English Literature from 1300 to 1800

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Medieval drama
Drama has its origins in church ceremonies, performed in Latin. So drama evolved from liturgy and Biblical events, these events were dramatised in the church. Usually there was a dialogue between the priest and the audience. Before these events were dramatised at the altar, then at the church doors or in street → procession. Guilds (→ corporations of artisans, craftsman) represented drama out of the church under the supervision of the Church. Dramas were represented in towns were fairs were held: York, Wakefield and Coventry, so that we have the cycles of these cities. These representations were called mystery or miracle plays. From these representations, we pass to the moralities.
Moralities or morality plays
In the moralities the characters are divided into good characters and evil characters. The characters are personification of virtues and vices, fighting one another to win the man’s soul. Mankind or “everyman” is the personification of a common man that had to travel from the city of destruction to the city of salvation without stopping: a journey, a travel to the city of salvation. The next step, after the moralities is the interlude that consists in short dialogue with comics elements, there is also an introduction of dance, music and pantomime. The interlude is the link between medieval and Elizabethan drama.
The Elizabethan Theatre
The great age of the Elizabethan theatre started with Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine that was first performed in 1587. It ends with losing of the theatres in 1642. Various reasons have been given for the rise and development of Elizabethan drama:
==> the importation and translation of foreign plays, especially Italian;
==> the great popularity of Seneca’s plays for the tragedies and Plotus’ plays for the comedies;
==> the influence of Italian Commedia dell’Arte travelling companies, which toured England in 1560s and 1570s;
==> the development of interludes.
The humanistic influence
Humanistic drama had its origins in Italy. It contributed three important innovations:
==> the medieval theatrical performance (interlude), which was based on ritualistic action, dancing and pantomime, became a literary work;
==> the stage was separated from the space reserved for the audience;
==> the action of the play was set in a specific time and place.
The influence of Senaca
His most important tragedies were translated into English and finally collected under the title of Seneca’s Ten Tragedies.
==> the idea of tragedy as involving horrific and bloody events;
==> the motif of revenge;
==> the omnipotence of destiny;
==> the importance of supernatural;
==> the figure of cruel tyrant = villain (i.e. Iago);
==> the monologue or soliloquy;
==> a highly rhetorical language, declamatory style;
==> lively dialogues.
Pre-Shakespearean Drama
The first great success is the tragedy Gorboduc (1561) by Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville. It is written in blank verse and it is divided into five acts. The plays were written by a group of dramatists called university wits because they came from Oxford or Cambridge. Thomas Kid, following Seneca’s model, wrote Spanish Tragedy that took place in an exotic settings: Spain. Later Italy became the setting for the stories. It was a story full of blood and violence. The Spanish Tragedy was the first of the so called “revenge plays”:
==> protagonist’s revenge;
==> the difficulties involved in the revenge;
==> the stratagem of feigned madness;
==> the bad tyrant, which often possessed Machiavellian characteristics.
A later example is Hamlet.
The most important characteristic is that a man had to respect a precise hierarchy, an order or balance. Man is a microcosm. The social order is an imitation of the divine order at the top of which is God. As a consequence this order is also in the universe → macrocosm.
The structure of the theatres
The evolution from the artisans of the guilds we pass to the companies of actors. Their representations were shown in the courtyards of the inns also because after 1574 they were banned from London because their plays were considered immoral. In 1576 James Burbage built the first playhouse in London called “The Theatre”. It was a great success so in the other years were built other theatres: The Curtain; The Rose; The Swan; The Globe (Shakespeare’s theatre). There were three types of theatres: plays performed at Court; private indoor theatres; public outdoors theatres. These last were by far the most popular: they attracted a very mixed audience. Prices varied according to the position occupied by the spectators. These first theatres were a wooden building. The actors became more and more professional so be an actor became a profession: actors put themselves under the protection of noblemen who became patrons.
The stage
Music has also an important function on the Elizabethan stage. Rhythm of speeches and highly rhetorical style are so peculiar to the age and are best represented in Shakespeare’s works. Stage properties were mainly symbolic and costumes were highly symbolic too. Gesticulation was a further means of getting the full meaning of the text across the spectators.
Christopher Marlowe
Christopher Marlowe is the first great English Renaissance dramatist. He had a very short though highly successful career, but his life was turbulent by accusation of atheism and immorality. His characters were, like him, restless and adventurous: kings, tyrants, heroes and lovers. All of Marlowe’s great characters seem to be rule by self-destructive passions: the lust of power in Tamburlaine; for gold in The Jew; or forbidden knowledge as in Doctor Faustus.
Works: Tamburlaine the Great; The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus; The Jew of Malta and Edward II.
Doctor Faustus (c. 1592)
The legend of Faustus was famous in Germany and England in the sixteenth century. Marlowe uses its theme in Doctor Faustus. Faustus, having achieved all the knowledge, wants to go further: this is forbidden knowledge. Signed a contrast with devil, he passes twenty-fours years during which he is allowed to perform the impossible and to get everything he wants. The choice: man is the maker of his destiny, even if the choice will lead him to the damnation. In this tragedy there is a didactic aim: man must not pass the limits of human knowledge.
William Shakespeare
Very little is known about Shakespeare’s life. We do know that he was born on April 26th 1564 in Stratford-on-Avon, in Warwickshire, and that he died in the same place in 1616. When he was eighteen he married Anne Hathaway, a girl eight years older than him, and in a few years they had three children: at this time he decided to go to London to work for the theatre. In fact in 1592 he was already active in London as an actor and playwright: Shakespeare became a sharer and co-owner of the Globe Theatre when it opened in 1599. Thanks to his greater success as a playwright Shakespeare earned enough to be able to retire to Stratford in his later years. The years 1592-94 were particularly difficult for the players because of the plague. It is likely that at this time Shakespeare wrote poetry. By the mid-1590s, Shakespeare had already established himself as one of the leading playwrights of the day. In this first phase, he experimented with all major dramatic genres:
==> chronicles plays, that his plays that have as their subject events of English history
==> the Plautine comedy, The Comedy of Errors, based on misunderstandings
==> the tragedy of horror, after the model of Seneca’s tragedies
==> the character play, where characters are fixed types behaving according to predetermined ideas of human nature ( similar to Ben Johnson’s ‘theatre of humours’)
==> the refined love comedy
Works: 1st phase: Henry IV; Richard III; Romeo and Juliet; A midsummer night’s dream;
2nd phase: The merchant of Venice; Much ado about nothing; Julius Caesar; Twelfth night;
3rd phase: Hamlet; Othello; King Lear; Macbeth;
4th phase: Winter’s tale; The tempest.
Shakespeare’s plays pose many problems:
1. the problem of the text: Shakespeare and his colleagues were men of theatre, only concerned with the staging of the plays they wrote: they paid no attention to the written text. Instead the most successful plays were often published without the author’s permission: actor used the prompt books or reconstructed from memory. As result, texts printed in this way were often unreliable. These unreliable editions are usually called ‘bad’, and since they were published in quarto size (so called because a whole sheet of paper is folded twice, to form four leaves). The first fairly accurate and complete edition of Shakespeare’s works was published in 1623, known as First Folio.
2. the problem of the date: more often we have to guess the date of a play taking into account external and internal evidence. External evidence in the Stationers’ Register and internal evidence in the contemporary historical events.
In the Renaissance rhetoric was considered very important: It was taught in schools and used in public speeches, sermons, polite conversation, and private correspondence as well as in literary works. Rhetoric was the art of speaking well, it was seen as the bases of society and civilisation. Repetitions, antitheses and parallelism appear very frequently. All of Shakespeare’s plays contain at least one long rhetorical speech, usually spoken by the most important character(s): monologue. Rhetoric also helps Shakespeare to point out a character’s psychology, his/her weak point and obsessions.
THE STUART KINGS AND THE CIVIL WAR
When Queen Elizabeth died in 1603 without leaving a direct heir, the throne went to James VI of Scotland, the son of Mary Stuart. He became the first of the Stuart kings of England ruling both the countries as James VI of Scotland and James I. James showed a belief in the divine right of kings to rule and the subjection of Parliament to the king’s will and insisted on strict conformity to the rites of the Anglican Church. English Catholics organised the Gunpowder Plot (November 5, 1605) so called because they tried to blow up the king and the Parliament session. The Plot was denounced and many Catholics were executed. Meanwhile, persecuted Puritans were leaving the country. In 1620 a group of Puritans called the ‘Pilgrims Fathers’ sailed to America on the Mayflower were they founded the New Plymouth in Massachusetts: the beginning of the future United States. James I’s son successor, Charles I, pursued his father’s policy of open disregard for Parliament and the opposition to all forms of religious dissent. He launched on a series of military expeditions against France. For these wars he needed money that the House of Commons refused to grant. Charles therefore dissolved Parliament but then he accepted the Petitions of Rights, which demanded that:
1. no taxes should be paid unless approved by Parliament and
2. no man should be imprisoned without a regular trial.
The result of this was that Charles I did not call another Parliament until 1640. He ruled the country as an absolute monarch. There is along period, from 1628 to 1640, without any convocation of the Parliament: for a month James I called the Parliament (short Parliament); after six month is called again but in both chases the Parliament opposed to the king. In 1641 Parliament asked the King to leave the control of military, religious and civil affairs. He refused and started the civil war (1642).
King Parliament
Nobility The city of London
Clergy Vs. Other big towns
Most gentry Middle classes
Merchants
Cavaliers Parliamentarians
Anglicans Roundheads
Puritans
The Puritans wanted more rigor in the Church and more simplicity. So they abolished all rituals (ceremonies; vestments; processions; music; chanting; incense burning). They based on Calvin’s teachings: individual studying of the Bible. They were against of all form of amusements, so they prohibited Maypole dancing, horseracing, cock fighting, bear beating and drinking (control of ale-houses). They loved work: material success was a sign of grace; poverty was a crime; they dressed in a very simple way and they ate frugal meals, they wore hair cut short. In 1642 Parliament declared Closing of theatres. Puritanism became a wide national movement thanks to merchants and middle classes.
The Anglicans wanted to maintain the religion fixed by Elizabeth: they dressed velvet or satin and they wore penned hats and wings (natural curls). They tried to perpetuate the feudal system and they opposed the development of private capitalism.
Owing to Oliver Cromwell the King was defeated, imprisoned, condemned to death and executed in1649. The monarchy was abolished and the power was given to a council of state: England was proclaimed a commonwealth that is a republic or a free state. This commonwealth had a unicameral Parliament: the House of Common or the Rump. In 1663 the Rump was dismissed and so the army ruled the country. The year after England was divided into eleven districts that were ruled by major generals. Cromwell was pointed Lord Protector of England and Ireland.
Oliver Cromwell:
==> increased the prestige of England abroad
==> reduced Scotland and Ireland to submission
==> revived England sea power
==> reorganised the navy.
In 1651 Navigation acts were promulgated: goods imported into England could be carried by English ships or ships belonging to the exporting country; it is called protectionism. These acts caused the Dutch war (1652-1653) against Holland that had the greatest shares of cargo trade: the Dutch were defeated and obliged to accept the England terms. Cromwell also tried to diminish the power of the army. The majority of people wanted the monarchy again: Cromwell refused the crown. In 1658, Richard Cromwell, Oliver’s son; became Lord Protector but he was not supported by the army and he was obliged to resign. In Parliament there were eighteen months of confusion, but then, in 1660, Parliament met and restored the monarchy. Charles II was recalled from Paris (exile): there is the restoration. He promised a general pardon and religious tolerance.
The Jacobean theatre
Tolerance, enthusiasm, faith on people and on Parliament had characterised the reign of Elizabeth. Under James I these feelings changed: disappointment, disillusionment and dismay. He patronised theatre and drama but a gap opened between people and court. Theatre became less and less crowded. The companies of actors depended on the court or aristocracy and he preferred private theatres to the public ones. The playwright wrote more and more complex tragedies: full of bloody scenes, incest, perversions, lust, ambition, cruelty and horrors. Machiavellian villain became the most dominant character and all plots were set in the corrupted Italy. For the comedy there is a new fashion called masque: a courtly entertainment (‘the summing of all superficiality’). It was about allegorical or mythical things with music and dance (as the interlude). There were two important innovations: woman on stage and use of perspective. Ben Jonson is the writer who best used this genre that is the masque or the comedy of humours. The characters are a result of a combination of the four medieval qualities: hot, cold, moist and dry. The characters are types: subtle, littlewit and volpone c allegorical characters. These representations had an aim: to ridicule vices.
John Milton
(1608-1674)
Milton was born to a well-to-do Protestant family in London. He went to St. Paul’s school in London, the birthplace of English Humanism. He studied Greek and Latin literature, but preferred the Italian masters, Dante and Petrarch. The Italian influence is already visible in the sonnets he wrote in the 1630s, as in the later sonnets. Milton started wrote poetry early: he composed poetry, for example L’Allegro and Il Penseroso; he wrote also an allegorical masque, Comus. The most important characteristic of his compositions is the fusion of Christian and classical elements. Milton was in Italy in 1639 when news reached him that the Puritans and Royalists were fighting each other at home. He immediately went back to England and in few years’ time became actively involved in the Puritan cause. Following the strict Puritan idealism for nearly twenty years Milton almost completely gave up writing poetry and devoted himself to the composition of political and religious prose pamphlets like The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce and Aeropagitica. Most of Milton’s energies were given to the defense of Puritan government, especially after the execution of Charles I in 1649. Milton’s activity in those years was frenetic and his prose output is astonishing. Such very hard work cost Milton the total loss of his eyesight. The return of the Stuart did not mean a public retraction. The ageing poet retired from public life to finally write his great epic poem. Milton had wanted to write an epic-Christina poem ever since he was young, but he began only after 1660. Paradise lost is the story of creation of the world and mankind, man’s fall from the state of grace in Eden, God’s mercy towards him, and man leaving Paradise.
Works: L’allegro and Il Penseroso (1632), two poems;
Comus (1634), a masque;
Sonnets;
The Doctrine of Discipline and Divorce (1643), Of Education (1644), Aeropagitica (1644),
prose works;
Paradise Lost (1667), an epic poem in twelve books in blank verse dealing with the
biblical tale of man’s disobedience, his loss of Paradise and the promise of salvation;
Paradise Regained (1671), an epic poem in four books;
Samson Agonistes (1671), a tragedy.
Paradise Lost (1667)
Paradise lost was composed after the poet’s retirement from active political life because of the fall of Cromwell’s Commonwealth. Milton was already blind and had to dictate his poem, which was published in 1667. Paradise Lost is the last and the greatest of the Renaissance epics: it is protestant and it s full of the spirit of Greek and Roman literature (Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid), given a Christian interpretation in keeping with Northern Humanism. Torquato Tasso with his Gerusalemme Liberata was Milton’s model. Paradise Lost is thus primarily a theological work, but it is also historical.
Milton’s style
Syntax can be difficult, he uses words and constructs sentences in un-English, and which is usually referred to as ‘Latinate’. There are inversion, anticipation and long sentences closely modelled upon Latin construction.
Characteristics of the epic
• It is a long poem, divided into books (Homer’s poems have 24, Milton’s 12, like Virgil’s);
• its subject, or argument, is important: wars, the founding or destruction of cities, and the like;
• beginning is called in media res, that is ‘in the middle of the story’. The author often uses flashback to explain the past events;
• the characters are usually noble: kings, queens, warriors. The main figure are gods and heroes. Gods in the epic are anthropomorphised, that is given human characteristics. Gods and heroes in the epic move side by side: they talk to each other, fight with each other, and even fall in love with each other;
• a grand subject required a grand style;
• the metre of classical epics was hexameter, Milton was blank verse: it has ten syllables and is unrhymed.
Other epic convention
• The invocation to the Muse at the beginning of the poem (in Milton’s chase to the Christian spirit of poetry, the Holy Ghost);
• battles between men and men, men and gods, gods and gods;
• long list of gods, heroes, armies and ships (in Milton’s, list of devils and angels);
• the presence of mythical characters (nymphs, fauns, demi-gods) and places (Hades or Elysian Fields);
• the supernatural, in the form of enchanted places, magic, the transformation of men or gods into beasts (in Milton Satan turns into a serpent). It usually entailed a descent to the underworld, where the hero could see famous dead men and be allowed a glimpse of future events. The two events are separated in Paradise Lost: hell is the reign of Satan, and is described in detail; the future story of the world is shown to Adam by the archangel Micheal in the garden of Eden.
Finally, an epic poem is also distinguished by the long, rhetorical speeches of its heroes and gods, and by the use of long and elaborated similes. They are often drawn from natural phenomena (storms, earthquakes, sea-tempests, autumn winds, etc.). Milton’s similes of the devils as numerous as swarms of locusts or the leaves in the forest of Vallombrosa, near Florence.
Milton and Dante
Both used blank verse
Both describe hell
Both express their religious ideals
Dante’s Divina Commedia
The hero is the poet;
Dante speaks about deathly sins;
Dante’s tell is planned and well organised;
Dante attacks the political figure of the present and of the past;
Dante’s language meant to be understood by everybody.
Milton’s Paradise Lost
The hero is Satan;
Milton speaks about the original sin;
Milton’s hell is chaotic;
Milton is not concerned with politics;
Milton’s language is rhetoric and rich of classical references.
Milton’s intention is to condemn Satan (evil). We see him sinking lower in the moral scale until he final success coincides with his final degradation: the transformation into a serpent: The Fall is an act of disobedience is the source of all disobedience (Adam and Eve’s original sin, “il gran rifiuto”).
THE RESTORATION
(1660-1702)
To restore means, literally, ‘to bring back into use, to reintroduce, to bring to a former condition’. The Restoration means the restoration of the monarchy: Charles II returned from exile and began to reign because he was the legitimate heir to Charles I. The Restoration was initially welcomed by the British people. The Restoration, a period of 40 years, has a French influence: vice and dissipation. Charles II is nicknamed “the merry monarch” for reopening of theatres and because he introduced old and new form of entertainment (bull baiting, bear beating, masque, dances, operas, music). As a consequence of French influence there is the end of Puritans lifestyle: elegance, affectation, licentiousness, immorality, corruption, cynicism, libertinism, love of pleasure.
Charles’ home policy:
The first concern of the king was to reassert the predominance of the established Church of England, and to bring it once more under direct control of the Crown. To this effect a series of acts were passed: - The book of common prayer was reintroduced (1662);
- religious meetings held outside the Church of England were declared illegal (1664);
- the Test Act (1673) excluded from public offices, both civil and military, those who refused to take the sacrament according to the Anglican (Church of England) rite.
Charles’ foreign policy:
English foreign policy was not successful. In the Dutch War of 1664 Britain was defeated and had to revoke an advantageous maritime agreement with Holland. Four years later she made a Triple Alliance with Sweden and Holland against France. There is also a secret alliance with France (Louis XIV). Charles II had to announce his conversion to Catholicism; in chase of opposition French army would have defend Charles. In 1679 Parliament, under Protestant control, promulgated the Exclusion Bill to exclude James, Charles’ Catholic brother, and proposed Mary (James’ Protestant daughter) and William of Orange. Th eking dissolved the Parliament, the law was riproposed: it passed in the House of Commons and was rejected in the House of Lords. James dissolved the Parliament again and never called it for the last four years of his reign. In this period the Parliament is divided into:
• Whigs: middle class; House of Common that wanted as king Mary and William of Orange;
• Tories: aristocracy; House of Lords that wanted as king James II.
In 1665 there was the Great Plague that killed 70 000 Londoners and there was also the Great Fire of London that destroyed most of the City. Christopher Wren is the greatest baroque architect that had the task to rebuild the city of London, after the Great Fire. Bernini and Italian architecture influenced him.
Charles II was interested in art and science: in fact he was the promoter of the Royal Society, the first scientific society (1662). It encouraged the development of experimental science with its great scientists: Newton and Boyle. Also literature was encouraged: there was a more rational way of looking at life and so of writing. So there was also a new prose style; simpler and more concise. The Royal Society under the influence of the new science and philosophy introduced all these qualities. The Puritans plainness of life and speech influenced literature: so writing became like sermon, the language became plain and direct and there was the introduction of quotations from the Bible.
James II, a Catholic, was more absolutist than his brother Charles II, in fact he tried to reintroduce Catholicism and so he caused rebellions and executions. He was unable to follow home and foreign policy started by his brother. Meanwhile his wife had a catholic son: this fact accelerated the secret plan of Parliament to call William and Mary of Orange. There is the Parliament invitation, so the king and his family flew to France. On 5th November 1688 William landed in Great Britain with a small army but with the people’s support. The next year William III and Mary of Orange are jointly crowned king and queen of England: this period is called the Bloodless Revolution. In 1694 Mary died and William had to reign alone: he introduced a series of Acts that fixed the power of the Parliament. In the Act of Settlement catholic are excluded from the throne, in particular Anne, the Protestant daughter of James II.
Diaries and biographies
Men and women record their impressions of everybody events in diaries and biographies. Diaries not meant to publication. The diarist Samuel Pepys describe in his diary the public events from 1660 to 1669: the return of king Charles, the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of London of 1666.
William Congreve
(1670-1729)
The most important writer of the Restoration Drama is William Congreve, the major playwright of Restoration Comedy. Born in 1670, he was educated in Ireland. In 1691 he went to London to study law but he soon became a wit. He began to write for theatre: The Old Bachelor, Love For Love. The greatest Congreve’s comedy was written at the end of the Restoration: The way of world (1700).
The way of world (1700)
Millamant is surrounded by lovers, but she likes Mirabell best. He is the perfect rake. He likes her too, but their union is opposed by Lady Wishfort, Millamant’s aunt who is infatuates with Millamant rake. The two lovers menage to marry. The plot is built on incidents and typical characters of Restoration comedy: two young and witty lovers, the pompous fool, the country squire, misunderstandings and role exchanging; adultery, conflict between sensuality and respectability. The central theme is the difficulty if arranging the marriage of the two lovers. The comedy is witty and elegant; it betrays sympathy for men and his frailties.
Restoration drama
The Restoration drama is divided into three parts: tragedy: heroic play and comedy of manners. Theatres had been closed from 1642 to 1660 (Puritan period). After the Great Fire of London (1666), Christopher Wren was asked to build two new theatres for the two companies officially recognised by the king, Charles II.
• Theatre Royal: in Druny Lane; the Duke’s men
• Theatre Royal: in Covent Garden; the King’s men
Characteristics of the theatre:
• the outer stage was eliminated;
• back and front stage remained;
• there was a picture frame stage;
• painted scenery in perspective began to be used;
• two side entrances for the actors;
• use of machinery to change the scene;
• use of artificial lightning;
• the audience was separated from the stage;
• actors played one role at the time;
• women play female role.
The audience:
The audience was composed of noblemen (court wits) and members of upper and middle classes: they wanted to enjoy themselves. So the theatre became the ideal place for gossiping, meeting people and feeling fashionable.
THE HEROIC PLAY:
* developed from 1660 to 1680;
* it was a very elaborate and elegant play written in imitation of epic poems;
* it was a verse play in heroic couplets (rhymed iambic pentameters);
* plots were complicated;
* characters: heroes and heroines;
* scenery: rich and over decorated;
* language: high sounding;
* themes: love, honour and patriotism;
* it represented the ideal of perfect heroism.
THE TRAGEDY:
From Corneille the dramatists took the idea that the tragedy should raise admiration among the spectators. It is a return to the Elizabethan theatre, but without the mix of tragic and comic elements. There was the strict observation of the three unites (Aristotle) and it was written in blank verse.
THE RESTORATION COMEDY:
* the best expression of the superficiality of the age;
* it is written by and for the court wits, so it reflects their vision of life;
* it is a description of contemporary court society;
* it shows the lack of ideals and the dissoluteness of the higher classes;
* it is written in prose;
* aristocratic; irreverent; too polite and licentious;
* it wants only to amuse and to entertain;
* it is a battle of the scenes;
Influences: Molière (dialogue, characters, style and language);
Calderon de la Barca (organized plot) ;
Commedia dell’arte (farcical elements);
Comedy of humors (Ben Jonson).
The characters: they have symbolic names which correspond to a precise social type:
▪ the jealous husband;
▪ the fop: elegant, witty and cynical;
▪ the lady of fashion.
Plots: complex with numerous subplots.
Setting: London, aristocratic houses and coffee houses.
Themes:
▪ love: war of wits; men and women try to cheat each other. Attraction, vanity, social reputation, not passion;
▪ marriage: the means of setting rich or richer;
▪ conflict town/country: city rakes try to seduce country girls/wives. Country people are considered low and ridiculous
▪ pursuit of sex and money.
Major playwrights: Congreve; Etherege; Wycherley; Farquhar.
It was never popular: the rest of the country was not interested in the superficial world of the Restoration comedy. By the end of the century, it was declining together with society that had produced it.
Comedy: from the Greek ‘comodia’ Dionysiac festival song linked to village feasts celebrating the rites of fecundity.
Features: ordinary characters set in everyday situations;
begins with misfortunes of the protagonist;
no death of the protagonist;.
it denounces vices and follies of the society it belongs to;
the character do not evolve (flat);
plots are based on love;
happy ending.
Tragedy
Comedy
Plot
Change in the hero fortunes
Starts with an unhappy condition and ends happily
Characters
Kings, prices, warriors
Ordinary people belonging to upper classes
Language
Solemn, high, poetic, rhetoric
Formal, witty, satirical, mainly in prose
Theme
Universal
Vices and folly of society
Audience
All of social classes
Literate, upper classes
THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
(1702-1798)
Queen Anne came to the throne as the ruler of Great Britain after the union of British and Scottish Parliament in 1707 England entered in the war of Spanish succession to protect English commercial interest abroad: Great Britain, Holland and Prussia against France, Spain and Portugal. The war ended when British fleet took Gibraltar: so England had the control of the passage between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. It ended with the treaty of Utrecht (1713): the conditions were favourable to Great Britain: it took control of Gibraltar and Minorca, Acadia, the Hudson Bay and the island of Newfoundland. Great Britain also gained the permission to send a ship once at year to trade with South-America (pretext to commercial penetration), and the monopoly of slave trade for North-American colonies. There was also the foundation of the Bank of England.
With the death of Queen Anne (1714), the Stuart family was extinguished. According to the Act of Settlement, the British throne could not go to a Catholic. The nearest Protestant relation was the Elector of Hanover (a German state on the Baltic Sea), who was the great grand son of James I: George I. He spoke German, not English, and had no knowledge of British customs or policy. He had to rely completely on the Whig party. This had important consequences, laying the foundations for that form of Parliamentary monarchy that has been existence ever since. The Prime minister is responsible to the king: there was the development of the cabinet. Parliament was formed by people chosen, not by the king, but by the major party. Sir Robert Walpole was the prime minister form 1715 to 1717. He was a capable leader; in fact there was a period of peace and prosperity. He was accused of corruption and of being a dictator. So there is the oligarchy: well-bred and educated gentlemen represented the interests of the establishment. Then became to the throne George II, son of George I, who ruled the country from 1727 to 1760. There was the war of Austrian succession, in favour of Marie Therese of Austria. The war started in 1740: Great Britain and Holland against France, Spain and Prussia. The war ended in 1748 with the peace of Aquisgrana: Great Britain had not advantages. Then there is the maritime war against Spain that leaves Great Britain in a difficult position; the Jacobite rebellion in Scotland to regain the throne defeated by British army. There is also the Seven Years’ War: England and Prussia against all the rest of the world. They won the war and they took control of Senegal, Canada (from France), territories of East Mississippi, the Caribbean and the Louisiana. Also in India Britain had few commercial ports under the control of France and East India Company.
The age of reason
Moderation in government and religion
During the Eighteen century many European travellers to Great Britain were surprised by what they saw as the comparative freedom enjoyed by the British people in contrast with the more absolutist regimes of their own countries.
Politics and ideas
The conflict between Britain and France:
• Protestantism vs Catholicism;
• Parliamentary monarchy vs absolute monarchy;
• Religious tolerance vs religious intolerance.
British respect for man’s freedom did not prevent Britain from having the monopoly of the African slave trade.
Rational philosophies
A spirit of rational inquiry into the nature of man and society characterised the Age of Reason. The great wave of empiricism, whose foundation had been laid by Locke at the end of the seventeenth century, developed into the scepticism of David Hume.
The rise of middle class
The middle class had been increasing in importance since the sixteenth century, and after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 it gradually merged with the aristocracy. The interests of both classes were the same, as they joined forces in commercial, agricultural or industrial ventures. The middle class embodied a stern Protestant, often Puritan, morality, a religious belief in work and a strong sense of the importance of the family. Marriage began to be a matter of personal choice and not arranged by the family. The middle class still lacked good manners, which they learnt from the aristocracy, which in turn was being modified by the middle class values. The middle class learnt their manners from the pages of the newspapers and magazines. People went to coffeehouses not just to drink coffee, tea or chocolate, but to meet each other, discuss current events, and write.
The Augustan Age
The first half of the century is often referred to as ‘the Augustan Age’, modelled on those of ancient Rome under the Emperor Augustus. The Augustans turned to classical Rome and Greece. The ruling class looked upon themselves as the true heirs of Roman Empire, on Parliament as a modern counterpart of the Roman Senate, and on their overseas possessions as an empire that was comparable with ancient Rome. The old Roman virtues, fortitude, perseverance and forbearance, together with Stoic pride, were thought to be the prerequisites of the true British gentleman. Neo-classicism became a style of life, it was reflected in poetry, architecture, sculpture, painting, and even in gardening and town planning. After the works of the followers of Christopher Wren, in the 1730s there was an architectural revolution: Palladio became the accepted model for both country houses and publics buildings. This neo-classical vogue also affected urban planning; several British cities were adorned with classical terraces, squares and crescents. The Gothic style was also popular, especially in the second half of the century. There was a medieval style revival: castles, ruins, solitary chapels and pointed arches. Important country houses had to have a park. British owners abandoned the formal, regular model of the Italian and French garden, to develop one included large lawns, forests, trees, hedges, streams. Such garden is known as the ‘English garden’. The art of landscape gardening consisted in giving a natural appearance while the garden was in fact carefully planned. The great landowners could deviate streams, create artificial waterfalls, and rise or level hills.
The great Augustans
The great Augustan writers share a belief in reason as capable o imposing some order on otherwise chaotic world. Rules were laid down for almost every aspect of life, from religion and philosophy to arts and sports. Form this derive the didactic tone of much Augustan literature. The Augustans were convinced that their aesthetic and moral canons were perfect because they conformed to Nature, which they saw as the rational principle guiding the universe, and to classical rules. Nature and the classics were thought to be the same thing and were considered superior to modern ideas and standards.
The rise of novel
Influences:
* Royal Society;
* rise of middle class (Puritans lifestyle);
* Methodism;
* satire:
* dairies;
* journalism (papers)
Satire:
☺ Horace-Juvenal: denounce and mockery;
☺ Chaucer: satirised the corruption of the Church and the habits of his contemporaries;
☺ Pope: satirises the social follies of his time
☺ Steele and Addison: satirise the customs of the age in prose
Jonathan Swift
(1667-1745)
Swift was born in Ireland of English parents. He was educated there, and this Anglo-Irish duality was to continue throughout his life. He lived in both countries (tough longer in Ireland), always thought of himself as an English-man, yet became a champion of the Irish cause in many crucial moments. Specific social and political problems, especially those related to the Irish situation, are dealt with in his many pamphlets and satirical works. His satirical vein his clear in his most famous work, Gulliver’s travels: in the form of a tale of travel and adventures set in a fantastic far-away islands inhabited by strange races – Lilliputians, giants, speaking horses – Swift submit civilised society to a ruthless attack The book was first published in 1726, anonymously because of the many dangerous allusions to contemporary politics it contained.
A modest proposal (1729)
Swift was a formidable polemist. With this book he proposed to solve the problem of famine and hunger, eight per cent of all one-years-old babies should be killed and sold as food. This proposal is a subtle provocation: if we can allow people to starve to death, why not be less hypocritical and eat their children? Swift manages to make us the tragic facts: thousand of people, especially children, were starving to death, partly because of the readers’ indifference. The elegant simplicity of the prose helps Swift to convey his message in provocative and yet engaging terms. Aim: to shock the readers.
Gulliver’s travels (1726)
On a first level, Gulliver’s travels reads like a travel story. The genre was immensely popular, as shown by Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, which had appeared in 1719. Lemuel Gulliver, the narrator, is an ordinary man, a ship’s surgeon, whose background and family we are told about. Over several years Gulliver makes a series of voyages. The book’s of geography, though imaginary, is made to seem real by Swift. He mixes the fantastic and the real; his imaginary lands are in known ocean or continents. He is very careful about the names of the ships Gulliver sails on, their captains’ names, the degrees of latitude or longitude they sail into and so on.
The first voyage
In the first voyage Gulliver is shipwrecked in the empire of Lilliput, inhabited by a people so small they look like insects compared to Gulliver. At first the Lilliputians make him prisoner but they gradually come to trust with him, and even try to use him in their wars against the neighbouring country. In the end Gulliver ids allowed to leave the country, which he does on a boat where he has stored the meat of hundred oxen and three hundred sheep (all of Lilliputian size)
The second voyage (set in Alaska)
On his second voyage Gulliver lands in the country of Brodbingnag. This time he is surrounded by giants; he is used as a toy and has to defend himself from the attacks of rats as big as large dogs. He is treated with grest kindness by the Brodbingnagians, who are highly civilised and tolerant people. Gulliver leaves the country by accident: the house-box in which he is kept is picked up by an eagle that carries it above the open sea and lets his drop. Gulliver is then rescued by an English ship.
The third voyage
In his third voyage Gulliver, while fleeing from some pirates, lands in Laputa, a flying island moved by a great magnet. The inhabitants have heads bent to one side and an eye turned inward. They lived in badly built houses and their fields are badly worked because they despite all practical occupations. Their Scientific Academy in the town of Lagado, where absurd experiments are conducted, is the supreme example of how the Laputians are totally out of touch with reality. The Gulliver goes to Glubdubdrib where he met the great historical figures of the past. In Luggnagg the people are unhappy because they can never die.
The fourth voyage
Gulliver’s final adventure takes him to country of the intelligent horses, the Houyhnhnms. The country is also inhabited by a race of monstrous creatures, the Yahoos, that closely resemble men (they look more like apes). The Houyhnhnms are a rational and perfectly just race, whereas the Yahoos are mischievous and filthy. Gulliver is painfully forced to admit that the Yahoos are very much like men, and he decided to stay with the horses forever. Unfortunately for him the Houyhnhnms cannot tolerate the presence of a Yahoo (Gulliver) and he has to leave. On his return to England Gulliver finds he can no longer endure his family, let alone other men. He spends most of his time in the stable, with horses.
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