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CLEOMENES, THE SPARTAN HERO

A synopsis and brief 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.

Cleomenes, the Spartan Hero, a tragedy by John Dryden, was first performed at the Theatre Royal in May, 1692, with Betterton as Cleomenes, Alexander as Ptolemy (King of Egypt), Sandford as Sosybius (his first minister), Mrs. Barry as Cassandra (his mistress), Mrs. Bracegirdle as Cleora (second wife to Cleomenes), Mrs. Betterton as Cratesclea (his mother), Mountfort as Cleanthes (his friend), and Kynaston as Pantheus. The scene is Alexandria. Cassandra falls in love with Cleomenes, and in the absence of Ptolemy confesses her passion, to which Cleomenes does not respond. He is thereupon imprisoned and nearly starved. He and Cleanthes incite the Alexandrians to revolt, but the attempt fails, and Cleanthes and Cleomenes kill one another. "The additions which Dryden has made to the real story are chiefly the scene in which the Spartans are nearly starved, the love of Cassandra for Cleomenes, the whole character of Cleora, and nearly the whole of Cleanthes" (Genest). In his preface to the play as printed, Dryden wrote: "Mrs. Barry has in this tragedy excelled herself, and gained a reputation beyond any woman whom I have ever seen in the theatre." The play was revived at Covent Garden in August, 1721, with Mills as the hero and Mrs. Thurmond as Cassandra. "Part of the fifth act of this play was written by Thomas Southerne, to whom Dryden, in consequence of an illness, had entrusted its completion and revision" (A.W. Ward).

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