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The literary works of the periods of Charles II and James II and of the 1690s are generally included in Restoration literature. The rift between the royalists and the republicans affected the literature, too. Literary forms like novel, biography, history, travel writing and Journalism became prominent during this period. Social and economic conditions along with scientific and philosophical themes were taken up by the playwrights. The famous fiction narrative of John Bunyan Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) came out during this period. Bunyan’s work is probably the greatest Christian allegory in English and was mostly written when its Puritan author remained in prison. It was a symbolic vision of a good man’s pilgrimage through life and also it became very popular work.
Much influential and satirical poetry came from renowned poets and prose writers like John Dryden, The Earl of Rochester, Samuel Butler, John Oldham, Alexander Pope, Johnathan Swift and John Gay. Butler’s Hudibras, published between 1662 and 1680 is a severe criticism of the Puritan regime and influenced people like Samuel Johnson in the eighteenth century. The age was noted for the achievements in the field of drama by William Wycherley, John Vanbrugh and William Congreve. With the restoration, the court culture reappeared and the writers began to write with more ease. The writers were influenced by the socio-political and religious developments of the period and their creativity found expression in a number of literary forms.
The period preceding the Commonwealth was not a happy one for the theatre in England. The puritans pledged to get rid of the theatre which they considered sinful in nature. There was a ban on performances or plays. The theatres were shut down in 1642 when the Civil War started. Oliver Cromwell’s government declared all actors were to be considered rogues. There was of course evasion of the law; but whatever performances were offered had to be given in secrecy, before small companies in private houses, or in taverns located three or four miles out of town. No actor or spectator was safe, especially during the early days of the Puritan rule.
Literally, the Restoration of Charles II was also a restoration of the plays in English literature. Charles II, the king, had been in France during the greater part of the Protectorate, together with many of the royalist party, all of whom were familiar with Paris and its fashions. Thus, it was natural, upon the return of the court, that French influence should be felt, particularly in the theatre. In August 1660, Charles issued patents for two companies of players, and performances immediately began. Certain writers, in the field before the civil war, survived the period of theatrical eclipse, and now had their chance. Among these were Thomas Killigrew and William Davenant, who were given patents to establish theatres.
However, these two companies dominated the theatre which hindered the growth of theatrical literature. With the royal patents, the theatres were under government control. There was close contact between theatre and court politically, economically and legally. Puritans began to be satirised, and the monarch and his family were flattered. Restoration theatre was looked upon as a means to celebrate monarchy and declare the end of puritanism. Theatre symbolised the social mind which was relieved after years of division and unrest.
184.108.40.206 Features of Restoration Theatre
A few, but notable changes came about in the field of theatrical drama during the restoration period.
Stage: The presence of theatre was felt by the public. Notable structural and visual changes took place in staging the dramas. Technology began to be used for staging drama in public. The front part facing the audience in front of the curtain had an opening with the scenery. The seats were arranged in between the pit, boxes and galleries. The audience capacity was 650, and the price varied according to the performance. Often it remained high.
The Scenery: The new theatres were different from the pre-restoration period with the introduction of enclosed structures, artificial lighting and new styles. Scenes were painted on backdrops, wigs and borders. The floor space was shaped and painted to represent rocks, mountains, grassy plots, fences and similar objects so that the scenes looked more natural and original.
The Actors: The theatre became more of a business than art in the Restoration period. The theatre owner often chose plays which best suited his financial interests. The actors did not have much financial security, and they were hired for salary. The most striking difference between the Jacobean theatre and the Restoration theatre was in the entry of actresses. No women were allowed in the Elizabethan or Jacobean theatre. The defeat of the Puritans is the main factor responsible for this change. Earlier the roles of women characters were played by young boys. The presence of the women on stage aroused curiosity in the audience, and they were eager to see live women on the stage and the sensuality they brought with them. This objectification of women induced an evolution in the writing of plays during this time that led female actors to be sexual props on the stage, as opposed to equals with their male peers.
The Playwrights: The playwrights were employed by the company on a fixed remuneration. After the initial run, the play belonged to the company, and the playwrights did not have any rights over the play. They also could not copy their play. This was a continuation of the system that existed during the Elizabethan theatre.
The Audience: The audience consisted at first most of the members of the upper and elite class. The stage items were best suited to their tastes and wits. With the rise of the merchant class, the theatre became a commercial activity and the nature of the audience also changed with the presence of more middle-class people. The plays of William Shakespeare and Marlowe were adapted with music and certain changes which often deviated from their original quality.
The Costumes: The plays of the restoration period had rich costumes as the prominent companies were funded by Charles II. The parade of the actors in an elaborate manner was the most important part of the show, and the costumes played a very important role in making it rich and elegant.
Types of Dramas: By the time the theatres were reopened in England, Corneille and Racine in France had established the neo- classic standard for tragedy, and Moliere was in the full tide of his success. These playwrights, with Quinault and others, for a time supplied the English with plots. With this influx of foreign drama, there was still a steady production of the masterpieces of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. The diarist Samuel Pepys, an ardent lover of the theatre, relates that during the first three years after the opening of the playhouses he saw Othello, Henry IV, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, two plays by Ben Jonson and others by Beaumont, Fletcher, Middleton, Shirley and Massinger. It must have been about this time that the practice of “improving” Shakespeare was begun, and his plays were often altered so as to be almost beyond recognition.
During the period between 1660-1700, the dramas presented separate comedies and tragedies, unlike the Elizabethan theatre which had a blend of both. Tragedies were heroic tragedies written in heroic couplets (rhymed iambic pentameter) involving themes like love, war and action. The heroic tragedy often rhymed with dialogues and poetry. The most famous writer of the heroic play of the period was Dryden, with his Tyrannic Love or The Royal Martyr, The Conquest of Granada and All for Love. Other dramatists were Thomas Otway and Nathaniel Lee.
Restoration comedy is the best-known form of drama from the age. The themes included farce, satire, provincial humour and comedy of manners. The comedy was class-bound; especially with the upper class presented as happening in the metropolitan background, mostly London. The male-female rivalry, marriage functions, gossips, follies and vices and adultery were also sources of comedy for the comedy playwrights. The most important writers of comedy of the period were William Congreve (Old Bachelor, 1693; Love for Love, 1695; Way of the World, 1700), William Wycherley (The Country Wife, 1675; The Plain Dealer, 1676), George Etherege (Love in a Tub, 1664; She Would if She Could, 1668), George Farquhar (The Twin Rivals, 1703) and John Vanbrugh (The Provoked Wife, 1697).
In almost every important respect, Restoration drama was far inferior to the Elizabethan. Where the earlier playwrights created powerful and original characters, the Restoration writers were content to repeatedly portray a few artificial types; where the former were imaginative, the latter were clever and ingenious. The Elizabethan dramatists were steeped in poetry, the later ones in the sophistication of the fashionable world. The drama of Wycherley and Congreve was the reflection of a small section of life. It had polished style and a perfection in its own field; but both its perfection and its naughtiness now seem unreal.
The heroes of the Restoration comedies were lively gentlemen of the city, profligates and loose livers, with a strong tendency to make love to their neighbours’ wives. Husbands and fathers were dull, stupid creatures. The heroines, for the most part, were lovely and pert, too frail for any purpose beyond the glittering tinsel in which they were clothed. Their companions were gossips and amorous widows or jealous wives. The intrigues which occupied them were not, on the whole, of so low a nature as those depicted in the Italian court comedies, but still, they were sufficiently coarse. Over all, the action is the gloss of superficial good breeding and social ease. Only rarely do these people show the traits of sympathy, faithfulness, kindness, honesty, or loyalty. They follow a life of pleasure and boredom, yawning behind a delicate fan or a kerchief of lace. Millamant and Mirabell, in Congreve’s Way of the World, are among the most charming of the Watteau figures.
6.4.2 Restoration Satire
Later half of the seventeenth century was a flourishing period for satire in English literature. Roman satirists Horace and Juvenal were imitated. The verse satire was represented by Dryden, Oldham and Rochester. Oldham’s Spenser’s Ghost was an example of verse satire to be remembered along with Dryden’s Mac Flecknoe and Absalom and Achitophel. Prose satire was presented under the impression that the audience was well acquainted with contemporary events. Women were frequent prey for satirists during this period. Gould and Rochester were important among such satirists. Men became a subject of satire in the work of Richard Ames through Sylvia’s Revenge (1693). In all its various forms satire played a vital role in England during this period. It also influenced the satirists of the coming century, too.
A pamphlet is usually a short quarto book. It typically consists of one to twelve sheets or between eight and ninety-six pages in quarto. It was a means of spreading new or controversial but relevant ideas through the distribution of inexpensive and easily prepared tracts. The themes of these tracts of pamphlets were often political or religious in nature. These were read aloud in taverns (inns), churches or in town meetings. It was a very popular means of mass communication.
Since the early sixteenth century, popular forms of print have been used for news purposes and propaganda. Vernacular printed literature in England began with the import of reformist works from Germany and the Netherlands. Henry VIII introduced legislation to control the printing and circulation of books mainly to harness the heretic literature. Throughout the sixteenth century, religious rivalry promoted the press.
A distinctive feature of pamphlets became more specific in England after the 1640s. During this period, George Thomason, Anthony Wood, the Oxford antiquarian and John Rushworth, a clerk in the House of Commons, started collecting pamphlets because of their political importance. Before George Thompson, no one had collected pamphlets systematically. During the 16th and
17th centuries, pamphlets were used widely.
By 1700, pamphlets were popular and their purpose was also understood. The print of pamphlets was fanned by propaganda, news and morals. Many pamphleteers viewed it as a business. Myles Davies started writing Critical History of Pamphlets in 1716.