Tyrannick Faith: Martyr Drama, the Heroic Mode, and Dryden’s Tyrannick Love

Document Type


Publication Title

Restoration: Studies in English Literary Culture


Religious uniformity (as promulgated under the 1662 Act of Uniformity and later renewals of the act) was Restoration England’s chief strategy for addressing the nation’s deep religious divisions. The ultimate failure of the Stuart monarchy may be attributed in part to the failure of this strategy, which kept alive the wounds of the Civil War and amplified political dissent. Recognizing the dangers that uniformity posed to their reigns, the Stuart kings often pursued other strategies, including toleration (which they attempted to grant in 1660, 1672, and 1687, with increasingly disastrous results). As their poet laureate, John Dryden also explored the possibilities of state management of dissent through toleration. Michael McKeon has observed that Dryden signaled his misgivings about the kingdom’s prevailing model of unity-in-uniformity in the poem that earned him the poet laureateship, Annus Mirabilis (1667). Writing in response to the Fire of London and the Second Dutch War, and to the fractures in English unity those events had exposed, Dryden promoted an alternative model that “involves the abolition of division by subsuming group interests under that of the court.” According to Dryden, it is possible for the state to maintain stability even with a diverse, sectarian population, but it requires universal submission to “court ideology.”1 That such submission would be an enormous prop to the power of the court is, of course, the most attractive aspect of this model of toleration, at least for Dryden and his patrons. Colin Jager finds Dryden maintaining similar positions in his poetry of the 1680s as well. In Religio Laici in particular, Jager perceives an anxious exploration of “the role of state power in creating and sustaining the largely empty spaces of tolerance”—empty spaces that set the boundaries of what cannot be tolerated, but that seek to avoid differentiating between anything that manages to exist within those boundaries.2

Publication Date

Spring 2018