HISTORICAL OVERVIEW OF RESTORATION AGE
HISTORICAL OVERVIEW OF RESTORATION AGE : The period from 1660 to 1700 is known as the Restoration period or the Age of Dryden. Dryden was the representative writer of this period. The restoration of King Charles II in 1660 marks the beginning of a new era both in the life and the literature of England. The King was received with wild joy on his return from exile. The change of government from Commonwealth to Kingship corresponded to a change in the mood of the nation.
HISTORICAL OVERVIEW OF RESTORATION AGE
In this period the Renaissance delight in this world and the unlimited possibilities of the exploration of the world, and the moral zeal and the earnestness of the Puritan period could no more fascinate the people of England. Moody and Lovett remark: ―But in the greater part of the Restoration period there was awareness of the limitations of human experience, without faith in the extension of the resources. There was the disposition to accept such limitations, to exploit the potentialities of a strictly human world.‖ The historical events like the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, the religious controversy and the revolution of 1688 deeply influenced the social life and the literary movements of the age.
The Restoration Age
The Restoration of Charles II brought about a revolutionary change in life and literature. During this period gravity, moral earnestness and decorum in all things, which distinguished the Puritan period, were thrown to the winds. The natural instincts which were suppressed during the previous era came to violent excesses. The King had a number of mistresses and numerous children. He was surrounded by corrupt and degenerate ministers. Profligacy was glorified in the royal court. Corruption was rampant in all walks of life.
The Great Fire of 1665 and the Plague that followed were popularly regarded as suitable punishments for the sins of the profligate and selfish King. While London was burning and the people were suffering, the King and his nobles kept up their revels. The beginning of the Restoration began the process of social transformation. The atmosphere of gaiety and cheerfulness, of licentiousness and moral laxity was restored. The theatres were reopened. There was a stern reaction against the morality of the Puritans. Morality was on the wane. There was laxity everywhere in life. All these tendencies of the age are clearly reflected in the literature of the period.
During the Restoration period there was a rapid development of science. The establishment of the Royal Society was a landmark in history of England. The interest in science began to grow. The growing interest in science resulted in the beginning of rational inquiry and
scientific and objective outlook. Objectivity, rationality and intellectual quality also enlivened the literature of this period. The French influence was predominant during this period because the King had spent the period of his exile in France. The French manners and fashion spread from the court to the aristocracy. It also influenced contemporary literature.
Religious and Political Conflicts
This era also witnessed the rise of two political parties the Whigs and the Tories. These parties were to play a significant role in English politics. The Whigs sought to limit the powers in the interest of the people and the Parliament. The Tories supported the Divine Right theory of the King, and strove to restrain the powers of the people in the interest of the hereditary rulers. The rise of these political parties gave a fresh importance to men of literary ability. Almost all the writers of this period had political affiliations. Dryden was a Tory. The religious controversies were even more bitter.
The supporters of the Puritan regime were fanatically persecuted. The nation was predominantly Protestant and the Catholics were unduly harassed. The religion of the King himself was suspect. His brother James was a Papist (Roman Catholic). As Charles II had no legitimate heir, it was certain that after him his brother James, a Catholic, would succeed to the throne. Efforts were made to exclude James from the throne. The King sided with his brother and he removed all obstacles for the accession of James. Dryden‘s famous poem Absalom and Achitophel reflects these religious and political conflicts of the day.
James II ascended the throne in 1685. He soon revealed his Roman Catholic prejudices and he secretly tried to establish Catholicism in the country. He became unpopular within three years and the whole nation rose against him. The bloodless revolution of 1688 called the Protestant William and Mary of Orange to the throne. The country was once again restored to health and sanity. These deep and vigorous movements brought about certain changes in the inner social life.
With the revival of factions and parties and the excitement caused by the Popish plot, a quality of force and ardour revived in civic feelings, so that the tone of literature and of social life is somewhat modified. With the political and moral transformation which began in 1688, the very Keynote of English literature, as of English life, was greatly changed. It can be said that the last years of the seventeenth century form a distinct period. It is a brief but well-marked transition separating the Restoration from the age of classicism.
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