There are three historical events which deeply influenced the life and literature of the age of Dryden. They are: the Restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660; the religious and political controversies, and the Popish Plot; and the Golden Revolution of the year 1688.
1. The Restoration: Increased Immorality: The Restoration of Charles II to the English throne brought about a revolution in English Literature. The Puritan regime of Oliver Cromwell had been too severe; it had suppressed too many natural impulses. With the Restoration there was a violent reaction against the Puritan restraints. Now released from restraint, society abandoned the decencies of life and the reverence for law itself, and plunged into excesses more unnatural than had been the restraints of Puritanism. It seems as if "England lay sick of a fever." The King was a thorough rake, had a number of mistresses and numerous illegitimate children. This immorality and levity of the age is reflected in its literature, specially in the Drama, which once more came to its own after the reopening of the theatres. The plays of Dryden, the most representative poet of the period, reflect this immorality and coarseness of life in ample measure.
Unspeakable vile in his private life, the King had no redeeming partiotism, no sense of responsibility to his country even in his public acts. He gave high offices to black-guards, stole from the exchequer like a common thief, played off Catholics and Protestants against each other, disregarded his pledges, broke his solemn treaty with the Dutch and with his own ministers, and betrayed his country for Freach money to spend on his own pleasures. 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. Practically the whole of London was burnt and countless died of Plauge, thousands fled from London to the countryside. While London was burning and the people were suffering, the King and his nobles kept up their revels. They roamed the streets, abducting and seducing the women of peace-loving citizens.
The court of such a King was equally dishonourable. The Parliament was dominated by youngmen who vied with the King in passing laws for the subjugation of the church and the state and in their thirst for revenge on all those connected with the Puritan government of Cromwell. The House of Lords was largely increased by the creation of hereditary titles and estates for ignoble men and shameless women who had submitted to the lust of the King. Even the judiciary grew corrupt. The valiant Dutch navy swept the English fleet from the sea, and only the thunder of Dutch guns on the Thames could awake the pleasure-drunk nation from the awful lethargy that had over- taken it.
2. Religious and Political Quarrels. Another important feature of the era is the bitterness of political and religious passions. The age witnessed the rise of the two political parties, the Whigs and the Tories, which were to play such a leading role in English politics for a long time to come. The country was divided into two political parties: (1) the Whigs who sought to limit the royal power in the interests of the people and the Parliament, and (2) the Tories, who supported the `Divine Right' theory of king, and strove to check the growing power of the people in the interests of their hereditary rulers. The rise of these political parties gave a fresh importance to men of literary ability, for both parties tried to enlist their support and bribed them with places and pensions. Hardly a writer of the day is free from this political bias. Dryden, for example, was a Tory and he ably advocated the cause of his monarch.
The religious controversies were even more bitter. As hinted above, the supporters of the previous regime were fanatically persecuted. The nation was predominantly Protestant, and the Catholics laboured under a number of disabilities. They were suspected, had to pay higher taxes, and were not permitted to hold any office under the Clown. This intense hatred for the Catholics colours all the writings of the time.
The Popish Plot
The religion of the King himself was suspect, and his brother James was avowedly a Papist (Roman Catholic). As Charles II had no legitimate child and heir, it was certain that his brother James, a Catholic, would succeed to the throne. Therefore, attempts were made to exclude him from the throne and to supplant him by the Duke of Monmouth, the favourite, though illegitimate, son of Charles II. This controversy directly led to the so-called Popish Plot sworn to by Tilus Oates. The popular frenzy was fanned by lies of all sorts, and vigorous efforts were made by the Earl of Shaftesbury to exclude James from the throne and secure it for the Duke of Monmouth. The King sided with his brother, Shaftesbury was overthrown, and the way was cleared for the accession of James. The famous poem of Dryden, Absalom and Achitophel, is only one of the countless works which reflect these religious and political conflicts of the day.
3. The Revolution (1688). James II ascended the throne in 1685. He soon revealed his Roman Catholic prejudices and by underhand means he tried to establish Catholicism in the country. He became unpopular within three years and the nation as a whole 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. The religious passions diminished in intensity. The literature of the succeeding years tended to emphasise the political rather than the religious side of public affairs.
From the literary point of view, these deep and vigorous movements bring 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 revives in civic feelings; so that the tone of literature, as of social life, is somewhat modified. With the political and moral transformation that begins in 1688, the very keynote of English literature, as of English life, is changed. It can be said that the last years of the seventeenth century form distinct period— a brief but well-marked transition, separating the Restoration from the age of classicism.
(i) Rise of Neoclassicism: The Restoration marks a complete break with the past. Moody and Lovett remark: "This sense of present fact, this identification of the real and the material, as distinguished from the transcendentalism of Renaissance and Puritan thought, is the chief characteristic of the mood of the century which succeeded the Restoration In all directions it appeared as a disposition toward conservatism and moderation. Men had learned to fear individual enthusiasm, and therefore they tried to discourage it by setting up ideals of conduct in accordance with reason and commonsense, to which all men should adapt themselves. Rules of etiquette and social conventions were established and the problem of life became that of self-expression within the narrow bounds which were thus prescribed." All these tendencies are reflected in the literature of this period.
The writers, both in prose and poetry, tacitly agreed upon the rules and principles in accordance with which they should write. The acceptance of these literary conventions drawn from the practice of writers of the past is the most characteristic difference between the classic age of Dryden and Pope, and the romantic, individualistic epoch of Spenser and Shakespeare. Rules and literary conventions became more important than the depth and seriousness of subject matter to writers of this period. They expressed superficial manners and customs of the aristocratic and urban society and did not pry into the mysteries of human mind and heart. The new epoch is the converse and antithesis of the previous Elizabethan age. It is called classical, as opposed to Elizabethan romanticism.
(ii) Imitation of the Ancients: The authors of this period were not endowed with exceptional literary talents. So they turned to the great classical writers, in particular, to the Latin writers, for guidance and inspiration. It was generally believed that the ancients had reached the acme of excellence and the modern poets could do no better than model their writings on classics. Thus grew the neoclassical school of poetry. The neoclassicists or pseudoclassicists could not soar to great imaginative heights or could not delve deep into human emotions. They directed their attention to the slavish imitation of rules and ignored the importance of subject matter. This habit was noticeable in the' age of Dryden. It deepened and hardened during the succeeding epoch of Pope — much so that the latter laid down as a final test of excellence:
Learn hence for ancient rules a just esteem; To copy Nature is to copy them.
(iii) Imitation of the French: The influence of France counted for much. Charles II had spent most of his time of exile in France. When the King and his companions returned to England, they renounced old poetic tradition and demanded that poetry and drama should follow the style to which they had become accustomed in the gaiety of Paris. Shakespeare and other Elizabethans could not satisfy the popular literary taste. Pepys wrote in his diary that he was bored to see Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, and that he would never go again to hear Shakespeare, "for it is the most insipid, ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life." Evelyn too wrote: "I saw Hamlet played; but now the old plays begin to disgust this refined age, since his Majesty's being so long abroad." Since .Shakespeare and the Elizabethans were no more popular, literary men began to imitate the French writers. The Italian influence had been dominant in Elizabethan age. Now began the so-called period of French Influence, which showed itself in English literature for the next century.
Pascal, Bossuet, Fenelon, Corneille, Racine, Moliere and Boileau were imitated. The works of the French writers were characterised by correctness, elegance, finish, formalism and realism. Their works dealt with polite society and in them the critical faculty was predominant. Boileau's "good sense" ideal became very popular. English writers imitated the French blindly; rather they copied the worst vices of the French, instead of their wit, delicacy and refinement. The French influence is seen in the coarseness and indecency of the Restoration comedy of manners of Dryden, Wycherly, and Congreve. The combined influence of French and classical models of tragedy is seen in the heroic tragedy, represented by Dryden's Tyrannic Love and All For Love. The French influence is also responsible for the growth and popularity of opera.
Jeremy Collier in 1698 vigorously attacked the immorality and indecency of the evil plays and the playwrights of the day. The Londoners, tired of the coarseness and excesses of the Restoration, joined the literary revolution, and the corrupt drama was driven from the stage.
(iv) The Correct School: The Elizabethans too were inspired by the ancients, but they were men of genius, so, they could freely and joyously bend the works of the classical authors to their own wills. The work of the authors of the restoration period was imitative and of limited quality. Since they lacked creativity and flight of imagination, they abandoned freedom altogether and slavishly followed the rules. Edward Albert writes: "Thus they evolved a number of "rules" which can usefully be summarised in the injunction "Be correct". Correctness means avoidance of enthusiasm, moderate opinions moderately expressed, strict care and accuracy in poetical technique; and humble imitation of the style of the Latin classics."
The new tendency, which reached its climax in the Age of Pope, is very clearly marked. To him Dr. Johnson applied the term "Augustan", saying that Dryden did to English literature what Augustus did to Rome, which he found of "brick and left of marble". Dryden is the first representative of the new ideas that were to dominate English literature till the end of the eighteenth century.
(v) Realism and Formalism: Reacting against the romantic exuberance of the Elizabethan literature and as a result of the French influence, the Restoration literature dveloped realism to a marked degree. "The early restoration writers," says W. J. Long, "sought to paint realistic picture of a corrupt court and society, and, as we have suggested, they emphasised vices rather than virtues, and gave us coarse, low plays without interest or moral significance. Like Hobbes they saw only the externals of man, his body and appetites, not his soul and his ideals; and so like most realists, they resemble a man lost in the woods, who wanders aimlessly around in circles, seeing the confusing trees but never the whole forest, and who seldom thinks of climbing the nearest high hill to get his bearings. Later, however, the tendency to realism became more wholesome. While it neglected romantic poetry, in which youth is eternally interested, it led to a keener study of practical motives which govern human action.”
The Restoration writers eschewed all extravagances of thought and language and aimed at achieving directness and simplicity of expression. From French literature they learnt the tendency to regard established rules for writing, to emphasise close reasoning rather than romantic fancy, and to use short, clean-cut sentences without an unncessary word. This French influence was obvious on the Royal Society, which had for one of its objects the reform of English prose by getting rid of its "swellings of style" and which bound all its members to use a "close, naked, natural way of speaking..... as near to mathematical plainness as possible." Dryden accepted this excellent rule for his prose, and adopted the heroic couplet, as the next best thing, for the greater part of his poetry. He himself writes:
And this unpolished rugged verse I chose
As fittest for discourse, and nearest prose.
It is largely due to Dryden that "writers developed formalism of style, that precise, almost mathematical elegance, miscalled classicism, which ruled the English literature for the next century."
The English poets had already, before the Restoration, begun the critical work, and the French influence served only to give it a greater impulse. Waller, Denham and Cowley had begun the use of a colder and more correct phrasing and versification. Vigour was given to this new method in art by Dryden, and perfection of artifice added to it by Pope. "The artificial style succeeded to," says S. A. Brooke, "and extinguished the natural, or to put it otherwise, a merely intellectual poetry finally overcame a poetry in which emotion always accompanied thought."
The change of style was accompanied by a change of subject. Dryden, Pope and their followers left the passions aside, and wrote of the subjects in which the intellect and the casuistical conscience, the social and political instinct in man were interested. In this way the satiric, didactic, philosophical and party poetry of a new school arose.
1. Dryden (1631-1700)
His Life. John Dryden was the first of the new, as Milton was the last of the elder school of poetry. Born in 1631 in Gundle in Northampton shire, Dryden got his education at Gundle Grammar School, Westminster School and Cambridge. In 1657 or 1658 he moved to London, where he remained for the rest of his life as a man of letters. For forty yes he abundantly produced literary works of every kind—poems, plays and prose works.
Dryden was a Cromwellite till the Restoration, when he began to change. His earliest work of any importance is Pre-Restoration (1659) and consists of a laudation of the recently dead Oliver Cromwell. It was followed by the Astraea Redux, which celebrated the return of Justice to the realm in the person of Charles II. At the Restoration Dryden changed his views. He became a follower of Charles II and the Church of England. He was amply rewarded for his loyalty to the King and for many years he was easily the most considerable literary figure of his time. On the accession of James II in 1685 Dryden changed his faith and became a Roman Catholic. After the Revolution of 1688 Dryden had to face difficulties due to his adherence to Catholicism. He lost his posts of Poet Laureate and Historiographer Royal. Dryden retired with dignity to sustain his last years with his literary pursuits. He died in 1700. With his death a literary epoch came to an end.
Dryden's Works. Dryden was a representative poet of his age. His first poem, an elegy on the death of young Lord Hastings, written at eighteen, is incredibly bad. Heroic Stanzas (1659) was a series of heroic stanzas on the death of Cromwell. It is his first poem of any consequence. Astraea Redux (1660), a poem in celebration of Charles IIs return, marks the beginning of the new age and an advance in his poetical craftsmanship. Annus Mirabilis (1667) contains topical interest. It gives a spirited account of the Great Fire and the war with the Dutch in the previous year. It clearly shows Dryden's metrical ease and flexibility. It shows a weakness for fantastic conceits. It contains many fine images and vigorous descriptions.
Absalom and Achitophel (1681) is a fine, finished satire. It has for its theme a definite political project, the project to bar the succession of James and put in this place the Duke of Monmouth. The satire itself, written in mockery of the Popish plot and the Exclusion Bill, attacked Shaftesbury as Achitophel, was kind to Monmouth as Absalom, and in its sketch of Buckingham as Zimri the poet avenged himself for the Rehearsal. The satire is noticeable for force, range, metrical facility, crispness and precision. It contains many vivid portraits. "It was the first fine example," says S. A. Brooke, "of that party poetry which became still more bitter and personal in the hands of Pope. Medal (1682) is a new attack on Shaftesbury. Mac Flecknoe (1682) is a scathing personal attack on a-former friend, Thomas Shadwell. In the second part ofAbsalom and Achitophel (1682) Dryden contributed a violent attack on Shadwell, giving him the name of Og.
The new development in Dryden's political career in the appearance of two doctrinal poems, Religio Laici (1682) and The Hind and the Panther. The first defends and states the argument for the church of England. The second is a melodious argument on behalf of the milk-white hind of the church of Rome. It is an allegorical poem in which the dissenters are treated under the image of baser beasts, while at first the Panther, the church of England is gently treated, but in the end lashed with severity.
The Fables (169) reveals Dryden's narrative skill. He appears as one of the great story-tellers in verse in The Fables. As a lyric poet Dryden's fame rests on the animated Song for St. Cecilia's Day (1687) and On Alexander's Feast (1697). Both these poems show Dryden as a master of melodious verse and a varied and powerful style, for example
From the cheerless dawn of morning
Till the dews of night returning,
Singing thus she made her moan:
"Hope is vanished
Joys are vanished,
Damn, my beloved is gone?"
The numerous lyrics that appear in his plays are charming.
Dryden as a Poet. As a poet Dryden is the typical representative of his age. His poetry embodies both the merits and demerits of his age. He excels as an exponent of intellectual and satirical poetry. We find following characteristics in Dryden's poetry:
(i) His Satiric Power: As a satirist in verse Dryden stands very high in the seventeenth century. He is one of the most vigorous and polished English satirists. He is unrivalled in verse argumentation. His satire is impersonal, rarely personal, and he constantly rises from the particular to the general. He is skilled in satiric portraiture. Absalom and Achitophel and Mac Flecknoe reveal him at his'best as a satirist.
(ii) His Craftsmanship: Dryden is an exceptionally correct and dignified poetic craftsman. He was a master of select and polished diction. His faculty of placing words both in poetry and prose is wonderful. Admiring his craftsmanship, Dr. Johnson wrote: "Dryden found of English brick and left it marble." Saintsbury writes: "Considering what he started with, what he accomplished, and what advantages he left for his successors, he must be pronounced, without exception, the greatest craftsman in literature."
Dryden perfected the heroic couplet which was to occupy for many years the place of the accepted measure of serious English poetry. Edward Albert writes: "Long practice in dramatic couplet writing had now given Dryden a new metrical facility, tightening and strengthening the measure, and giving it crispness and energy without allowing it to become obscure and violent." Dryden's splendid use of the heroic couplet proved its capabilities and assured its success.
Dryden described himself as one "who had done his best to improve the language, and especially the poetry" of his country. He was justified in saying this to a considerable extent. Dryden "had clarified and freshened English verse," writes A. C. Rickett, "brushing away much of the picturesque yet confusing tangle of ornamental undergrowth, and giving it point and actuality."
As a poetic craftsman he is original. Dryden was not original in the sense in which it is applied to the creative shapings of high imagination. Rickett writes: "....originality of conception is not his. But in the matter of treatment he is uniformly original. He invented nothing, but the crude inventions of other men he perfected, and what he said of his countrymen might well be applied to himself: "The genius of our countrymen (is) rather to improve an invention than to invent themselves."'
Legouis remarks that Dryden's is a mixed art "in which the soundest and the truest liberties of the romantics are grafted on to a general background of order and choice."
Dryden's poetry is characterised by "a splendid intellectuality and a manly vigour of style."
1. His Demerits
(1) Lack of Imagination and Passion. Dryden's faults are well- marked and glaring. He is the poet of reason, good sense and wit, and not of imagination or passion. Intellect and not intuition, wit and not inspiration, are the basis of all his poetry. He appeals to the mind and not to the heart. Now reason and wit are qualities proper to prose and not to poetry. All great poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful passion, but in Dryden's poetry passion and imagination are subordinated to the intellect. A perusal of his poetry reveals that the highest reaches of imagination are beyond him.
(2) Lack of Feeling for Nature. Dryden's poetry is town poetry; it deals with the artificial life of the city of London. No fresh whiff of air from the woods enters his works. He is unique among English poets in having no feeling whatever for nature, for the fresh and beautiful world of leaves and flowers. No birds ever sing in his poetry and no flowers ever bloom in his world.
(3) His Intellectuality. His subjects are political and religious controversies of the day. Such subjects require careful understanding, searching analysis and sharp argumentation—functions proper to prose and not to poetry. Satire, religious exposition, etc., require keenness of intellect and not imagination, and the poet who deals with such subjects in his poetry, exposes himself to the charge of being 'prosaic, certainly the highest place in the realm of poetry cannot be his.
(4) His Limited Range. Dryden's range was singularly limited. The bulk of his poetry is narrative and didactic, or consists of translations from the classics. He could use only one metre — the Heroic Couplet — with effect and mastery, and all his major works are cast in this mould. Besides this, in spite of all his genius, he could not originate a theme. The very fact that he lacked invention and originality in this respect detracts a little from his greatness.
(5) His Indecency. Dryden is one of those who become great by moving with the tastes of the times, rather than by changing or modifying them. It was an age of corruption, profligacy and immorality. The king, and his court, was corrupt, and the licentiousness of the court is reflected in the literature of the period. Dryden pandered to these immoral tastes, so much so that many of his plays are so indecent and coarse that they are unreadable today. Even in his poems much that is obscene frequently enters.
(1) His Satiric Powers. But Dryden's merits far outweigh his faults. He is a great master of language and versification. He is the most vigorous and polished of English satirists, and he is unequalled in verse-argumentation. His satire is impersonal, rarely personal, and he constantly rises from the particular to the general. Other distinguishing features of his satiric art are (a) Dexterity in the handing of the heroic couplet, and (b) skill in satiric portraiture Absalom and Achitophel and Mac Flecknoe reveal him at his best as a satirist.
(2) Gift of Song-writing. Dryden was not only a fierce satirist and skilful reasoner in verse, he was also an song-writer. The numerous songs scattered through his plays are pure gems of art, but their real merit has been obscured by the prejudice against his plays. There are many beautiful passages (in his plays) of pure and noble thought and many lines which fasten on the memory, and which are often quoted without our knowing whence they come. This is an unfailing test of true poetic power.
(3) His Craftsmanship. When at his best, Dryden is exceptionally correct and dignified. His faculty of placing words is wonderful and conspicuous in prose as well as in poetry. Jonson was full of admiration for his craftsmanship and worte, "Dryden found English of brick, and left it of marble", and Saintsbur writes, 'Considering what he started with, what he accomplished, and what advantages he left for his successors, he must be pronounced, without exception, the greatest craftsman in English letters." His life object was to improve the English language and he accomplished it. He also perfected the metre (Heroic Couplet) which was to reign supreme in English poetry for the next hundred years.
His True Place and Greatness. Such are the marits and demerits of Dryden as a poet. He cannot be placed in the highest rank alongwith Shakespeare and Milton, but he must be given the first place in the second order of poets. To quote W. D. Christie : "His place among English poets is high, if not the highest, in the second class, the frist being that of Chaucer and Spenser, Shakespeare and Milton, in whom genius transcends art." Giving his own estimate of the poet, Mark Van Doren writes, "Dryden, the satirist, the journalist, the celebrant, the reasoner in vere, will continue to show the way to those who would deal in brass and iron; Dryden, the manifold metrician, will continue to reveal new melodies to those who would deal in bronze or in gold."
Dryden's Contribution—Dryden is the greatest of the poets who link up the Renaisssance with the Neo-classical age. He has the classical passion for perfection of form — clarlity, symmetry, obedience to rules, proportion, logic, reasoning, architectural instinct — but he has also the Elizabethan flights of fancy and imagination as well as their emotional ardour. He perfects the verse-form of the new poetry— the Heroic Couplet — but in his hands it still retains that freedom and flexibility which disappeared in the hands of the poets of the next generation. He returns to blank verse towards the end of his career. He does not apply the unities regularly. He mingles comedy with tragedy. He shows an appreciation, greater than that of any of his contemporaries, of the great Elizabethan masters of poetry. Thus he is nearer to the true classics than the poets of the next generation referred to as the pseudo-classics. His is a mixed art, "in which the soundest and the truest liberties of the romantics are grafted on to a general background of order and choice" (Legouis). His classicism is made of a restrained and self-disciplined romanticism.
2. Samuel Butler (1612-1680)
Butler's Hudibras, a pointed satire on Puritans, was published respectively in 1663, 1664 and 1668. It is in lineal descent from the comic doggerel of Skelton, who, indeed, paved the way for Restoration Satirists. It is a long, savage attack on the Parliamentary party and pleased the fancy of the time. The name "Hudibras" comes from the Faerie Queene. In Butler's poem he is a blusterous, ignorant, repulsive looking knight, with a Squire in keeping with his master. They set out in pseudo-romantic fashion, and are soon engaging in an anti-bear baiting crusade. Hudibras with its echoes of Rabelais and Cervantes, and its wild burlesque and preposterous buffonery, is rich in genuine flashes of comic insight; for instance:
He that complies against his will
Is of his own opinion still.
The Presbyterians by their unloveliness in disposition are:
Still so perverse and opposite
As if they worshipped God for spite.
Butler is a remarkable figure in the poetic development of the Restoration. Hudibras is undoubtedly the greatest satire outside Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel and remains the masterpiece of satire in the grotesque manner.
3. Other Poets
The social conditions of the time and the change in literary taste and tendencies necessitated the development of the satirical poetry. John Oldham's three pungent satires- Satire Against Virtue, Satire Upon a Woman and Satire Upon Jesuits are memorable. Bishop Ken's Morning and Evening Hymns is a new type of religious poetry.
The Earl of Dorset (1638-1706) and the Earl of Sedley (1639-1701) composed lyrics which nearly all deal with the love theme in an artificial manner. Of real originality there is hardly any trace.
Causes of the Rise of Prose in the Restoration
The Restoration is a great period of French influence. The greatest change that comes over English prose during this period is that the writers show greater sense of fact, and seek to convey it in a reasoned, logical way. Both the French influence and the rise of science contribute to this change. The writers of the period aim at precision, exactness and perfectness of form. The prose style of the philosophers, like Hobbes and Locke, is pruned of all useless ornament, and is self-controlled and so is an out-standing example of the transition towards a simple, dignified and restrained English prose. The development of science also contributes to greater simplicity, precision and perfection of form. Newton and Boyle belong to this period. Royal charter is granted to The Royal Society for the promotion of science and the scientific temper spreads to the men of letters as well. The Royal Society demanded from its members. "A close, naked, natural way of speaking", and these are the qualities which characterise the new prose. English prose becomes rationalistic in tone, simple and logical. The rationalism of science infects even the religious thought of the time.
The Restoration marks the beginning of modern prose. The following causes contributed to the rise of prose:
(i) Social and Literary Changes: "The Restoration," says Matthew Arnold, "marks the real moment of birth of our modern English prose. It is by its organism—an organism opposed to length and involvement, and enabling us to be clear, plain and short—that English prose after the Restoration breaks with the style of the times preceding it, finds the true law of prose and becomes modern, becomes, in spite of superficial differences, the style of our own day." From the historical point of view the establishment of modern English prose is the greatest single fact in the literary annals of the Age of Dryden.
The spread of the spirit of commonsense and of the critical temper of mind, of the love of definiteness and perspicacity, and of the hatred of the pedantic and obscure contributed to the development of English prose. It was an age of intellectualism and rationalism, the qualities which are essential for prose.
(ii) The Growth of Science: The growing interest in rationalism and the advancement of science greatly aided the general movement towards precision and the lucidity of expression which are the essential qualities of good prose style. The foundation of the Royal Society (1662), which was restricted in the beginning to physical and natural sciences, aimed at evolving clearness, plainness, conversational ease and directness of expression for their members as far as their writing is concerned. "The Royal Society," wrote the Bishop of Rochester, its first historian, "have exacted from all their members a close, naked, natural way of speaking, positive expressions, clear sense, a native easiness, bringing all things as near the mathematical plainness as they can, and preferring the language of artisans, countrymen and merchants before that of wits and scholars."
(iii) Rise of Journalism: It was an age of unceasing political and religious excitement. Various groups and sects pioneered the development of that sort of evanescent literature, which we now class under the head of journalism, so air their opinions on various topics of current interest. Numerous pamphlets were written and many periodicals came into existence. For the first time the general reader and the ready writer appeared together, each reacting upon the other. This change of reading public meant that things which had formerly been treated in a dry, pedantic and difficult way had to be made simple and pleasant.
In this era of varied public interests a larger and more miscellaneous public had to be addressed. The coffee houses and the drawing rooms attracted the intellectuals and general public for discussions on various topics of general interest. Thus an easy and conversational style, which properly expressed the tastes and the intellectual make-up of the new reading public, evolved.
(iv) French Influence: In advance of all other European countries, France had already evolved a kind of prose which in its clearness, flexibility, plainness and good taste was admirably adapted for all the purposes of ordinary exposition, discussion and social intercourse. This prose provided just the model that the English prose writers needed for their guidance.
The Restoration marks the beginning of the age of prose in English literature. Edward Albert writes: "Though the prose writing of the period is not great in bulk, it shows a profound change in style. Previous writers, such as Browne, Clarenden and Hobbes, had done remarkable and beautiful work in prose, but their style had not yet found itself. It was erratic and wayward, often cumbrous and often obscure, and weighted with a Latinized construction and vocabulary. In Dryden's time prose begins definitely to find its fact. It acquires a general utility and a permanence, it is smoothed and straightened, simplified and harmonised. This is the age of average prose, and prepares way for the work of Swift and Addison, who stand on the threshold of the modern prose style. Less than forty years intervene between Dryden and Sir Thomas Browne, yet Dryden and his school seem to be nearer the twentieth century than they are to Browne."
EMINENT PROSE WRITERS
1. John Dryden (1631-1700). As Dryden was now first in poetry, so he was in prose. No one can understand the poetry of this time, in its relation to the past, to the future, and to France, who does not read the critical Essays prefixed to his dramas, On the Historical Poem, on dramatic rhyme, on Heroic Plays, on the classical writers, and his Essay on Dramatic Poetry. "He is in these essays," writes S. A. Brooke, "the leader of modern literary criticism, but the leader of that modern prose in which the style is easy, unaffected, moulded to the subject, and in which the proper words are put in the proper places. Dryden was a great originator." Dryden's well-known Essay on Dramatic Poesy is "the model of the new prose." His prose style is characterised by clearness, vigour, a wonderful felicity of phrasing, and a colloquial ease which preserves a literary distinction, and rarely descends to the level of the slipshod or the commonplace. His prose is nearly always strong, flexible and delightfully straightforward.
2. John Bunyan (1632-1704). During the Restoration period Bunyan alone contests the supremacy of Dryden as a prose writer. He stands in a class by himself. Bunyan was born in Bedfordshire. His father was a brazier. He was educated at the village school, and at the age of sixteen was drafted into the Parliamentary army and saw service in the civil war. In 1653 Bunyan joined a local nonconformist sect in Bedford and soon began to preach there. His literary career began in 1656 with the appearance of two pamphlets on the gospels. He was arrested in 1660 as an unlicenced preacher. After having spent twelve years at the Bedford gaol, he was released in 1672. He, then, obtained a licence and became a pastor of a church in Bedford. He held his office till his death. In 1675 his licence was cancelled and was imprisoned for six months. Bunyan died in 1704.
Bunyan's Works. Bunyan's religious autobiography, Grace Abounding was the work of his captivity and it appeared in 1660. The first part of The Pilgrim's Progress belongs to a second imprisonment in 1675. It is the journey of Christian the Pilgrim from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. The second part was published in 1684. The Pilgrim's Progress is Bunyan's masterpiece. Commenting on its literary merit, S. A. Brooke writes: "I class the Pilgrim's Progress here, because in its imaginative fervour and imagery, and in its quality of naturalness, it belongs to the spirit of Elizabethan times. Written by a man of the people it is a people's book, and its simple form grew out of passionate feeling, and not out of self-conscious art. The passionate feeling was religious, and in painting the pilgrim's progress towards heaven, and his battle with the world and temptation and sorrow the book touched those deep and universal interests which belong to the poor and the rich. Its language, the language of the Bible, and its allegorical form, initiated a plentiful prose literature of a similar kind. But none have equalled it. Its form is almost epic. Its dramatic dialogue, its clear type of characters, its vivid descriptions, as of Vanity Fair, and of places, such as the Valley of the Shadow of Death and the Delectable Mountains, which represent states of the human soul, have given an equal but a different pleasure to children and men, to the villager and the scholar."
In 1680 Bunyan's The Life and Death of Mr. Badman, a curious little story, and in 1682 The Holy War, an allegory, appeared.
Bunyan’s Contribution to English Prose
Kipling called Bunyan "the father of the novel". He may not be the creator or the father of English novel but he is decidedly a poineer of English novel. He made the following contribution to the rise of the novel:
(i) Psychological Element: Before Bunyan the English fiction had hardly penetrated beyond the outward husk. He exhibited the pangs and constrictions, the fears and ecstasies of mind and soul, as he himself had experienced them. In the Pilgrim's Progress he has skilfully revealed the psychology of Christian.
(ii) Impressive Characters: Bunyan's characters are beings of flesh and blood and he had shown the full development of his characters. In The Life and Death of Mr. Badman he traced the entire development of a character from the cradle to the grave. The interest of The Pilgrim's Progress lies in the strength and firmness of the portraiture, whether of individuals or of crowds. From the moment when Bunyan in his dream sees his man "clothed with rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his own hand, and a great burden upon his back" till at the end of the journey when Christian and his comrades pass the river of Death and are led by the Shining Ores upto the Celestial City, our interest never flags. Both the human and the superhuman personages are live beings, not types or abstractions. Christian is a peasant like Bunyan. Pliable, obstinate, Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Mr. Talkative etc. are such persons as Bunyan had met with in Bedford and the countryside where he worked and preached. His thumbnail sketches of the witnesses and the jurymen at the trial in Vanity Fair are a minor triumph of rapid individualization. They walk, speak and act like individual human beings.
(iii) Contemporary Life: Bunyan drew life in its broad outlines and he painted manners and ideosyncrasies with a sureness and precision never before attained. Vanity Fair in The Pilgrim's Progress is a microcosm, not merely of the Restoration society, but of Europe at large.
(iv) Dramatic Interest: Bunyan was the first to introduce dramatic interest, which never halts in The Pilgrim's Progress.
(v) Scenic Descriptions: No predecessor of Bunyan had so pictured scenery as to make it an integral element of the story, giving depth and atmosphere. He gave precision and Biblical force to his descriptions of scenery. The Hill Difficulty, the Gloomy Valley and the distant view of Delectable Mountains are imaged in our memory as clearly as any hills and vales our bodily eyes have seen.
(vi) Language, Style and Dialogue: Bunyan's language is Biblical. He was endowed by nature with a genius for style. His prose is simple, clear, lucid and colloquial. He employs the fund of the common speech with a natural eloquence that is all his own. He creates his own proverbial sentences, as when Christian says of Talkative: "His house is as empty of religion, as the white of the egg is of savour." "Lastly Bunyan's style is unique in prose. "Though it is," writes Edward Albert, "undoubtedly based on the great Biblical models, it is quite individual. It is homely but not vulgar, strong but not coarse; equable but not monotonous; it is sometimes humorous, but it is never ribald; rarely pathetic, but never sentimental. It has remained the pattern of a plain style, and is one of the masterpieces of the English language."
Bunyan's dialogues are natural, real and lifelike. His sense of humour comes out in casual recounters met with by Christian on his journey. He and Faithful, for instance, fall in with Talkative who talks of "things heavenly, or things earthly, things moral or things evangelical, things past or things to come; things foreign or things at home; things more essential or things circumstantial." At this Faithful wonders and says to Christian softly: "What a brave companion have we got ! Surely this man will make a very excellent pilgrim." At this Christian moderately smiled and said: "This man, with whom you are so taken, will beguile, with that tongue of his, twenty of him that know him not." "Do you know him then?" "Know him ! Yes, better than he knows himself." This is a lifelike and natural dialogue.
(vii) Puritanism: Bunyan was a belated Puritan in the Restoration period. "He threw all the energising power, the wholehearted rapture, that the Elizabethans gave to the world of sense into the world of religious experience. What beauty was to Spenser, and power to Marlowe, righteousness was to Bunyan. Let us regard him, therefore, as a genuine child of Renaissance in a Puritan framework."
Bunyan occupies an important position in the evolution of English prose fiction. W. H. Hudson remarks in this connection: "The controlling didactic purpose and the allegorical form prevent us from putting the Pilgrim's Progress into the class of regular modern novels; yet so well sustained in the interest of the narrative, the characters and the dialogue, so great is the dramatic power, and so fillip is the grasp of ordinary life, that it must at least be regarded as a forerunner of the novel."
3. Lord Halifax (1633-95). Halifax, an outstanding figure in the House of Lords, was an eminent orator and writer of political tracts. His small volume called Miscellanies contains a number of political tracts. His style is simple and straightforward. He avoids all flourishes of style.
4. Sir William Temple (1628-99). He was a politician and diplomat. His works include his Letters (published in 1700 and 1703 respectively), Memoirs (1691) and Miscellanea , a series of essays on a variety of subjects, literary and general. It was published in three parts which appeared respectively in 1680, 90 and 1701. Temple's style deserves mention for its mundane, cultured reticence, but at times he could also skilfully write melodious and rhythmic prose.
5. Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes, a great political thinker, opposed the Divine Right Theory. He is before Dryden the first of all our prose writers whose style may be said to be uniform and correct, and adopted carefully to the subject on which he wrote. His treatise, the Leviathan (1651) declared that the origin of all power was in the people, and that the end of all power was the end of the common weal.
6. Sir John Locke (1632-1704). Locke was also a great political thinker. He followed the two doctrines of Hobbes in his treatises on Civil Government, but with these important additions — (i) that the people have a right to take away the power given by them to the ruler; (ii) that the ruler is responsible to the people for the trust reposed in him; and (iii) that legislative assemblies are supreme as the voice of the poeple. Locke's Essay Concerning the Human Understanding is a rational statement of the way in which the understanding works.
7. The Theological Prose. It is the prose of those who declared that reason was supreme as a test of truth. John Tilloston (1630-94) was a popular preacher of the time, and his Sermons is mentioned by Addison as being a standard work of its class. His style is remarkable for crispness and clarity. Cudworth's Intellectual System of ,the Universe (1678) is perhaps the best book on the controversy which then took form against those who were called Atheists. Theological prose was strengthened by the publication of the sermons of Edward Stillingfleet and William Sherlock, and their adversary, Robert South, was as witty in rhetoric as he was fierce in controversy.
8. The Diarists. Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) and John Evelyn (1620-1706) are two renowned diarists of this period. Pepys' Diary opens on January 1, 1660 and continues until May 31, 1669. It is the most frank and intimate revelation of a human life which is known to us. It reveals a complete picture of Pepys as a man of the world. The Diary has no pretensions to literary style — its greatness and charm lie in the unaffected naturalness of the style and its narrative skill. As a historical document it provides an interesting view of the life of Restoration London. John Evelyn's Diary was written with an eye on the public. It is a more finished production in the manner of style. It is full of accurate information.
1. THE HEROIC TRAGEDY OR PLAY: CHIEF FEATURES
The Heroic Tragedy or the Heroic play, like the Comedy of Manners, is a peculiar product of the Restoration era. It has often been condemned as unnatural and artificial. L. C. Knights criticises it as being alien to the soil. The fact is that it should not be judged by the standards of Shakespearean tragedy, but rather as a raction to it.
Its Rise: Causes — It arose, first, as a reaction to Shakespeare, because it was felt that nothing more could be done with the Shakespearean type of tragedy, and if they wanted really to excel and do something new, they must explore fresh fields. Secondly, it arose mainly to satisfy the social, moral and artistic needs of the age, and it lived so long as it satisfied those needs, "It came into existence in response to the spiritual needs of a tired, disillusioned and decadent aristocracy." The aristocracy suffered from a sense of futility and moral insecurity. Shakespearean tragedy faced life and reality and interpreted it, the Restoration aristocracy needed a drama which would resuscitate those nobler values of life which their society had lost. "The heroic play created a dream world for them where they could find love, virtue and greatness, as a substitute for the pettiness around them." They craved for romance and heroism, and it could only be satisfied by a type of play which was at once aristocratic and artificial. It was in response to such demands that the heroic play showed, "heroic virtue", in noble men of illustrious birth, and thus helped to sustain their faith in kings, princes, men of conspicuous power, anciently called heroes.
Its Artificial, "Escape-world" — In short , the heroic play is an aristocratic growth, at once lofty and artificial. It does not deal with the real world and its problems. Rather, it creates a mechanical world of its own, in which life is lived at a heightened level, and to which real suffering can hardly penetrate. It is a "heroic world", not a "tragic one", a world in which all the limitations of human nature are frogotten and man is encouraged to believe that he has absolute power over his actions and circumstances. Pure emotion, more particularly the inflated emotions of love and honour, is regarded as an end in itself. Reality is kept out, and this is regarded as a distinction rather than a fault. Thus the heroic tragedy creates an "escape-world", for a degenerate aristocracy and provides them with the vicarious satisfaction of doing great deeds,
An Imitation of the Epic. The Heroic Play is basically different from the older tragedy, and is to be understood with reference to the laws of the epic or heroic poem rather than to those of the tragedy. Dryden defined it, "as an imitation, in little, of a heroic poem". He noticed the great affinity between the two genres, the end is the same, the characters are the same, the action and passions are the same, only the manner of conveying them is different. Epic does it rough narration, while the heroic play uses action and dialogue for the purpose.
The Incredible and the Supernatural. Just as in the epic so also in the heroic play, probability is stretched to the farthest limit. As in the epic, the writer is not limited even by, "the extremest bounds of what is credible". The introduction of the supernatural is therefore, justified on the same grounds as in an epic. Thus, "ancient critical doctrines" are used to justify the use of the improbable to satisfy restoration. "craving for romance."
Epic Grandeur. The heroic play was thus invested with, "the greatness and majesty of a heroic poem." It was not to hold merely a mirror to nature, but to magnify reality. It was the representation of nature, "but nature raised to a higher pitch." The plot, the character, the wit, the passions, descriptions, were all to be exalted above the level of common converse. The style was also to be made epical. It was not to imitate conversation of real life too closely, since sublime subjects ought to be adorned with the sublimest, and the most figurative expressions.
The purpose: Admiration. The purpose of the Heroic play was not to arouse "pity and fear" but admiration. "Admiration", as used by the writers of the age, was anethical term. The purpose of an epic was to instruct princes, and this was algo the purpose of the heroic play. Now instruction through example is much more effective than through precepts. This "admiration", or teaching through example, which is admired and imitated, was accepted as the legitimate function of the drama. Dryden emphasised three virtues, Volour, Duty and Love, for which the poet should arouse admiration. The dramatist must present "patterns of virtue" in his plays.
The Hero, Perfect and Invincible. Since the function of tragedy was to arouse admiration, the hero must be one who had no conceivable frallity, and who existed only to arouse wonder and admiration. This could not be the case if he had a "tragic flaw". The character of the hero was thus heightened to an incredible extent, and he was made perfect and invincible. He was invariably presented as a superman, acknowledging no power above his own. Even Fate or Destiny was a play thing in his hands, he was the maker of his own fate and circumstances. To invest him with a gigantic stature, he was placed in a high social rank. "No heroes of any tragedy were ever so renowned and illustrious as the heroes of this period." It was an age which believed in the Divine Right of Kings, and so greatness was tied to rank and birth. More often than not, he was a king, a king of kings.
The Themes: Love and Valour. Just as the theme of an heroic Poem is Love and Valour, so also Love and Valour are themes of a heroic play. Admiration is aroused by the representation of these qualities. The dazzling feature of the heroic play is the hero who is a superman and in whom are embodied the typically romantic qualities of Love and Valour. Valour is the outstanding trait of his character. He is a great warrior and he sweeps across the world in quest of glory and honour. He performs incredible feats, conquering "a few million soldiers is a mere trible for hitn."(Sattle's conquest of China). But he is not a mere warrior, a mere men-killer, he is also a lover of extraordinary emotional capacity. His love is so sudden and intense that it surprises everybody including himself. He throws away the entire universe in the pursuit of his love. The audience is amazed at such superhuman devotion and loyality. Moreover, this love is not a mere physical passion, it is a virtue, "an heroic passion". It kindles in the soul, "honour's fire", and so the. lover is eager to be, "worthy of his desire". To be worthy of his beloved, he must be a men of "honour" and "honour", includes all possible moral and spirutual qualities. Heroic love purifies the hero of all base desires and makes him a fit object of admiration.
Concernment. But love does not arouse only admiration, it also arouses "compassion" or as Dryden called it "concernment". It involves so much pining and whining on the part of the lover that in the true romantic tradition he is always on the verge of dying. This "lethargy of love" is the only weakness of the great Hero. It paralyses his will. It makes him a captive, helpless and pitiable. He fawns on, and flatters, his beloved, and faints and swoons. He passes from love to jealousy, from hope to despair, from crisis to crisis. All prostrate at the feet of his cruel lady-love he pleads, "without your pity and your love I die."
Complication. The heroic play presents sudden turns of fortune, often caused by love. Complications arise such as two men may love the same woman or vice-versa, or the lovers may be father and son, or two brothers or two friends. The complications lead to a variety of adventures, and we are concerned, about the course of events and the fate of the hero.
The Happy Ending. Because the heroic tragedy arouses only "admiration" and "concernment", an unhappy ending was not considered as appropriate or necessary for it. There is no place for tragic awe and sense of Waste in the heroic play. Dryden discarded the unhappy ending. The aim of the playwright was to extol some great hero and this naturally made an unhappy ending quite unsuitable. Heroic play is a play offering one sensation after another, arousing hopes and fears, and at last making the event happy to the infinite surprise and wonder of the audience. The hero does not die in the end. He is virtuous, and so virtue must be rewarded. It is only then that the people would follow the virtuous example of the hero. Poetic justice was, therefore, considered necessary in the interest of moral edification.
Sensationalism. Sensationalism is an essential feaure of the heroic play. The admiration in the heroic play is not aroused merely by the contemplation of the virtues of the hero; it is also mere physical wonder at the sight of the strange, the marvellous and the terrible. Themes are taken from the past, and the action is laid in some far off place to provide the charm of novelty and to make the "great actions" credible. This helped "admiration", and remoteness caused willing suspension of disbelief. Ghosts, spirits, goblins, operatic elements, scenic effects, stirring actions, bustle and turmoil, are all used to darzle and stupify the contemporary novelty seeking audience. The theme is taken from past history so that the dramatist may claim more reality for his absurdity. The setting is always foreign and unfamiliar, and the time remote, and in this way the dramatists try to procure, "willing suspension of disbelief", for the incredible in their plays.
The Role of Goddess Fortune. The structure of the plays is also determined by similar considerations of sensationalism. The aim is not to depict human passions but to exhibit sudden and surprising turns of fortune to the delight and surprise of the audience. These turns of fortune do not depend on the actions of the hero but are brought about by a change in Fortune's wheel. Thus Fortune, something extrinsic, is brought in, and "Nature, Probability and Sense are violated." There are surprising impossibilities.
Violence and Bloodshed. To depict sudden turns of fortune and to provide theatrical effectiveness, the heroic play gives prominence to martial action. It also employs elements of the opera to provide thrill and spectacle to the audience. There are songs, and dances, angels and spirits in ample measure. Scenes of horror and bloodshed are frequent, and in this way the appetite for life of the jaded Restoration aristocracy was sought to be quickened. In this way, were they shocked and astounded out of their "cynicism" and "ennui". Dryden even regarded violent action as an integral part of the heroic play and, indeed, of the English dramatic tradition:
Conclusion. The heroic play is to be explained by the epic tradition, the English dramatic tradition and the needs of the class for which it was primarily written. This accounts for its immense popularity. However, it died a natural death, as, with the passing of time, the character of the audience changed.
Development of Restoration Tragedy
1. John Dryden. He was the principal master of this form, which is shown in its perfection in his Tyranmic Love or The Royal Martyr (1669) and the two parts of his Conquest of Granada (1670). These plays are written in the heroic style. In All For Love (1667) he closely followed Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra and reverted to blank verse.
"Dryden clearly stands forward as the popularizer," writes Nicoll, "if not the prime mover of this type of drama. It was he who gave it impetus; it was he who, by recantation, aided in drawing men's minds once more away from rime and heroics to blank verse and Shakespeare." Dryden's All For Love clearly shows the influence of Shakespeare. It bears "the same relation to those of Shakespeare as a gramophone record bears to the voice of a celebrated elebrated singaekr. The tones are exaggerated and made harsh; there is the continual drone of unrefined harmonies, a lack of delicacy and of subtlety pervades the whole."
In All For Love, Dryden has tried to fuse the more formal elements of the pseudoclassic theory with the richer proportion of Elizabethan theatre. He has cut down the multiplicity of scenes and has reduced the feelings of his characters so that his contemporaries could appreciate and understand. Dryden has imparted a rational touch to the ardour of romance and, thus, he has succeeded in giving to his, theme a more coherent and formed treatment than is apparent in early tragedy. In All For Love heroic sentiments are expressed in blank verse, instead of rime. The pseudoclassical influences contributed to the strictness of form, including the retention of the three unities, and the chill of dialogue and simplification of plot. Nicoll writes: "The simplified form of Antony and Cleopatra in All for Love is directly traceable to the influence of these pseudoclassical ideals. All attempts were made to avoid Romantic profusion of material, and gradually, with the simplification, there disappeared that richness of passion, that excess of emotion, from which the romantic genius takes its rise."
In Dryden's famous heroic plays—The Indian Emperor, Tyrannic Love, Aurengzebe and All For Love we find, in the words of Nicoll, "a hero of superhuman prowess and with superhuman ideals; there is a heroine of unsurpassed constancy and beauty; there is an inner conflict in the minds of several characters between love and honour; there is a stirring story of fighting and martial enthusiasm, filled with intense dramatic interest." Antony in All For Love is a superman who nevertheless whines. He gives all for love after a series of struggles with duty. Ventidius rightly remarks about him: "Because his other parts are more than man."
All For Love heralded the emergence of the new—the sentimental tragedy or the she tragedy. It is called the she tragedy because in it the central figure is a woman. It is a transitional play which combines the feature of both the heroic play and the new she tragedy.
All For Love is the forest tragedy of the Restoration. Moody and Lovett write: "Although the infinite variety of Shakespeare's Cleopatra is lost in Dryden's depiction of a royal intrigante, there is undoubtedly a tremendous gain in focus and momentum, lucidity and order, consistency and dignity. It model." its reputation as the finest English tragedy on the neoclassical model.”
2. Thomas Otway (1651-85). Otway wrote Alcibiades (1675), Don Carlos (1676), The Orphan (1680) and Venice Preserv'd (1682). The first two plays are written in rhymed couplets. His reputation rests, however, on two plays¾The Orphan and the Venice Preserv'd. The Orphan is written in blank verse. The situation turns upon the love of two brothers for Monimia, the orphan ward of their father. It is a powerful tragedy. It is noticeable for the note of deep pathos, a calmness of tone and utter absence of rant. Venice Preserv'd is Otway's best work. It is a grander and More powerful tragedy than the Orphan. The characters are skillfully handled, especially those of Jaffier and Pierre. Otway's plays "have the genuine passion which Dryden often lacked, and they are not marred by the distortions of human life and character that abound both in Dryden and in the Jacobean dramatists."
3. Nathaniel Lee (1653-92). He wrote many tragedies, of which the prominent ones are Nero (1674), Sophonisha (1676), The Rival Queens (1677) and Mithridates (1678). In Lee's plays the construction is weak, and the style is full of bombast and conceit.
4. Other Dramatists. Elkapah Settle (1648-1724) obtained popularity with the play, The Empress of Morocco (1673). John Crowne (16404703) shows some dramatic talent and a fair amount of skill in versification, His well-known tragedies are Caligula (1698), a heroic play, and Thyestes (1681) in blank verse. Nicholas Rowe (16744718) was made Poet Laureate in 1715. His best known plays are Tamerlane (1702), The Fair Penitent (1703) and John Shore (1714).
Reaction against the manifold extravagances of the heroic play began quite early. The heroic play could provide romance and heroism, but it could not meet any larger demands. Soon there was a longing for 'nature' and 'reality.' Its artificiality, its improbability, its extravagance, its lack of genuine human passion, doomed it to an early and natural death. Reaction began with Dryden's Preface to Aura/web where he bids farewell to his, "long loved mistress rhyme", is stung with shame at the greatness of Shakespeare and his comparative littleness, and decides to return to Nature. The Rehearsal (1672) set the fashion and henceforth the ridicule the heroic play became the order of the day.
"Restoration comedy", according to Moody and Lovett, "is a genuine reflection of the temper, if not of the actual life, of the upper classes of the nation, and as such it has a sociological as well as a literary interest." Unlike the Shakespearean comedy, which is romantic in spirit, it is devoted specifically to picturing the external details of life, the fashions of the time, its manners, its speech, its interests. The dramatists confine their scenes to the familiar places, and not to remote and far-off places. The confine themselves to the drawing rooms, the coffee houses, the streets, and gardens of London. The characters, which are mainly types, represent chiefly people of fashion. The plots of restoration comedies are mainly love intrigues. They are remarkable for a neat, precise, witty, balanced and lucid prose style. Summing up the main characteristics of restoration comedy Bo Jeffares remarks: "The plays performed reflected the taste of an aristocratic audience: there were high-flown 'heroic' plays and tearful tragedies; and there were also comedies: dashing, witty, coarse, cynical, satiric, sardonic." The comedies voiced a reaction against Puritanism and the sexual repression it had attempted to enforce. Fashionable intrigue, sex, marriage and adultery were treated with cynicism, with worldly wit and a sense of comedy of life. The characters in the play no doubt owed much to the courtiers, the wits, the men-about-town as well as to ladies of fashion, citizens, wives and country girls."
Influences on Restoration Comedy. The Restoration comedy of manners was shaped both by native and French influences. It drew its main inspiration from the native tradition which had flourished before the closing of the theatres in 1642. In particular it was indebted to Beaumont and Fletcher and to Ben Jonson. It was also influenced by continental writers and especially by Moliere and the Spaniard, Calderon. It reflected closely the dissolute court life of the period, and, between that and the court life of France, there was a community of spirit which led naturally to an interest in French comedy. Moliere gave English dramatists the brilliant ideas of plots and some fine examples of comic characterisation. Spanish drama served to strengthen that love of intrigue and incident already firmly established in English comedy. It should be remembered that foreign influences are not dominant in Restoration comedy. They were completed, merged with and dominated by native elements. Edward Albert remarks: "They blended with a tradition already strongly established, and assisted the natural process of change demanded by the changing temper of the age, but they were transformed into something essentially English and contemporary. Thus, the comedy of Moliere was changed into a harder, more closely knit form which lacked the warmth and depth of insight of the original."
Characteristics of the Restoration Comedy of Manners
(i) Intellectual and Refined Tone: The new comedy or the Restoration comedy is conspicuous for intellectual and refined tone. It is full of vitality, and moves with great pace. It is devoid of the romantic exuberance of the romantic comedy. It replaces emotion by wit, and poetry by a clear, concise prose which adds much point and gives a fine precision to the dialogue. Edward Albert remarks: "The lack of passion and emotion in these plays gives them a polished, crystal hardness which saves them from the worst form of licentiousness." The pervading tone is one of cynicism, and the plays show a close, and often satirical, observation of life and manners which recalls the works of Ben Jonson.
(ii) Presentation of Aristocratic London Society: Fashionable and aristocratic life, with its sophisticated pursuit of sensuous pleasure, provided material in plenty for the authors, who came from a variety of backgrounds. The single aim of this comedy is to show the manners of the upper ranks of contemporary society. They are shown with unemotional candour. The typical comedy of manners satirically presents the aristocratic London society. Citizens, aldermen, soldiers, clergymen, the occasional doctor may appear in the background, the foreground is occupied by Beaux and fops, rakes, flirtatious, giddy girls, naughty married ladies just getting their second wind, testy old husbands, as jealous as they are impotent. The heroes have feet of clay, the prettiest women are wanton and mercenary, the aged are pitilessly duped, the most serious topics —religion, philosophy, fidelity—are mentioned only to be mocked.
The aristocratic refined society, which it presents, is fashionable. It does expose "follies" but these are the follies of refined gentlemen, and not of "low characters". It entertains the gentlemen with "the follies of each other", the follies of the great are considered most instructive, for they are most conspicuous and contagious. Everything coarse and vulgar is eschewed. A "whore" is called "a mistress", a "pimp" a "friend", and a "cuckold-maker" a "gallant". The cult of refinement is carried to an extreme. The new comedy reflects the ease and grace of manners of the times.
The Restoration comedy depicts a small world which has a distinct territory of its own—the fashionable parks and coffee houses of the London of Charles II's time. Its setting is provided by the public parks, like Hyde Park, St. James' Park, Mulberry Garden, and fashionable clubs and taverns, and the houses and drawing rooms of the aristocratic and the leisured classes of the time. Its dramatic personages seldom move out of this charming world unless it be in search of some sex intrigue with the wife of a citizen or a common merchant or trader.
(iii) Sex and Licentiousness: Sex is treated with utter frankness and candidness. Its chief subject is the intimate relations between men and women. It deals somewhat coldly with human love and lust, something cavalierly with the marriage tie. The dramatists of the Restoration period took for the subject the relations between the sexes not only because it lends itself so easily to jest but because at that time it was one of great importance. This was due to the fact not so much that society was lax, as that it was experimental. The Restoration comedy is the expression of people endeavouring to readjust their values after a great upheaval, trying to see themselves clearly, not as they might wish to be, but as they really were. There is a powerful undercurrent of intellectual honesty about the comedy of this period. It is the prominence of this subject and the manner in which it is treated, that makes Restoration comedy different from any other. During this period passion and affection were separate things. It was foolish to confuse them. They looked upon love as a purely personal reaction, marriage as a social performance—and the writers of the comedy dissected the resulting complications. Under the surface, of course, the normal life of social acceptance went on; but what flared before the public eye was the behaviour of the Rocesters, Buckinghams, Killigrews, and, chiefest of all, that of "the best good man that ever ruled a throne." Licentiousness, of course, there was, but it was rationalized, argued, made subject to scientific tests. The woman is treated neither as a goddess, nor as a plaything of men, nor as an object of pleasures but as the companion of man with her own enchanting personality, which is to be won not by devotion or lust, but by intelligence, brilliance of wit, and charm of manners. The lovers love the game of love "the chase". They want to continue the game of love up to the very end. This rationalized conception of love and courtship leads to an ideal marriage in which the lovers prefer to retain the more agreeable names of Mistress and Gallant. It is a polished courtship in which passion gives place to manners. Nothing should be in excess, neither passion nor indifference, neither boldness in men, nor coyness in women. The attitude must be easy and graceful.
The Restoration comedies are considered as antisocial, "in that they represent social institutions, particularly marriage, in an obnoxious or ridiculous light; but they are not romantic or revolutionary. There is in them never an honest protest against institutions, never a genuine note of revolt Conventions are accepted to be played with and attacked, merely by way of giving opportunity for witty raillery, or point to an intrigue." The most brilliant and amusing statement of the experiment is given in Dryden's Marriage a la mode, the most profound and biting, and still more laughter provoking in Wycherley's Country Wife and Congreve's The Way of the World, the most graceful in Etherege's She Would If She Could.
Bonamy Dobree attributes this feature of the Restoration comedies to the scientific, clinical spirit of enquiry and curiosity which characterised the times.
(iv) Jeremy Collier's Reaction against the Restoration Comedy: Jeremy Collier in his pamphlet, A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage (1698) attacked the dramatists of the Restoration period, including Dryden, Wycherley and Congreve, in an uncompromising manner. He condemned the Restoration comedy for immorality. He wrote: "I shall endeavour to prove by showing the misbehaviour of the stage with respect to morality and religion. Their liberties in the following particulars are intolerable, viz., their smuttiness of expression, their swearing, profaneness and renewed application of scripture, their abuse of the clergy, their making their top characters libertines, and giving them success in their debauchery." Collier's criticism is harsh, and, even savage. He ignores the very basis of art and endeavours to find out conscious moral meaning in dramatic art. Charles Lamb in his essay On the Artificial Comedy of the Last Century — contends Collier's view. Lamb contends that we should only apply the yardstick of art to a dramatic representation: "The Fainalls and the Mirabells, the Dorimants and the Touchwoods, in their own sphere, do not offend any moral sense, in fact, they do not appeal to it at all. They seem engaged in their proper element. They break through no laws or conscientious restraints. They know of none. They have got out of the Christendom into the land—what shall I call it? — of cuckoldry—the utopia of gallantry, where pleasure is duty and manners perfect freedom. It is altogether a speculative scene of things, which has no reference whatever to the world that is. No good person can be justly offended as a spectator, because no good person suffers at the stage." Indeed, the Restoration comedy is neither moral, nor immoral; it is amoral.
(v) Characters: The characters in Restoration comedies are largely types, whose dispositions are sufficiently indicated by a study of their names. We have Sir Fopling flutter, Homer, Scrub, Colonel Bully, Sir John Brute, Squire Sullen, Lady Bountiful, Lady Fancyful, Mrs. Marwood etc. They have thus many qualities of Jonsonian character, with its predominant humour. But by the last part of the period there has evolved something distinct from the comedy of humours— the comedy of manners. It is difficult to define a "manner". It does not imply the Portrayal of life so much as a genteel, sophisticated brilliant quality, what one critic has called "a grace or habit of refined culture". Congreve was the first great dramatist of this period who subtilized the "humour" into a Person. The Restoration dramatists were far more realistic. They drew their characters and copied their situations from the life they saw around them. They were much less abstract. They were concerned to bring things to earth, to test them by immediate actuality; they had none of the metaphysical backgrounds of the Elizabethans. Their comedy, therefore, is lighter, racier, more spinning, the action is brisker, the working sharper and more epigrammatic. "The fop, the idler, the preposterous man of importance; the philanderer, his feminine counterpart, the sham scientist, the astrologer, the town elegant, the country clods, the seamen and the professional man, the knot, and the fanatic's robe—all conspire to leave the busy world and appear before us on the stage in a lively medley of action, with robust outpouring of words."
(vi) Plot: The Restoration dramatists were interested in wit and portrayal of manners, rather than in the movement and progression of events, and employed a "spatial" rather than a "temporal" plot. The loose-knit pattern of such a plot was of a definite advantage to them. It provided a better scope for "the contrast and balance of characters", which is so essential for comedy, and which is an important feature of the comedy of manners. Social comments and set scenes are wholly in keeping with the design of the comedy. As a consequence, at the end, the picture of a gay and elegant world, a "comic microcosm", of the court of Charles II, springs up before our eyes.
Conflict and intrigues occupy an important place in the plot of the Restoration comedy of manners. Conflicts between youth and age, between parents and children distinguish these comedies. Bo Jeffares remarks: "Inheritance and debt caused some of the problems to be solved—and the financial affairs of the characters were usually neatly arranged by the end of a play. There were flippant remarks about marriage, intrigues informed by intelligence, and witty gallantry. There was a good deal of deceit, and contrasts between sophisticated and naive characters from city and country respectively. Usually lovers' problems added to the complexity of the plot, which also gave scope to clever, impertinent servants; and there was often an amusing element of farce included. The exposure of pretence, the abandonment of false identities, often led to satisfactory solutions. What is remarkable is that so much drama could be created in these conditions: wit and wisdom—admitted often very worldly wisdom—were to be found in the satire of the comic writers."
(vii) Wit: "A careless, frank, and debonair wit" marks the advent of the comedy of manners. The greatest pleasure it provides is that of the "chase of wit" between a gallant and his mistress, and it is kept up on both sides and is swiftly managed. It was an age in which the art of talking brilliantly, without meaning much, was regarded as one of the most important social graces. No dramatist, who failed to provide wit, could be successful. Men of "pleasure and wit" and women of "quality", equally witty in their turn, "meet and clash" in Restoration comedies.
(viii) Conclusion: Restoration comedy as a rule is wonderfully clever. It has dash and gaiety. Its wit is abundant and unflagging Summing up its characteristics Allardyce Nicoll remarks: "Comedy, as has been said by many critics from classical days to the time of Shakespeare, is above all other things a mirror of the age and in displaying the life of their time, Etherege and his followers were but adopting a sphere which had been occupied by many before them. If we condemn the society of the Restoration Court, we need not thereby condemn the dramatists of that period; the object was to display the fashionable life of their time, not to indicate the superior mental and moral qualities of a past age or to prophesy the improvements of the future. On a first reading, therefore, these comedies of manners may strike many as being immoral and vulgar, but for students of literature a true historical perspective must be gained."
EMINENT WRITERS OF THE
RESTORATION COMEDY OF MANNERS
1. William Congreve (1670-1729). Congreve is the best and finest writer of the comedy of manners. He wrote all his comedies before he was thirty. In London, Congreve preferred drama to law. He was a good classical scholar and interested in translation; his poems and translations impressed the dramatist, poet and criticJohn Dryden, who included some of them in a collection of miscellaneous poems called Examen Poeticum (1693). In 1692 Congreve's novel Incognita was published; its plot was worked out on the lines of dramatic models, and the following year he fmished his first play, The Old Bachelor. It was performed in 1693 and was extremely successful. It contains a number of characters of whom Sir Joseph Wittol and his friend Captain Bluff are the most important. His next play was The Double Dealer (1693). It is a sombre play, and, hence, it could not be appreciated by the frivolous lovers of manners and fashions. His next play, Love For Love (1695) is wholly comic from start to finish. It was much more successful when it was staged in 1695. His next play The Mourning Bride was a tragedy which proved popular when it was staged in 1697.
The Way of the World (1700) is considered by common consent as a work of art and as a pure comedy of manners. It deserves especial consideration as a comedy by dint of its many artistic excellences, such as flashes of wit, and brilliant, sparkling dialogues. A. C. Rickett remarks: "In The Way of the World we have Congreve at his happiest. Construction, characterisation, dialogue are all alike brilliant. The story scarcely matters. There is never much resemblance to real life in the plots and machinations of Restoration drama. The play is no exception in this respect. But such scenes as those where reputations are murdered by gossip, such characters as Mrs. Millamant and Mirabell, such flashes of wit in the talk between Mrs. Marwood and Mrs. Millamant are to the fore — reveal the Restoration drama at its highest point."
Congreve as a Dramatist. Congreve is the finest of all the writers of the comedy of manners. We may say that he has invented a new art of comedy. Commenting on his dramatic genius, Rickett remarks: "In construction and grasp of character, Congreve steadily improved with each succeeding play. But from the very first he exhibited himself as a master of light and witty dialogue. Therein lay his great strength. He has the easy gaiety of Etherge and the satirical force of Wycherley, and speedily he showed how well he could excel these dramatists on their own lines."
Congreve did not paint the life of common day in his comedies. It was a life of gallantry and pleasure, which had a code and speech of its own. He never cared for seeing things that forced him to entertain low thoughts of his nature. Congreve did not see life as a whole. His sympathy was for persons of quality. He lived in a world situated on the confines of cynicism and merriment. Had he ever descended to realism, his comedies might have been open to reproach. But the scene, in which his Plyants and Froths, his Mirabells and Mellafonts, his Millamants and Angelicas, his Brisks and Fattles, play their parts, is like their names, fantastic. His plays justify Lamb's remark: While we admit that Congreve painted what he chose to see, we may yet acknowledge that the persons of drama "have got out of Christendom into the land of what shall I call it? —of Cuckoldry —the the utopia of gallantry" where pleasure is duty, and the manners perfect freedom. Kenneth Muir concludes his essay on Congreve with the following words: "It can be said that although Congreve inevitably deals with the relationship between the sexes in his own society, he satirised false relationship both in and outside marriage based on reason and respect, although without religious sanctions. To admit the existence of adultery at a time when divorce was difficult, and to recognise that love and marriage do not always coincide, was the acceptance not of a literary convention but of one of the facts of life. And perhaps our society is not so enlightened or so inclined to accept a sacramental view of marriage, that we can afford to dismiss Congreve's reading of life as totally irrelevant to our situation."
Congreve's succinctness of style is peculiar to him. His sentences are close-knit and balanced. In point and brevity his style seems to be unmatched, there is not a word too much, not an epithet that is superfluous. It is a language that appeals more to the ear than to the eye, with its varied rhythm and cadence. It is poetry that seems to be dissolved into prose. He carefully avoids all harsh and grating sounds by studiously using liquid and vowel sounds. The following passage illustrates these qualities of Congreve's prose:
"Oh, the vanity of these men ! Fainall, d'ye hear him? If they did not commend us, we were not handsome ! Now you must know they could not commend one, if one was not handsome ! Now you must know they could not commend one, if one was not handsome. Beauty, the lover's gift — Lord, what is a lover, that it can give? Why one makes lovers as fast as one pleases, and they live as long as one pleases, and they die as soon as one pleases; and then if one pleases one makes more."
Congreve's style is suffused with subtle irony. There is subdued tone of gaiety in his dialogue, touched off by wit. His plays are tuned to light, gay and airy unit. Congreve skilfully uses English prose in all its variety, richness and amplitude so that he may adopt it to the character and temperament of each speaker in the play.
Summing up Congreve's greatness as a dramatist, Albert writes: "Congreve is undoubtedly the greatest of the Restoration comedy writers. In his work the comedy of manners reaches perfection. His plays are a faithful reflecton of the upper-class life of his day, but their undoubted immorality is saved from being objectionable by brilliant wit, a hard finish and a total lack of realism. In the artificial society which he depicts, moral judgement would be out of place. The tone is one of cynical vivacity, the characters are well drawn. Congreve's prose is lucid and pointed, and shows an excellent ear for rhythm and cadence. In all things he is the polished artist, whose distinctive quality is brilliance."
2. George Etherege (1635 -91). Not much is known about the life of Etherge, but he appears to have been a courtier, and to have served abroad in the diplomatic service. His three plays are The Comical Revenge or Love in A Tub (1664), She Wou'd if She Cou'd (1668), and The Man of the Mode or Sir Fopling Flutter (1676). His plays established the comedy of manners, and paved the way for Congreve. He paints a true picture of the graceful, heartless and licentious upper classes of the period. The prose dialogue is natural and brilliant, and its light, airy grace conceals some deficiency of plot and construction.
3. Sir John Vanbrugh (1664-1726). He had a varied career, being in turn soldier, herald and architect. His best three comedies are The Relapse (1696), The Provok'd Wife (1697) and Confederacy (1705). In his first two plays Vanbrugh employs all the familiar puppets of the Restoration comedy, the fops and the fools being treated with more naturalness if less wit than by Congreve, and with far less coarseness. The Confederacy breaks fresh ground, "and we have a hark back in subject matter to the middle-class plays of Shakespeare's age." The Confederacy is the forest play of this period in construction, characterisation, and dialogue. Rickett writes: "In sheer intellectual force, Vanbrugh's work is on a lower plane than Congreve's; but by way of compensation he has a more genial humour, and a genius for farcical development denied to Congreve, who excelled in satire. This gift is most agreeably displayed in Relapse.”
4. George Farquhar (1678-1707). A man of versatile genius, George Farquhar was in turn a clergyman, an actor, and a soldier, and died when he was twenty-nine years old. His plays are Love and a Bottle, The Constant Couple, Sir Harry Wildair, The Inconstant (1703), The Way to Win Him, The Recruiting Officer (1706) and The Beaux' Stratagem (1707). In the last two plays Farquhar, in the words of Edward Albert, "added something new to Restoration comedy, in taking his material from a wider life than the polite upper class depicted by Congreve, and his characters are more like ordinary people. His dialogue lacks the polish and the sustained wit of Congreve, and is nearer the level of normal conversation. In his rapidly developing humanity, and his growing respect for moral standards, Farquhar looks forward to the drama of Steele and the age."
Decline of the Restoration Comedy of Manners
From 1700 a change began to be discernible in stage productions. It was felt that the appeal of the Restoration comedy of manners was too restricted. The immoral and anti-social influence of these plays was clearly perceived, and the voice of protest was also heard. With the spread of the coffee houses, the more general interest in political and social problems, and a change in the manners of the court, it became necessary to strike a more human note. Moreover, the novel and the newspaper, which expressed the moral code of the rising middle class, emerged as potent rivals of the Drama. Colley Cibber (1671), who wrote about sixteen plays, to some extent catered to the demand of the new audience. His plays like The Careless Husband and The Non-Juror, though they lack in wit and insight, represent the new age.