Restoration Poetry Analysis
Poetry from the time of the English Restoration (1660–1689) needs to be understood in the context of what happened in England during the Interregnum period, which came just before the Restoration. This era began with a civil war and brought a great deal of censorship and religious restriction that greatly limited what could be written.
The English Civil War in 1642 came about due to conflict between King Charles I and Parliament. Each side had its own army. The king’s was called the Royalist Army, and Parliament’s was called the New Model Army, led by Oliver Cromwell. The New Model Army defeated the Royal Army in 1645 at the Battle of Nasby. King Charles I was executed in 1649, and Oliver Cromwell was given the title of Lord Protector in 1653. At this time, a radical change took place in England. For a short time, the country was known as a republic and not a monarchy. But under Oliver Cromwell, the very strict religious practices of Puritanism forced many changes onto the daily lives of the people. In fact, some scholars consider Cromwell to have been a military dictator.
Cromwell was a Puritan who insisted on pressing his religious beliefs on the population. He had theaters shut down, and sports, dancing, and other forms of entertainment were forbidden. Both men and women had to dress in somber, black clothing. Christmas celebrations were made illegal. There was a great deal of censorship that limited what could be written. People who broke the rules were severely punished.
As a whole, the Interregnum period was one of unrest, experimentation, and instability in England. The large standing army needed high taxes, there were constant threats of insurrection from Scotland and Ireland, and various conservative and radical religious sects battled to win the hearts and minds of the people.
When Cromwell died in 1658, his son Richard succeeded him but was ultimately forced to abdicate. In 1660, Charles II took the throne, and the period known as the English Restoration began. The monarchy was restored, Parliament reconvened (and miraculously stayed in session until 1679), and the various Puritan rulers were eased away. The Restoration period lasted until 1689, ending with the reign of William and Mary.
During this time, the strict rules of Puritanism faded away, and a good deal of literature began to reflect an attitude of rebellion against Puritanism—although some poetry retained a religious vision, particularly that of John Milton (author of Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes, among other works). Satire and wit were significant features of the poetry of this era.
In general, Restoration poetry had a preferred rhyme scheme: rhyming couplets in iambic pentameter. This form was also called the “heroic couplet,” and it was perfected by John Dryden. Lyrical poetry in which the poet expresses his or her own feelings in the first person was not typical of this era. Odes (a kind of lyrical poetry that addresses and often celebrates a particular subject or person) were popular.
Some Restoration poetry openly rebelled against the restrictions of Puritanism. One particularly extreme example of this feature can be found in the writings of the outrageous John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, who wrote mock odes as well as lascivious poetry that thumbed its nose at Puritanism.
The Restoration period (1660-1700) takes its name from the return of Charles II to the throne of Great Britain after that nation’s experiment with republican government. As an indication of the illegitimacy of the Commonwealth, Charles II’s reign was dated from 1649, when his father, Charles I, was executed, rather than 1660, the year he assumed power. Just as official records recognize no break between reigns, so poetry in the latter part of the seventeenth century is in many ways continuous with what preceded it. Jacobean and Caroline poets such as Ben Jonson (1573-1637), Robert Herrick (1591-1674), and Sir John Suckling (1609-1642) remained...
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