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AURENGZEBE; OR, THE GREAT MOGUL

A brief synopsis and history of the play by John Dryden

The following article is reprinted from A Dictionary of the Drama. W. Davenport Adams. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1904.

Aurengzebe; or, The Great Mogul is a tragedy by John Dryden, probably acted in the spring of 1675, and printed in that year. The first cast included Hart as Aurengzebe, Mohun as the Emperor, Mrs. Marshall as Nourmahal, Kynaston as Morat, Mrs. Cox as Indamora, and Mrs. Corbet as Melesinda. The scene is in Agra in 1660. The Emperor desires his son Aurengzebe to resign to him Indamora, the captive queen with whom both are in love. Aurengzebe refuses, and the Emperor thereupon connives with his other son Morat, and Aurengzebe is put in confinement. Nourmahal, the Empress, loves him, but he rejects her advances, and she attempts to poison him. The Emperor and Morat quarrel; the former makes friends with Aurengzebe, and the last-named defeats the forces of his brother, who dies of his wounds. His wife, Melesinda, commits suicide; Nourmahal poisons herself and dies mad; and Aurengzebe and Indamora are made happy. Davies describes the piece as the author's "last and most perfect rhyming tragedy. The passions are strongly depicted, the characters well discriminated, and the diction more familiar and dramatic than in any of his preceding pieces" (Dramatic Miscellanies). "The verse used," says Scott, "is of that kind which may be most easily applied to the purposes of ordinary dialogue." It is in this tragedy that we find the well-known description of life--

"When I consider life, 'tis all a cheat," etc.--

which is placed in the mouth of the hero. "Nor," says Scott, "is the answer of Nourmahal inferior in beauty"--

"'Tis not for nothing that we life pursue;
It pays our hopes with something still that's new."

Praise is given by Scott to the lines on virtue, also spoken by Aurengzebe--

"How vain is virtue, which directs our ways,
Through certain dangers to uncertain praise." etc.

Aurengzebe was revived at Drury Lane in February, 1708, with Powel as the hero, Betterton as the Emperor, Booth as Morat, Mrs. Barry as Nourmahal, Mrs. Rogers as Indamora, and Mrs. Porter as Melesinda; at the same theatre in November, 1709, with Mrs. Bradshaw as Indamora; and again at Drury Lane in December, 1721, with Wilks as Aurengzebe, Mills as the Emperor, Mrs. Porter as Nourmahal, Mrs. Oldfield as Indamora, and Mrs. Younger as Melesinda.

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