, which he alternatively admired and rebelled against in his own writing. Jean Racine’s Phèdre (1677) opened shortly before All For Love and has much in common with it: both plays are five-act tragedies set in the ancient world that feature a woman protagonist who dies by her own hand. Dryden implicitly aimed many critiques at Racine in his preface to his own play. He complained of “dull” French playwrights who are too careful not to offend anyone, and criticized the character of Hippolytus in Phèdre, who in Dryden’s view is so concerned with “decorum” and good manners that he becomes ridiculous. Finally, All For Love is in many ways a self-conscious imitation of an older play: William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. Dryden greatly admired Shakespeare, whom he called a genius. However, this didn’t stop him from making significant changes to Shakespeare’s version of the story. Unlike Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, All For Love is set entirely in Egypt rather than Rome and focuses narrowly on the romantic lives of its two protagonists, including an invented love triangle featuring a new character, Dollabella. In this sense, the play is much more a romantic tragedy than Shakespeare’s political drama.
Key Facts about All For Love
  • Full Title: All For Love
  • When Written: 1677
  • Where Written: London, England
  • When Published: 1678
  • Literary Period: Restoration
  • Genre: Drama, Tragedy
  • Setting: Ancient Egypt
  • Climax: Antony and Cleopatra commit suicide, thus inaugurating the beginning of the Roman Empire and the end of the Roman Republic.
  • Antagonist: Octavius

Extra Credit for All For Love

Celebrity Actors. The character list of All For Love features a list of the actors who played the roles in the original 1677 production. These included Charles Hart as Marc Antony and Elizabeth Boutell as Cleopatra; both were well-known in the Restoration period, which was the first historical moment of “celebrity” actors who had mass name recognition among the population.

Revivals. The play was very popular and revived twice: at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in February 1704, and at Drury Lane in December 1718.