Restoration Poetry

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Responses to a New Era in British Religion

The Restoration period was partially defined by the religious changes within Britain. With the return of Charles II to the throne, the Church of England was restored after nearly a decade of Puritan leaders in power. Thus, many Restoration poets composed poetry in reaction to this religious shift. Perhaps the greatest epic poem of the Restoration is Milton's Paradise Lost; Milton also wrote many shorter poems based on religious themes. Milton probably began writing Paradise Lost before the Restoration began, and his work reflects the Puritan ideology of the immediately preceding era rather than looking forward to the increasing tolerance of the eighteenth century. Other writers, such as Shaftesbury, Dryden, and Butler, reflected a more liberal religious attitude, which was in line with the drastic religious changes taking place within Britain at the time.

Tolerance and a New Framework of Open-Mindedness

In response to a history of religious strife in Britain and Europe, the poets of the Restoration admired the virtue of tolerance both for certain limited religious freedoms and for people to live their personal lives free of Puritan strictures. Many of the greatest works of the period, including satires by Dryden, Butler, and Shaftesbury, mock narrow-minded intolerance and prejudice, rejecting Puritanism as divisive and narrow-minded. Many (but not all) Restoration poets generally intended to portray themselves as more accepting after the stifling era of Puritan rule had ended.

The Revival of Classical Works

Both serious epic poetry and satire often looked back to Roman models and the virtues of symmetry, restraint, and balance espoused by Horace. Many poets of this period rejected the irregular style and intricate metaphors of metaphysical poetry in favor of simpler diction, regular heroic couplets, and clarity of thought and style. Poets drew from the revered Classical era and altered those ideas into a more modern style. In essence, authors were heavily influenced by popular classical works which reflected concepts of order and logic.

The Importance of Science and Reason

Science and reason were trusted as means of improving individual and political lives. Common sense was considered a virtue, and satire became a dominant poetic mode that allowed writers to poke fun at excess—whether via abstruse metaphysics, religious extremism, or unrestrained emotion. As participants in a new and modern movement, Restoration poets wanted to step away from the restrictive nature of the previous period and explore their new freedom in the form of literature, opening readers up to new and enlightening ideas.

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