The Elizabethan age (1558 – 1625) is generally regarded as the greatest in the history of English literature. It is also known as the golden age of English drama. In this age the tremendous impetus received from the renaissance, reformation, and from the exploration of the new-world. Such an age of thought, feeling and vigorous action finds its best expression in the development of drama which culminating in Shakespeare, Johnson and University Wits. Though the age produced some excellent prose works, it is essentially an age of poetry, but both poetry and drama were permeated by Italian influence, which was dominated in English literature from Chaucer to the Restoration.
The period from 1660 to 1700 is known as the restoration period or the Age of Dryden. Dryden was the representative writer of this period. The restoration of King Charles II in 1660 marks the beginning of a new era both in the life and the literature of England. The beginning of the Restoration began the process of social transformation. The atmosphere of gaiety and cheerfulness, of licentiousness and moral laxity was restored. The theatres were reopened. There was a stern reaction against the morality of the Puritans. Morality was on the wane. There was laxity everywhere in life. All these tendencies of the age are clearly reflected in the literature of the period. During this period there was a rapid development of science. The establishment of the Royal Society was a landmark in history of England. The interest in science began to grow. The growing interest in science resulted in the beginning of rational inquiry and scientific and objective outlook. Objectivity, rationality and intellectual quality also enlivened the literature of this period. The literature of the Restoration period marked the complete breaking of ties with the Elizabethan literature.
... works that illustrate and show the topic of old age are, "Old Age", by Elisha Porat,"The Mirror", by Sylvia ... works that illustrate and show the topic of old age are, "Old Age", by Elisha Porat,"The Mirror", by Sylvia ... quote the author shows that when you hit that age and you can't do anything anymore you don ... first work I chose, "Old Age" by Elisha Porat, shows how it is to age and to go "over the ...
At the Restoration the break with the past was almost absolute. It involved the English literature in the deepest degree, subject and style took on a new spirit and outlook, a different attitude and aim. Hence the Restoration period is often set up as the converse and antithesis of the previous Elizabethan age. It is called classical, is opposed to the Elizabethan romanticism. It is a commonplace of criticism that the Elizabethan age is creative, the Restoration critical. Elizabethan drama is spontaneous and original; Restoration drama is artificial and imitative. Elizabethan comedy at its height is creative; Restoration comedy at its best is imitative of the fashions and follies of the beau monde. The Elizabethans are fond of blending tragedy with comedy; the Restoration playwrights usually inclined to separate them. Though the contrast between the two epochs need not be over-emphasized, yet the differences are very great. Let us compare and contrast the drama and poetry of these two ages.
First of all, we will talk about Shakespeare’s dramas to expose Elizabethan age.
In the Elizabethan age, Shakespeare’s dramatic genius is considered incomparable. Intensity of emotion, interest in man, a sense of the earth in relation to the universe and rich poetic expressions have made the tragic art of Shakespeare fundamentally the same in spirit as the tragedy of Sophocles enlarged in scope. His four great tragedies are possibly greater achievements than anything accomplished even by the Greeks. His trails and reeor which are reflected in the early tragedies, demonstrate clearly the difficulties in the attainment of that tragic art. In Romeo and Juliet, tragic admiration for any character is absent. He created here a magnificently passionate lyrical drama. There is no stress on the fatal flaw in personality. On the other hand, the blind workings of chance or fortune take the place of tragic fate. Richard III lacks perfection of ease, Richard II wants essential majesty although it reaches nearer the goal of his tragic art. Although Julius Caesar was written at the time of Shakespeare’s maturity. It fails to find adequate adjustment of plot and theme. In his four great dramas, Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello and Lear, Shakespeare overcame all the difficulties which were displayed in his early attempts.
... catharsis, an essential part of tragedy and marks the play out as a classical Greek tragic drama, refers to the emotional ... Greek tragic dramas are based on myths and are representations of human ... considered a great example of an classical Greek tragic drama. ... elements are characteristic of ancient Greek tragedies. Oedipus displays qualities of a classic Greek tragic hero. Arrogance and short-tempered ...
In his mature tragedies, admiration is finally expressed. Aristotle’s pity and terror are given full sway. “Man is set boldly in relation to the vast universe of which the earth is but one part; the gods are working here even while man, by his own errors, moves to disaster or, by his inherent nobility of spirit, rises to unexpected heights”. His tragedies derive grandeur from the manner in which he suggests in his human actions the operation of vaster forces. “In these tragedies the theme moves on three planes concurrently. From one point of view they give us the sense of a whole people being involved in the tragic interplay of the main character; from still another they show the entire universe caught up in the movement of the basis human conflict. Macbeth kills Duncan and is immersed in the inevitable consequence; his whole kingdom is drowned in his sorrows and very nature leaves quality and kind in sympathetic disorder”.
In Shakespearean tragedies, there is the passion which wrought the plot combined with the fate-tragedy of the Greeks and the villain-tragedy of the Elizabethans. In other words, they are the psychological tragedies of their own kind. In medieval age the idea of tragedy is quite different. The medieval idea of the pagan deity of fortune is there; the conception of good and evil like that of the Moralities stands side by side with the classical conception of the struggle between the individual and fate. In Senecan tragedies, there are enormous varieties of incidents, the mingling of tragic and comic , and admission of horrors, deaths spectacles. The concept of psychological tragedy was attempted by the master-hand of Shakespeare.
It is agreed by all philosophers that in tragedy there is some sort of collision or conflict. In other words, there is conflict of feelings, modes of thoughts, desire, will and purposes. There is conflict of persons with one another or with circumstances or with themselves. If Hamlet is analysed, the play becomes a study in the passion of grief.
... Shakespeare’s character, Othello, was certainly a believable character. Although he was a man who was ... and beautiful as the love Othello had for Desdemona. It is quiet tragic that such jealousy could destroy ... and as a result he not only committed the tragic sin of murdering his true love, but also ... victim to tragedy because of a well-placed comment of doubt or shadow on one’s character. In ...
The tragedy of Hamlet emerges from the disharmony that comes to reign in the hero’s nature. His passion of grief is dominant through and through. The will is recalcitrant to reason, disperses itself and impairs the will and faith is sundered by reason. His warm-heart and loving disposition is chilled and warped by the melancholia. It is intemperate and excessive grief that dulls and blunts memory. It darkens reason so that it fails to direct the will and finally makes him guilty of sloth. The strains of idealism make Hamlet so unhappy over his mother’s marriage, over the state of feelings in Denmark and his relations with Ophelia. He loved Ophelia intensely and passionately, but his responsibility to his father intervened which brought his downfall.
I love Ophelia; forty thousand brothers
Could not, with all their quality of love,
Make up my sum.
He is disappointed with his mother and Ophelia because he is an idealist and expects too much from them. The symptoms of his melancholy manifest themselves further in his sudden break in the speech, “But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue.” We see a similar symptom in his repetition of words which is a common trick of style in Hamlet “O God! O God” File no’t , oh fie,” “ Thrift, thrift,” “Indeed, indeed,” “Very like, very like.” This style of repetition indicates that Hamlet cannot easily make up his mind because of melancholia. Disgusted with his mother’s incestuous marriage, he begins to distrust Ophelia and ends by inveighing against the entire fair sex, “Frailty, thy name is woman.”
The second tragic hero is Othello. Othello is a tragedy of jealousy. In the Renaissance, the term jealousy was not one of the simple or elementary passion, but it is a derivative or compounded passion. Othello is not jealous by nature. It is forced upon him by the almost superhuman art of lago. Othello’s character is admittedly noble and lovable. Iago knows that to destroy Othello’s love was an immensely formidable task. Iago, therefore, begins to practice upon his unsuspecting friendship at first by broken hints and dark insinuations. He reminds of the warning words of Brabantio, “She has deceived her father and may well deceive thee.” Further, Iago emphasizes this point that Venetian women lack morals. The clever rogue remarks, “Their best conscience is not to leave it undone, but keep it unknown.” Othello’s jealousy is different from the other jealous characters of literature. Othello is the very soul of honour. He is not a jealous tyrant like Leontes. He does not murder Desdemona out of mad jealousy. He rather sacrifice her at the altar of justice and chastity. He remarks: “Nought I did in hate , but all in honour.” Desdemona’s “fall” gives set-back to his high sense of chastity and honour. To him, honour lost is paradise lost.
... not deserving of Desdemona’s love. Iago is perhaps the most racist character but the negative judgments of Othello based ... to his torture and downfall. Work Cited Page Shakespeare, William. Othello. Oxford School Shakespeare. Ed. Roma Gill Oxford: Oxford University Press, ... will believe anything said by Iago. Throughout the novel, racism plays a crucial role in persuading Othello to think he is ...
The third tragic art of Shakespeare is King Lear which is a tragedy of wrath in old age. Aristotle defines wrath as an impulse, accompanied by pain, to a conspicuous revenge for a conspicuous slight directed without justification towards what concerns oneself or towards what concerns one’s friends. Thus, according to him, anger always rises from injured self-esteem, from some slight inflicted upon the individual directly or indirectly, there being three kinds of slighting possible i.e. contempt, spite and insolence. Anger is folly; anger brings shame in its train. In the study of the passion of anger, Shakespeare has presented several problems. The first is the problem of old age. The feeble and the old are more subject to anger than are others. “He is a man of passionate fiber and unrestrained temper wholly swayed in his old age two imperious instincts, that of personal domination and that of natural affection for his daughters. But his affection does not teach him self-enunciation; it is one of the forms of domination. His instincts possess him wholly. They wrap his judgment of character and derive him to acts, the results of which he has not the imagination to envisage”. Now, we can understand why he thinks of abdicating. He appeals from his daughters to the heaven. He is confident of the justice of his cause. But the heavens prove as deaf to his call as either Goneril or Regan. In the end it is the wind and rain, rather than unkindness, that beat him into submission, and force him to acknowledge what a ‘poor, bare, forked animal unaccommodated man’ is. Then he learns the philosophy of renunciation.
... above all youth culture. While ostensibly a romantic comedy, Shakespeare in love in essence, is a celebration of words, ... once he starts to fall in love with Viola, and the play Romeo & Ethel slowly becomes ... pleads for William to quickly deliver his play. Shakespeare's loss for words miraculously fades once he ... to devise a story out of his new play Romeo & Ethel, the pirates daughter. Philip ...
Macbeth is not only a study of fear; it is a study in fear. The sounds and images in the play combine to give the atmosphere of terror and fear. The incantation of the witches, the bell that rolls while Duncan dies, the cries of the women as Lady Macbeth dies, the owl, the knocking at the gate, the wild horses that ate each other, the storm, the quacking of the earth; all of these are the habitual accompaniments of the willfully fearful in literature. Macbeth might well have shared Nashe’s title, The Terror of the Night.
Shakespeare’s tragic heroes are slaves of passions. The tragic sufferings and death arise from collision, not with a late or blank power, but with a moral power, a power, akin to all that we admire and revere in the characters themselves. Shakespeare in all his tragedies was primarily concerned with passion which wrought its action.
As far as the comedy of Shakespeare is concerned, it is usually believed that Shakespeare is known more for his great tragedies than for his comedies. But it was in the workshop of comedies that he mastered his technique. In these early comedies he made experiments with different types of comedies and practised a perfect construction. He is making experiments with characterization and dramatic expressions. The Comedy of Errors is a good example of a common Elizabethan practice of adaptation of a classical comedy to the contemporary stage. In Love’s Labour Lost attempts with brilliant success a new type of comedy, one of personal and social satire. The tone of the Italian school prevails here more than in any other play. He ridicules the social follies of the day; more specially he laughs at the Elizabethan extravagance of language, at the Renaissance parade of learning and even at characters; Armado, Hologernes, Moth are caricatures of well-known people of that day. In The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Shakespeare’s first attempt at a form in which he was later on to become pre-eminent, a romantic comedy dealing primarily with the theme of love. In it Shakespeare struck out a new path which he was to pursue with admirable results; it is his earliest comedy in which a romantic love-story is told in a dramatic form.
It was in A midsummer Night’s Dream that Shakespeare attained full success in romantic comedy. In this play, he blended classical, the realistic and the romantic elements of Elizabethan drama. Taming of a Shrew, Merry Wives of Windsor and King Henry 4, form another group in which his skill in construction, his sense of fun and farcical situation are evident. The scenes dealing with Petruchio and Katherine are some of the most hilarious scenes in Shakespeare comedy. The under strained low comedy at Gadshill and the Boar’s Head Tavern is perhaps most hilarious scenes. The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It and Twelfth Night are comedies of the period. They are dramatic representation of the comic idea. In All Is Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure and Triolous and Cresida, some critics believe, there was a mood of cynicism. These comedies deal with men of action who exhibit the relative values of reason and intution in the search of human happiness.
... at the life of theater for his last play, Shakespeare is not only saying goodbye in a classy ... viewed important. Prospero gives up his magic and Shakespeare gave up his plays. Prospero broke staff, "removed (his) cloak" ... the son of the King Alonso, falls in love with Prospero's daughter Miranda. He begins to ... The Tempest, by William Shakespeare is the last comedy of his career. The main character, ...
In Shakespearean high comedy, characterization is of a high order. There are complex moods and subtle characters in these moods. His humour is many-sided. Cruel or harsh laughter is almost ruled out. The laughter of joy rings in the earlier and middle comedies, and a smile, beautiful in its wisdom and serenity, illuminates the comedies of the closing periods. If satire is present, it is only on rare occasions a satire of manners. On the whole, his humour is tolerant, sympathetic, genial and sparkling. Dowden is of the view: “All his high comedies are beautiful reconciliation of romance to realism. They are good examples of cherry optimism. They raise no problem; they sweeten our feelings towards humanity; they lure us away to the restful land of romance.”
The Age of Restoration lived its own span before it lost its identity in the sands of time. Throughout the history of literary criticism, critics have made Restoration the subject of their violent criticism. Charles Lamb in his famous essay called it a “world of themselves”. He says that people in this age have “got out of Christian dome into the land of cukoldry – the utopia of gallantry – where pleasure is duty and the manners perfect freedom.” William Hazlitt also said that it had no relation to the actual world. One feels like being transported to some other world. Thus, all the critics who have condemned Restoration comedy have branded it as immortal and dull.
In the Restoration Age, there was a compromise between tragedy and epic. The tragedies were written in which the epic occupied a higher place. It is also the period of numerous adaptations from the Elizabethan dramatists, and especially from Shakespeare. During the first twenty years after the Restoration, the rhymed heroic play reigned supreme. This form was introduced by Sir William Davenant and popularized by Dryden, who stated that “an heroic play ought to be an imitation (in little) of an heroic poem; and cosequently that love and valour ought to be the subject of it.”Though the restoration period was less in tragedy than in comedy, there are a few tragedians who deserve a brief mention. John Dryden was the first and most skilful exponent of the heroic play. The chief features of the new type are the choice of a great heroic figure for the central personage; a succession of stage incidents of an exalted character, which often, as Dryden himself realized, became ridiculous through their extravagance; a loud, declamatory style; and the rhymed couplet. Dryden’s The Rival Ladies (1663) is a hybrid between the comic and heroic species of play; The Indian Emperor (1665), Tyrannick Love (1669), The Conquest of Granada, and Aurengzebe (1675) show the heroic kind at its best and worst.
John Drydn’s The conquest of Granada is at once the triumph and the reductio ad absurdum of the style. How it was that this play, or still more Tyrannick love, was not hooted off the stage by the uncontrollable laughter of the audience, one could now hardly understand. It is not only that no adequate motive is ever shown for the actions of the characters: they neither love nor hate nor talk nor do anything whatever like rational human beings. The conclusion of Tyrannic Love is farcical. In The Conquest of Granada, Almanzor performs impossible feasts of valour, and changes sides on the least pretext. In the course of a few hours he captures the king’s bethrothed, becomes madly enamoured of her, declares his passion, overbears her reluctance, deserts to the enemy in order to win her, conquers his former friends, replaces the king on his throne, asks for the hand of the lady, is refused, and is off again to give his invaluable assistance to another foe. The supine neglect which permits him to walk over to the opponent’s side whenever he loses his temper is delightful.
All the five heroic plays of Dryden are built upon a set plan. There is in each a hero of superhuman powers and with superhuman ideals; there is a heroine of unsurpassed constancy and beauty; there is an inner conflict in the minds of the several of the characters between love and honour; there is a stirring story of fighting and martial enthusiasm, filled with intense dramatic interest. Dryden is undoubtedly the ‘purest’ artist of all the Restoration writers of tragedy, besides being the most accomplished craftsman.
His play, All for love, or The World Well Lost (1678), is in blank verse, and is considered to be his dramatic masterpiece. For subject he chose that of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. It was a daring thing to attempt what Shakespeare had already done; but Dryden, while following the earlier play somewhat closely never actually copies it. He produces a play of distinctly different nature and of a high merit. The characters are well-drawn and animated, and the style, though lacking the demonic force of Shakespeare’s at his best, is noble and restrained. In the preface to Tyrannick Love he said, ‘I have not everywhere observed the equality of numbers in my verse; partly by reason of my haste; but more especially because I would not have my sense a slave to syllables’. How flexible the rhymed medium might become under Dryden’s hands may well be illustrated from Tyrannick Love itself, in a passage which contains, moreover, an antithetical line not far removed from one of those quoted out of The Hind and Panther, as well as the occasional alexandrine he used:
Mercy, bright spirit; I already feel
The piercing edge of thy immortal steel:
Thou, Prince of day, from elements art free:
And I all body when compared to thee.
Thou tread’st the Abyss of light!
And where it streams with open eyes can’st go:
We wander in the fields of air below;
Chang’lings and fools of Heaven: and thence shut out,
Wildly we roam in discontent about:
Gross-heavy-fed, next Man in ignorance and sin,
And spotted all without, and dusky all within,
Without thy sword I perish by thy sight
I reel, and stagger, and am drunk with light.
Certainly there we never feel that rhyme is dictating to sense, or even that the sense is being hampered. To what Coleridge called ‘the known effects of metre’ are added what we might call ‘the known effects of rhyme’ working in the same direction. State blank verse is really only a device for giving the phrase which matters, not the number of syllables. Take Dryden’s blank verse in those parts of Amboyne he thought needed ‘heightening’ (the most vicious conception approved by the Restoration) :
Courage, my friend, and rather praise we Heaven,
That it has chose two such as you and me,
Who will not shame our country with our pains,
But stand like marble statues in their fires,
Scorched and defaced, perhaps, not melted down.
It has the light step, far removed from the heavy trend of pre-Shakespearean blank verse, such as Sackville’s or Gascoigne’s, but it has little flexibility. The harmony of words elevates the mind to a sense of devotion, which is inarticulate poesy, does in churches. And by the lively images of piety, adorned by action, through the senses allure the soul: which it is charmed in a silent joy of what it sees and hears, is struck at the same time with a secret veneration of things celestial, and is wound up insensibly into practice of that which it admires.
In general scope, the heroic tragedies of Dryden is surprisingly like the general scope of the Shakespearian drama, if we make allowances for the frequent happy ending which the Restoration author, probably influenced by the structure of epic and heroic poetry, saw fit to give to his plays. In both we find an exciting plot paralleled by an inner struggle; in both there are given to the hero superhuman proportions, the dramas being thus raised to a level above that of ordinary life. If the heroic tragedy, however, is in one way a development of earlier forms of tragic endeavour; it is a development carried to excess. Dryden’s plays bear the same relation to those of Shakespeare as a gramophone record bears to the voice of a celebrated singer. The tones are exaggerated and made harsh; there is the continual drone of unrefined harmonies; a lack of delicacy and of subtlety pervades the whole. Unquestionably Dryden realized the sphere of true tragedy ; he had some conception of the genuine requirements of this type of drama; but his age would not permit him to work that idea out in its correct forms. The consequence is that we can do little else now but smile good-humouredly at the more apparent follies of the type.
The Elizabethan age was an age of dreams of adventure, of unbounded enthusiasm springing from the new lands of fabulous riches revealed by English explores, although science was in fancy. Drake sails around the world, shaping the mighty course which English colonizers shall follow through the centuries. Cabot, Drake, Frobisher, Gilbert, Raleigh, Willoughby, Hawkins – a score of explorers reveal a new earth to men’s eyes, and instantly literature creates a new heaven to match it. So dreams and deeds increase side by side, and the dream is ever greater than the deed. That is the meaning of literature. Under the influence of this age, Edmund Spenser wrote a remarkable poem The Faerie Queena. The notation that The Faerie Queena consists of an endless series of pictorial stanzas, each slow-moving and musical, with an optional allegorical significance which all readers since Spenser’s time have preferred to ignore, is still common enough to require correcting. The surface of the epic consists, as Professor C.S. Lewis has well put it, of “interlocked stories of chivalrous adventure in a world of marvels,” and it is this surface which it shares with the Italian epic. The background is an indeterminate world of plains, woods, castles, dens, islands, and shores, deliberate dream-world through which we watch the characters moves:
(a) And forth they pass, with pleasure forward led,. . . .
(b) So forth they passed, and all the way they spent
Discoursing of her dreadful late distress. . . .
(c) So forth he fared as now befell, on foot,. . . .
(d) So forth they pass a well consorted pair,….
(e) So forth they rowed, and that Ferryman
With his stiff oars did brush the sea so strong. . . .
(f) So as they travelled, lo they can espy
An armed knight toward them gallop fast,….
(g) Thus as she her recomforted, she spied
Where far away one all in armour bright
With hasty gallop towards her did ride,. . . .
We watch, as it were in a trance, as characters approach and recede across this magic landscape. The very opening of the first canto of Book I strikes the note of observed adventure:
A Gentle knight was pricking on the plain,
Y-clad in mighty arms and silver shield,
Wherein old dints of deep wounds did remain,
The cruel marks of many a bloody field;
Yet arms till that time never did he wield.
His angry steed did chide his foaming bit,
As much disdaining to the curb to yield.
Full jolly knight he seemed, and fair did sit,
As one for knightly jousts and fierce encounters fit.
Heroic poetry, we may conclude, was the most comprehension, the most serious, and the most valuable expression of the Elizabethan mind. It worked out most fully the relationship between classical antiquity and modern life and in doing so made the revival of learning practical and functional. Its mode of expression was particularly satisfying to the Englishman of the sixteenth century because it reconciled imagination and conscience. Socially and morally justified, it offered the greatest stimulus, the greatest possibility of scope and variety, to poets and readers. It promised fame to the doers of glorious deeds and to the writer who celebrated them. At the same time it served immediate moral and social ends.
Spenser is the founder of poetic diction which he himself deliberately invented. It is not natural poetic diction because he deliberately made it archaic. He, “in affecting the ancient, writ no language,” says Ben Johnson. In other words, his dialect of any actual place or time, but it is “an artificial poetic diction” made up of Chaucer, archaic words, foreign words and other dialects. Thus it is an invented language which could not be read easily by his contemporaries. It is maintained by Spenser’s apologists that he adopted this peculiar poetic diction because there was no standard English in his days. So it was essential for him to invent poetic diction of his own. Really, his language suggested the distinctive tone and temper of such works as Malory’s Morte D’ Arthur.
Spenser made the first experiment with the language in Shepherd’s Calendar. In an introductory episode, he remarks: “ In my opinion it is one special prayse, of many whych are dew to this poete, that he hath laboured to restore, as to their rightful heritage, such good and natural English words, as have been long time out of use and almost cleane disherited.” Professor Herford has analysed the diction of The Shepherd’s calendar. He divides the unusual words into five classes : (1) those derived from Middle English Literature, (2) from dialects, (3) Elizabethan colloquialisms, (4) literary and learned words, (5) coinages of Spenser’s own. The words borrowed from earlier authors are often incorrectly used, e.g., yede, went, is used for the infinitive ‘go’. In spite of all this, the experiments were necessary and useful. Wyatt’s and Surrey’s experiments had not been worthily followed.
As we emerge from the golden age of Elizabethan poetry, we can distinguish two main streams, not indeed clearly separated at all points, but mingling and merging in a way which make precise definition difficult. On the one hand there is the Spenserian, with its emphasis on smooth versification and vivid, sparkling imagery. On the other hand there is a new tradition of ‘fantastic’ verse, based on far-fetched images or ‘conceits’, as they were called , and an innovation in form the rhythm.
The period of 1680-1745, the period to which pope (1688-1744) belonged, has been variously labeled in histories of literature as the “the Period of English Neo-Classicism”, “Augustan Age” or even as the “Age of Pope”. Alexander Pope was the supreme master of this age. The age of Pope started in the Restoration age. Since this “highest refinement” was consciously modeled on ancient Greek and Roman literature or on the rules deprived from it, the period is also called “classical”, “neo-classical”, or “pseudo-classical” depending on what the particular literary historian thinks of this age. The age of Restoration is also called “classical” or “neo-classical”. He learnt several languages and familiarized himself with the works of Homer, Virgil, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Spenser and Milton. Not only did he read these writers with great interest but even produced imitations of their verse and style. He talks about his ailments humorously, as for example, he does in his Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot:
There are, who to my person pay their court:
I cough like Horace, and, though lean, am short,
Ammon’s great Son one shoulder had too high,
Such Ovid’s nose, and “Sir! you have an Eye—”
The age of Pope saw a rapid economic expansion in both the town and the countryside. Daniel Defoe in his Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain mentions some aspects of the economic progress of his country: “The abundance of matter, the growing buildings and the new discoveries made in every part of the country”. Several business organizations such as the Bank of England, shipping agencies, trading and insurance came into being. English trade flourished not only within the country but also in the distant colonies. The ingredients of Belinda’s toilette, for example, are imported from several countries:
Unnumber’d treasures ope at once, and here
The various off’rings of the world appear;
From each she nicely culls with curious toil,
And decks the goddess with the glitt’ring spoil.
This casket India’s glowing gems unlocks,
And all Arabia breathes from yonder box. (129-134)
The struggle for power between the Whigs and Tories, the nicknames for the two political parties which had evolved during the middle of the 17th century, tended to divide people along party lines so much so that Addison attacked the bipolar division of the English population in several essays. Added to these were the occasional electoral violence, political corruption, especially under Walpole, and the indifference and high-handness of the judges whom Pope satirized in The Rape of the Lock:
The hungry judges soon the sentence sign,
And wretches hang that jurymen may dine; (311-312)
The term “Nature” had many connotations and it could mean several things simultaneously. As Humphreys point out : It might mean “permanent truths underlying the individual varieties of man.”, and “obedience to reason and the search the order and harmony in life and art”. In his Essay on Criticism, Alexander Pope advises the literary critic to be guided by Nature:
First Follow Nature and your judgement frame
By her just STANDARD, which is still the same:
Unerring Nature,still divinely bright,
One clear,unchang’d and Universal Light.
Life, Force, and Beauty, must to all impart,
At once the SOURCE, and END, and TEST of ART (69-73)
Since the ancient Greek and Roman writers had presented faithful representations of Nature, the critic as well as the literary artist must follow the rules derived from them, the former in evaluating literature and the latter in creating it. Wordsworth’s commendation of Pope’s Windsor Forest ‘a passage or two are to be found in this poem some instances of faithful observation of animal life and rural scenery mixed up with descriptions of a conventional or generalized sort:
(a) Oft in her glass the musing shepherd spies,
The headlong mountains and the downward skies,
The watery landscape of the pendant woods,
And absent trees that tremble in the floods;
In the clear azure gleam the flocks are seen,
And floating forests paint the waves with green. (209-214)
(b) There, interspers’d in lawns and opening glades,
Thin trees arise that shun each other’s shades. (21-22)
(c) See! from the brake the whirring pheasant springs,
Ah! what avail his glossy, varying dyes,
His purple crest, and scarlet-circled eyes,
The vivid green his shining plumes unfold,
His painted wings, and breast that flames with gold? (111-115)
In this connection M. Taine observes: “There is in Pope a minute description, adorned with high coloured words, local details. . . . Every aspect of nature was described; a sun-rise, a landscape reflected in water, a breeze and the foliage, and so forth,” Pope’s letter to Mrs. Martha Blount, dated June 22, 1715 contains a beautiful and most graphic description of Sherborne and the country around, which would do credit to many writer or poet of the Romantic School. What is particularly notable in this letter is that he has shown in it a keen power of appreciating the romantic in nature and has used the word “romantic” quite in the modern sense in connection with nature, earlier than Berkeley or any other writer of this age.
Of his love of solitude or tranquility in rural life, he writes, while introducing his famous Ode on solitude, the earliest of his productions, to his friend Mr. Cromwell (July 17, 1709).
“Having a vacant space here I will fit it with a short ‘Ode on solitude’. . . which I find by the date was written when I was not twelve years old; that you may perceive how long ! have continued in my passion for a rural life, and in the same employment of it.”
Pope was for a whole generation ‘the poet of a great nation’. Poetry had a limited scope in his age. There were few lyrics, little or no love poetry, no epics, no dramas or songs of nature worth considering. In the narrow field of satire and didactic verse, Pope was the undisputed master. His influence completely dominated the poetry of his age, and many foreign writers, s well as the majority of English poets, looked to him as their model. He was remarkably clear and adequate reflection of the spirit of the age in which he lived. There was hardly an ideal, a belief, a doubt, a fashion, a whim of Queen Anne’s time that is not neatly expressed in his poetry. The Rape of the Lock pictures the frivolities of his time. In it all the peculiarities of society are pictured in the minutest detail and satirized with the most delicate wit. It is perfect in its way a expressing the artificial life of the age – its cards, parties, toilettes, lap-dogs, tea-drinking, snuff-taking and ideal vanities. The Dunciad, Pope’s most ambitious satire, was suggested by Mac-Flecknoe. The tone of the satire shows the influence of Swift, one of Pope’s closest friends. It is an onslaught on the tribe of dunces and on dullness itself, covering a wide field of personal and general satire. Pope was born in the age of satires. Thus all his works reflect the satirical bent of his mind. He dealt with social and personal themes satirically. Poetry has degenerated into rhymed pamphlets.
Pope respected Newton but was troubled by the contrast between man’s increasing knowledge and his own inadequate control over himself. The more independent he was of Swift, the more judicious he became. Like most of his contemporaries, Pope had understood the Opticks more than the Principia. His knowledge of both was, naturally, very superficial. Yet even as early as The Essay on Criticism, he had seized upon the possibility of Newton’s prism for his poetic imagery. His verse with his defined couplet, its close application of human experience, was adjusted to the growing scientific spirit of his period. His language was one in which the intellect remained in control.
Labels like the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment reveal how people were gradually changing their view of themselves and the world. For instance, Shakespeare, the greatest writer of the Renaissance, expressed a commonly held view when he described the unusual events that preceded the assassination of Julius Caesar—“a tempest dropping fire” and “blue lightning.” These unnatural events, says a character in the play Julius Caesar, are “instruments of fear and warning.” For centuries people had believed that before a great public disaster like the assassination of a ruler, the earth and sky gave warnings. People believed that unusual events such as earthquakes, comets, and even babies born with malformations had some kind of meaning, and that they were sent as punishment for past misdoings or as warning of future troubles. People did not ask, “How did this unusual event take place?” but “Why did this unusual event take place, and what does it mean?” Gradually, during the Enlightenment, people stopped asking “Why?” questions and started asking “How?” questions, and the answers to those questions—about everything from the workings of the human body to the laws of the universe—became much less frightening and superstitious.
Many scholars think that the time (1660-1745) is considered as two discrete literary eras: the Restoration (1660-1700), dominated by Dryden and the Age of Satire (1700-1745), dominated by Swift and Pope. In the era of the Restoration, Dryden’s occasional verse, comedy, blank verse tragedy, heroic play, ode, satire, translation, and critical essay and both his example and his precepts had great influence. In the Age of Satire, the literature is chiefly a literature of wit, concerned with civilization and social relationships, and consequently, it is critical and in some degree moral or satiric. Some of the finest works of this period are mock heroic or humorous burlesques of serious classic or modern modes.
Restoration comedy differs fundamentally from Elizabethan in deliberately enlisting the sympathy of the audience in favour of the wrong-doer. The earlier drama, with all its sins, inclines to award dramatic justice, however belated, to the virtuous. Restoration comedy, disdaining fifth-act compromise, often lets vice rampant in the earlier acts remain vice triumphant. The curtain falls with plaudits for the country wife who carries out a London intrigue without detection, and with derisive laughter for the husband who alone remains unconscious of his dishonour. Restoration comedy flaunts shamelessly the blazon of the ‘scarlet letter.’ It laughs not merely indulgently at vice, but harshly at the semblance of virtue. Cavalier contempt went so far as to regard the show of virtue as proof of hypocrisy. Cynicism replaced religion. Piety was considered bourgeois. Contempt for hypocrisy, however, did not extend to the hypocrisy of the intriguant. All was fair in amorous intrigue. The seducer who outwitted the deluded husband became not the villain but the hero. In the women deception was both a necessity and a virtue. Restoration comedy showed less the frailty of human nature than the strength of animal passion.
So utterly subversive of moral standards is Restoration comedy that an attempt has been made to defend it on the ground that it dealt with an unreal world to which no ordinary standards are applicable. This brilliant fallacy is put forward by Charles Lamb in his essay On the Artificial Comedy of the Last Century. The characters of Restoration comedy seem to Lamb to have escaped from the actual world where moral law still reigns into ‘the Utopia of gallantry, where pleasure is duty, and the manners perfect freedom. . . . We are not to judge them by our usages. No reverend institutions are insulted by their proceedings, — for they have none among them. No peace of families is violated, — for no family ties exists among them. No purity of the marriage bed is stained, — for none is supposed to have a being. No deep affections are disquieted, — no holy wedlock bands are snapped asunder, — for affection’s depth and wedded faith are not of the growth of that soil. There is neither right nor wrong, — gratitude or its opposite, — claim or duty, — paternity or son ship.’ But Restoration comedy was ‘artificial’ only in so far as the court life which it mirrored was artificial. It portrayed all too faithfully the Vanity Fair of the Merry Monarch.
With the increasing refinement and aristocracy there was a change in the minor characters as well. The philosopher’s fools of Shakespeare’s comedies (who were perhaps wiser than many wise people) were rendered out of fashion due dazzling manners. Fools became comic because they pretended to be wiser than the wise; similarly, the comic figures in the Restoration Comedy became funny because they made pretensions to be as fashionable, well-mannered and gallant as the noble and well-bred city folk. Dryden thought that the wit of the Elizabethans was ill-bred and clownish, therefore, he advocated the gentlemen fools in the comedies.
If Restoration drama lacks breadth of scope, it lacks also depth of feeling and height of poetic imagination. Even in rhymed and blank-verse tragedies there is dearth of poetic fancy. Comedy abandons poetry for prose. Romantic comedy yields to the comedy of manners. Common sense replaces poetic sensibility. Wit is more common than humour. The intellectual faculties are exalted above the emotional. It is an age which sees the founding of the Royal Society, and which has philosophers like Hobbes and Locke, and scientists like Newton, but poets are few. Rarely does even Restoration tragedy utter
those melodious bursts, that fill
The spacious times of great Elizabeth
With sounds that echo still.
The attitude toward Shakespeare is a valuable side light upon Dryden’s period. Shakespeare was rewritten to suit an age which found Elizabethan genius rude and unrefined. Native wood-notes were too wild in days when Dryden deemed Shakespeare ‘untaught, unpractised, in a barbarous age’. The most significant contrast between Elizabethan and Restoration drama is in moral tone. The immorality of Restoration comedy has become a byword, yet the subject is too vital to be dismissed lightly. Judged by modern standards, Elizabethan drama admitted at its best considerable vulgarity and indecency of speech, and in the period of its decline showed increasing tendencies toward grossness of thought as well as freedom of phrase. Distinction should, obviously, be made between frankness of expression and uncleanness of mind. The standard of permissible expression is, in a sense, matter of custom rather than of morality. Restraint of phrase counts less than purity of intention, for immorality may lie as much in what is to be read between the lines as in what actually appears on them. Yet, with every fair allowance, it must be admitted that Elizabethan drama is often not merely coarse but impure. Not even in its decadence, however, does it touch the depths of Restoration immorality.
In most periods of the history the myth of the Restoration age is used negatively to define the faults of the present age, but in the Elizabethan age it was often used positively, to point to the accomplishments of the present and the possibilities of the immediate future. Religion is steadily becoming the dominant concern of the nation. Religion might mean Royalism and Church of England, or it might mean Puritanism and a godly reformation. Much of the poetry written between 1625 and 1642, as well as that which contributed to be produced after the closing of the theatres up to 1660, breathes the finer spirit of the age, and is, in the wider sense of the word, ‘religious’. It is a general spirit of self-dedication that is felt so pervasively. But the new spirit is not present in drama, which was living on its impulse from the past. The Elizabethan style has changed. Some breath of outlook and some freedom of movement are lost, but there is a gain in precision of style as there is in simplification of purpose.
Concluding the topic, the reflection of the age depends on the quality of the mind in which it is reflected. If a work of literature is to be judged by the quality of this reflection, it is apparent that it depends on the quality and nature of the reflecting mind. A writer is not an isolated fact but the product of the age in which he lives and works. His picture of life is pervaded with the influence of his age. Shakespeare at once crossed the boundaries of Elizabethan age. For Dryden, the thing made was to be a presentation of life; but the individual sees life not only through his own temperament but through the eye of Restoration age. Born in the lap of Renaissance, Spenser’s mental make-up was infused with the new spirit. Pope, although the product of his age, gave new morals to the kings, queens, nobles and the gentry. According to Hudson, “A nation’s life has its mood of exultation and depression; its epochs a strong faith and strenuous idealism, now of doubt, struggle and disillusion, now of unbelief and flippant disregard for the sanctities of existence; and while the manner of expression will vary greatly with the individuality of each writer, the dominant spirit of the hour, whatever that may be, will directly or indirectly reveal itself in his work”.