THE RESTORATION AGE
Unit Structure :
3.1. Historical Overview of Restoration Age
3.1.1 The Restoration
3.1.2. Religious and Political Conflicts
3.2. Literary Characteristics of Restoration Age
3.2.1. Rise of Neo-classicism
3.2.2. Imitation of Ancient Masters
3.2.3. Imitation of French Masters
3.2.4. Correctness and Appropriateness
3.2.5. Realism and Formalism
3.3. Poetry of Restoration Age
3.4. Prose of Restoration Age
3.5. Restoration Drama
3.5.1. Restoration Heroic Tragedy
3.5.2. Restoration Comedy of Manners
22.214.171.124. Writers of Comedy of Manners
126.96.36.199. Decline of Comedy of Manners
3.6. Let‘s Sum up
3.7. Important Questions
This unit will make the students know about:
Historical overview of Restoration Age, its socio-political happenings and its impact on the literary production of the age.
Literary features of the age, prose, poetry and drama of the period.
The major writers will be introduced with their major works of literature.
3.1. HISTORICAL OVERVIEW OF RESTORATION AGE
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 King was received with wild joy on his return from exile. The change of government from Commonwealth to Kingship corresponded to a change in the mood of the nation. In this period the Renaissance delight in this world and the unlimited possibilities of the exploration of the world, and the moral zeal and the earnestness of the Puritan period could no more fascinate the people of England. Moody and Lovett remark: ―But in the greater part of the Restoration period there was awareness of the limitations of human experience, without faith in the extension of the resources. There was the disposition to accept such limitations, to exploit the potentialities of a strictly human world.‖ The historical events like the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, the religious controversy and the revolution of 1688 deeply influenced the social life and the literary movements of the age.
3.1.1 The Restoration The Restoration of Charles II brought about a revolutionary change in life and literature. During this period gravity, moral earnestness and decorum in all things, which distinguished the Puritan period, were thrown to the winds. The natural instincts which were suppressed during the previous era came to violent excesses. The King had a number of mistresses and numerous children. He was surrounded by corrupt and degenerate ministers. Profligacy was glorified in the royal court. Corruption was rampant in all walks of life. The Great Fire of 1665 and the Plague that followed were popularly regarded as suitable punishments for the sins of the profligate and selfish King. While London was burning and the people were suffering, the King and his nobles kept up their revels. 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 the Restoration 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 French influence was predominant during this period because the King had spent the period of his exile in France. The French manners and fashion spread from the court to the aristocracy. It also influenced contemporary literature.
3.1.2 Religious and Political Conflicts This era also witnessed the rise of two political parties the Whigs and the Tories. These parties were to play a significant role in English politics. The Whigs sought to limit the powers in the interest of the people and the Parliament. The Tories supported the Divine Right theory of the King, and strove to restrain the powers of the people in the interest of the hereditary rulers. The rise of these political parties gave a fresh importance to men of literary ability. Almost all the writers of this period had political affiliations. Dryden was a Tory. The religious controversies were even more bitter. The supporters of the Puritan regime were fanatically persecuted. The nation was predominantly Protestant and the Catholics were unduly harassed. The religion of the King himself was suspect. His brother James was a Papist (Roman Catholic). As Charles II had no legitimate heir, it was certain that after him his brother James, a Catholic, would succeed to the throne. Efforts were made to exclude James from the throne. The King sided with his brother and he removed all obstacles for the accession of James. Dryden‘s famous poem Absalom and Achitophel reflects these religious and political conflicts of the day.
3.1.3 The Revolution James II ascended the throne in 1685. He soon revealed his Roman Catholic prejudices and he secretly tried to establish Catholicism in the country. He became unpopular within three years and the whole nation rose against him. The bloodless revolution of 1688 called the Protestant William and Mary of Orange to the throne. The country was once again restored to health and sanity. These deep and vigorous movements brought about certain changes in the inner social life. With the revival of factions and parties and the excitement caused by the Popish plot, a quality of force and ardour revived in civic feelings, so that the tone of literature and of social life is somewhat modified. With the political and moral transformation which began in 1688, the very Keynote of English literature, as of English life, was greatly changed. It can be said that the last years of the seventeenth century form a distinct period. It is a brief but well-marked transition separating the Restoration from the age of classicism.
3.2 LITERARY CHARACTERISTICS OF RESTORATION AGE
The literature of the Restoration period marked the complete breaking of ties with the Renaissance literature. It reflected the spirit of the age. The spirit of corruption and moral laxity, which were predominant in the social life of the restoration, are reflected in literature. The following are the chief feature of the period:
3.2.1 Rise of Neo-classicism The Restoration marks a complete break with the past. The people believed in the present, the real and the material. Moody and Lovett remark: ―In all directions it appeared as a disposition towards conservation and moderation. Men had learned to fear individual enthusiasm, and therefore they tried to discourage it by setting up ideals of conduct in accordance with reason and common sense, to which all men should adapt themselves. Rules of etiquette and social conventions were established and the problem of life became that of self-expression within the narrow bounds which were thus prescribed.‖ All these tendencies were reflected in the literature of this period. The writers, both in prose and poetry, tacitly agreed upon the rules and principles in accordance with which they should write. Rules and literary conventions became more important than the depth and seriousness of the subject matter to the writers of this period. They express superficial manners and customs of the aristocratic and urban society and did not pry into the mysteries of human mind and heart.
3.2.2 Imitation of the Ancient Masters The authors of the period were not endowed with exceptional literary talents. So they turned to the ancient writers, in particular, to the Latin writers, for guidance and inspiration. It was generally believed that the ancients had reached the acme of excellence and the modern poets could do no better than model their writings on the classics. Thus grew the neo-classical school of poetry. The neo-classicists or pseudo-classicists could not soar to great imaginative heights or could not penetrate deeply into human emotions. They directed their attention to the slavish imitation of rules and ignored the importance of the subject matter. This habit was noticeable in the age of Dryden. It strengthened in the succeeding age of Pope.
3.2.3 Imitation of the French Masters
King Charles II and his companions had spent the period of exile in France. They demanded that poetry and drama should follow the style to which they had become accustomed in France. Shakespeare and his contemporaries could not satisfy the popular literary taste. Pepys wrote in his diary that he was bored to see Shakespeare‘s Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Italian influence had been dominant in Elizabethan period. Now began the period of French influence, which showed itself in English literature for the next century. Commenting on the French influence on the literature of this period W. H. Hudson writes: ―Now the contemporary literature of France was characterized particularly by lucidity, vivacity, and by reason of the close attention given to form – correctness, elegance and finish. It was essentially a literature of polite society, and had all the merits and all the limitations of such a literature. I was moreover a literature in which intellect was in the ascendant and the critical faculty always in control. It was to this congenial literature that English writers now learned to look for guidance; and thus a great impulse was given to the development alike in our prose and in our verse of the principles of regularity and order and the spirit of good sense. As in verse pre-eminently these were now cultivated at the expense of feeling and spontaneity, the growth of an artificial type of poetry was the inevitable result.‖ The famous French writers like Corneille, Racine, Moliere and Boileau were imitated. Boileau‘s ―good sense‖ ideal became very popular. English writers imitated the French blindly; rather they copied the worst vices of the French, instead of their wit, delicacy and refinement. The French influence is seen in the coarseness and indecency of the Restoration comedy of manners. The combined influence of French and classical models of tragedy is seen in the heroic tragedy. The French influence is responsible for the growth and popularity of opera.
3.2.4 Correctness and Appropriateness The work of the authors of the Restoration period was imitative and of limited quality. Since they lacked creativity and flight of imagination, they abandoned freedom altogether and slavishly followed the rules. Edward Albert writes: ―Thus they evolved a number of ―rules‖ which can usefully he summarised in the injunction ―Be Correct‖, correctness means avoidance of enthusiasm, moderate opinions moderately expressed, strict care and accuracy in poetic technique; and humble imitation of the style of Latin Classics.‖
The new tendency, which reached its climax in the Age of Pope, is very clearly marked in the literature of the Restoration period. To Dryden Dr. Johnson applied the term ―Augustan‖, saying that Dryden did to English literature what Augustus did to home, which he found ―of brick
and left of marble.‖ Dryden was the first representative of the new ideas that were to dominate English literature till the end of the eighteenth century.
3.2.5 Realism and formalism Restoration literature is realistic. It was very much concerned with life in London, and with details of dress, fashions and manners. ―The early Restoration writers‖, observes W. J. Long, ―sought to paint realistic pictures of corrupt court and society, and emphasized vices rather than virtues and gave us coarse, low plays without interest or moral significance. Like Hobbes, they saw only the externals of man, his body and appetites, not his soul and his ideals…. Later, however, this tendency to realism became more wholesome. While it neglected romantic poetry, in which youth is eternally interested, it led to a keener study of the practical motives which govern human action.‖ The Restoration writers eschewed all extravagances of thought and language and aimed at achieving directness and simplicity of expression. Dryden accepted the excellent rule for his prose, and adopted the heroic couplet, as the next best thing for the greater part of this poetry. It is largely due to Dryden that ―writers developed formalism of style, that precise, almost mathematical elegance, miscalled classicism, which ruled the English literature for the next century.‖
3.3 POETRY OF RESTORATION AGE The poetry of the Restoration period is formal, intellectual and realistic. In it form is more important than the subject matter. S. A. Brooke writes: ―The artificial style succeeded to any extinguished the natural, or to put it otherwise, a more intellectual poetry finally overcame poetry in which emotion always accompanied thought.‖
(i) John Dryden (1631-1700). Dryden was the first of the new, as Milton was the last of the former school of poetry. He was a versatile poet. Absalom and Achitophel is a fine, finished satire on contemporary political situation. Medal is an attack on Shaftesbury. Mac Flecknoe is a biting attack on a former friend, Thomas Shadwell. Religio Laici and The Hind and the Panther are two doctrinal poems. Dryden appears as a great story teller in verse in The Fables. As a lyric poet his fame rests on song for St. Cecilia’s Day and On Alexander’s Feast. Dryden is the representative poet of his age. He began the neo-classical age in literature. It was his influence and example which lifted the classic couplet for many years as the accepted measure of serious English poetry.
(ii) Samuel Butler (1612-1680). Butler‘s Hudibras is a pointed satire on Puritans. It was influenced by the satires of Rabelais and Cervantes. It has genuine flashes of comic insight. It is a great piece of satirical poetry and it stands next to Dryden‘s Absalom and Achitophel. Butler is a remarkable figure in the poetic development of the Restoration period.
3.4 PROSE OF RESTORATION AGE The Restoration marks the beginning of modern prose. Matthew Arnold remarks: ―the Restoration marks the birth of our modern English prose. It is by its organism – an organism opposed to length and involvement, and enabling us to be clear, plain and short – that English prose after the Restoration breaks with the styles of the times preceding it, finds the true law or prose and becomes modern, becomes, in spite of superficial differences, the style of our own day.‖ The spread of the spirit of common sense and of the critical temper of mind; the love of definiteness and clarity; and of the hatred of the pedantic and obscure have contributed to the development of English prose. It was an age of intellectualism and rationalism, the qualities which are essential for prose. The growing interest in rationalism and the advancement of science greatly aided the general movement towards precision and lucidity of expression which are the essential qualities of good prose style. Various political parties and groups, and growing interest in day to day activities encouraged journalism which needed simple, straightforward prose style. The Coffee houses and drawing rooms attracted the intellectuals and general public for discussions on various topics of general interest. Thus an easy and conversational style, which properly expressed the tastes and the intellectual make-up of the new reading public, evolved. Thus, various factors contributed to the evolution of modern prose during the Restoration period. John Dryden (1631-1700) was one of the greatest prose writers of this period. His prefaces and his famous Essay on Dramatic Poetry make him ―the leader of that modern prose in which the style is easy, unaffected, moulded to the subject, and in which proper words are placed in their proper places.‖ John Bunyan (1632-1704) wrote two prose allegories, Grace Abounding, The Pilgrim’s Progress and The Life and Death of Mr. Badman. Bunyan is called a pioneer of English novel. The Pilgrim’s Progress is remarkable for impressive characters, presentation of contemporary life and dramatic interest. Bunyan‘s style is simple, clear, lucid, Biblical and colloquial.
The diaries of the period are important in terms of style and new form. There are two diary writers who need to be introduced. The Diary of Sir John Pepys (1633-1703) is remarkable for the unaffected naturalness of style and narrative skill. As a historical document it provides an interesting view of the life of Restoration London. John Evelyn‘s Diary was written with an eye on the public. It is a more finished production in the manner of style. Other writers who deserve mention are Lord Halifax, Sir William Temple, Thomas Hobbes, and Sir John Locke.
3.5 RESTORATION DRAMA The theatres which were closed in 1642 were opened during the Restoration. They became the riotous haunt of the upper classes. Consequently, the plays written for the play houses were distinctly calculated by the authors to appeal to a courtly and cavalier audience. It is this that explains the rise of the heroic tragedy and the development of the comedy of manners. The heroic tragedy appealed to artificial, aristocratic sentiments on the subject of honour. And the Restoration comedy of manners reflected the morally vicious but intellectually brilliant atmosphere of the saloons and the chocolate houses. 3.5.1 The Restoration Heroic Tragedy The Restoration tragedy is also known as the Heroic Tragedy. The influence of French romance and drama produced its first important result in the form of the heroic play. Bonamy Dobree comments on the Restoration Tragedy: ―As regards Restoration Tragedy the classical formal element was already there with Ben Johnson, the heroic aspects were adumbrated, often in Fletcher and Massinger, and even in Shakespeare. Coriolanus is a figure of heroic tragedy and so indeed in Tamburlaine. Viola is a heroic woman….‖ The Restoration Tragedy is artificial. Its emotions are unreal. According to Dobree the fantastic ideas of valour, the absurd notions of dauntless, unquenchable love of Restoration Tragedy ―do not correspond with experience.‖ It mainly deals with conflict between love and honour. John Dryden was the principal writer of the Heroic tragedy. His famous tragedies are Tyrannic Love, Conquest of Granada and All for Love. In Dryden‘s heroic plays we find a hero of superhuman powers and with superhuman ideals; there is a heroine of unsurpassed beauty and constancy; there is an inner conflict in the minds of several characters between love and honour; and there is a striving story of fighting and martial enthusiasm, filled with intense dramatic interest. All For Love is the finest tragedy of this period. Another playwright was Thomas Otway. He wrote Alcibiades, Don Carlos, The Orphan and Venice Preserved.
3.5.2 Restoration Comedy of Manners The Restoration comedy is also known as Comedy of Manners. These comedies expressed a reaction against Puritanism and the sexual repression it had attempted to enforce. Fashionable intrigues, sex, marriage and adultery were treated with cynicism, with worldly wit and a sense of the comedy of life. The characters in the plays no doubt owed much to the courtiers, the wits, and the men about town as well as to ladies of fashion, citizens, wives and country girls. ―Restoration Comedy‖, according to Moody and Lovett, ―is a genuine reflection of the temper, if not of the actual life, of the upper classes of the nation, and as such it has a sociological as well as a literary interest.‖ The Restoration comedy was shaped both by native and French influences. It drew its inspiration from the native tradition which had flourished before the closing of theatres in 1642. It was also influenced by continental writers, especially by Moliere and Spaniard. It reflected closely the dissolute court life of the period. There was a community of spirit which led to an interest in French comedy. Moliere gave English dramatists the brilliant ideas of plots and some fine examples of comic characterization. The foreign influences, remarks Edward Albert, ―blended with a tradition already strongly established, and assisted the natural process of change demanded by the changing temper of the age, but they were transformed into something essentially English and contemporary. Thus, the comedy of Moliere was changed into a harder, more closely knit form which lacked the warmth and depth of insight of the original.‖ The comedy of manners is conspicuous for intellectual and refined tone. It is devoid of romantic passions and sentiments. It replaces emotion by wit and poetry by a clear, concise prose. The plays show a close and satirical observation of life and manners. The Comedy of Manners recalls the works of Ben Jonson. It is realistic. The simple aim of this comedy is to show the manners of the upper ranks of society. They are shown with unemotional frankness. The aristocratic refined society, which it presents, is fashionable. It does expose ―follies‖, but these are the follies of refined gentlemen, and not of ―low characters. Everything coarse and vulgar is eschewed. A ―whore is called ‗a mistress‘‖, a ―pimp‖ a ―friend‖ and a ―cuckold maker‖ a ―gallant‖. The cult of refinement is carried to an extreme. It depicts a small world which has a distinct territory of its own – the fashionable parks and coffee houses of the London of Charles II‘s time. Its setting is provided by the public parks, fashionable clubs, taverns and drawing rooms of the aristocratic and the leisured classes of the time.Sex is treated with utmost frankness. Its main subject is the intimate relationship between men and women. The people of this period looked upon love as a purely personal matter, marriage as a social performance. The writers of the comedy of manners dissected the complications of these relationships. It deals somewhat coldly with human love and lust. The subject of the relationship between the sexes was of utmost importance during this period. The Restoration Comedy is the expression of people endeavoring to readjust their values after a great upheaval. They tried to see themselves not as they might wish to be but as they really were. Outwardly the normal life of social acceptance went on, but what happened below it was complete laxity in established social standards. Extramarital relationships were the fashion of the day. Licentiousness was there but it was rationalized, argued, made subjects to scientific tests. The woman is treated neither as a goddess, nor as a plaything of men, not as an object of pleasures but as the companion of man with her own enchanting personality. She is to be won not by devotion or lust, but by intelligence, brilliance or wit, and charm of manners. The lovers love the game of love. They want to continue the game of love up to the end. This rationalized conception of love and courtship leads to an ideal marriage in which the lovers prefer to retain the more agreeable names of Mistress and Gallant. It is a polished courtship in which passion gives place to manners. Nothing should be in excess, neither passion nor indifference, neither boldness in men, and nor coyness in women. The attitude must be easy and graceful. The Restoration Comedies are considered as anti-social because they represent social institutions, particularly marriage in a ridiculous light. They are neither romantic nor revolutionary. Conventions are accepted to be played with and attacked, merely by way of giving opportunity for witty raillery, or point to an intrigue. The most brilliant and amusing statement of the experiment is given in Congreve‘s The Way of the World and Wycherley‘s The Country Wife. (The Country Wife is prescribed in your study. Study that text into the light of Restoration Comedy.) Jeremy Collier condemned the Restoration comedy for immorality. Charles Lamb contradicts Collier. He remarks: ―The Fainalls and Mirabells, the Dorimants and the Touchwoods, in their own sphere, do not offend any moral sense; in fact, they do not appeal to it at all. They seem engaged in their proper element. They break no laws. They know of none.‖ Indeed, the Restoration comedy is neither moral, nor immoral, it is amoral. The characters in Restoration comedies are largely types, whose dispositions are sufficiently indicated by a study of their names. We have Sir Foppling Flutter, Horner, Scrub, Sir John Brute, Squire Sullen, Lady Bountiful, Lady Fancyful, Mrs. Marwood, Mrs. Fainall etc. The Restoration dramatists drew their characters and copied their situations from the life they saw around them. The Restoration dramatists were interested in wit and portrayal of manners rather than in the movement and progression of events. So they employed a spatial rather than a temporal plot. The loose-knit pattern of such a plot was a definite advantage to them. It provided a better scope for the contrast and balance of characters. Conflict and intrigues occupy an important place in the Restoration Comedy. These comedies abound in wit and repartee.
188.8.131.52. Writers of Comedy of Manners
(i) William Congreve (1670-1729):
Congreve is the best and finest writer of the comedy of manners. His famous comedies are The Old Bachelor, The Double Dealer, Love For Love and The Way of the World. The Way of the World is considered by common consent as a work of art and as pure comedy of manners by dint of its many artistic excellences, such as wit and brilliant, sparkling, dialogues. Construction, characterization, dialogue are all alike brilliant. The story scarcely matters. Rickett remarks: ―But such scenes as those where reputations are murdered by gossip, such characters as Mrs. Millamant and Mirabell, such flashes of wit in the talk between Mrs. Marwood and Mrs. Millamant are to the fore-reveal the Restoration drama at its height.‖ In Congreve‘s works the comedy of manners reaches perfection. His plays faithfully reflect the upper class life of his day. Their undoubted immorality is saved from being objectionable by brilliant wit, a hard finish and a total lack of realism. In the artificial society which he depicts, moral judgment would be out of place. The tone is one of cynical vivacity, the characters are well drawn. Congreve‘s prose is lucid and pointed, and shows an excellent ear for rhythm and cadence. In all things he is a polished artist, whose distinctive quality is brilliance.‖
(ii) George Etherege (1635-91):
Etherege‘s three plays are The Comical Revenge, She Wou’d If She Cou’d, The Man of the Mode or Sir Foppling Flutter. In these plays he painted a true picture of the graceful but licentious upper classes. The prose dialogue is brilliant and natural. (iii) Sir John Vanbrugh (1664-1726): His best comedies are The Relapse, The Provok’d Wife, and Confederacy. The first two plays employ the familiar devices of the Restoration Comedy. The Confederacy breaks new ground. The dramatist deals with the middle classes in this play.
(iv) George Farquhar (1678-1707): His famous comedies are Love and a Bottle, The Constant Couple, Sir Harry Wildhair, The Inconstant, The Way to Win Him, The Recruiting Officer, and The Beaux’s Stratagem. He added something new to the Restoration Comedy, in taking his material from a wider life than the polite upper class depicted by Congreve, and his characters are more like ordinary people. His dialogue lacks the polish and the sustained wit of Congreve, and is nearer the level of normal conversation. In his rapidly developing humanity, and his growing respect for moral standards, Farquhar looks forward to the drama of Steele and the succeeding age. (v) William Wycherley (for details see unit No. 9 in this Module) 184.108.40.206. Decline of Restoration Comedy of Manners From 1700 a change began to be discernible in stage production. It was felt that the appeal of the Restoration Comedy of Manners was restricted only to the aristocratic society. The immoral and antisocial influence of these plays was clearly perceived and the voice of protest was also heard. It was felt that a more human note was needed. With the rise of the middle class the moral standards changed. Moreover, the periodical essay and newspapers which expressed the moral code of the rising middle class emerged as powerful rivals of drama. Jeremy, who attacked the Restoration Comedy for immorality, wrote plays like The Careless Husband and The Non-Juror. These plays lack in wit and insight but represent the needs of the new age.
3.6. LET’S SUM UP In this unit we have studied the social and historical aspects of Restoration period stressing the phenomena like concept of restoration, religious and political conflicts on the social sphere and the revolution that brought a deep changes in the society in general and literary activities in particular. The unit deals with the facets of restoration age like rise of neo-classicism, imitations of the ancient masters and their impact on the writings of the Restoration age, and introduction of correctness and appropriateness as well as formalism and realism in their writings. It also speaks of the prose and verse of the age. The emphasis is placed on the dramatic activities of restoration age especial the birth of new tragedy called Heroic tragedy and comedy called Comedy of Manners. The important dramatists and their works are introduced which is followed by the discussion on the decline and decay of drama during Restoration Age.