Dryden was educated first at Westminster School and then at Trinity College, Cambridge. His first poetic works were written upon occasions of national importance. In 1663 he married Lady Elizabeth Howard and some years later, in 1668, was made poet laureate and royal historiographer, posts that he held until 1688.
During this period Dryden wrote a number of critical essays - including A Defence of an Essay (1668), the Preface to An Evening's Love (1671), Of Heroick Plays (1672) and the Preface to Troilus and Cressida (1679) - and three plays in which are marked the effects, upon Dryden, of the constitutional crisis of the 1670's: The Duke of Guise (1679), Mr Limberham (1679) and The Spanish Fryar (1681).
In the early 1680's Dryden became a Catholic and then wrote the religious work The Hind and the Panther (1687). In 1688 he lost both of his royal offices and returned to writing both for the theatre and critical pieces. The notable plays from this late period are Don Sebastion (1689), Amphitryon (1690) and Cleomenes (1692). The criticism includes the Preface to the Sylvae (1685) and A Discourse Concerning the Original and Progress of Satire (1693).
Dryden also worked, during this period on a large number of translations of, among others, Theocritus, Horace, Homer, Lucretius, Boccaccio, Chaucer, Ovid and Persius. In 1700 Dryden was buried in Westminster Abbey.