John Dryden (1631-1700)
Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
Restoration Period (1660-1688)
Augustan Age (1690-1744)
John Dryden and Alexander Pope were Restoration period and Augustan Age poets. The Restoration refers to period of time at which Charles II began his rule of England following the Cromwell's Commonwealth and Protectorate period that ensued after the beheading of Charles I. The Augustan Age, also called the Age of Reason and the Neoclassical Age, refers to a movement of poets who deliberately returned to imitating the Classical Augustan poets Virgil and Horace. It followed the Restoration in c. 1690 and ended with the death of Pope (1744).
The Restoration was a very religious era, nonetheless had a wide variety of kinds of poetry spanning from Milton's religious poem Paradise Lost, written between 1650 and 1660 and published at the beginning of the Restoration in 1667, to the ribald comedy The Country Wife. Literature appeared on the backdrop of philosophical writing calling for humanitarianism and ideals of higher good in government in light of a new understanding of society as such as John Locke wrote about government and Thomas Hobbes wrote about the social contract.
It was also an era of scientific and philosophic investigation, as Locke and Hobbes show, because Charles II encouraged skepticism, philosophy and the examination of nature. Along with valuing an invigorated conversation about new investigations along these lines, he encouraged wit. This milieu was a fertile ground for satire as the aim of satire is to call attention to where society or a group within society is falling sort of an established and valued social moral code while nonetheless giving the show of adhering to it, giving "lip service" to the code.
Satire in the Restoration was a secretive affair. Satirists generally published anonymously because England's defamation laws were very broad and skewed in favor of the claimant. Dryden was beaten more than once for being suspected of having authored anonymous satire. As the spirit of investigation and wit broadened and philosophy more loudly espoused humanitarianism, poets began poking fun at behaviors in society.
By the Augustan Age of Pope, the mock-heroic poem was a popular form that could single out peculiarities in social conduct or in deviations from the accepted moral code and offer a close-up look with a chuckle in its tone. Because these gentle satires poked fun at social idiosyncrasies instead of being political or religious in nature, they side-stepped defamation laws. The primer example is Pope's satirical mock-heroic The Rape of the Lock. Another lively example is The Sofa from The Task by one of my favorites, William Cowper.
[For more information, see English Literature: Resotration Literature and English Literature: Augustan Literature.]
Numerous reasons exist for the popularity of satire in the age of Dryden and Pope. I'll present a couple for you.
First, their's was an age of reason. The use of reason is man's highest faculty. Satire uses reason to bring about change. A satire presents evidence, and at least indirectly, draws conclusions or attempts to move the reader to draw conclusions. Satire and reason are a natural fit.
Secondly, this literary period dealt with the big picture, dealt with issues in general terms. Lyric poetry, the personal, was popular later with the Romantics, but the Age of Reason dealt with large issues. Notice, for instance, that Swift's "A Modest Proposal," doesn't attack poverty by isolating one specific family that suffers from poverty. The essay looks at poverty on a grand scale, instead. This is typical of the period.
One theory of the development and rise of satire in the early 17th century is the advent of the Age of Enlightenment. This era brought with it amazing progress in intellectual development which resulted not only in great literature, but also in changes in the people's frames of mind on just about everything from God, to politics, to the Self, to Philosophy and science.
The changes that came with The Age of Enlightenmentare evident in two major events: The French Revolution and the English "coup de etat" brought by Oliver Cromwell in England. These two massive events brought down the aristocracy in the thought that men are now smarter than to be ruled by an authoritarian and totalitarian monarch. We also know that in England the monarchy was eventually restored (Charles II was King and Dryden was one of his biggest "frienemies") but in France, history changed forever.
As a result of the new kingdom of Charles II, Parliment was reformed a few times, and with it, new ideals came to play: Tories and Whigs were the two battling teams one in favor and one against the rule of the King- for this reason, satire took the form of criticism in which everyone had a chance to throw digs at the opposite team in a way that was both funny and cruel, but certainly making the point. At the latter, John Dryden was one of the best.