Characteristics of Restoration Literature
The Restoration era in English literature denotes a period of substantial transformation and change that succeeded the Puritan Commonwealth period. This period denoted the reinstatement of Charles II to the throne in 1660 and the establishment of the Church of England as the predominant religious institution in the country. The literature of the period was marked by a focus on themes of love, 6ex, and relationships, as well as political commentary and satire. This article seeks to delve deeper into the characteristics of the Restoration period encompassing its historical and political context, literary style, themes, and principal literary figures.
Historical and Political Context
The Restoration period witnessed a return to monarchy after the tumultuous Commonwealth period. Charles II, who had been exiled in France during the Commonwealth, returned to England in 1660 and was crowned as the king. The period was characterized by a yearning for stability and a return to traditional social and cultural values. The monarchy aimed to re-establish the authority of the Church of England and to enforce social order following the disturbances of the preceding decades.
In this period, the aristocracy gained significant power and influence, and the court evolved into a centre of cultural and literary pursuits. Additionally, the Restoration period was distinguished by a rise in trade and exploration, leading to an increased fascination with the exotic and the foreign.
Themes of Restoration Literature
The literature of the Restoration period was characterized by a focus on themes of love, 6ex, and relationships, as well as satire and political commentary. Many writers of the period sought to explore the tensions between public and private life, highlighting the conflicts between personal desire and social expectations. This was reflected in the popularity of plays that dealt with romantic entanglements and sexual intrigue, such as John Dryden’s “All for Love” and William Congreve’s “The Way of the World.”
Satire and Political Commentary
The Restoration period was marked by a strong tradition of political satire and commentary. Satire was often used as a means of criticizing the excesses of the monarchy and the aristocracy, as well as the corruption and hypocrisy of the Church. Writers of the period often used humour and wit to critique the social and political structures of the time.
One of the most famous examples of political satire from the period is Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” which suggested that the solution to the problem of poverty in Ireland was for the poor to sell their children as food to the rich. Although Swift’s proposal was clearly outrageous, it was meant to expose the callousness and greed of the ruling class.
Religion and Morality
During the Restoration period, the literature emphasized on the themes of religion and morality. The monarchy aimed to restore the authority of the Church of England, which was undermined during the Puritan era. Writers of this period delved into subjects related to sin, redemption, and the conflict between religious and secular values.
One of the most renowned literary works of this period that deals with religious themes is John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” The epic poem recounts the story of Adam and Eve and their descent from grace. It explores the subjects of temptation, sin, and redemption, among others. The poem stands out for its intricate language and vivid imagery, which have secured its position as a timeless masterpiece of English literature.
Stylistically, the literature of the Restoration period was marked by a shift towards a more ornate and extravagant style, in contrast to the plain and simple language of the Puritan period. Writers of the Restoration period were known for their use of wit, irony, and satire, as well as their use of complex language and rhetorical devices. The period was also marked by a strong emphasis on the arts, with the court becoming a hub of cultural and literary activity. The literature of the period was notable for its use of wordplay, puns, and double entendres to create clever and humorous effects, particularly evident in the plays of William Congreve and George Etherege. Elaborate metaphors and ornate language were also used to create a sense of grandeur and magnificence, reflected in the elaborate stage sets and costumes of the period.
Realism was another significant characteristic of the literature of the Restoration period, marking a departure from the allegorical and symbolic writing of the Renaissance and the metaphysical poets. Restoration writers, such as John Dryden, Aphra Behn, and Samuel Pepys, sought to depict the world around them as it truly was, drawing on their own experiences and observations.
The rise of realism in the Restoration period can be attributed to several factors. One of the most important factors was the increasing availability of scientific knowledge and empirical evidence. This led writers to place a greater emphasis on observation and the accurate representation of reality. Additionally, the growing importance of individualism and self-expression in society also contributed to the rise of realism. Writers sought to represent the complexities of the human experience in their works, providing a more nuanced and realistic portrayal of human emotions and behaviours.
One of the most notable examples of this realistic approach is Samuel Pepys’ Diary, which provides an intimate and detailed account of daily life in seventeenth-century England. Pepys’ diary is notable for its candid and honest portrayal of everyday life, including its depiction of the highs and lows of his personal and professional life. The diary provides a valuable window into the world of the Restoration period and has become an important historical document in its own right.
The use of realism in Restoration literature was not limited to prose. Poets such as John Dryden also incorporated realistic elements into their work, using language and imagery to create vivid and realistic representations of everyday life. The use of the heroic couplet, a structured form of poetry, was also instrumental in the development of a more realistic style of writing. This form of poetry allowed writers to convey complex ideas and emotions in a clear and concise manner, while also emphasizing the importance of reason and rationality.
The literature of the Restoration era was characterized by an inclination towards exoticism and foreignness. This inclination was an embodiment of the heightened interest in trade and exploration during the period. The writers of the time exhibited a fascination for the exploration of the unknown and unfamiliar. This inclination towards the exotic and the foreign is evident in the proliferation of travel narratives and plays that are set in exotic locations. For instance, Aphra Behn’s “Oroonoko” is set in South America and is an excellent example of such literature.
The heroic couplet was a popular form of poetry during the Restoration period. This form of poetry consisted of two rhyming lines of iambic pentameter. The use of heroic couplets was popularized by John Dryden, who used this form of poetry in his plays and poems. The heroic couplet was used to convey moral lessons and to celebrate heroic figures. This form of poetry was also used to express the grandeur and sophistication of the aristocracy.
The Restoration Drama
The Restoration drama was marked by a shift from the religious and moralistic plays of the Puritan era to plays that focused on the social and political issues of the time. The plays of the Restoration era were characterized by their wit, satire, and sexual themes. The most popular genre of the Restoration drama was the comedy of manners, which focused on the behaviour and social conventions of the aristocracy. The plays of the Restoration era were also marked by their use of music, dance, and elaborate sets, which added to their entertainment value.
The Restoration period was marked by a shift in gender roles, which was reflected in the literature of the time. Women were increasingly portrayed as sexual objects, and their sexuality was openly discussed in the literature. The plays of the Restoration era often depicted women as sexually liberated and independent. This was a reflection of the changing social attitudes towards women, who were gaining more freedom and autonomy.
The Royal Society
The Royal Society was founded during the Restoration period and became a centre of scientific inquiry and research. The Royal Society was dedicated to promoting scientific knowledge and was made up of some of the most prominent scientists of the time. The Royal Society had a significant impact on the literature of the Restoration period, as writers began to incorporate scientific ideas and concepts into their work. This resulted in a greater emphasis on reason and empirical observation in literature.
Emergence of Women Writers
Another important characteristic of the Restoration period was the emergence of women writers. The period saw a significant increase in the number of women writing and publishing their work. Women writers such as Aphra Behn, Mary Pix, and Mary Astell challenged traditional gender roles and provided a new perspective on issues such as love, marriage, and sexuality. Their works also reflected the changing social attitudes towards women and their growing desire for independence and equality.
The literature of the Restoration period also reflected a fascination with exoticism and the Orient. Works such as The Thousand and One Nights and the travelogues of Sir John Mandeville inspired writers to explore themes of adventure, exploration, and discovery. This fascination with exoticism was a reflection of the expanding global trade and the increasing availability of foreign goods and literature.
Furthermore, the literature of the Restoration period also marked a shift towards secularism and a decline in religious influence. The period saw a growing emphasis on reason and rationality, which was reflected in the works of writers such as John Locke and Isaac Newton. This shift towards secularism was a reflection of the changing attitudes towards religion and the growing importance of science and empirical observation.
Change in the English language
Finally, the Restoration period also marked a significant change in the English language. The period saw the standardization of the English language, with writers adopting a more formal and structured style of writing. The use of the heroic couplet, in particular, played a significant role in the standardization of English poetry.
In addition to the key characteristics discussed above, the Restoration period also saw the rise of the novel as a popular form of literature. The first English novel, Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, was published in 1719, towards the end of the Restoration era. The novel was a reflection of the changing social attitudes towards individualism and self-determination.
The Restoration era was also marked by a fascination with classical literature and culture. Many writers of the time looked to the works of ancient Greece and Rome for inspiration and guidance. The influence of classical literature can be seen in the use of the heroic couplet and the emphasis on reason and empirical observation.
Finally, the Restoration era was marked by a love of spectacle and entertainment. The theatre, in particular, became a popular form of entertainment, with plays often featuring elaborate sets, costumes, and musical accompaniment. This focus on spectacle and entertainment was a reflection of the changing social and cultural values of the time.
Major Literary Figures
The Restoration period was marked by several major literary figures who made significant contributions to the development of English literature. Some of the most notable figures of the period include:
John Dryden: Dryden was one of the most important writers of the Restoration period, known for his poetry, plays, and critical writing. He was the first Poet Laureate of England and played a key role in the development of the heroic couplet, a form of poetry that became popular during the period.
Aphra Behn: Behn was one of the first professional female writers in English literature and is best known for her plays and novels. Her most famous work, “Oroonoko,” was one of the earliest English novels and is often considered a precursor to the modern novel form.
John Milton: Milton was one of the most important poets of the seventeenth century and is best known for his epic poem “Paradise Lost.” The poem is a retelling of the story of Adam and Eve and their fall from grace, exploring themes of temptation, sin, and redemption.
William Congreve: Congreve was a playwright and poet who is best known for his comedies, which are famous for their wit and clever dialogue. His most famous play, “The Way of the World,” is often considered one of the greatest comedies in English literature.
The Restoration period in English literature was a time of significant change and transformation, marked by a return to monarchy after the Puritan Commonwealth period. The literature of the period was characterized by a focus on themes of love, 6ex, and relationships, as well as satire and political commentary. The period was also marked by a shift towards a more ornate and extravagant style, in contrast to the plain and simple language of the Puritan period. Despite its excesses, the literature of the Restoration period remains a significant part of English literary history, and the works of its major literary figures continue to be studied and enjoyed to this day.
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