History of English Literature notes-Part II


In previous article which was the part I of English literature briefly explained the “Anglo Saxon” and “Anglo Norman period”. Anglo Saxons were the ancestors of English literature. Whereas Anglo Normans preserved the literature after France conquered England and had French influence in it. Then for hundred years there was no or very less imitated literature were written which was called as Dark Age. After that there was 16th century which was also known as “Renaissance Period”.16th century was the rebirth period of many things and most importantly “Drama” in literature. Then came the 17th century of English literature. Now in this article which is history of English literature part II includes the key points of 17th century. As we all know history of English literature is very lengthy so these articles will give you to the point important information.

History of 17th Century English Literature

The literature of this period was divided into further 2 periods:

  1. The Puritan Age (1600-1660)
  2. The Restoration Period (1660-1700)

Key points:

  • In 17th century there was a decline of Renaissance spirit.
  • Writers either imitated masters if Elizabethan period or followed new path.
  • There was a marked change in temperament which was called essentially modern.
  • Form of criticism was the creation of 17th century which introduced in England.
  • The most significant feature in history of English literature of 17th century was the popularization of the art of biography and auto biography.

History of Puritan Age in English Literature

Period: 1600-1660

  • Puritan age also called as Age of Milton in history of English literature which was further divided into Jacobean and Caroline Period named after the rulers of James I (1603-1625) and Charles I (1625-1649).
  • Also known as gloomy age.
  • Milton was the noblest representative of Puritan spirit.
  • Puritan movement also considered as “the second and greater renaissance” because it was the rebirth of moral nature of man.
  • This movement stood for liberty of people.
  • Introduction of morality and high ideals in politics.
  • It worked in particular 2 objects: (i) personal righteousness (ii) civil and religious liberty.
  • It also aimed at making men honest and free.
  • Milton and Cromwell were the real champions who fought for liberty of people against the tyrannical rule of Charles I.
  • In next Restoration period puritans were considered as narrow minded, strict, gloomy and away from all  sorts of recreational enjoyments but it was not so.
  •  Puritan was named to those people who advocated some changes in the form of worship of reformed English church under Elizabeth.
  • Puritanism became the national movement.
  • In 1649, Charles I was defeated and there was the establishment of Commonwealth under Chromwell, severe laws were passed.
  • Many recreations were banned.
  • No fixed literary standards were there.
  • Honored of master of verse-John Milton.

Puritan poetry:

  • Puritan poetry also called Jacobean and Caroline poetry.
  • Divided into 3 parts:
  • The school of Spencer Poetry
  • The poets of Metaphysical School
  • Cavalier poets
The school of Spencer poetry:
  • They were the followers of Spenser.
  • During the reign of James I the disciples of Spenser were:
    • Phineas Fletcher:
      • Wrote a number of Spenserian pastorals and allegories.
      • Work: “The Purple Island”.
    • Giles Fletcher:
      • Work: “Christ’s Victorie and Triumph in Heaven and Earth over and after Death”.
    • They both were brothers, priests and fellows of Cambridge University.
  • Other poets who were also under the influence of Spenser were:
    • William Browne: work- “Britannia’s Pastorals” (inspired by Spencer’s “Faerie Queene” and Sidney’s “Arcadia”).
    • George Wither:
      • Known as “our English Juvenal” because of his didactic and satirical verse.
      • His poetry was pastoral.
      • Works- “Shepherd’s Hunting”, “Fidella”, “Fair Virture” and “Mistress of Philarete”.
    • William Drummond:
      • Scottish poet
      • Works: “tears on the Death of Maliades”(elegy), sonnets, “Flower of Sion” and pastorals.
The poets of Metaphysical School:
  • The leader of the school was Donne.
  • They named as metaphysical because they were highly philosophical.
  • They wrote on serious subjects.
  • Their poetry was in particular full of conceits, exaggerations, quibbling of meaning of words, display of learning and far-fetched similes and metaphors.
  • Dr. Johnson used the term metaphysical in his essay on Abraham Cowley named “Lives of poets”.  
  • Important feature mentioned by Dr. Johnson was “discovery of occult resemblances in things apparently unlike”.
  •  Metaphysical poets:
    • John Done:
      • Leader of metaphysical school of poets.
      • Dean of St. Paul.
      • Done was the poet of wit and Browning was poet of ardent passion.
      • He introduced harsh and staccato method.
      • Main work was to deliver religious sermons.
      • Wrote poetry of high order.
      • He broke the Petrarchan model.
      • Works: “The progress of the Soul”, “An Anatomy of the World” (elegy), “Epithalamium”. In later years: “The Progress of Soul” and “Metampsychosis”.
      • His poetry had 3 parts: (i) Amorous (ii) Metaphysical (iii) Satirical.
    • Robert Herrick
    • Thomas Carew: “Persuasion of Love”.
    • Richard Crashaw: “The Flaming Heart”.
    • Henry Vaughan
    • George Herbert
    • Lord Herbert of Cherbury:
      • Author of autobiography.
      • First poet used metre.
      • Inferior verse writer to his brother George Herbert.
    • Abraham Cowley famous for his ‘Pindaric odes’.
    • Andrew Marvel famous for his loyal friendship with Milton.
    • Edmund Waller was first who used the ‘closed couplet’.
Cavalier poets:
  • Cavalier poets were followed Ben Johnson.
  • Ben Johnson imitated Horace by writing.
  • They also labeled as royalists.
  • They wrote on trivial subjects.
  • Wrote generally in lighter mode.
  • Important poets were:
    • Herrick
    • Carew
    • Sir John Suckling: courtier of Charles I.
    • Richard Lovelace: follower of Charles I.
      • Works: “To Lucasta”, “To Althea, from Prison’ and volume of lover lyrics- “Lucasta”.
John Milton:
  • He was praised by in particular Spenser, Shakespeare and Ben Jonson.
  • Milton was deeply religious man.
  • He had also combined himself in the spirits of renaissance and reformation.
  • He was great scholar of classical as well as Hebrew (Greek) literature..
  • Milton was also known as “last child of Renaissance” and “last Elizabethan” in history of English literature.
  • He took up poetry as a serious business of life in his early age.
  • Early poetry of Milton was also lyrical.
  • Early works at 21 years of age: “L’Allegro”, “II Penseroso”, “Lusidas” and “Comus”.
  • Earl age sonnet “When the Assault was intended to the City”.
  • When civil war broke out in 1642, Milton devoted his peek poetic years as a soldier.
  • After becoming unfit as a soldier he became the Latin Secretary to Cromwell.
  • At the age of 43 or 44 Milton found himself completely blind.
  • In the reign of Charles II Milton became friendless. His wife and daughters all against him.
  • Greatest works: “Paradise Lost”, “Paradise Regained” and “Samson Agonistes”.

Jacobean and Caroline Drama

  • Puritans closed the theatres in 1642, hence it died a natural death.
  • Greatest dramatist was Ben Jonson.
  • Other dramatist:
    • John Marston
    • Thomas Dekker
    • Cyril Tourneur
    • Thomas Heywood
    • John Webster
    • Thomas Middleton
    • John Fletcher
    • Francis Beaumont
    • Philip Massinger
    • John Ford
    • James Shirley

Jacobean and Caroline Prose

  • This period was rich in prose.
  • It was first time great scholars began to write in English rather than Latin.
  • Authorized Version of Bible was the greatest influence.
  • Milton’s prose writings were concerned by issue between the Parliament and the King (“On the Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce” and “Areopagitica”).
  • Prose writers:
    • Francis Bacon:
      • Master of aphoristic style.
      • furthermore he was a Lawyer.
      • Ben Jonson also wrote for him: “no man ever coughed or turned aside from him without a loss”.
      • He was also best known for his essays.
      • He was credited as a authorship of the plays of Shakespeare.
      • Works: “Henry VII” (the first piece of scientific history in English language), “The Advancement of Learning”.
    • Robert Burton:
      • Work: “The Anatomy of Melancholy”.
    • Sir Thomas Browne:
      • Work: “Religio Medici”, “Hydriotaphia” or “The Urn Burial”.
    • Earl of Clarendon:
      • Work: “History of Rebellion and Civil Wars in England”.
    • Jeremy Tayler

Restoration Period

Period: 1660-1700

  • It was called restoration period because monarchy was restored.
  • Restoration period also called Age of Dryden in history of English literature.
  • At that time ruler was Charles II who came back to England after his exile in France.
  • This period began to imitate French writers especially their vices.
  • Charles II introduced the looseness in England because he enjoyed the gay life in France.
  • 2 important contributions in the field of English literature were: (i) form of realism and (ii) preciseness.
  • Influence of French writers gave emphasis to reasoning rather than romantic fancy.
  • The Royal Society made it compulsory to use a close, naked, natural way of speaking and writing near to the mathematical plainness as they can.
  • Dryden accepted the Royal society rule but for his prose and for poetry he used heroic couplet.

Restoration Poetry

  • Poetry was satirical, realistic and also written in heroic couplet.
  • Following poets of restoration poetry were :
    • John Dryden:
      • Greatest contribution in poetry was his skillful use of heroic couplet.
      • Characteristics of his poetry and that age were: formalism, intellectual precision and argumentative skill.
      •  Things lacking in his poetry were: poetic glow, spiritual fervor, moral loftiness and philosophical depth.
      • Came under the influence of Cowley in his youth.
      • His early poetry had also metaphysical characteristics.
      • 3 heads of Dryden poetry were:
        • Political Satires
          • Works:  “Absalom and Achitophel” and “The Medal”.
        • Doctrinal Poems
          • Works: “Religio Laici” and “The Hind and the Panter”.
          • Dryden became Catholic and defended Catholicism.
        • Fables
          • Works: “The Palamon and Arcite.
        • Best ode: “Alexander’s Feast”.

Restoration Drama

  • In 1660 theatres were reopened, that’s why they called restoration drama.
  •  It laid emphasis on prose as the medium of expression.
  • Especially appealed to aristocratic society.
  • Comedy of Manner was the popular form of drama.
  • Dryden’s work of comedies: “Wilde Gallant”, “Etheredge” and “The Comical Revenge or love in a Tub”.
  • William Congreve best plays (comedies) before 30: “Love for Love’’ and “The Way of the World”.
  • William Congreve polished balances and sharpened the sentences until they shined like chiseled instruments.
  • Heroic Tragedy:
    • Dealt with epic magnitude themes.
    • Should also be used heroic metre.
    • Dryden was protagonist of heroic tragedy.
    • Heroic tragedy dominated from 1660-1678.
    • Works: “Tyrannic Love”, “The Conquest of Granada”, Aurangzeb” and “All for Love”.

Restoration Prose

  • Restoration period was deficient in drama and poetry but ranked high in prose work.
  • Dryden:
    • Chief leader of new prose.
    • Work: “Essay of Dramatic Poesy”.
  • John Bunyan:
    • 2nd great prose writer.
    • Also a greatest story teller.
    • Particularly known as pioneer of English Novel.
    • His prose had influence of English translation of Bible.
    • Greatest masterpiece work: “The Pilgrim’s Progress” (to lead men and women into God’s way as well as pilgrimage of the Christian to the Heavenly City).
    • Other works like “The Holy War”(spiritual autobiography), “The Life and Death of Mr. Badman”(realistic novel) were also written.

In conclusion this article shortly but fully covers all the important key points of 17th century which helps you a lot in preparing any English related subject specific exams. These key points help you to cover the history of English literature in shorter period of time. It also saves your time and energy which can be waste in reading not so important details in the book. After this 17th century one of the most important history of English 18th century or classicism will come in next article in Part III.

Continue to Part III (18th century) in next coming article.

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