Restoration Literature (1660-1700): History of English Literature

Restoration Literature refers to the body of literary works produced in England during the period from 1660 to 1700, following the restoration of the monarchy under King Charles II. This era marked a significant shift in English literature, with a focus on wit, satire, and social commentary. In this essay, we will explore the characteristics, major authors, and significant works of Restoration Literature.

The Restoration period was a time of significant social and political change in England. With the monarchy reinstated, the arts experienced a revival, and a new sense of freedom and indulgence emerged. This cultural context influenced the literature of the time, which exhibited distinctive features and themes.

One of the defining characteristics of Restoration Literature is its wit and satirical nature. Writers of this period used sharp, clever, and often biting humor to comment on the social, political, and moral issues of the time. Satire, in particular, became a popular genre, with authors employing irony and ridicule to expose and criticize societal follies and vices.

One of the notable authors of this period is John Dryden, who served as the poet laureate and is considered one of the most influential figures of Restoration Literature. Dryden’s works encompassed various genres, including poetry, drama, and prose. His poetry, such as “Annus Mirabilis” and “Absalom and Achitophel,” exhibited political and social commentary through the use of wit and satire. Dryden’s plays, like “All for Love” and “The Spanish Fryar,” incorporated elements of tragedy, comedy, and wit.

Another prominent writer of the Restoration period is Aphra Behn. She is often regarded as the first professional female writer in English literature. Behn’s plays, such as “The Rover” and “The Widow Ranter,” explored themes of gender, sexuality, and power dynamics. Her works challenged societal norms and paved the way for women writers in subsequent eras.

Restoration Drama played a significant role in shaping the literature of the time. The restoration of the monarchy led to the reopening of theaters, and drama became a popular form of entertainment. Comedies of manners, known for their witty dialogue and satirical portrayal of social behaviors and conventions, were particularly popular. Playwrights like William Congreve, George Etherege, and William Wycherley contributed to this genre. Congreve’s “The Way of the World” and Etherege’s “The Man of Mode” are notable examples of comedies of manners, exploring themes of love, marriage, and social hierarchy.

In addition to drama, prose fiction also emerged during the Restoration period. One of the notable works is “Oroonoko” by Aphra Behn, which is considered one of the earliest English novels. It tells the story of an African prince and explores themes of race, slavery, and the human condition.

Restoration Literature also witnessed the rise of literary criticism and the development of literary forms such as the essay. Writers like John Dryden and Samuel Pepys contributed to the development of literary criticism, providing valuable insights into the works of their contemporaries and earlier writers.

The Restoration period saw a shift in literary style and themes, reflecting the changing social and political landscape of England. The literature of this era, characterized by wit, satire, and a focus on societal manners, provides a unique glimpse into the cultural and intellectual climate of the time.

In summary, Restoration Literature, spanning from 1660 to 1700, is marked by its wit, satire, and social commentary. The works of John Dryden, Aphra Behn, and other writers of the period reflect the cultural and political changes of the Restoration era. Comedies of manners, drama, prose fiction, and literary criticism were prominent genres during this time. Restoration Literature continues to be studied and appreciated for its wit, sharp social observation, and its contribution to the development of English literature.

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