English Literature: Its Background and Development

English Literature is one of richest literatures of the world. Being the literature of a great nation which, though inhabiting a small island off the west coast of Europe, has made its mark in the world on account of her spirit of adventure, perseverance and tenacity, it reflects these characteristics of a great people.

It has vitality, rich variety and continuity. As literature is the reflection of society, the various changes which have come about in English society, from the earliest to the modern time, have left their stamp on English literature. Thus in order to appreciate properly the various phases of English literature, knowledge of English Social and Political History is essential. For example, we cannot form a just estimate of Chaucer without taking into account the characteristics of the period in which he was living, or of Shakespeare without taking proper notice of the great events which were taking place during the reign of Elizabeth. The same is the case with other great figures and important movements in English literature.

When we study the history of English literature from the earliest to modern times, we find that it has passed through certain definite phases, each having marked characteristics. These phases may be termed as ‘Ages’ or ‘Periods’, which are named after the central literary figures or the important rulers of England. Thus we have the ‘Ages’ of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden, Pope, Johnson. Wordsworth, Tennyson, Hardy; and, on the other hand, the Elizabethan Age, the Jacobean Period, the Age of Queen Anne, the Victorian Age, the Georgian Period. Some of these phases are named after certain literary movements, as the Classical Age, the Romantic Age; while others after certain important historial eras, as the Medieval Period, Anglo-Saxon Period, Anglo-Norman Period. These literary phases are also named by some literary historians after the centuries, as the Seventeenth Century Literature, Eighteenth Century Literature, Nineteenth-Century Literature and Twentieth Century Literature. These ‘Ages’ and ‘Periods’ naturally overlap each other, and they are not to be followed strictly, but it is essential to keep them in mind in order to follow the growth of English literature, and its salient and distinctive characteristics during the various periods of its development.
Now let us have a critical survey of the background and development of English literature from the earliest times upto the present age.

The Anglo-Saxon Or Old-English Period (670-1100)

The earliest phase of English literature started with Anglo-Saxon literature of the Angles and Saxons (the ancestors of the English race) much before they occupied Britain. English was the common name and tongue of these tribes. Before they occupied Britain they lived along the coasts of Sweden and Denmark, and the land which they occupied was called Engle-land. These tribes were fearless, adventurous and brave, and during the later years of Roman occupation of Britain, they kept the British coast in terror. Like other nations they sang at their feasts about battles, gods and their ancestral heroes, and some of their chiefs were also bards. It was in these songs of religion, wars and agriculture, that English poetry began in the ancient Engle-land while Britain was still a Roman province.

Though much of this Anglo-Saxon poetry is lost, there are still some fragments left. For example, Widsith describes continental courts visited in imagination by a far-wandering poet; Waldhere tells how Walter of Aquitaine withstood a host of foes in the passes of the Vosges; the splendid fragment called The Fight at Finnesburg deals with the same favourite theme of battle against fearful odds; and Complaint of Deor describes the disappointment of a lover. The most important poem of this period is Beowulf. It is a tale of adventures of Beowulf, the hero, who is an champion an slayer of monsters; the incidents in it are such as may be found in hundreds of other stories, but what makes it really interesting and different from later romances, is that is full of all sorts of references and allusions to great events, to the fortunes of kings and nations. There is thus an historical background.
After the Anglo-Saxons embraced Christianity, the poets took up religious themes as the subject-matter of their poetry. In fact, a major portion of Anglo-Saxon poetry is religious. The two important religious poets of the Anglo-Saxon period were Caedmon and Cynewulf. Caedmon sang in series the whole story of the fate of man, from the Creation and the Fall to the Redemption and the Last Judgment, and within this large framework, the Scripture history. Cynewulf’s most important poem is the Crist, a metrical narrative of leading events of Christ’s ministry upon earth, including his return to judgment, which is treated with much grandeur.
Anglo-Saxon poetry is markedly different from the poetry of the next period—Middle English or Anglo-Norman period—for it deals with the traditions of an older world, and expresses another temperament and way of living; it breathes the influence of the wind and storm. It is the poetry of a stern and passionate people, concerned with the primal things of life, moody, melancholy and fierce, yet with great capacity for endurance and fidelity.
The Anglo-Saxon period was also marked by the beginning of English prose. Through the Chronicles, which probably began in King Alfred’s time, and through Alfred’s translations from the Latin a common available prose was established, which had all sorts of possibilities in it. In fact, unlike poetry, there was no break in prose of Anglo-Saxon period and the Middle English period, and even the later prose in England was continuation of Anglo-Saxon prose. The tendency of the Anglo-Saxon prose is towards observance of the rules of ordinary speech, that is why, though one has to make a considerable effort in order to read verse of the Anglo-Saxons, it is comparatively easy to understand their prose. The great success of Anglo-Saxon prose is in religious instructions, and the two great pioneers of English prose were Alfred the Great, the glorious king of Wessex, who translated a number of Latin Chronicles in English, and Aelfric, a priest, who wrote sermons in a sort of poetic prose.
The Angles and Saxons first landed in England in the middle of the fifth century, and by 670 A.D. they had occupied almost the whole of the country. Unlike the Romans who came as conquerors, these tribes settled in England and made her their permanent home. They became, therefore, the ancestors of the English race. The Anglo-Saxon kings, of whom Alfred the Great was the most prominent, ruled till 1066, when Harold, the last of Saxon kings, was defeated at the Battle of Hastings by William the Conqueror of Normandy, France. The Anglo-Saxon or Old English Period in English literature, therefore, extends roughly from 670 A.D. to 1100 A.D.
As it has been made clear in the First Part of this book that the literature of any country in any period is the reflection of the life lived by the people of that country in that particular period, we find that this applies to the literature of this period. The Angles and Saxons combined in themselves opposing traits of character—savagery and sentiment, rough living and deep feeling, splendid courage and deep melancholy resulting from thinking about the unanswered problem of death. Thus they lived a rich external as well as internal life, and it is especially the latter which is the basis of their rich literature. To these brave and fearless fighters, love of untarnished glory, and happy domestic life and virtues, made great appeal. They followed in their life five great principles—love of personal freedom, responsiveness to nature, religion, love for womanhood, and struggle for glory. All these principles are reflected in their literature. They were full of emotions and aspirations, and loved music and songs. Thus we read in Beowulf:
Music and song where the heroes sat—
The glee—wood rang, a song uprose
When Hrothgar’s scop gave the hall good cheer.
The Anglo Saxon language is only a branch of the great Aryan or Indo-European family of languages. It has the same root words for father and mother, for God and man, for the common needs and the common relations of life, as we find in Sanskrit, Iranian, Greek and Latin. And it is this old vigorous Anglo-Saxon language which forms the basis of modern English.

Middle-English Or Anglo-Norman Period (1100-1500)

The Normans, who were residing in Normandy (France) defeated the Anglo-Saxon King at the Battle of Hastings (1066) and conquered England.
The Norman Conquest inaugurated a distinctly new epoch in the literary as well as political history of England. The Anglo-Saxon authors were then as suddenly and permanently displaced as the Anglo-Saxon king.

The literature afterwards read and written by Englishmen was thereby as completely transformed as the sentiments and tastes of English rulers. The foreign types of literature introduced after the Norman Conquest first found favour with the monarchs and courtiers, and were deliberately fostered by them, to the disregard of native forms. No effective protest was possible by the Anglo-Saxons, and English thought for centuries to come was largely fashioned in the manner of the French. Throughout the whole period, which we call the Middle English period (as belonging to the Middle Ages or Medieval times in the History of Britain) or the Anglo-Norman period, in forms of artistic expression as well as of religious service, the English openly acknowledged a Latin control.

It is true that before the Norman Conquest the Anglo-Saxons had a body of native literature distinctly superior to any European vernacular. But one cannot deny that the Normans came to their land when they greatly needed an external stimulus. The Conquest effected a wholesome awakening of national life. The people were suddenly inspired by a new vision of a greater future. They became united in a common hope. In course of time the Anglo-Saxons lost their initial hostility to the new comers, and all became part and parcel of one nation. The Normans not only brought with them soldiers and artisans and traders, they also imported scholars to revive knowledge, chroniclers to record memorable events, minstrels to celebrate victories, or sing of adventure and love.
The great difference between the two periods—Anglo-Saxon period and Anglo-Norman period, is marked by the disappearance of the old English poetry. There is nothing during the Anglo-Norman period like Beowulf or Fall of the Angels. The later religious poetry has little in it to recall the finished art of Cynewulf. Anglo-Saxon poetry, whether derived from heathendom or from the Church, has ideas and manners of its own; it comes to perfection, and then it dies away. It seems that Anglo-Saxon poetry grows to rich maturity, and then disappears, as with the new forms of language and under new influences, the poetical education started again, and so the poetry of the Anglo-Norman period has nothing in common the Anglo-Saxon poetry.
The most obvious change in literary expression appears in the vehicle employed. For centuries Latin had been more or less spoken or written by the clergy in England. The Conquest which led to the reinvigoration of the monasteries and the tightening of the ties with Rome, determined its more extensive use. Still more important, as a result of foreign sentiment in court and castle, it caused writings in the English vernacular to be disregarded, and established French as the natural speech of the cultivated and the high-born. The clergy insisted on the use of Latin, the nobility on the use of French; no one of influence saw the utility of English as a means of perpetuating thought, and for nearly three centuries very few works appeared in the native tongue.
In spite of the English language having been thrown into the background, some works were composed in it, though they echoed in the main the sentiments and tastes of the French writers, as French then was the supreme arbiter of European literary style. Another striking characteristic of medieval literature is its general anonymity. Of the many who wrote the names of but few are recorded, and of the history of these few we have only the most meagre details. It was because originality was deplored as a fault, and independence of treatment was a heinous offence in their eyes.
(a)  The Romances
The most popular form of literature during the Middle English period was the romances. No literary productions of the Middle Ages are so characteristic, none so perennially attractive as those that treat romantically of heroes and heroines of by-gone days. These romances are notable for their stories rather than their poetry, and they, like the drama afterwards, furnished the chief mental recreation of time for the great body of the people. These romances were mostly borrowed from Latin and French sources. They deal with the stories of King Arthur, The War of Troy, the mythical doings of Charlemagne and of Alexander the Great.
(b)  The Miracle and Morality Plays
In the Middle English period Miracle plays became very popular. From the growth and development of the Bible story, scene by scene, carried to its logical conclusion, this drama—developed to an enormous cycle of sacred history, beginning with the creation of man, his fall and banishment from the Garden of Eden and extending through the more important matters of the Old Testament and life of Christ in the New to the summoning of the quick and the dead on the day of final judgment. This kind of drama is called the miracle play—sometimes less correctly the mystery play—and it flourished throughout England from the reign of Henry II to that of Elizabeth (1154-1603).
Another form of drama which flourished during the Middle Ages was the Morality plays. In these plays the uniform theme is the struggle between the powers of good and evil for the mastery of the soul of man. The personages were abstract virtues, or vices, each acting and speaking in accordance with his name; and the plot was built upon their contrasts and influences on human nature, with the intent to teach right living and uphold religion. In a word, allegory is the distinguishing mark of the moral plays. In these moral plays the protagonist is always an abstraction; he is Mankind, the Human Race, the Pride of Life, and there is an attempt to compass the whole scope of man’s experience and temptations in life, as there had been a corresponding effort in the Miracle plays to embrace the complete range of sacred history, the life of Christ, and the redemption of the world.
(c)  William Langland (1332 ?…?)
One of the greatest poets of the Middle Ages was William Langland, and his poem, A Vision of Piers the Plowman holds an important place in English literature. In spite of its archaic style, it is a classic work in English literature. This poem, which is a satire on the corrupt religious practices, throws light on the ethical problems of the day. The character assumed by Langland is that of the prophet, denouncing the sins of society and encouraging men to aspire to a higher life. He represents the dissatisfaction of the lower and the more thinking classes of English society, as Chaucer represents the content of the aristocracy and the prosperous middle class. Although Langland is essentially a satiric poet, he has decided views on political and social questions. The feudal system is his ideal; he desires no change in the institution of his days, and he thinks that all would be well if the different orders of society would do their duty. Like Dante and Bunyan, he ennobles his satire by arraying it in a garb of allegory; and he is intensely real.
(d)  John Gower (1325?—1408)
Gower occupies an important place in the development of English poetry. Though it was Chaucer who played the most important role in this direction, Gower’s contribution cannot be ignored. Gower represents the English culmination of that courtly medieval poetry which had its rise in France two or three hundred years before. He is a great stylist, and he proved that English might compete with the other languages which had most distinguished themselves in poetry. Gower is mainly a narrative poet and his most important work is Confession Amantis, which is in the form of conversation between the poet and a divine interpreter. It is an encyclopaedia of the art of love, and satirises the vanities of the current time. Throughout the collection of stories which forms the major portion of Confession Amantis, Gower presents himself as a moralist. Though Gower was inferior to Chaucer, it is sufficient that they were certainly fellow pioneers, fellow schoolmasters, in the task of bringing England to literature. Up to their time, the literary production of England had been exceedingly rudimentary and limited. Gower, like Chaucer, performed the function of establishing the form of English as a thoroughly equipped medium of literature.
(e)  Chaucer (1340?…1400)
It was, in fact, Chaucer who was the real founder of English poetry, and he is rightly called the ‘Father of English Poetry’. Unlike the poetry of his predecessors and contemporaries, which is read by few except professed scholars, Chaucer’s poetry has been read and enjoyed continuously from his own day to this, and the greatest of his successors, from Spenser and Milton to Tennyson and William Morris, have joined in praising it. Chaucer, in fact, made a fresh beginning in English literature. He disregarded altogether the old English tradition. His education as a poet was two-fold. Part of it came from French and Italian literatures, but part of it came from life. He was not a mere bookman, nor was he in the least a visionary. Like Shakespeare and Milton, he was, on the contrary, a man of the world and of affairs.
The most famous and characteristic work of Chaucer is the Canterbury Tales, which is a collection of stories related by the pilgrims on their way to the shrine of Thomas Becket at Canterbury. These pilgrims represent different sections of contemporary English society, and in the description of the most prominent of these people in the Prologue Chaucer’s powers are shown at their very highest. All these characters are individualized, yet their thoroughly typical quality gives unique value to Chaucer’s picture of men and manners in the England of his time.
The Canterbury Tales is a landmark in the history of English poetry because here Chaucer enriched the English language and metre to such an extent, that now it could be conveniently used for any purpose. Moreover, by introducing a variety of highly-finished characters into a single action, and engaging them in an animated dialogue, Chaucer fulfilled every requirement of the dramatist, short of bringing his plays on the stage. Also, by drawing finished and various portraits in verse, he showed the way to the novelists to portray characters.
Chaucer’s works fall into three periods. During the first period he imitated French models, particularly the famous and very long poem Le Roman de la Rose of which he made a translation—Romaunt of the Rose. This poem which gives an intimate introduction to the medieval French romances and allegories of courtly love, is the embryo out of which all Chaucer’s poetry grows. During this period he also wrote the Book of the Duchess, an elegy, which in its form and nature is like the Romaunt of the Rose; Complaint unto Pity, a shorter poem and ABC, a series of stanzas religious in tone, in which each opens with a letter of the alphabet in order.
The poems of the second period (1373-84) show the influence of Italian literature, especially of Dante’s Divine Comedy and Boccaccio’s poems. In this period he wrote The Parliament of Fowls, which contains very dramatic and satiric dialogues between the assembled birds; Troilus and Criseyde, which narrates the story of the Trojan prince Troilus and his love for a damsel, Creseida; The Story of Griselda, in which is given a pitiful picture of womanhood; and The House of Fame, which is a masterpiece of comic fantasy, with a graver undertone of contemplation of human folly.
Chaucer’s third period (1384-90) may be called the English period, because in it he threw off foreign influences and showed native originality. In the Legend of Good Woman he employed for the first time the heroic couplet. It was during this period that he wrote The Canterbury Tales, his greatest poetic achievement, which places us in the heart of London. Here we find his gentle, kindly humour, which is Chaucer’s greatest quality, at its very best.
Chaucer’s importance in the development of English literature is very great because he removed poetry from the region of Metaphysics and Theology, and made it hold as “twere the mirror up to nature”. He thus brought back the old classical principle of the direct imitation of nature.
(f)  Chaucer’s Successors
After Chaucer there was a decline in English poetry for about one hundred years. The years from 1400 to the Renaissance were a period bereft of literature. There were only a few minor poets, the imitators and successors of Chaucer, who are called the English and Scottish Chaucerians who wrote during this period. The main cause of the decline of literature during this period was that no writer of genius was born during those long years. Chaucer’s successors were Occieeve, Lydgate, Hawes, Skelton Henryson, Dunbar and Douglas. They all did little but copy him, and they represent on era of mediocrity in English literature that continues up to the time of the Renaissance.

The Renaissance Period (1500-1600)

The Renaissance Period in English literature is also called the Elizabethan Period or the Age of Shakespeare. The middle Ages in Europe were followed by the Renaissance. Renaissance means the Revival of Learning, and it denotes in its broadest sense the gradual enlightenment of the human mind after the darkness of the Middle Ages.

With the fall of Constantinople in 1453 A.D. by the invasion of the Turks, the Greek scholars who were residing there, spread all over Europe, and brought with them invaluable Greek manuscripts. The discovery of these classical models resulted in the Revival of Learning in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The essence of this movement was that “man discovered himself and the universe”, and that “man, so long blinded had suddenly opened his eyes and seen”. The flood of Greek literature which the new art of printing carried swiftly to every school in Europe revealed a new world of poetry and philosophy. Along with the Revival of Learning, new discoveries took place in several other fields. Vascoda Gama circumnavigated the earth; Columbus discovered America; Copernicus discovered the Solar System and prepared the way for Galileo. Books were printed, and philosophy, science, and art were systematised. The Middle Ages were past, and the old world had become new. Scholars flocked to the universities, as adventurers to the new world of America, and there the old authority received a death blow. Truth only was authority; to search for truth everywhere, as men sought for new lands and gold and the Fountain of Youth—that was the new spirit, which awoke in Europe with the Revival of Learning.

The chief characteristic of the Renaissance was its emphasis on Humanism, which means man’s concern with himself as an object of contemplation. This movement was started in Italy by Dante, Petrarch and Baccaccio in the fourteenth century, and from there it spread to other countries of Europe. In England it became popular during the Elizabethan period. This movement which focused its interest on ‘the proper study of mankind’ had a number of subordinate trends. The first in importance was the rediscovery of classical antiquity, and particularly of ancient Greece. During the medieval period, the tradition-bound Europe had forgotten the liberal tone of old Greek world and its spirit of democracy and human dignity. With the revival of interest in Greek Classical Antiquity, the new spirit of Humanism made its impact on the Western world. The first Englishman who wrote under the influence of Greek studies was Sir Thomas More. His Utopia, written in Latin, was suggested by Plato’s Republic. Sir Philip Sidney in his Defence of Poesie accepted and advocated the critical rules of the ancient Greeks.
The second important aspect of Humanism was the discovery of the external universe, and its significance for man. But more important than this was that the writers directed their gaze inward, and became deeply interested in the problems of human personality. In the medieval morality plays, the characters are mostly personifications: Friendship, Charity, Sloth, Wickedness and the like. But now during the Elizabethan period, under the influence of Humanism, the emphasis was laid on the qualities which distinguish one human being from another, and give an individuality and uniqueness. Moreover, the revealing of the writer’s own mind became full of interest. This tendency led to the rise of a new literary form—the Essay, which was used successfully by Bacon. In drama Marlowe probed down into the deep recesses of the human passion. His heroes, Tamburlaine, Dr. Faustus and Barabas, the Jew of Malta, are possessed of uncontrolled ambitions. Shakespeare, a more consummate artist, carried Humanism to perfection. His genius, fed by the spirit of the Renaissance, enabled him to see life whole, and to present it in all its aspects.
It was this new interest in human personality, the passion for life, which was responsible for the exquisite lyrical poetry of the Elizabethan Age, dealing with the problems of death, decay, transitoriness of life etc.
Another aspect of Humanism was the enhanced sensitiveness to formal beauty, and the cultivation of the aesthetic sense. It showed itself in a new ideal of social conduct, that of the courtier. An Italian diplomat and man of letters, Castiglione, wrote a treatise entitled Il Cortigiano (The Courtier) where he sketched the pattern of gentlemanly behaviour and manners upon which the conduct of such men as Sir Phillip Sidney and Sir Walter Raleigh was modelled. This cult of elegance in prose writing produced the ornate style called Euphuism by Lyly. Though it suffered from exaggeration and pedantry, yet it introduced order and balance in English prose, and gave it pithiness and harmony.
Another aspect of Humanism was that men came to be regarded as responsible for their own actions, as Casius says to Brutus in Julius Caesar:
The Fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Instead of looking up to some higher authority, as was done in The Middle Ages, during the Renaissance Period guidance was to be found from within. Lyly wrote his romance of Euphues not merely as an exercise in a new kind of prose, but with the serious purpose of inculcating righteousness of living, based on self-control. Sidney wrote his Arcadia in the form of fiction in order to expound an ideal of moral excellence. Spenser wrote his Faerie Queene, with a view “to fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous and gentle disposition”. Though we do not look for direct moral teaching in Shakespeare, nevertheless, we find underlying his work the same profoundly moral attitude.
(a)  Elizabethan Drama
During the Renaissance Period or the Elizabethan Period, as it is popularly called, the most memorable achievement in literature was in the field of drama. One of the results of the humanist teaching in the schools and universities had been a great development of the study of Latin drama and the growth of the practice of acting Latin plays by Terence, Plautus and Seneca, and also of contemporary works both in Latin and in English. These performances were the work of amateur actors, school boys or students of the Universities and the Inns of Court, and were often given in honour of the visits of royal persons or ambassadors. Their significance lies in the fact that they brought the educated classes into touch with a much more highly developed kind of drama, than the older English play. About the middle of the sixteenth century some academic writers made attempts to write original plays in English on the Latin model. The three important plays of this type are Nicholas Udall’s Ralph Roister Doister, John Still’s Grummar Gurton’s Needle, and Thomas Sackville’s Gorbuduc or Ferrex and Porrex—the first two are comedies and last one a tragedy. All these plays are monotonous and do not possess much literary merit.
The second period of Elizabethan drama was dominated by the “University Wits”, a professional set of literary men. Of this little constellations, Marlowe was the central sun, and round him revolved as minor stars, Lyly, Greene, Peele, Lodge and Nash.
Lyly (1554-1606)
The author of Euphues, wrote a number of plays, the best known of them are Compaspe (1581), Sapho and Phao (1584), Endymion (1591), and Midas (1592), These plays are mythological and pastoral and are nearer to the Masque (court spectacles intended to satisfy the love of glitter and novelty) rather than to the narrative drama of Marlowe. They are written in prose intermingled with verse. Though the verse is simple and charming prose is marred by exaggeration, a characteristic of Euphuism.
George Peele (1558-97?)
Formed, along with Marlowe, Greene and Nash, one of that band of dissolute young men endeavouring to earn a livelihood by literary work. He was an actor as well as writer of plays. He wrote some half dozen plays, which are richer in beauty than any of his group except Marlowe. His earnest work is The Arraignment of Paris, (1584); his most famous is David and Bathsheba (1599). The Arraignment of Paris, which contains an elaborate eulogy of Queen Elizabeth, is really a court play of the Masque order. David and Bathsheba contains many beautiful lines. Like Marlowe, Peele was responsible for giving the blank verse musical quality, which later attained perfection in the deft hands of Shakespeare.
Thomas Kyd (1558-95)
Achieved great popularity with his first work, The Spanish Tragedy, which was translated in many European languages. He introduced the ‘blood and thunder’ element in drama, which proved one of the attractive features of the pre-Shakespearean drama. Though he is always violent and extravagant, yet he was responsible for breaking away from the lifeless monotony of Gorboduc.
Robert Greene (1560-1592)
He lived a most dissolute life, and died in distress and debt. His plays comprise Orlando Furioso, Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, Alphonsus King of Aragon and George a Greene. His most effective play is Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, which deals partly with the tricks of the Friar, and partly with a simple love story between two men with one maid. Its variety of interest and comic, relief and to the entertainment of the audience. But the chief merit of the play lies in the lively method of presenting the story. Greene also achieves distinction by the vigorous humanity of his characterisation.
Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593)
The dramatic work of Lodge and Nash is not of much importance. Of all the members of the group Marlowe is the greatest. In 1587 his first play Tamburlaine was produced and it took the public by storm on account of its impetuous force, its splendid command of blank verse, and its sensitiveness to beauty, In this play Marlowe dramatised the exploits of the Scythian shepherd who rose to be “the terror of the world”, and “the scourge of God”. Tamburlain was succeeded by The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, in which Marlowe gave an old medieval legend a romantic setting. The story of the scholar who sells his soul to the Devil for worldly enjoyment and unlimited power, is presented in a most fascinating manner. Marlowe’s Faustus is the genuine incarnation of the Renaissance spirit. The Jew of Malta, the third tragedy of Marlowe, is not so fine as Doctor Faustus, though it has a glorious opening. His last play, Edward II, is his best from the technical point of view. Though it lacks the force and rhythmic beauty of the earlier plays, it is superior to them on account of its rare skill of construction and admirable characterisation.
Marlowe’s contributions to the Elizabethan drama were great. He raised the subject-matter of drama to a higher level. He introduced heroes who were men of great strength and vitality, possessing the Renaissance characteristic of insatiable spirit of adventure. He gave life and reality to the characters, and introduced passion on the stage. He made the blank verse supple and flexible to suit the drama, and thus made the work of Shakespeare in this respect easy. He gave coherence and unity to the drama, which it was formerly lacking. He also gave beauty and dignity and poetic glow to the drama. In fact, he did the pioneering work on which Shakespeare built the grand edifice. Thus he has been rightly called “the Father of English Dramatic Poetry.”
Shakespeare (1564-1616)
The greatest of all Elizabethan dramatists was Shakespeare in whose hands the Romantic drama reached its climax. As we do not know much about his life, and it is certain that he did not have proper training and education as other dramatists of the period had, his stupendous achievements are an enigma to all scholars up to the present day. It is still a mystery how a country boy, poor and uneducated, who came to London in search of odd jobs to scrape a living, could reach such heights in dramatic literature. Endowed with a marvellous imaginative and creative mind, he could put new life into old familiar stories and make them glow with deepest thoughts and tenderest feelings.
There is no doubt that Shakespeare was a highly gifted person, but without proper training he could not have scaled such heights. In spite of the meagre material we have got about his life, we can surmise that he must have undergone proper training first as an actor, second as a reviser of old plays, and the last as an independent dramatist. He worked with other dramatists and learned the secrets of their trade. He must have studied deeply and observed minutely the people he came in contact with. His dramatic output must, therefore, have been the result of his natural genius as well as of hard work and industry.
Besides non—dramatic poetry consisting of two narrative poems, Venice and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, and 154 sonnets, Shakespeare wrote 37 plays. His work as a dramatist extended over some 24 years, beginning about 1588 and ending about 1612. This work is generally divided into four periods.
(i)         1577-93
This was the period of early experimental work. To this period belong the revision of old plays as the three parts of Henry VI and Titus Andronicus; his first comedies—Love’s Labour Lost, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Comedy of Errors and A Midsummer Night’s Dream; his first chronicle play—Richard III; a youthful tragedy—Romeo and Juliet.
(ii)        1594-1600
To the second period belong Shakespeare’s great comedies and chronicle plays – Richard II, King John, The Merchant of Venice, Henry IV, Part I and II, Henry V, The Taming of the Shrew, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It and Twelfth Night. These plays reveal Shakespeare’s great development as a thinker and technician. They show the maturity of his mind and art.
(iii)       1601-1608 
To the third period belong Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies and sombre or bitter comedies. This is his peak period characterised by the highest development of his thought and expression. He is more concerned with the darker side of human experience and its destructive passions. Even in comedies, the tone is grave and there is a greater emphasis on evil. The plays of this period are—Julius Caesar, Hamlet, All’s Well that Ends Well, Measure for Measure; Troilus and Cressida, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, and Timon of Athens.
(iv)       1608-1612 
To the fourth period belong the later comedies or dramatic romances. Here the clouds seem to have been lifted and Shakespeare is in a changed mood. Though the tragic passions still play their part as in the third period, the evil is now controlled and conquered by good. The tone of the plays is gracious and tender, and there is a decline in the power of expression and thought. The plays written during this period are—Cymbeline, The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale, which were completely written in collaboration with some other dramatist.
The plays of Shakespeare are so full of contradictory thoughts expressed so convincingly in different contexts, that it is not possible to formulate a system of philosophy out of them. Each of his characters—from the king to the clown, from the most highly intellectual to the simpleton—judges life from his own angle, and utters something which is so profound and appropriate, that one is astonished at the playwrigt’s versatility of genius. His style and versification are of the highest order. He was not only the greatest dramatist of the age, but also the first poet of the day, and one of the greatest of all times. His plays are full of a large number of exquisite songs, and his sonnets glowing with passion and sensitiveness to beauty reach the high water mark of poetic excellence in English literature. In his plays there is a fine commingling of dramatic and lyric elements. Words and images seem to flow from his brain spontaneously and they are clothed in a style which can be called perfect.
Though Shakespeare belonged to the Elizabethan Age, on account of his universality he belongs to all times. Even after the lapse of three centuries his importance, instead of decreasing, has considerably increased. Every time we read him, we become more conscious of his greatness, like the charm of Cleopatra,
Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety.
the appeal of Shakespeare is perennial. His plays and poetry are like a great river of life and beauty.
Ben Jonson (1573-1637)
Ben Jonson a contemporary of Shakespeare, and a prominent dramatist of his times, was just the opposite of Shakespeare. Jonson was a classicist, a moralist, and a reformer of drama. In his comedies he tried to present the true picture of the contemporary society. He also made an attempt to have the ‘unities’ of time, place and action in his plays. Unlike Shakespeare who remained hidden behind his works, Jonson impressed upon the audience the excellence of his works and the object of his plays. He also made his plays realistic rather than romantic, and introduced ‘humours’ which mean some peculiar traits in character, which obsess an individual and govern all this faculties.
Jonson was mainly a writer of comedies, and of these the four which attained outstanding success are Volpone; The Silent Woman; The Alchemist; and Bartholomew Fair. Two other important comedies of his, which illustrate his theory of ‘humour’ are—Every Man in His Humour and Every Man Out of Humour. The Alchemist, which is the most perfect in structure, is also the most brilliant realistic Elizabethan comedy. Volpone is a satirical study of avarice on the heroic scale. Bartholomew Fair presents a true picture of Elizabethan ‘low life’. The Silent Woman, which is written in a lighter mood, approaches the comedy of manners. Ben Jonson wrote two tragic plays. Sejanus and Cataline on the classical model, but they were not successful.
Ben Jonson was a profound classical scholar who wanted to reform the Elizabethan drama, and introduce form and method in it. He resolved to fight against cheap romantic effects, and limit his art within the bounds of reason and common sense. He was an intellectual and satirical writer unlike Shakespeare who was imaginative and sympathetic. His chief contribution to dramatic theory was his practice to construct plays based on ‘humour’, or some master passion. In this way he created a new type of comedy having its own methods, scope and purpose. Though he drew his principles from the ancients, he depicted the contemporary life in his plays in a most realistic manner. In this way Jonson broke from the Romantic tendency of Elizabethan drama.
(b)  Elizabethan Poetry
Poetry in the Renaissance period took a new trend. It was the poetry of the new age of discovery, enthusiasm and excitement. Under the impact of the Renaissance, the people of England were infused with freshness and vigour, and these qualities are clearly reflected in poetry of that age.
The poetry of the Elizabethan age opens with publications of a volume known as Tottel’s Miscellany (1577). This book which contained the verse of Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503?-1542) and the Earl of Surrey, (1577?-1547) marks the first English poetry of the Renaissance. Wyatt and Surrey wrote a number of songs, especially sonnets which adhered to the Petrarcan model, and which was later adopted by Shakespeare. They also attempted the blank verse which was improved upon by Marlowe and then perfected by Shakespeare. They also experimented a great variety of metres which influenced Spenser. Thus Wyatt and Surrey stand in the same relation to the glory of Elizabethan poetry dominated by Spenser and Shakespeare, as Thomson and Collins do to Romantic poetry dominated by Wordsworth and Shelley.
Another original writer belonging to the early Elizabethan group of poets who were mostly courtiers, was Thomas Sackville (1536-1608). In his Mirror for Magistrates he has given a powerful picture of the underworld where the poet describes his meetings with some famous Englishmen who had been the victims of misfortunes. Sackville, unlike Wyatt and Surrey, is not a cheerful writer, but he is superior to them in poetic technique.
The greatest of these early Elizabethan poets was Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586). He was a many-sided person and a versatile genius—soldier, courtier and poet—and distinguished himself in all these capacities. Like Dr. Johnson and Byron he stood in symbolic relation to his times. He may be called the ideal Elizabethan, representing in himself the great qualities of that great age in English history and literature. Queen Elizabeth called him one of the jewels of her crown, and at the age of twenty-three he was considered ‘one of the ripest statesmen of the age’.
As a literary figure, Sidney made his mark in prose as well as in poetry. His prose works are Arcadia and the Apologie for Poetrie (1595). With Arcadia begins a new kind of imaginative writing. Though written in prose it is strewn with love songs and sonnets. The Apologie for Poetrie is first of the series of rare and very useful commentaries which some English poets have written about their art. His greatest work, of course, is in poetry—the sequence of sonnets entitled Astrophel and Stella, in which Sidney celebrated the history of his love for Penelope Devereax, sister of the Earl of Essex,- a love which came to a sad end through the intervention of Queen Elizabeth with whom Sidney had quarrelled. As an example of lyrical poetry expressing directly in the most sincere manner an intimate and personal experience of love in its deepest passion, this sonnet sequence marks an epoch. Their greatest merit is their sincerity. The sequence of the poet’s feelings is analysed with such vividness and minuteness that we are convinced of their truth and sincerity. Here we find the fruit of experience, dearly bought:
Desire; desire; I have too dearly bought
With price of mangled mind. Thy worthless ware.
Too long, too long, asleep thou hast me brought,
Who should my mind to higher prepare.
Besides these personal and sincere touches, sometimes the poet gives a loose reign to his imagination, and gives us fantastic imagery which was a characteristic of Elizabethan poetry.
Spenser (1552-1599)
The greatest name in non-dramatic Elizabethan poetry is that of Spenser, who may be called the poet of chivalry and Medieval allegory. The Elizabethan Age was the age of transition, when the time-honoured institutions of chivalry, closely allied to Catholic ritual were being attacked by the zeal of the Protestant reformer and the enthusiasm for latters of the European humanists. As Spenser was in sympathy with both the old and the new, he tried to reconcile these divergent elements in his greatest poetic work—The Faerie Queene. Written in the form of an allegory, though on the surface it appears to be dealing with the petty intrigues, corrupt dealings and clever manipulations of politicians in the court of Elizabeth, yet when seen from a higher point of view, it brings before us the glory of the medieval times clothed in an atmosphere of romance. We forget the harsh realities of life, and lifted into a fairy land where we see the knights performing chivalric deeds for the sake of the honour Queen Gloriana. We meet with shepherds, sylvan nymphs and satyrs, and breathe the air of romance, phantasy and chivalry.
Though Spenser’s fame rests mainly on The Faerie Queene, he also wrote some other poems of great merit. His Shepherd’s Calendar (1579) is a pastoral poem written in an artificial classical style which had become popular in Europe on account of the revival of learning. Consisting of twelve parts, each devoted to a month of the year, here the poet gives expression to his unfruitful love for a certain unknown Rosalind, through the mouth of shepherds talking and singing. It also deals with various moral questions and the contemporary religious issues. The same type of conventional pastoral imagery was used by Spenser in Astrophel (1586), an elegy which he wrote on the death of Sidney to whom he had dedicated the Calendar. Four Hymns which are characteried by melodious verse were written by Spenser in honour of love and beauty. His Amoretti, consisting of 88 sonnets, written in the Petrarcan manner which had become very popular in those days under the influence of Italian literature, describes beautifully the progress of his love for Elizabeth Boyle whom he married in 1594. His Epithalamion is the most beautiful marriage hymn in the English language.
The greatness of Spenser as a poet rests on his artistic excellence. Though his poetry is surcharged with noble ideas and lofty ideals, he occupies an honoured place in the front rank of English poets as the poet of beauty, music and harmony, through which he brought about a reconciliation between the medieval and the modern world. There is no harsh note in all his poetry. He composed his poems in the spirit of a great painter, a great musician. Above all, he was the poet of imagination, who, by means of his art, gave an enduring to the offsprings of his imagination. As a metrist his greatest contribution to English poetry is the Spenserian stanza which is admirably suited to descriptive or reflective poetry. It is used by Thomson in The Castle of Indolence, by Keats in The Eve of St. Agnes, by Shelley in The Revolt of Islam and by Byron in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. On account of all these factors, Spenser has been a potent influence on the English poets of all ages, and there is no exaggeration in the remark made by Charles Lamb that “Spenser is the poets’ poet.”
(c)  Elizabethan Prose
The Elizabethan period was also the period of the origin of modern English prose. During the reign of Elizabeth prose began to be used as a vehicle of various forms of amusement and information, and its popularity increased on account of the increased facility provided by the printing press. Books on history, travel, adventures, and translations of Italian stories appeared in a large number. Though there were a large number of prose-writers, there were only two-Sidney and Lyly who were conscious of their art, and who made solid contributions to the English prose style when it was in its infancy. The Elizabethan people were intoxicated with the use of the English language which was being enriched by borrowings from ancient authors. They took delight in the use of flowery words and graceful ,grandiloquent phrases. With the new wave of patriotism and national prestige the English language which had been previously eclipsed by Latin, and relegated to a lower position, now came to its own, and it was fully exploited. The Elizabethans loved decorative modes of expression and flowery style.
John Lyly (1554-1606)
The first author who wrote prose in the manner that the Elizabethans wanted, was Lyly, whose Euphues, popularized a highly artificial and decorative style. It was read and copied by everybody. Its maxims and phrases were freely quoted in the court and the market-place, and the word ‘Euphuism’ became a common description of an artificial and flamboyant style.
The style of Euphues has three main characteristics. In the first place, the structure of the sentence is based on antithesis and alliteration. In other words, it consists of two equal parts which are similar in sound but with a different sense. For example, Euphues is described as a young man “of more wit than wealth, yet of more wealth than wisdom”. The second characteristic of this style is that no fact is stated without reference to some classical authority. For example, when the author makes a mention of friendship, he quotes the friendship that existed between David and Jonathan. Besides these classical allusions, there is also an abundance of allusion to natural history, mostly of a fabulous kind, which is its third characteristic. For example, “The bull being tied to the fig tree loseth his tale; the whole herd of dear stand at gaze if they smell sweet apple.”
The purpose of writing Euphues was to instruct the courtiers and gentlemen how to live, and so it is full of grave reflections and weighty morals. In it there is also criticism of contemporary society, especially its extravagant fashions. Though Puritanic in tone, it inculcates, on the whole, a liberal and humane outlook.
Sidney’s Arcadia is the first English example of prose pastoral romance, which was imitated by various English authors for about two hundred years. The story related in Arcadia in the midst of pastoral surrounding where everything is possible, is long enough to cover twenty modern novels, but its main attraction lies in its style which is highly poetical and exhaustive. One word is used again and again in different senses until its all meanings are exhausted. It is also full of pathetic fallacy which means establishing the connection between the appearance of nature with the mood of the artist. On the whole, Arcadia goes one degree beyond Euphues in the direction of Sfreedom and poetry.
Two other important writers who, among others, influenced Elizabethan prose were: Malory and Hakluyt. Malory wrote a great prose romance Morte de Arthur dealing with the romantic treasures of the Middle Ages. It was by virtue of the simple directness of the language, that it proved an admirable model to the prose story-tellers of the Renaissance England. Richard Hakluyt’s Voyages and other such books describing sea adventures were written in simple and unaffected directness. The writer was conscious of only that he had something to tell that was worth telling.

The Puritan Age (1600-1660)

The Literature of the Seventeenth Century may be divided into two periods—The Puritan Age or the Age of Milton (1600-1660), which is further divided into the Jacobean and Caroline periods after the names of the ruled James I and Charles I, who rules from 1603 to 1625 and 1625 to 1649 respectively; and the Restoration Period or the Age of Dryden (1660-1700).

The Seventeenth Century was marked by the decline of the Renaissance spirit, and the writers either imitated the great masters of Elizabethan period or followed new paths. We no longer find great imaginative writers of the stature of Shakespeare, Spenser and Sidney. There is a marked change in temperament which may be called essentially modern. Though during the Elizabethan period, the new spirit of the Renaissance had broken away with the medieval times, and started a new modern development, in fact it was in the seventeenth century that this task of breaking away with the past was completely accomplished, and the modern spirit, in the fullest sense of the term, came into being. This spirit may be defined as the spirit of observation and of preoccupation with details, and a systematic analysis of facts, feelings and ideas. In other words, it was the spirit of science popularized by such great men as Newton, Bacon and Descartes. In the field of literature this spirit manifested itself in the form of criticism, which in England is the creation of the Seventeenth Century. During the Sixteenth Century England expanded in all directions; in the Seventeenth Century people took stock of what had been acquired. They also analysed, classified and systematised it. For the first time the writers began using the English language as a vehicle for storing and conveying facts.

One very important and significant feature of this new spirit of observation and analysis was the popularisation of the art of biography which was unknown during the Sixteenth Century. Thus whereas we have no recorded information about the life of such an eminent dramatist as Shakespeare, in the seventeenth century many authors like Fuller and Aubrey laboriously collected and chronicled the smallest facts about the great men of their own day, or of the immediate past. Autobiography also came in the wake of biography, and later on keeping of diaries and writing of journals became popular, for example Pepy’s Diary and Fox’s Journal. All these new literary developments were meant to meet the growing demand for analysis of the feelings and the intimate thoughts and sensations of real men and women. This newly awakened taste in realism manifested itself also in the ‘Character’, which was a brief descriptive essay on a contemporary type like a tobacco-seller, or an old shoe-maker. In drama the portrayal of the foibles of the fashionable contemporary society took a prominent place. In satire, it were not the common faults of the people which were ridiculed, but actual men belonging to opposite political and religious groups. The readers who also had become critical demanded facts from the authors, so that they might judge and take sides in controversial matters.
The Seventeenth Century upto 1660 was dominated by Puritanism and it may be called the Puritan Age or the Age of Milton who was the noblest representative of the Puritan spirit. Broadly speaking, the Puritan movement in literature may be considered as the second and greater Renaissance, marked by the rebirth of the moral nature of man which followed the intellectual awakening of Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Though the Renaissance brought with it culture, it was mostly sensuous and pagan, and it needed some sort of moral sobriety and profundity which were contributed by the Puritan movement. Moreover, during the Renaissance period despotism was still the order of the day, and in politics and religion unscrupulousness and fanaticism were rampant. The Puritan movement stood for liberty of the people from the shackles of the despotic ruler as well as the introduction of morality and high ideals in politics. Thus it had two objects—personal righteousness and civil and religious liberty. In other words, it aimed at making men honest and free.
Though during the Restoration period the Puritans began to be looked down upon as narrow-minded, gloomy dogmatists, who were against all sorts of recreations and amusements, in fact they were not so. Moreover, though they were profoundly religious, they did not form a separate religious sect. It would be a grave travesty of facts if we call Milton and Cromwell, who fought for liberty of the people against the tyrannical rule of Charles I, as narrow-minded fanatics. They were the real champions of liberty and stood for toleration.
The name Puritan was at first given to those who advocated certain changes in the form of worship of the reformed English Church under Elizabeth. As King Charles I and his councillors, as well as some of the clergymen with Bishop Laud as their leader, were opposed to this movement, Puritanism in course of time became a national movement against the tyrannical rule of the King, and stood for the liberty of the people. Of course the extremists among Puritans were fanatics and stern, and the long, protracted struggle against despotism made even the milder ones hard and narrow. So when Charles I was defeated and beheaded in 1649 and Puritanism came out triumphant with the establishment of the Commonwealth under Cromwell, severe laws passed. Many simple modes of recreation and amusement were banned, and an austere standard of living was imposed on an unwilling people. But when we criticize the Puritan for his restrictions on simple and innocent pleasures of life, we should not forget that it was the same very Puritan who fought for liberty and justice, and who through self-discipline and austere way of living overthrew despotism and made the life and property of the people of England safe from the tyranny of rulers.
In literature of the Puritan Age we find the same confusion as we find in religion and politics. The medieval standards of chivalry, the impossible loves and romances which we find in Spenser and Sidney, have completely disappeared. As there were no fixed literary standards, imitations of older poets and exaggeration of the ‘metaphysical’ poets replaced the original, dignified and highly imaginative compositions of the Elizabethan writers. The literary achievements of this so-called gloomy age are not of a high order, but it had the honour of producing one solitary master of verse whose work would shed lustre on any age or people—John Milton, who was the noblest and indomitable representative of the Puritan spirit to which he gave a most lofty and enduring expression.
(a)  Puritan Poetry
The Puritan poetry, also called the Jacobean and Caroline Poetry during the reigns of James I and Charles I respectively, can be divided into three parts –(i) Poetry of the School of Spenser; (ii) Poetry of the Metaphysical School; (iii) Poetry of the Cavalier Poets.
(i)  The School of Spenser
The Spenserians were the followers of Spenser. In spite of the changing conditions and literary tastes which resulted in a reaction against the diffuse, flamboyant, Italianate poetry which Spenser and Sidney had made fashionable during the sixteenth century, they preferred to follow Spenser and considered him as their master.
The most thorough-going disciples of Spenser during the reign of James I were Phineas Fletcher (1582-1648) and Giles Fletcher (1583-1623). They were both priests and Fellows of Cambridge University. Phineas Fletcher wrote a number of Spenserian pastorals and allegories. His most ambitious poem The Purple Island, portrays in a minutely detailed allegory the physical and mental constitution of man, the struggle between Temperance and his foes, the will of man and Satan. Though the poem follows the allegorical pattern of the Faerie Queene, it does not lift us to the realm of pure romance as does Spenser’s masterpiece, and at times the strain of the allegory becomes to unbearable.
Giles Fletcher was more lyrical and mystical than his brother, and he also made a happier choice of subjects. His Christ’s Victorie and Triumph in Heaven and Earth over and after Death (1610), which is an allegorical narrative describing in a lyrical strain the Atonement, Temptation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Christ, is a link between the religious poetry of Spenser and Milton. It is written in a flamboyant, diffuse style of Spenser, but its ethical aspect is in keeping with the seventeenth century theology which considered man as a puny creature in the divine scheme of salvation.
Other poets who wrote under the influence of Spenser were William Browne (1590-1645). George Wither (1588-1667) and William Drummond (1585-1649).
Browne’s important poetical work is Britannia’s Pastorals which shows all the characteristics of Elizabethan pastoral poetry. It is obviously inspired by Spenser’s Faerie Queene and Sidney’s Arcadia as it combines allegory with satire. It is a story of wooing and adventure, of the nymphs who change into streams and flowers. It also sings the praise of virtue and of poets and dead and living.
The same didactic tone and lyrical strain are noticed in the poetry of George Wither. His best-known poems are The Shepherd’s Hunting a series of personal eulogues; Fidella an heroic epistle of over twelve hundred lines; and Fair Virtue, the Mistress of Philarete, a sustained and detailed lyrical eulogy of an ideal woman. Most of Wither’s poetry is pastoral which is used by him to convey his personal experience. He writes in an easy, and homely style free from conceits. He often dwells on the charms of nature and consolation provided by songs. In his later years Wither wrote didactic and satirical verse, which earned for him the title of “our English Juvenal”.
Drummond who was a Scottish poet, wrote a number of pastorals, sonnets, songs, elegies and religious poems. His poetry is the product of a scholar of refined nature, high imaginative faculty, and musical ear. His indebtedness to Spenser, Sidney and Shakespeare in the matter of fine phraseology is quite obvious. The greatest and original quality of all his poetry is the sweetness and musical evolution in which he has few rivals even among the Elizabethan lyricists. His well-known poems are Tears on the Death of Maliades (an elegy), Sonnets, Flowers of Sion and Pastorals.
(ii)       The Poets of the Metaphysical School
The metaphysical poets were John Donne, Herrick, Thomas Carew, Richard Crashaw, Henry Vaughan, George Herbet and Lord Herbert of Cherbury. The leader of this school was Donne. They are called the metaphysical poets not because they are highly philosophical, but because their poetry is full of conceits, exaggerations, quibbling about the meanings of words, display of learning and far-fetched similes and metaphors. It was Dr. Johnson who in his essay on Abraham Cowley in his Lives of the Poets used the term ‘metaphysical’. There he wrote:
“About the beginning of the seventeenth century appeared a race of writers that may be termed the metaphysical poets. The metaphysical poets were men of learning, and to show their learning was their whole endeavour: but, unluckily resolving to show it in rhyme, instead of writing poetry, they only wrote verses and very often such verses as stood the trial of the finger better than of the ear; for the modulation was so imperfect that they were only found to be verses by counting the syllables.”
Though Dr. Johnson was prejudiced against the Metaphysical school of poets, and the above statement is full of exaggeration, yet he pointed out the salient characteristics of this school. One important feature of metaphysical school which Dr. Johnson mentioned was their “discovery of occult resemblances in things apparently unlike.” Moreover, he was absolutely right when he further remarked that the Metaphysical poets were perversely strange and strained: ‘The most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together; nature and art are ransacked for illustrations, comparisons, and allusions… Their wish was only to say what had never been said before”.
Dr. Johnson, however, did not fail to notice that beneath the superficial novelty of the metaphysical poets lay a fundamental originality:
“If they frequently threw away their wit upon false conceits, they likewise sometimes struck out unexpected truth; if the conceits were far-fetched, they were often worth the carriage. To write on their plan, it was at least necessary to read and think, No man could be born a metaphysical poet, nor assume to dignity of a writer, by descriptions copied from descriptions, by imitations borrowed from imitations, by traditional imagery, and volubility of syllables.”
The metaphysical poets were honest, original thinkers. They tried to analyse their feelings and experience—even the experience of love. They were also aware of the life, and were concerned with death, burial descent into hell etc. Though they hoped for immortality, they were obsessed by the consciousness of mortality which was often expressed in a mood of mawkish disgust.
John Donne (1537-1631), the leader of the Metaphysical school of poets, had a very chequered career until be became the Dean of St. Paul. Though his main work was to deliver religious sermons, he wrote poetry of a very high order. His best-known works are The Progress of the Soul; An Anatomy of the World, an elegy; and Epithalamium. His poetry can be divided into three parts: (1) Amorous (2) Metaphysical (3) Satirical. In his amorous lyrics which include his earliest work, he broke away from the Petrarcan model so popular among the Elizabethan poets, and expressed the experience of love in a realistic manner. His metaphysical and satirical works which from a major portion of his poetry, were written in later years. The Progress of the Soul and Metempsychosis, in which Donne pursues the passage of the soul through various transmigrations, including those of a bird and fish, is a fine illustration of his metaphysical poetry. A good illustration of his satire is his fourth satire describing the character of a bore. They were written in rhymed couplet, and influenced both Dryden and Pope.
Donne has often been compared to Browning on account of his metrical roughness, obscurity, ardent imagination, taste for metaphysics and unexpected divergence into sweet and delightful music. But there is one important difference between Donne and Browning. Donne is a poet of wit while Browning is a poet of ardent passion. Donne deliberately broke away from the Elizabethan tradition of smooth sweetness of verse, and introduced a harsh and stuccato method. His influence on the contemporary poets was far from being desirable, because whereas they imitated his harshness, they could not come up to the level of his original thought and sharp wit. Like Browning, Donne has no sympathy for the reader who cannot follow his keen and incisive thought, while his poetry is most difficult to understand because of its careless versification and excessive terseness.
Thus with Donne, the Elizabethan poetry with its mellifluousness, and richly observant imagination, came to an end, and the Caroline poetry with its harshness and deeply reflective imagination began. Though Shakespeare and Spenser still exerted some influence on the poets, yet Donne’s influence was more dominant.
Robert Herrick (1591-1674) wrote amorous as well as religious verse, but it is on account of the poems of the former type—love poems, for which he is famous. He has much in common with the Elizabethan song writers, but on account of his pensive fantasy, and a meditative strain especially in his religious verse, Herrick is included in the metaphysical school of Donne.
Thomas Carew (1598-1639), on whom the influence of Donne was stronger, was the finest lyric writer of his age. Though he lacks the spontaneity and freshness of Herrick, he is superior to him in fine workmanship. Moreover, though possessing the strength and vitality of Donne’s verse, Carew’s verse is neither rugged nor obscure as that of the master. His Persuasions of Love is a fine piece of rhythmic cadence and harmony.
Richard Crashaw (1613?-1649) possessed a temperament different from that of Herrick or Carew. He was a fundamentally religious poet, and his best work is The Flaming Heart. Though less imaginative than Herrick, and intellectually inferior to Carew, at times Crashaw reaches the heights of rare excellence in his poetry.
Henry Vaughan (1622-1695), though a mystic like Crashaw, was equally at home in sacred as well as secular verse. Though lacking the vigour of Crashaw, Vaughan is more uniform and clear, tranquil and deep.
George Herbert (1593-1633) is the most widely read of all the poets belonging to the metaphysical school, except, of course, Donne. This is due to the clarity of his expression and the transparency of his conceits. In his religious verse there is simplicity as well as natural earnestness. Mixed with the didactic strain there is also a current of quaint humour in his poetry.
Lord Herbert of Cherbury is inferior as a verse writer to his brother George Herbert, but he is best remembered as the author of an autobiography. Moreover, he was the first poet to use the metre which was made famous by Tennyson in In Memoriam.
Other poets who are also included in the group of Metaphysicals are Abrahanm Cowley (1618-1667), Andrew Marvel (1621-1672) and Edmund Waller (1606-1687). Cowley is famous for his ‘Pindaric Odes’, which influenced English poetry throughout the eighteenth century. Marvel is famous for his loyal friendship with Milton, and because his poetry shows the conflict between the two schools of Spenser and Donne. Waller was the first to use the ‘closed’ couplet which dominated English poetry for the next century.
The Metaphysical poets show the spiritual and moral fervour of the Puritans as well as the frank amorous tendency of the Elizabethans. Sometimes like the Elizabethans they sing of making the best of life as it lasts—Gather ye Rosebuds while ye may; and at other times they seek more permanent comfort in the delight of spiritual experience.
(iii)  The Cavalier Poets
Whereas the metaphysical poets followed the lead of Donne, the cavalier poets followed Ben Jonson. Jonson followed the classical method in his poetry as in his drama. He imitated Horace by writing, like him, satires, elegies, epistles and complimentary verses. But though his verse possess classical dignity and good sense, it does not have its grace and ease. His lyrics and songs also differ from those of Shakespeare. Whereas Shakespeare’s songs are pastoral, popular and ‘artless’, Jonson’s are sophisticated, particularised, and have intellectual and emotional rationality.
Like the ‘metaphysical’, the label ‘Cavalier’ is not correct, because a ‘Cavalier’ means a royalist—one who fought on the side of the king during the Civil War. The followers of Ben Jonson were not all royalists, but this label once used has stuck to them. Moreover, there is not much difference between the Cavalier and Metaphysical poets. Some Cavalier poets like Carew, Suckling and Lovelace were also disciples of Donne. Even some typical poems, of Donne and Ben Jonson are very much alike. These are, therefore, not two distinct schools, but they represented two groups of poets who followed two different masters—Donne and Ben Jonson. Poets of both the schools, of course, turned away from the long, Old-fashioned works of the Spenserians, and concentrated their efforts on short poems and lyrics dealing with the themes of love of woman and the love or fear of God. The Cavalier poets normally wrote about trivial subjects, while the Metaphysical poets wrote generally about serious subjects.
The important Cavalier poets were Herrick, Lovelace, Suckling and Carew. Though they wrote generally in a lighter vein, yet they could not completely escape the tremendous seriousness of Puritanism. We have already dealt with Carew and Herrick among the metaphysical group of poets. Sir John Suckling (1609-1642), a courtier of Charles I, wrote poetry because it was considered a gentleman’s accomplishment in those days. Most of his poems are trivial; written in doggerel verse. Sir Richard Lovelace (1618-1658) was another follower of King Charles I. His volume of love lyrics—Lucasta—are on a higher plane than Suckling’s work, and some of his poems like “To Lucasta’, and “To Althea, from Prison’, have won a secure place in English poetry.
(iv)  John Milton (1608-1674)
Milton was the greatest poet of the Puritan age, and he stands head and shoulders above all his contemporaries. Though he completely identified himself with Puritanism, he possessed such a strong personality that he cannot be taken to represent any one but himself. Paying a just tribute to the dominating personality of Milton, Wordsworth wrote the famous line:
     They soul was like a star, and dwelt apart.
Though Milton praised Spenser, Shakespeare, and Ben Jonson as poets, he was different from them all. We do not find the exuberance of Spenser in his poetry. Unlike Shakespeare Milton is superbly egoistic. In his verse, which is harmonious and musical, we find no trace of the harshness of Ben Jonson. In all his poetry, Milton sings about himself and his own lofty soul. Being a deeply religious man and also endowed with artistic merit of a high degree, he combined in himself the spirits of the Renaissance and the Reformation. In fact no other English poet was so profoundly religious and so much an artist.
Milton was a great scholar of classical as well as Hebrew literature. He was also a child of the Renaissance, and a great humanist. As an artist he may be called the last Elizabethan. From his young days he began to look upon poetry as a serious business of life; and he made up his mind to dedicate himself to it, and, in course of time, write a poem “which the world would not let die.”
Milton’s early poetry is lyrical. The important poems of the early period are: The Hymn on the Nativity (1629); L’Allegro, Il Penseroso (1632); Lycidas (1637); and Comus (1934). The Hymn, written when Milton was only twenty-one, shows that his lyrical genius was already highly developed. The complementary poems, L’Allego and Il Penseroso, are full of very pleasing descriptions of rural scenes and recreations in Spring and Autumn. L’Allegro represents the poet in a gay and merry mood and it paints an idealised picture of rustic life from dawn to dusk. Il Penseroso is written in serious and meditative strain. In it the poet praises the passive joys of the contemplative life. The poet extols the pensive thoughts of a recluse who spends his days contemplating the calmer beauties of nature. In these two poems, the lyrical genius of Milton is at its best.
Lycidas is a pastoral elegy and it is the greatest of its type in English literature. It was written to mourn the death of Milton’s friend, Edward King, but it is also contains serious criticism of contemporary religion and politics.
Comus marks the development of the Milton’s mind from the merely pastoral and idyllic to the more serious and purposive tendency. The Puritanic element antagonistic to the prevailing looseness in religion and politics becomes more prominent. But in spite of its serious and didactic strain, it retains the lyrical tone which is so characteristic of Milton’s early poetry.
Besides these poems a few great sonnets such as When the Assault was intended to the City, also belong to Milton’s early period. Full of deeply-felt emotions, these sonnets are among the noblest in the English language, and they bridge the gulf between the lyrical tone of Milton’s early poetry, and the deeply moral and didactic tone of his later poetry.
When the Civil War broke out in 1642, Milton threw himself heart and soul into the struggle against King Charles I. He devoted the best years of his life, when his poetical powers were at their peak, to this national movement. Finding himself unfit to fight as a soldier he became the Latin Secretary to Cromwell. This work he continued to do till 1649, when Charles I was defeated and Common wealth was proclaimed under Cromwell. But when he returned to poetry to accomplish the ideal he had in his mind, Milton found himself completely blind. Moreover, after the death of Cromwell and the coming of Charles II to the throne, Milton became friendless. His own wife and daughters turned against him. But undaunted by all these misfortunes, Milton girded up his loins and wrote his greatest poetical works—Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes.
“The subject-matter of Paradise Lost consists of the casting out from Heaven of the fallen angels, their planning of revenge in Hell, Satan’s flight, Man’s temptation and fall from grace, and the promise of redemption. Against this vast background Milton projects his own philosophy of the purposes of human existence, and attempts “to justify the ways of God to men.” On account of the richness and profusion of its imagery, descriptions of strange lands and seas, and the use of strange geographical, names, Paradise Lost is called the last great Elizabethan poem. But its perfectly organized design, its firm outlines and Latinised diction make it essentially a product of the neo—classical or the Augustan period in English Literature. In Paradise Lost the most prominent is the figure of Satan who possesses the qualities of Milton himself, and who represents the indomitable heroism of the Puritans against Charles I.
What though the field be lost?
All is not lost; the unconquerable will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield
And what is else, not to be overcome.
It is written in blank verse of the Elizabethan dramatist, but it is hardened and strengthened to suit the requirements of an epic poet.
Paradise Regained which deals with subject of Temptation in the Wilderness is written, unlike Paradise Lost, in the form of discussion and not action. Not so sublime as Paradise Lost, It has a quieter atmosphere, but it does not betray a decline in poetic power. The mood of the poet has become different. The central figure is Christ, having the Puritanic austere and stoic qualities rather than the tenderness which is generally associated with him.
In Samson Agonistes Milton deals with an ancient Hebrew legend of Samson, the mighty champion of Israel, now blind and scorned, working as a slave among Philistines. This tragedy, which is written on the Greek model, is charged with the tremendous personality of Milton himself, who in the character of the blind giant, Samson, surrounded by enemies, projects his own unfortunate experience in the reign of Charles II.
Eyeless in Gaza at the Mill with slaves.
The magnificent lyrics in this tragedy, which express the heroic faith of the long suffering Puritans, represent the summit of technical excellence achieved by Milton.
(b)  Jacobean and Caroline Drama
After Shakespeare the drama in England suffered and a decline during the reigns of James I and Charles I. The heights reached by Shakespeare could not be kept by later dramatists, and drama in the hands of Beaumont and Fletcher and others became, what may be called, ‘decadent’. In other words, the real spirit of the Elizabethan drama disappeared, and only the outward show and trappings remained. For example, sentiment took the place of character; eloquent and moving speeches, instead of being subservient to the revelation of the fine shades of character, became important in themselves; dreadful deeds were described not with a view to throwing light on the working of the human heart as was done by Shakespeare, but to produce rhetorical effect on the audience. Moreover, instead of fortitude and courage, and sterner qualities, which were held in high esteem by the Elizabethan dramatists, resignation to fate expressed in the form of broken accents of pathos and woe, became the main characteristics of the hero. Whereas Shakespeare and other Elizabethan dramatists took delight in action and the emotions associated with it, the Jacobean and Caroline dramatists gave expression to passive suffering and lack of mental and physical vigour. Moreover, whereas the Elizabethan dramatists were sometimes, coarse and showed bad taste, these later dramatists were positively and deliberately indecent. Instead of devoting all their capacity to fully illuminating the subject in hand, they made it as an instrument of exercising their own power of rhetoric and pedantry. Thus in the hands of these dramatists of the inferior type the romantic drama which had achieved great heights during the Elizabethan period, suffered a terrible decline, and when the Puritans closed the theatres in 1642, it died a natural death.
The greatest dramatist of the Jacobean period was Ben Jonson who has already been dealt with in the Renaissance Period, as much of his work belongs to it. The other dramatists of the Jacobean and Caroline periods are John Marston (1575-1634); Thomas Dekker (1570-1632); Thomas Heywood (1575-1650); Thomas Middleton (1580-1627); Cyril Tourneur (1575-1626); John Webster (1575-1625?); John Fletcher (1579-1625); Francis Beaumont (1584-1616); Philip Massinger (1583-1640); John Ford (1586-1639); and James Shirley (1596-1666).
John Marston wrote in a violent and extravagant style. His melodramas Antonia and Mellida and Antonia’s Revenge are full of forceful and impressive passages. In The Malcontent, The Dutch Courtezan, and Parasitaster, or Fawne, Marston criticised the society in an ironic and lyrical manner. His best play is Eastward Hoe, an admirable comedy of manners, which portrays realistically the life of a tradesman, the inner life of a middle class household, the simple honesty of some and the vanity of others.
Thomas Dekker, unlike Marston, was gentle and free from coarseness and cynicism. Some of his plays possess grace and freshness which are not to be found even in the plays of Ben Jonson. He is more of a popular dramatist than any of his contemporaries, and he is at his best when portraying scenes from life, and describing living people with an irresistible touch of romanticism. The gayest of his comedies is The Shoemaker’s Holiday, in which the hero, Simon Eyre, a jovial London shoemaker, and his shrewish wife are vividly described. In Old Fortunates Dekker’s poetical powers are seen at their best. The scene in which the goddess Fortune appears with her train of crowned beggars and kings in chains, is full of grandeur. His best-known work, however, is The Honest Whore, in which the character of an honest courtesan is beautifully portrayed. The most original character in the play is her old father, Orlando Friscoboldo, a rough diamond. This play is characterised by liveliness, pure sentiments and poetry.
Thomas Heywood resembles very much Dekker in his gentleness and good temper. He wrote a large number of plays—two hundred and twenty—of which only twenty-four are extant. Most of his plays deal with the life of the cities. In The Foure Prentices of London, with the Conquest of Jerusalem, he flatters the citizens of London. The same note appears in his Edward VI, The Troubles of Queene Elizabeth and The Fair Maid of the Exchange. In the Fair Maid of the West, which is written in a patriotic vein, sea adventures and the life of an English port are described in a lively fashion. His best known play is A Woman Kilde with Kindness, a domestic tragedy written in a simple form, in which he gives us a gentle picture of a happy home destroyed by the wife’s treachery, the husband’s suffering and his banishment of his wife, her remose and agony, and death at the moment when the husband has forgiven her. Instead of the spirit of vengeance as generally prevails in such domestic plays, it is free from any harshness and vindictiveness. In The English Traveller we find the same generosity and kindliness. On account of his instinctive goodness and wide piety, Heywood was called by Lamb as a “sort of prose Shakespeare.”
Thomas Middleton, like Dekker and Heywood, wrote about the city of London. But instead flattering the citizens, he criticised and ridiculed their follies like Ben Jonson. He is mainly the writer of comedies dealing the seamy side of London life, and the best-known of them are: Michaelmas Terms; A Trick to Catch the Old One, A Mad World, My Masters, Your Five Gallants, A Chaste Mayd in Cheapside. They are full of swindlers and dupes. The dramatist shows a keen observation of real life and admirable dexterity in presenting it. In his later years Middleton turned to tragedy. Women beware Women deals with the scandalous crimes of the Italian courtesan Bianca Capello. Some tragedies or romantic dramas as A Faire Quarrel, The Changeling and The Spanish Gipsie, were written by Middleton in collaboration with the actor William Rowley.
Cyril Tourneur wrote mostly melodramas full of crimes and torture. His two gloomy dramas are: The Revenge Tragedies, and The Atheist’s Tragedie, which, written in a clear and rapid style, have an intense dramatic effect.
John Webster wrote a number of plays, some in collaboration with others. His best-known plays are The White Devil or Vittoria Corombona and the Duchess of Malfi which are full of physical horrors. In the former play the crimes of the Italian beauty Cittoria Accorambona are described in a most fascinating manner. The Duchess of Malfi is the tragedy of the young widowed duchess who is driven to madness and death by her two brothers because she has married her steward Antonio. The play is full of pathos and touches of fine poetry. Though a melodrama full of horror and unbearable suffering, it has been raised to a lofty plane by the truly poetic gift of the dramatist who has a knack of coining unforgettable phrases.
John Fletcher wrote a few plays which made him famous. He then exploited his reputation to the fullest extent by organising a kind of workshop in which he wrote plays more rapidly in collaboration with other dramatists in order to meet the growing demand. The plays which he wrote in collaboration with Francis Beaumont are the comedies such as The Scornful Ladie and The Knight of the Burning Pestle; tragi-comedies like Philaster; pure tragedies such as The Maides Tragedy and A King and no King. The Knight of the Burning Pestle is the gayest and liveliest comedy of that time and it has such freshness that it seems to have been written only yesterday. Philaster and The Maides Tragedy are written in Shakespearean style, but they have more outward charm than real merit.
Fletcher alone wrote a number of plays of which the best known are The Tragedies of Vanentinian, The Tragedie of Bonduca, The Loyal Subject, The Humorous Lieutenant. His Monsieur Thomas and The Wild Goose Chase are fine comedies.
Philip Massinger wrote tragedies as Thierry and Theodoret and The False One; comedies as The Little French Lawyer, The Spanish Curate and The Beggar’s Bush, in collaboration with Fletcher. Massinger combined his intellectualism with Fletcher’s lively ease. It was Massinger who dominated the stage after Fletcher. He wrote thirty seven plays of which eighteen are extant. In his comedies we find the exaggerations or eccentricities which are the characteristics of Ben Jonson. In his tragedies we notice the romanticism of Fletcher. But the most individual quality of Massinger’s plays is that they are plays of ideas, and he loves to stage oratorical debates and long pleadings before tribunals. His best comedies are A New Way to Pay Old Debts, The City Madam and The Guardian; his important serious plays are The Fatal Dowry, The Duke of Millaine, The Unnatural Combat. The Main of Honour, The Bond-Man, The Renegado, The Roman Actor, and The Picture. Of all these A New Way to Pay Old Debts is his most successful play, in which the chief character, the usurer, Sir Charles Overreach reminds us of Ben Jonson’s Volpone. All the plays of Massinger show careful workmanship, though a great deterioration had crept in the art of drama at the time when he was writing. When not inspired he becomes monotonous, but he is always a conscientious writer.
John Ford, who was the contemporary of Massinger, collaborated with various dramatists. He was a true poet, but a fatalist, melancholy and gloomy person. Besides the historical play, Perkin Warbeck, he wrote The Lover’s Melancholy, ‘Tis Pity Shee’s a Whore, The Broken Heart and Love’s Sacrifice, all of which show a skilful handling of emotions and grace of style. His decadent attitude is seen in the delight he takes in depicting suffering, but he occupies a high place as an artist.
James Shirley, who as Lamb called him, ‘the last of a great race’, though a prolific writer, shows no originality. His best comedies are The Traytor, The Cardinall, The Wedding, Changes, Hyde Park, The Gamester and The Lady of Pleasure, which realistically represent the contemporary manners, modes and literary styles. He also wrote tragi-comedies or romantic comedies, such as Young Admirall, The Opportunitie, and The Imposture. In all these Shirley continued the tradition formed by Fletcher, Tourneur and Webster, but he broke no new ground.
Besides these there were a number of minor dramatists, but the drama suffered a serious setback when the theatres were closed in 1642 by the order of the Parliament controlled by the Puritans. They were opened only after eighteen years later at the Restoration.
(c)  Jacobean and Caroline Prose
This period was rich in prose. The great prose writers were Bacon, Burton, Milton, Sir Thomas Browne, Jeremy Tayler and Clarendon. English prose which had been formed into a harmonious and pliable instrument by the Elizabethans, began to be used in various ways, as narrative as well as a vehicle for philosophical speculation and scientific knowledge. For the first time the great scholars began to write in English rather than Latin. The greatest single influence which enriched the English prose was the Authorised Version of the Bible (English translation of the Bible), which was the result of the efforts of scholars who wrote in a forceful, simple and pure Anglo-Saxon tongue avoiding all that was rough, foreign and affected. So the Bible became the supreme example of earlier English prose-style—simple, plain and natural. As it was read by the people in general, its influence was all-pervasive.
Francis Bacon (1561-1628). Bacon belongs both to the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. He was a lawyer possessing great intellectual gifts. Ben Jonson wrote of him, ‘no man ever coughed or turned aside from him without a loss”. As a prose-writer he is the master of the aphoristic style. He has the knack of compressing his wisdom in epigrams which contain the quintessence of his rich experience of life in a most concentrated form. His style is clear, lucid but terse and that is why one has to make an effort to understand his meaning. It lacks spaciousness, ease and rhythm. The reader has always to be alert because each sentence is packed with meaning.
Bacon is best-known for his Essays, in which he has given his views about the art of managing men and getting on successfully in life. They may be considered as a kind of manual for statesmen and princes. The tone of the essay is that of a worldly man who wants to secure material success and prosperity. That is why their moral standard is not high.
Besides the Essays, Bacon wrote Henry VII the first piece of scientific history in the English language; and The Advancement of Learning which is a brilliant popular exposition of the cause of scientific investigation. Though Bacon himself did not make any great scientific discovery, he popularized science through his writings. On account of his being the intellectual giant of his time, he is credited with the authorship of the plays of Shakespeare.
Robert Burton (1577-1640) is known for his The Anatomy of Melancholy, which is a book of its own type in the English language. In it he has analysed human melancholy, described its effect and prescribed its cure. But more than that the book deals with all the ills that flesh is heir to, and the author draws his material from writers, ancient as well as modern. It is written in a straightforward, simple and vigorous style, which at times is marked with rhythm and beauty.
Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682) belonged entirely to a different category. With him the manner of writing is more important than the substance. He is, therefore, the first deliberate stylist in the English language, the forerunner of Charles Lamb and Stevenson. Being a physician with a flair for writing, he wrote Religio Medici in which he set down his beliefs and thoughts, the religion of the medical man. In this book, which is written in an amusing, personal style, the conflict between the author’s intellect and his religious beliefs, gives it a peculiar charm. Every sentence has the stamp of Browne’s individuality. His other important prose work is Hydriotaphia or The Urn Burial, in which meditating on time and antiquity Browne reaches the heights of rhetorical splendour. He is greater as an artist than a thinker, and his prose is highly complex in its structure and almost poetic in richness of language.
Other writers of his period, who were, like Browne, the masters of rhetorical prose, were Milton, Jeremy Taylor and Clarendon. Most of Milton’s prose writings are concerned with the questions at issue between the Parliament and the King. Being the champion of freedom in every form, he wrote a forceful tract On the Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, in which he strongly advocated the right to divorce. His most famous prose work is Areopagitica which was occasioned by a parliamentary order for submitting the press to censorship. Here Milton vehemently criticised the bureaucratic control over genius. Though as a pamphleteer Milton at times indulges in downright abuse, and he lacks humour and lightness of touch, yet there is that inherent sublimity in his prose writings, which we associate with him as a poet and man. When he touches a noble thought, the wings of his imagination lift him to majestic heights.
Opposed to Milton, the greatest writer in the parliamentary struggle was the Earl of Clarendon (1609-1674). His prose is stately, and he always writes with a bias which is rather offensive, as we find in his History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England.
Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667), a bishop, made himself famous by his literary sermons. On account of the gentle charm of his language, the richness of his images, and his profoundly human imagination, Taylor is considered as one of the masters of English eloquence. His best prose famous book of devotion among English men and women.
Thus during this period we find English prose developing into a grandiloquent and rich instrument capable of expressing all types of ideas—scientific, religious, philosophic, poetic, and personal.

The Restoration Period (1660-1700)

After the Restoration in 1660, when Charles II came to the throne, there was a complete repudiation of the Puritan ideals and way of living. In English literature the period from 1660 to 1700 is called the period of Restoration, because monarchy was restored in England, and Charles II, the son of Charles I who had been defeated and beheaded, came back to England from his exile in France and became the King.

It is called the Age of Dryden, because Dryden was the dominating and most representative literary figure of the Age. As the Puritans who were previously controlling the country, and were supervising her literary and moral and social standards, were finally defeated, a reaction was launched against whatever they held sacred. All restraints and discipline were thrown to the winds, and a wave of licentiousness and frivolity swept the country. Charles II and his followers who had enjoyed a gay life in France during their exile, did their best to introduce that type of foppery and looseness in England also. They renounced old ideals and demanded that English poetry and drama should follow the style to which they had become accustomed in the gaiety of Paris. Instead of having Shakespeare and the Elizabethans as their models, the poets and dramatists of the Restoration period began to imitate French writers and especially their vices.

The result was that the old Elizabethan spirit with its patriotism, its love of adventure and romance, its creative vigour, and the Puritan spirit with its moral discipline and love of liberty, became things of the past. For a time in poetry, drama and prose nothing was produced which could compare satisfactorily with the great achievements of the Elizabethans, of Milton, and even of minor writers of the Puritan age. But then the writers of the period began to evolve something that was characteristic of the times and they made two important contributions to English literature in the form of realism and a tendency to preciseness.
In the beginning realism took an ugly shape, because the writers painted the real pictures of the corrupt society and court. They were more concerned with vices rather than with virtues. The result was a coarse and inferior type of literature. Later this tendency to realism became more wholesome, and the writers tried to portray realistically human life as they found it—its good as well as bad side, its internal as well as external shape.
The tendency to preciseness which ultimately became the chief characteristic of the Restoration period, made a lasting contribution to English literature. It emphasised directness and simplicity of expression, and counteracted the tendency of exaggeration and extravagance which was encouraged during the Elizabethan and the Puritan ages. Instead of using grandiloquent phrases, involved sentences full of Latin quotations and classical allusions, the Restoration writers, under the influence of French writers, gave emphasis to reasoning rather than romantic fancy, and evolved an exact, precise way of writing, consisting of short, clear-cut sentences without any unnecessary word. The Royal Society, which was established during this period enjoined on all its members to use ‘a close, naked, natural way of speaking and writing, as near the mathematical plainness as they can”. Dryden accepted this rule for his prose, and for his poetry adopted the easiest type of verse-form—the heroic couplet. Under his guidance, the English writers evolved a style—precise, formal and elegant—which is called the classical style, and which dominated English literature for more than a century.
(a)  Restoration Poetry
John Dryden (1631-1700). The Restoration poetry was mostly satirical, realistic and written in the heroic couplet, of which Dryden was the supreme master. He was the dominating figure of the Restoration period, and he made his mark in the fields of poetry, drama and prose. In the field of poetry he was, in fact, the only poet worth mentioning. In his youth he came under the influence of Cowley, and his early poetry has the characteristic conceits and exaggerations of the metaphysical school. But in his later years he emancipated himself from the false taste and artificial style of the metaphysical writers, and wrote in a clear and forceful style which laid the foundation of the classical school of poetry in England.
The poetry of Dryden can be conveniently divided under three heads—Political Satires, Doctrinal Poems and The Fables. Of his political satires, Absolem and Achitophel and The Medal are well-known. In Absolem and Achitophel, which is one of the greatest political satires in the English language, Dryden defended the King against the Earl of Shaftesbury who is represented as Achitophel. It contains powerful character studies of Shaftesbury and of the Duke of Buckingham who is represented as Zimri. The Medal is another satirical poem full of invective against Shaftesbury and MacFlecknoe. It also contains a scathing personal attack on Thomas Shadwell who was once a friend of Dryden.
The two great doctrinal poems of Dryden are Religio Laici and The Hind and the Panther. These poems are neither religious nor devotional, but theological and controversial. The first was written when Dryden was a Protestant, and it defends the Anglican Church. The second written when Dryden had become a Catholic, vehemently defends Catholicism. They, therefore, show Dryden’s power and skill of defending any position he took up, and his mastery in presenting an argument in verse.
The Fables, which were written during the last years of Dryden’s life, show no decrease in his poetic power. Written in the form of a narrative, they entitle Dryden to rank among the best story-tellers in verse in England. The Palamon and Arcite, which is based on Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale, gives us an opportunity of comparing the method and art of a fourteenth century poet with one belonging to the seventeenth century. Of the many miscellaneous poems of Dryden, Annus Mirabilis is a fine example of his sustained narrative power. His Alexander’s Feast is one of the best odes in the English language.
The poetry of Dryden possess all the characteristics of the Restoration period and is therefore thoroughly representative of that age. It does not have the poetic glow, the spiritual fervour, the moral loftiness and philosophical depth which were sadly lacking in the Restoration period. But it has the formalism, the intellectual precision, the argumentative skill and realism which were the main characteristics of that age. Though Dryden does not reach great poetic heights, yet here and there he gives us passages of wonderful strength and eloquence. His reputation lies in his being great as a satirist and reasoner in verse. In fact in these two capacities he is still the greatest master in English literature. Dryden’s greatest contribution to English poetry was his skilful use of the heroic couplet, which became the accepted measure of serious English poetry for many years.
(b)  Restoration Drama
In 1642 the theatres were closed by the authority of the parliament which was dominated by Puritans and so no good plays were written from 1642 till the Restoration (coming back of monarchy in England with the accession of Charles II to the throne) in 1660 when the theatres were re-opened. The drama in England after 1660, called the Restoration drama, showed entirely new trends on account of the long break with the past. Moreover, it was greatly affected by the spirit of the new age which was deficient in poetic feeling, imagination and emotional approach to life, but laid emphasis on prose as the medium of expression, and intellectual, realistic and critical approach to life and its problems. As the common people still under the influence of Puritanism had no love for the theatres, the dramatists had to cater to the taste of the aristocratic class which was highly fashionable, frivolous, cynical and sophisticated. The result was that unlike the Elizabethan drama which had a mass appeal, had its roots in the life of the common people and could be legitimately called the national drama, the Restoration drama had none of these characteristics. Its appeal was confined to the upper strata of society whose taste was aristocratic, and among which the prevailing fashions and etiquettes were foreign and extravagant.
As imagination and poetic feelings were regarded as ‘vulgar enthusiasm’ by the dictators of the social life. But as ‘actual life’ meant the life of the aristocratic class only, the plays of this period do not give us a picture of the whole nation. The most popular form of drama was the Comedy of Manners which portrayed the sophisticated life of the dominant class of society—its gaiety, foppery, insolence and intrigue. Thus the basis of the Restoration drama was very narrow. The general tone of this drama was most aptly described by Shelley:
Comedy loses its ideal universality: wit succeeds humour; we laugh from self-complacency and triumph; instead of pleasure, malignity, sarcasm and contempt, succeed to sympathetic merriment; we hardly laugh, but we smile. Obscenity, which is ever blasphemy against the divine beauty of life, becomes, from the very veil which it assumes, more active if less disgusting; it is a monster for which the corruption of society for ever brings forth new food, which it devours in secret.
These new trends in comedy are seen in Dryden’s Wild Gallant (1663), Etheredge’s (1635-1691) The Comical Revenge or Love in a Tub (1664), Wycherley’s The Country Wife and The Plain Dealer, and the plays of Vanbrugh and Farquhar. But the most gifted among all the Restoration dramatist was William Congreve (1670-1720) who wrote all his best plays he was thirty years of age. He well-known comedies are Love for Love (1695) and The Way of the World (1700).
It is mainly on account of his remarkable style that Congreve is put at the head of the Restoration drama. No English dramatist has even written such fine prose for the stage as Congreve did. He balances, polishes and sharpens his sentences until they shine like chiselled instruments for an electrical experiment, through which passes the current in the shape of his incisive and scintillating wit. As the plays of Congreve reflect the fashions and foibles of the upper classes whose moral standards had become lax, they do not have a universal appeal, but as social documents their value is very great. Moreover, though these comedies were subjected to a very severe criticism by the Romantics like Shelley and Lamb, they are now again in great demand and there is a revival of interest in Restoration comedy.
In tragedy, the Restoration period specialised in Heroic Tragedy, which dealt with themes of epic magnitude. The heroes and heroines possessed superhuman qualities. The purpose of this tragedy was didactic—to inculcate virtues in the shape of bravery and conjugal love. It was written in the ‘heroic couplet’ in accordance with the heroic convention derived from France that ‘heroic metre’ should be used in such plays. In it declamation took the place of natural dialogue. Moreover, it was characterised by bombast, exaggeration and sensational effects wherever possible. As it was not based on the observations of life, there was no realistic characterisation, and it inevitably ended happily, and virtue was always rewarded.
The chief protagonist and writer of heroic tragedy was Dryden. Under his leadership the heroic tragedy dominated the stage from 1660 to 1678. His first experiment in this type of drama was his play Tyrannic love, and in The Conquest of Granada he brought it to its culminating point. But then a severe condemnation of this grand manner of writing tragedy was started by certain critics and playwrights, of which Dryden was the main target. It has its effect on Dryden who in his next play Aurangzeb exercised greater restraint and decorum, and in the Prologue to this play he admitted the superiority of Shakespeare’s method, and his own weariness of using the heroic couplet which is unfit to describe human passions adequately: He confesses that he:
Grows weary of his long-loved mistress Rhyme,
Passions too fierce to be in fetters bound,
And Nature flies him like enchanted ground;
What verse can do, he has performed in this
Which he presumes the most correct of his;
But spite of all his pride, a secret shame
Invades his breast at Shakespeare’s sacred name.
Dryden’s altered attitude is seen more clearly in his next play All for Love (1678). Thus he writes in the preface: “In my style I have professed to imitate Shakespeare; which that I might perform more freely, I have disencumbered myself from rhyme.” He shifts his ground from the typical heroic tragedy in this play, drops rhyme and questions the validity of the unities of time, place and action in the conditions of the English stage. He also gives up the literary rules observed by French dramatists and follows the laws of drama formulated by the great dramatists of England. Another important way in which Dryden turns himself away from the conventions of the heroic tragedy, is that he does not give a happy ending to this play.
(c) Restoration Prose
The Restoration period was deficient in poetry and drama, but in prose it holds its head much higher. Of course, it cannot be said that the Restoration prose enjoys absolute supremacy in English literature, because on account of the fall of poetic power, lack of inspiration, preference of the merely practical and prosaic subjects and approach to life, it could not reach those heights which it attained in the preceding period in the hands of Milton and Browne, or in the succeeding ages in the hands of Lamb, Hazlitt, Ruskin and Carlyle. But it has to be admitted that it was during the Restoration period that English prose was developed as a medium for expressing clearly and precisely average ideas and feelings about miscellaneous matters for which prose is really meant. For the first time a prose style was evolved which could be used for plain narrative, argumentative exposition of intricate subjects, and the handling of practical business. The elaborate Elizabethan prose was unsuited to telling a plain story. The epigrammatic style of Bacon, the grandiloquent prose of Milton and the dreamy harmonies of Browne could not be adapted to scientific, historical, political and philosophical writings, and, above all, to novel-writing. Thus with the change in the temper of the people, a new type of prose, as was developed in the Restoration period, was essential.
As in the fields of poetry and drama, Dryden was the chief leader and practitioner of the new prose. In his greatest critical work Essay of Dramatic Poesy, Dryden presented a model of the new prose, which was completely different from the prose of Bacon, Milton and Browne. He wrote in a plain, simple and exact style, free from all exaggerations. His Fables and the Preface to them are fine examples of the prose style which Dryden was introducing. This style is, in fact, the most admirably suited to strictly prosaic purposes—correct but not tame, easy but not slipshod, forcible but not unnatural, eloquent but not declamatory, graceful but not lacking in vigour. Of course, it does not have charm and an atmosphere which we associate with imaginative writing, but Dryden never professed to provide that also. On the whole, for general purposes, for which prose medium is required, the style of Dryden is the most suitable.
Other writers, of the period, who came under the influence of Dryden, and wrote in a plain, simple but precise style, were Sir William Temple, John Tillotson and George Saville better known as Viscount Halifax. Another famous writer of the period was Thomas Sprat who is better known for the distinctness with which he put the demand for new prose than for his own writings. Being a man of science himself he published his History of the Royal Society (1667) in which he expressed the public demand for a popularised style free from “this vicious abundance of phrase, this trick of metaphors, this volubility of tongue.” The Society expected from all its members “a close, natural way of speaking—positive expressions, clear senses, a native  easiness bringing all things as near the mathematical plainness as they can, and preferring the language of artisans, country men and merchants before that of wits and scholars.”
Though these writers wrote under the influence of Dryden, they also, to a certain extent, helped in the evolution of the new prose style by their own individual approach. That is why the prose of the Restoration period is free from monotony.
John Bunyan (1628-1688). Next to Dryden, Bunyan was the greatest prose-writer of the period. Like Milton, he was imbued with the spirit of Puritanism, and in fact, if Milton is the greatest poet of Puritanism, Bunyan is its greatest story-teller. To him also goes the credit of being the precursor of the English novel. His greatest work is The Pilgrim’s Progress. Just as Milton wrote his Paradise Lost “to justify the ways to God to men”, Bunyan’s aim in The Pilgrim’s Progress was“to lead men and women into God’s way, the way of salvation, through a simple parable with homely characters and exciting events”. Like Milton, Bunyan was endowed with a highly developed imaginative faculty and artistic instinct. Both were deeply religious, and both, though they distrusted fiction, were the masters of fiction. Paradise Lost and The Pilgrim’s Progress have still survived among thousands of equally fervent religious works of the seventeenth century because both of them are masterpieces of literary art, which instruct as well please even those who have no faith in those instructions.
In The Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan has described the pilgrimage of the Christian to the Heavenly City, the trials, tribulations and temptations which he meets in the way in the form of events and characters, who abstract and help him, and his ultimately reaching the goal. It is written in the form of allegory. The style is terse, simple and vivid, and it appeals to the cultured as well as to the unlettered. As Dr. Johnson remarked: “This is the great merit of the book, that the most cultivated man cannot find anything to praise more highly, and the child knows nothing more amusing.” The Pilgrim’s Progress has all the basic requirements of the traditional type of English novel. It has a good story; the characters are interesting and possess individuality and freshness; the conversation is arresting; the descriptions are vivid; the narrative continuously moves towards a definite end, above all, it has a literary style through which the writer’s personality clearly emanates. The Pilgrim’s Progress is a work of superb literary genius, and it is unsurpassed as an example of plain English.
Bunyan’s other works are: Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666), a kind of spiritual autobiography; The Holy War, which like The Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory, but the characters are less alive, and there is less variety; The Life and Death of Mr. Badman (1680) written in the form of a realistic novel, gives a picture of low life, and it is second in value and literary significance to The Pilgrim’s Progress.
The prose of Bunyan shows clearly the influence of the English translation of the Bible (The Authorized Version). He was neither a scholar, nor did he belong to any literary school; all that he knew and learned was derived straight from the English Bible. He was an unlettered country tinker believing in righteousness and in disgust with the corruption and degradation that prevailed all around him. What he wrote came straight from his heart, and he wrote in the language which came natural to him. Thus his works born of moral earnestness and extreme sincerity have acquired true literary significance and wide and enduring popularity. It is quite true to call him the pioneer of the modern novel, because he had the qualities of the great story-teller, deep insight into character, humour, pathos, and the visualising imagination of a dramatic artist.

Eighteenth-Century Literature

The Eighteenth Century in England is called the Classical Age or the Augustan Age in literature. It is also called the Age of Good Sense or the Age of Reason. Though Dryden belonged to the seventeenth century, he is also included in the Classical or Augustan Age, as during his time the characteristics of his age had manifested themselves and he himself represented them to a great extent. Other great literary figures who dominated this age successively were Pope and Dr. Johnson, and so the Classical Age is divided into three distinct periods—the Ages of Dryden, Pope and Dr. Johnson. In this chapter which is devoted to the eighteenth-century literature in England, we will deal with the Ages of Pope and Johnson. The Age of Dryden has already been dealt with in the preceding chapter, entitled “The Restoration Period.”

The Eighteenth Century is called the Classical Age in English literature on account of three reasons. In the first place, the term ‘classic’, refers in general, applies to writers of the highest rank in any nation. This term was first applied to the works of the great Greek and Roman writers, like Homer and Virgil. As the writers of the eighteenth century in England tried to follow the simple and noble methods of the great ancient writers, they began to be called Classical writers. In the second place, in every national literature there is a period when a large number of writers produce works of great merit; such a period is often called the Classical Period or Age. For example, the reign of Augustus is called the Classical Age of Rome; and the Age of Dante is called the Classical Age of Italian literature. As during the eighteenth century in England there was an abundance of literary productions, the critics named it the Classical Age in English literature. In the third place, during this period the English writers rebelled against the exaggerated and fantastic style of writing prevalent during the Elizabethan and Puritan ages, and they demanded that poetry, drama and prose should follow exact rules. In this they were influenced by French writers, especially by Boileau and Rapin, who insisted on precise methods of writing poetry, and who professed to have discovered their rules in the classics of Horace and Aristotle. The eighteenth century is called the Classical Age, because the writers followed the ‘classicism’ of the ancient writers, which was taken in a narrow sense to imply fine polish and external elegance. But as the eighteenth century writers in England followed the ancient classical writers only in their external performance, and lacked their sublimity and grandeur, their classicism is called pseudo-classicism i.,e., a false or sham classicism.
As the term Classical Age is, therefore, too dignified for writers of the eighteenth century in England, who imitated only the outward trapping of the ancient classical writers, and could not get at their inner spirit, this age is preferably called the Augustan Age. This term was chosen by the writers of the eighteenth century themselves, who saw in Pope, Addison, Swift, Johnson and Burke the modern parallels to Horace, Virgil, Cicero, and other brilliant writers who made Roman literature famous during the reign of Emperor Augustus. Of course, to term this as the Augustan Age is also not justified because the writers of this period could not compare favourable with those of the Augustan Age in Latin literature. But these terms—the Classical Age and the Augustan Age-have become current, and so this age is generally called by these terms.
The eighteenth century is also called the Age of Reason or the Age of Good Sense, because the people thought that they could stand on their own legs and be guided in the conduct of their affairs by the light of their own reason unclouded by respect for Ancient precedent. They began to think that undue respect for authority of the Ancients was a great source of error, and therefore in every matter man should apply his own reason and commonsense. Even in literature where the prespect for classical art forms and the rules for writing in those forms gave the defenders of the Ancients a decided advantages, critics could declare that the validity of the rules of art was derived from Reason rather than from Ancient Authority. Though in the seventeenth century Sir Thomas Browne who stood against Ancient Authority in secular matters, declared that in religion “haggard and unreclaimed Reason must stoop unto the lure of Faith”. John Locke, the great philosopher, had opined that there was no war between Faith and Reason. He declared in An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding (1690), “Faith is nothing but a firm assent of the mind; which if it be regulated as is our duty, cannot be afforded to anything but upon good reason; and so cannot be opposite to it.”
It was widely assumed during the eighteenth century that since every man is competent to decide, by reference to his own reason, on any point of natural or moral philosophy, every man becomes his own philosopher. So the need of the expert or specialist vanishes. Moreover, as all men were assumed to be equally endowed with the power of reasoning, it followed that when they reasoned on any given premises they must reach the same conclusion. That conclusion was believed to have universal value and direct appeal to everyone belonging to any race or age. Moreover, it should be the conclusion reached by earlier generation since reason must work the same way in every period of history. When Pope said of wit that it is “Nature to advantage dress’d, what oft was thought but n’er so well express’d,” and when Dr. Johnson remarked about Gray’s Elegy that “it abounds with images which find a mirror in every mind, and with sentiments to which every bosom returns an echo”, they were simply giving the literary application of this belief that the highest type of art is that which can be understood immediately, which has the widest appeal, which is free from the expression of personal idiosyncrasy, and which deals with what is general and universal rather than with what is individual and particular.
This was the temper of the eighteenth century. If it is called The Age of Reason or The Age of Good Sense, it is because in this age it was assumed that in reasoning power all men are and have always been equal. It was an age which took a legitimate pride in modern discoveries based upon observation and reason, and which delighted to reflect that those discoveries had confirmed the ancient beliefs that there is an order and harmony in the universe, that it is worked on rational principles, that each created thing has its allowed position and moved in its appointed spheres. It was, in short, an age which implicitly believed in the Biblical saying: “God saw everything that He had made, and behold it was very good.”
Now let us consider the literary characteristics of this age. In the previous ages which we have dealt with, it were the poetical works which were given prominence. Now, for the first time in the history of English literature, prose occupies the front position. As it was the age of social, political religious and literary controversies in which the prominent writers took an active part, and a large number of pamphlets, journals and magazines were brought out in order to cater to the growing need of the masses who had begun to read and take interest in these controversial matters, poetry was considered inadequate for such a task, and hence there was a rapid development of prose. In fact the prose writers of this age excel the poets in every respect. The graceful and elegant prose of Addison’s essays, the terse style of Swift’s satires, the artistic perfection of Fielding’s novels, the sonorous eloquence of Gibbon’s history, and the oratorical style of Burke, have no equal in the poetical works of the age. In fact, poetry also had become prosaic, because it was no longer used for lofty and sublime purposes, but, like prose, its subject-matter had become criticism, satire, controversy and it was also written in the form of the essay which was the common literary from: Poetry became polished, witty and artificial, but it lacked fire, fine feelings, enthusiasm, the poetic glow of Elizabethan Age and the moral earnestness of Puritanism. In fact, it became more interested in the portrayal of actual life, and distrusted inspiration and imagination. The chief literary glory of the age was, therefore, not poetry, but prose which in the hands of great writers developed into an excellent medium capable of expressing clearly every human interest and emotion.
The two main characteristics of the Restoration period—Realism and Precision—were carried to further perfection during the eighteenth century. They are found in their excellent form in the poetry of Pope, who perfected the heroic couplet, and in the prose of Addison who developed it into a clear, precise and elegant form of expression. The third characteristic of this age was the development of satire as a form of literature, which resulted from the unfortunate union of politics with literature. The wings and the Tories—members of two important political parties which were constantly contending to control the government of the country—used and rewarded the writers for satirising their enemies and undermining their reputation. Moreover, as a satire is concerned mainly with finding fault with the opponents, and is destructive in its intention, it cannot reach the great literary heights. Thus the literature of the age, which is mainly satirical cannot be favourably compared with great literature. One feels that these writers could have done better if they had kept themselves clear of the topical controversies, and had devoted their energies to matters of universal import.
Another important feature of this age was the origin and development of the novel. This new literary form, which gained great popularity in the succeeding ages, and which at present holds the prominent place, was fed and nourished by great masters like Defoe, Richardson, Fielding, Smollet and others who laid its secure foundations. The realism of the age and the development of an excellent prose style greatly helped in the evolution of the novel during the eighteenth century.
The eighteenth century was deficient in drama, because the old Puritanic prejudice against the theatre continued, and the court also withdrew its patronage. Goldsmith and Sheridan were the only writers who produced plays having literary merit.
Another important thing which is to be considered with regard to the eighteenth century literature is that it was only during the early part of it—the Age of Pope, that the classical rules and ideals reigned supreme. In the later part of it—the Age of Johnson—cracks began to appear in the edifice of classicism, in the form of revolts against its ideals, and a revival of the Romantic tendency which was characteristic of the Elizabethan period.
As the eighteenth century is a long period, it will be dealt with in different chapters entitled—The Age of Pope, The Age of Johnson, Eighteenth Century Novel and Eighteenth Century Drama.