Course Content
Environmental Studies
English Language and Linguistics
Private: BA English
About Lesson

Learning Outcomes

After the successful completion of this unit, the learners are expected to:

  • understand the features of Puritan/Restoration literature.
  • make a comparison of literature in Puritan England with those of the Elizabethan era.
  • comprehend the influence exercised by the socio-political elements of a country on literature.
  • critically appreciate the features of the novel, poetry and historical narratives of the period.

Puritanism was a religious movement that started in 16th century England to purify the Church of England which was carrying the remnants of the Roman Catholic popery (doctrines and ceremonies associated with the Pope). The Puritans were morally and religiously zealous and wanted to retain the settlement made during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. They wanted to make their life pattern the pattern of life of the whole nation. The puritan ideology was one of the forces behind the Civil Wars in England and behind the founding of several colonies in North America. It was King Henry VIII who separated the English Church from Roman Catholicism in 1534. This was followed by the rapid expansion of Protestantism under Edward VI. However, under the reign of Queen Mary, attempts were made to return England to Catholicism. During this period many of the Protestants were forced into exile. Most of them went to Geneva where Calvinists were following a disciplined Church. The migrants from England were influenced by the practices followed by the Calvinists in Geneva. On the accession of Queen Elizabeth in 1558, they returned to England. However, they were not able to get the desired status in the Convocation. i.e., the primary governing body of the church. This frustrated faction was called the Puritans. The puritans believed in establishing a covenant with the Almighty. Their doctrine was opposed to scientific thinking based on reason.
6.3.1 Puritan Literature
Puritan literature is a reflection of the Puritan experiences and the depiction of their movement and way of life. They were in the form of letters, diaries or journals written by the puritan members who had travelled to the Americas, and about their own experiences. Many of the puritans had moved to North America in search of religious freedom and founded colonies such as Plymouth. They played a vital role in the social life of America. Most of the puritan literary expressions were in the form of poetry, historical narratives or sermons, with little or no contributions to fiction. They used a simple and lucid style in writing. They wrote in the first person and used as plain a style as possible to avoid any kind of complexity in comprehension. They believed in the simplicity of life and writing was a part of it. They approached literature as a serious exercise and not as a means of entertainment. The major themes of puritan literature were based on religious and political idealism with a stress on a pragmatic way of life.
The works of the period projected the biblical theme of predestination (the doctrine that God has ordained all that will happen) and the inevitability of sin and a strong sense of guilt and repentance. Scriptural symbolism is used widely in puritan literature. The books of the Bible, especially the Old Testament were widely used for drawing themes. The category of writers known as Jeremiads was split into three sections: those who hailed the faith of the past generations, those who were critical of the sins of the present age and those who repeatedly appealed for resentencing and penance. They were also interested in looking at natural calamities and sometimes visualised them as a sign from God. The concept of struggles in the world and spirituality was also accepted as themes for literary works. The use of Greek mythology or classical literature was avoided. The primary aim of the literature was to convey the truth of Godly existence in a simple and lucid way for all. For Puritans, literature was meant for religious discourses.
Important writers like William Bradford, Edward Taylor, Anne Bradstreet and John Winthrop widely wrote about spirituality in America. William Bradford wrote about honest and hardworking folks. He was a celebrated writer of the heroic deeds of ordinary people. Aiming at imposing the puritan spiritual concepts on society, they presented their own spiritual journeys. Many American politicians still refer to Winthrop’s Model of Christian Charity.
6.3.2 John Milton (1608-1674) 

Fig 6.3.1 John Milton
John Milton is considered the most significant writer in English after Shakespeare. He was a poet, a historian and a pamphleteer (one who writes political and controversial pamphlets) and his Puritanism has also attracted a lot of attention.

The mind is its own place and in itself can make a heaven of hell a hell of heaven
– John Milton

Milton is mainly remembered for his masterpiece Paradise Lost (1667) which is considered the greatest poem in English literature. The central theme of the first epic poem in English is man’s first disobedience. In narrating the story of Adam, Eve, Garden of Eden, the temptation and the forbidden apple, Milton has tried “to vindicate the ways of God to man”. Unlike classical epics, Milton’s focus is less on the Son (Jesus) as a warrior and more on his love for humankind. Despite the success of Satan against Adam and Eve, the hope of regeneration after sinfulness is provided by the self-sacrifice of Jesus. Throughout the epic, Milton used a grand style suitable to its elevated subject matter. He used the verse form known as blank verse consisting of unrhymed iambic pentameter.

A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.
-John Milton

Milton’s other major works are Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes, both published in 1771. Paradise Regained is a shorter epic which declares that Christian heroism is a constant reaffirmation of faith in God and stresses the importance of patience and the courage to endure adversities. It unfolds as a series of debates in which Jesus refutes the arguments of Satan. Samson Agonistes is a tragedy modelled after the Greek ones and written partly in blank verse and partly in unrhymed choric verse of varied line length. It is believed that Milton employed the Old Testament story of Samson to inspire the defeated English Puritans with the courage to triumph through sacrifice.
While he was still a student, Milton translated Psalms from original Hebrew into English. During this period, he wrote the ode “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity” (1629), the sonnet “On Shakespeare” (1630), “L’Allegro” and “Il Penseroso” (both probably 1631), “On Time” (1632?), “At a Solemn Musick” (1632-1633?), the masques Arcades (1632-1634?) and Comus (1637). The major poem of this period is Lycidas (1638), the first pastoral elegy written in English mourning the death of a college mate, Edward King. The poem, considered one of the greatest short poems in English, contains an attack on the corrupt church.
During his adulthood, Milton composed pamphlets against the Church of England. The Papal throne and the Catholic countries in Europe were also not spared from his criticism. His most famous prose work, Areopagitica (1644) is an impassioned plea for freedom of the press. Around the 1640s, he wrote five tracts on the reformation of the Church and government. They include On Reformation, The Reason of Church Government, and An Apology Against A Pamphlet. He also wrote several tracts on a variety of topics like divorce, education and free expression. His major historical work includes the History of Britain which ended with the Norman conquest.
Milton proposed the abolition of the Church of England and the execution of Charles I through his prose works. During the civil war period, he expounded a political philosophy in his works which detested tyranny and state-controlled religion. His theological views favoured liberty of conscience, tolerance towards dissents and paramountcy of scriptures. Under the Commonwealth government, he served as the Latin Secretary of Oliver Cromwell and shouldered the responsibility of official correspondence. He was completely blind by the time Restoration took place and all his great works were written in a state of blindness.

John Milton: Paradise Regained
An edition (1758–60) of John Milton’s Paradise Regained; the binding, which features mother-of-pearl and snakeskin, was created in the early 20th century by Sangorski & Sutcliffe, a London firm known for extravagant jewelled bindings.
6.3.3 John Dryden (1631–1700)
John Dryden was an English poet, dramatist, translator and literary critic who lived during the seventeenth century in England. He dominated the field of English literature so much that his age has come to be known as the Age of Dryden. He was 11 years old when the Civil war broke out. He was educated at Westminster school where he received an education in classical literature. He completed his graduation from the famous Trinity College, Cambridge. He came into contact with John Milton and Andrew Marvell.
The work that marked him as a poet was his contribution to the memorial volume of Oliver Cromwell. During restoration, he composed Astrea Redux and To His Sacred Majesty (1661). His longest poem was Annus Mirabilis (1667) which was the celebration of two victories over the Dutch. With the revival of patents for the theatres by Charles II after the restoration, he started writing plays for the stage. Among them, important ones were All for Love, The Wild Gallant (1663), The Indian Queen (1664 in which he collaborated) and a sequel of it, The Indian Emperour (1665). He also wrote a tragicomedy Secret Love or the Maiden Queen (1667).

Fig. 6.3.2 John Dryden
In 1668 he became the first official poet laureate of England. After the Black Death, he wrote Dramatic Poesie (1668), the longest of his critical works. It is a defence of English drama against both ancient classical drama and neoclassical French drama. It is also an attempt to introduce general principles of criticism. He defended Shakespeare’s habit of mixing comic elements with the tragic. His last work Fables Ancient and Modern (1700) contained verse adaptations of the work of Ovid, Boccaccio and Chaucer. Each of the adaptations contained critical prefaces and Preface to Fables is considered one of his major works of literary criticism. Samuel Johnson called him “the father of English criticism”.

We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.
-John Dryden

Dryden also wrote satires such as Mac Flecknoe (written about 1678 but published in 1682), Absalom and Achitophel (1681) and The Medal (1682). The success of the first two works made him the greatest verse satirist of the time. Absalom and Achitophel was written in support of King Charles II by adopting the Old Testament story of King David, his favourite son Absalom and the false Achitophel who persuaded Absalom to revolt against his father. Mac Flecknoe, the first mock-heroic poem in English, was a devastating lampoon against fellow poet Thomas Shadwell. He wrote the beast fable The Hind and the Panther (1687) supporting Catholicism after joining the Catholic faith, the religion of King James II. An earlier work Religio Laici (1682) was a staunch defence of Anglicanism against unbelievers, Protestant dissenters and Catholics. Dryden had often been accused of being an opportunist. One of his greatest achievements was the translation of the complete works of Virgil published in 1697. He standardised the heroic couplets (rhymed iambic pentameter) in English poetry, applying them in a number of satires, religious pieces, fables, epigrams, prorogues and plays.
6.3.4 Edward Taylor (1642-1729)
Edward Taylor was a puritan poet and
minister who was one of the finest literary figures of colonial America. He was born in England and was highly educated. He disliked James II and his colonial appointments and was gladdened by the Revolution of 1688. Nothing much is known about his early life. In his mid-twenties, he migrated to America.
The best of Taylor’s 400 page quarto manuscript Poetical Works remained unpublished till 1939. His earliest verses expressed his true devotion to Protestantism. The first among the four groups of his poems was Gods Determinations Touching His Elect was a long dramatic allegory. His second group Preparatory Meditations before My Approach to the Lord’s Supper, a collection of 217 poems invited criticism. His most famous treatise was The Harmony of the Gospel. Through a long poem The Metrical History of Christianity written towards the end of his life, he attacked the Church of Rome.
Taylor’spoems were traditional in their basic character, but in their quality and dynamics, it was modern. His poem was a means of spiritual revival which glorified the Christian experience. He used biblical references plenty in his poems. His main biblical references were based on the Old Testament. His collection of sermons Christographia is about the human and the divine nature of Christ. His works are cited as the best examples of puritan works in America.
6.3.5 Metaphysical Poetry
By the seventeenth century, Elizabethan poetry was exhausted. Nothing seemed to be original and remarkable. The melodies were sugared, and the romance was extravagant with no intellectual depth. Some of the writers who revolted against such a trend were Ben Johnson and John Donne. Ben Johnson was the founder of the classical school which reached its full blossoming in the writing of Dryden and Pope. He was primarily a dramatist and a poet, too.
The works of John Donne concentrated on passion and dramatic power. His writings were introspective and self-analytical in nature and a result of his own intellectual, spiritual and pragmatic reflections. His satires were mostly the expressions of his own experiences. He wrote with cynical and realistic thought. He is considered the founder of the metaphysical school of poetry. Literally ‘metaphysical’ means ‘beyond physical nature’. Donne and his followers were responsible for popularising the metaphysical school in poetry. The term metaphysical poetry is now applied to the poetry of any poet who writes personal poetry with intellectual complexity and concentration in the manner of John Donne.
In the 17th century, the term ‘metaphysical’ was usaed in a disparaging manner. Dryden blamed Donne for following the “metaphysics” and Samuel Johnson also dubbed them “the metaphysical poets”. In his influential essay ‘The Metaphysical Poets,’ (1921) T.S. Eliot argued that the works of these men embody a fusion of thought and feeling that other poets were unable to achieve due to “a dissociation of sensibility”. It appears that the work of these poets contains a blend of emotion and intellectual ability, characterised by the bringing together of apparently unconnected things and they have the effect of disturbing the complacent reader. Metaphysical poetry is marked by the use of elaborative figurative language, conceits, paradox and philosophical topics.
6.3.6 John Donne (1572-1631)
John Donne was the founder of the metaphysical school in poetry and the most influential metaphysical poet of the age. He was also Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London (1621-31). He wrote poetry, satires, sonnet and elegies. Generally, his poetry is divided into three divisions like Amorous poetry, Religious and Satirical poems. His satires Songs and Sonnets were released during a period of religious oppression. Anniversaries, published between 1611-12, seem to be the only published work of Donne in his lifetime. The rest of his works were preserved only in manuscript copies and were available for private circulation.
John Donne’s poetry is marked by striking changes from the poetry of the 16th century.
The directness of his language is a characteristic feature of his poetry and explosive beginnings are its hallmark. “For Godsake hold your tongue, and let me, love,” begins ‘The Canonization’ and it takes the reader into the middle of a conversation between the speaker and an unidentified listener. Holy Sonnet XI begins with a confrontation wherein the speaker and not Jesus, suffers indignities on the cross: “Spit in my face yee Jewes, and pierce my side….” He adapts the rhythms of everyday speech as in the abrupt question with which ‘The Good-Morrow’ begins: “I wonder by my troth, what thou and I/ Did, till we lov’d.”

Love built on beauty, soon as beauty, dies
– John Donne

Donne’s use of conceits also marked him very different from contemporary poetry. For instance, his use of the image of a drawing compass to suggest the parting of lovers who remain united in their souls is revolutionary in ‘A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning’. Such conceits made Samuel Johnson complain that “heterogenous ideas are … yoked by violence together” in metaphysical poetry. He is one of the greatest poets of love in English. Poems like ‘The Canonization’, and ‘A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning’ are among his greatest love lyrics. Donne’s devotional lyrics, especially the ‘Holy Sonnets,’ ‘Good Friday 1613’, ‘Riding Westward,’ and the hymns like ‘A Hymn to God My Father’, passionately explore his love for God, sometimes through sexual metaphors, and depict his doubts, fears, and sense of spiritual unworthiness.
None of them shows him spiritually at peace. Donne positively influenced courtly and religious writing in the seventeenth century. He influenced the writings of George Herbert, Richard Crawshaw, Henry Vaughan, Robert Herrick and Thomas Carew.
George Herbert (1593-1633): Herbert’s poems were published after his death. His most important work was The Temple which revealed his ardent religious zeal and his attachment to the Church of England. He was clear in his expression, and an expert in using intelligible conceits and concrete imagery. He preferred to use simple and homely language in his poetry. He wrote both personal and doctrinal poems.
Andrew Marvell (1621-1678) is considered as one of the best Metaphysical poets of the period. He was a politically motivated poet who was initially against the Commonwealth. Later on, he wrote ‘An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland’ (1650), ‘The First Anniversary’ (1655) and ‘On the Death of O.C’ (1659) which showed his change of views. His most famous political satires were The Last Instructions to a Painter and The Rehearsal Transpros’d, the former inverse and the latter in prose and both were targeted at the royalists. After his death, his poems were collected secretly and published. His notable poems include ‘Upon Appleton House’, ‘The Garden’ and ‘To His Coy Mistress’. In ‘To His Coy Mistress,’ which is his most famous poem, the speaker urges his mistress to abandon her false modesty and submit to his embraces before time and death rob them of their chance to love. Undoubtedly, the metaphysical poets influenced the poets of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries profoundly.


  •  King Henry VIII was responsible for the English Reformation and sepa- rating the English Church from the Roman Catholic Church.
  • During the period of Queen Mary, many protestants fled from England due to intolerant religious policies.
  • Those who fled to Geneva from England became known as the puritan faction when they returned to England during the period of Queen Eliz- abeth in 1558.
  • The conflict involving the Catholics, the Anglicans and the Puritans was a major factor behind the North American colonisation.
  • Literature in England during the seventeenth century reflected puritan philosophy and thought.
  • John Milton was a key figure in English literature in 17th century in England.
  • Edward Taylor was a notable Puritan writer who emigrated to North America.
  • John Dryden was so influential in English literature that the age was known as the Age of Dryden
  • Metaphysical poetry gained much popularity through the compositions of John Donne, George Herbert and Andrew Marvel.