Having always been one of the World’s most powerful and influential countries, England had seen a very impressive yet also very tumultuous past. Focusing specifically on the years 1660-1789 we can see just how influential England was on the rest of the world. The years of 1660-1789 are specifically being pulled out in this instance because it is during that time that England was in the Restoration period of literature. This period began with King Charles II being restored to the throne in 1660. The years that followed saw some of the greatest changes that England and her literature have seen to date.
With the restoration of the crown by King Charles II in 1660 the reopening of the theatres of England also came. The theatres of England were reopened after having been closed for a number of years because the previous King had seen them as anti-religious and too blasphemous to be a part of everyday life. With the reopening of the theatres, a new style of drama was also created that allowed for much more freedom for the playwright as well as allowed women to actually act in the plays. Previously women were not allowed to act in plays and men had played the roles of women.
This shift in drama was seen as a direct result of the religion of England switching over from Protestant to Catholic and also as a direct result of King Charles II’s time spent in France prior to taking the throne of England. During his time in France he developed a great interest in the arts and in the sciences that left him curios and that aided in his country’s switch in literature from a very conservative past to a much more open and critical present.
With the new style of drama many new ideas and strategies were being used in the plays. Satire started to play an enormous role in the world of literature as a way for the playwrights and authors to criticize and make fun of the British government and the rest of the British society at the time. One of the most notable plays that came out of this time was a play written by William Wycherley entitled The Country Wife. This play was riddled with both satire and allegory from start to finish. During the play there are numerous characters that are introduced, all of whom have names that reflect their personality. For instance, there is a character from the play whose goal is to sleep with every other character’s wife; this man is named “Horner” because he is perpetually “horny.” Another character mentioned frequently goes by the name of Mr. Pinchwife. Pinchwife’s name is very fitting for him because he does not let his wife do as she pleases and in turn is instead “pinching” his wife or not letting her get any freedom by keeping such a tight hold on her at all times. It was also during this time that comedy was being added to the world of drama again along with literature and drama being more widely available to all social and economic classes.
The newly revised style of literature that was being produced took on fresh angles that had yet to be used. With the emergence of new ideas and more authorial freedom genres such as the mock epic and the idea of the novel were beginning to be produced in much greater quantities. The Rape of the Lock, by Alexander Pope was one of the more popular mock-epics of the time. This five-canto poem was written as a short epic that had all of the same qualities of a traditional epic but in a much shorter piece of literature. This particular mock epic shows a quest and a battle when Belinda has her lock of hair cut from her head. In this piece we see also the face of satire show through as Belinda states how she would have rather been sexually assaulted than to have had her hair cut from her head the way that it was. She was more concerned with her hair and her physical appearance being unharmed that she would have rather had her emotional self harmed and raped.
At this time a new genre of writing was also born, the novel. One of the first novelists came out of the restoration period and was an author named Aphra Behn. She wrote for a white, British audience but focused around an African slave as her protagonist. During her novel, The Royal Slave, Behn gave her protagonist, Oroonoko, many traditional British characteristics so that her audience would still be able to relate to her protagonist. The first novels written in English were written about faraway lands and were the inspiration of many great adventurers. This period saw a time for people to explore and discover places that had yet to be discovered and mapped.
Prior to the restoration period, drama was seen as a place for poor people to go to get entertainment but after King Charles II took the crown the whole world of drama saw a great change. Along with women finally being able to act on stage as women in female roles, theatre saw a great shift in who was in attendance as people from every social and economic class began to go to the theatre for their entertainment. It was during this time that literature also saw a great deal of change as it was becoming more and more available to all socio-economic classes. Prior to the restoration of the crown, literature was only available to first class citizens but with more and more authors publishing their work, more literature was published that was not just for the rich but literature for the poor and for the working class citizens. It was not until the year 1710 that the first law regarding copy writes was passed making all work published unavailable to be copied or reproduced in anyway whatsoever for its first 14 years of life. This allowed for authors to publish more literature and allowed for more authors to publish because they were finally able to make money off of the literature that they were producing.
The restoration period was a very influential period in English literature history and also in world history. With the introduction of women to the world of literature and the introduction of copy write laws into society great waves were created that helped pave the way for the world we live in today.
“Arabella Fermor.” Wikimedia.org. Accessed March 7, 2017.
Pope, Alexander. The Rape of the Lock.