Restoration Satire in English Literature

Restoration Satire in English Literature

Restoration Satire : The Restoration of Charles II has brought about a cardinal change in English life and literature. In one respect, the new era has come to represent the opposite of whatever the Elizabethan age stood for. The patriotism gave way to sectarian strife. The emphasis on the passionate imagination was shifted to control and reason.

The Restoration period in a way started to assess and evaluate the achievements of the previous generation. There is a sign of disillusionment in very field and a new moral rhythm crept into the creative genius.

Restoration Satire

As Louis Cazamian pointed out, “The literary transition from Renaissance to Restoration is a progressive movement of the spirit of liberty towards a rule and a discipline.” Classicism becomes the main axis to all individual minds. Reason, good sense and practicality are the main motives.


With Charles II, the royal court became a centre of all the activities. All aspiring and ambitious men of letters crowded around the new monarch with flattery and eulogy. Pleasing the Crown and obtaining his favour became the sole motto of all. The city of London became the main stage for the political and literary drama.

This resulted in an aristocratic literature, ignoring the provincial England. The French influence was a natural consequence. In social fashions and literary forms France became the chief source of the main inspiration.

All these great influences make Restoration era an age of satire. The society was interested in worldly progress based on conventional values. The orthodox morality was neglected and it was replaced by neo-classical interest in making new rules and regulations. Political strife makes literature a violent instrument and party rivalry produced the best of the individuals.

The two political parties Whigs and Tories engaged in a continuous war and literature became their main instrument. As a result, satire had become the most powerful form. This new literary form actually flourished in the beginning of prose.

Samuel Butler is the most important name and his “Hudibras” is the voice of a critic. It is severe criticism of the puritan regime. It was published between 1662 and 1680 and modelled on Cervantes’ famous work “Don Quixote”.

“Hudibras” by Samuel Butler was bitter attack on Puritanism. The work was published in three parts. Butler’s “Hudibras” is pregnant with scholasticism and learning. The work contains moral and ironical reflections of the writer throughout the narrative. Hudibras is written in octosyllabic couplets; the poem is tinged with many aphorisms, puns and humour.

Andrew Marvell and John Oldham indulged in political satire. In this way the Restoration period became an age of satire and satirical spirit. Andrew Marvell scoffed at the religious intolerance, scarcity of patriotism, The autocratic tendencies, and the vices of the new order in his satires. His satires are chiefly personal which are imbued with bitterness and humour. Marvell’s satires was directed against the earl of Clarendon.

In his satire, “Last Instruction to a Painter”, Marvell attacked financial corruption and sexual exploitation at the royal court and in parliament. Marvell’s waged a war against arbitrary royal power in his works, “Mr Smirk, or The Divine is Made”, and “A Short Historical Essay Concerning General Councils” which appeared in 1676. His work “An Account of the Growth of Popery and Arbitrary Government in England” was published anonymously in 1677.

John Oldham was a faithful imitator of Juvenal who produced his “Satires against the Jesuits” in 1681. The satire is the most forceful and richest of Oldham’s poems. As a literary artist, Oldham took his subject far more seriously. Oldham’s satires lacked Dryden’s technique, and Samuel Butler’s appealing humour.

Despite all these defects, Oldham’s satires had native force and exuberance of imagination. His ironical work “Satires against Virtue” was published in 1679 but his more famous work, “Satire upon a woman who by her falsehood and scorn was the death of my friend” is perhaps Oldham’s finest satire.

But the true representative of this age is John Dryden who excelled in the form of satire. Actually John Dryden’s genius is well expressed in lyrical poetry. But is the forced circumstance that made him a poet of satire.

Most of his satires were composed either due to his personal conviction or to please the Tory party. Dryden’s satiric poem “Mac Flecknoe”, or “A Satire upon the True-Blue-Protestant Poet, T.S.” was written to castigate Thomas Shadwell. It was published in 1682. Dryden and Shadwell were friends for some time, but there was bitter quarrel and Dryden decided to caricature Shadwell.

Dryden’s “Mac Flecknoe” was the result of personal, professional and critical disagreements between the poet and Shadwell. In “Mac Flecknoe”, John Dryden has lampooned Thomas Shadwell’s farcical work, “The Virtuoso”. It is important to note that John Dryden has satirized his own work “Tyrannic Love” in “Mac Flecknoe”. It clearly hints at his critical taste. John Dryden has also expressed his views on the seventeenth century theatre in “Mac Flecknoe”.

It is important to note that Dryden’s “Mac Flecknoe” became an inspiration for Alexander Pope’s famous mock-epic satire, “The Dunciad” which was more venomous in tone than “Mac Flecknoe”.

Similarly, another poem “The Medal” of John Dryden was composed in the same satiric vein and was written for the cause of Tory party in 1682. Dryden was the Poet Laureate and whenever there was a political clash, naturally he was expected to defend his party with all his might and skill. Dryden never failed to defend Tory party.

In “The Medal”, John Dryden has criticized his best friend Shaftsbury, the Commons, and the City on the occasion of the acquittal of Shaftesbury of high treason in 1681.

As a staunch supporter of the Whig party, Thomas Shadwell brutally attacked John Dryden in his play, “The Medal of John Bayes” in 1682. Shadwell has caricatured and lampooned John Dryden in the work. Shadwell’s criticism aggravated the rivalry between the two poets.

Dryden’s “Absalom and Achitophel” was the outcome of the famous controversy of the Duke of Monmouth. In “Absalom and Achitophel”, Dryden follows the epic lines and he absolves the King from any blame. It was published in 1681, the second part of the work appeared in 1682.

Dryden’s “Absalom and Achitophel” was composed amidst the turbulent period following the ‘Popish Plot’. In this political satire, John Dryden has defended the king’s policy against the Earl of Shaftesbury. “Absalom and Achitophel” became famous for its character-studies of Shaftesbury who appears under the name of Achitophel and the Duke of Monmouth appears as Absalom.

It is a fine portrait painting of the Duke of Buckingham who is portrayed as Zimri. The public figures have been given biblical identities. Dryden has portrayed the other public figures like Charles II as David, Titus Oates as Corah and Slingsby Bethel, sheriff of London as Shimei.

It is important to note that John Dryden once again attacked Shadwell and portrayed him as Og in the second part of “Absalom and Achitophel”. Most of the second part of “Absalom and Achitophel” is written by Dryden’s disciple Nahum Tate.

Thomas Otway satirized the first Earl of Shaftesbury in the tragedy, “Venice Preserved”, or “A Plot Discovered” in 1682. Otway has caricatured Earl of Shaftesbury as Senator Antonio in “Venice Preserved”.

As John Dryden was criticized in the farcical comedy namely, “The Rehearsal” by George Villers, a second duke of Buckingham in which the writer and his literary circle has satirized the heroic tragedies of the day. The work was published in 1672.

The farcical comedy, “The Rehearsal” was probably an attack on John Dryden or Sir William D’Avenant. The farcical comedy “The Rehearsal” was probably written in collaboration by John Dryden’s rivals. Dryden bitterly responded to his rivals in his satire, “Absalom and Achitophel”.

George Villiers’ “The Rehearsal” influenced Andrew Marvell‘s work “The Rehearsal Transposed“, the first part of “The Rehearsal Transposed” appeared in 1672, and the second part in 1673.

Another satirist of the period, Elkanah Settle, composed his famous parody of John Dryden’s poem, “Absalom and Achitophel”. He parodied Dryden in his work, “Absalom and Achitophel Transposed” or “Absalom Senior” in 1682. In “Absalom and Achitophel Transposed”, Elkanah Settle has ridiculed John Dryden’s ironical style of writing. “Absalom and Achitophel Transposed” abounds with allusions and names.

As a critic John Dryden has elevated the art of satire to a very artistic perfection. He was a genius of high imagination and he was also capable of a Catholic attitude to the human frailties. No doubt, he observed the individual defects and also understood the discrepancies of the mankind.

When it is needed, John Dryden can be very bitter and severe as in the case of Thomas Shadwell. But, usually, he maintained a sheer dignity and an objectivity because of which his satires produced a pleasant and humorous atmosphere. John Dryden blends a crushing force with good humour. He does not have that invective poison but only a bit at the opponent.

Dryden himself defends satire, and states, “It is not bloody, but it is ridiculous enough. I avoided the mention of great crimes, and applied myself to the representing of blind sides and little extravagances.”

However, Dryden’s satires tend to become universal. They expose the general follies and foibles of human beings.  There were other minor satirists in his time. But their satires were limited to personal strife and they are crude and rough, without any claim for immortality.

But the most notable champion of verse satire is Alexander Pope. With Pope, the spirit of poetry reaches its climax. It becomes a concentrated instrument in exposing the evils of a society and its inhabitants. Though a student of Dryden and Pope lacked a healthy and tolerant attitude, the difference between Dryden and Pope is not only the difference in their periods but in their natures also.

Pope suffered from ill health. As a Catholic, he was isolated. He developed a kind of dislike for all lesser men. He had many personal quarrels. All these things provided ample opportunity to compose satires. His mock-epic satire, “The Dunciad” has its roots in the workings of the “Scriblerus Club”.

This was unprovoked criticism, and it shows how Pope’s nature and temperament were towards intolerance and arrogance. Alexander Pope’s “The Dunciad” was anonymously published in 1728 in three books. The fourth book of “The Dunciad” appeared in 1742.

In this respect, Pope is definitely not a comparison to Dryden. Pope lacked the warmth of human love and shade of tolerance. He always lived in in the world of his personal egoism without any concern for the conditions of others. He also wrote satires based on personal quarrels.

Alexander Pope’s epistles belong to that cadre. His translations of Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey” dragged him into another episode of rivalry with Joseph Addison. His translation of Homer “Iliad” was completed in 1720. It lacked the charm and beauty of the original work. In 1725, Pope translated Homer’s “Odyssey” in collaboration with two classical scholars Fenton and Broome.

Though the two works earned for the poet riches and fame, it brought upon him jealousy and caustic criticism. It led to bitter quarrels with many men of letters, notably with Joseph Addison. His translations were mocked at and criticized by Joseph Addison. He called Pope’s translation of Homer’s “Odyssey” as ‘the work of a Jacobite’. Similarly, Bentley criticized it as “a very pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but not Homer.” According to Edward Gibbon, Pope’s translation had every merit except fidelity tot the original.

In 1716, Pope composed a satire on Joseph Addison which was published in a newspaper in 1723 with Addison’s portrait as Atticus. The enlarged edition of the satire appeared as “An Epistles to Dr. Arbuthnot” in 1735. It is the famous character-study of Joseph Addison under the name Atticus.

But the tone in these epistles is different from that of “The Dunciad”. In three letters, the portraits of many contemporary authors appear, for example, Joseph Addison.

But Pope exerts a control on his invective because the subjects are very vast but his observation is no less keen. His character of Atkins is a marvellous exposition of reality without sinking into personal levels. But Pope did not maintain this quality in some of his poems.

But the satiric spirit of Pope rises to its artistic acme in his mock-epic poem, “The Rape of the Lock”. It was first published in 1712 in Bernard Lintot’s “Miscellany”. It was version of “The Rape of the Lock” in two cantos. Later on, the enlarged version of “The Rape of the Lock” appeared in 1714 comprising five cantos.

It is said that Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock” was probably influenced by Alessandro Tassoni’s mock-epic “La secchia rapita: “The Stolen Bucket“; or “The Rape of the Bucket” published in 1622.

The whole English society, its manners, and fashions are painted with a precise brush. He was a keen observer using his imagination to create a whole society and expose its silly pursuits. In this poem, Pope has nothing personal. This objectivity is the reason for the grand success of “The Rape of the Lock”. Here Pope achieves the universality even for a particular context.

However, the satiric temper of Pope is perfectly achieved due to his correct and classic style. A sincere student of classicism, who pursued correctness to its extremity, Pope polished and finished his satires. There is a classic grace, and an urbane perfection with everything he wrote. The satiric spirit which had its remote origin in the Puritanical anger in England reached its highest watermark of glory in Alexander Pope.

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