Our new season is now open: Spring 1677 !
Literature is essentially written composition, which can be either fiction or non-fiction. This includes such writings as poetry, drama, letters, reference books, novels, and others. While poetry was the most popular form of late 17th century literature, drama and prose also proliferated.
Prose was generally of three main kinds: Christian religious writing, journalism, and fiction. There were, of course, other forms of prose. Several significant works of philosophical writing were composed, and collections of letters were published with surprising frequency.
Religious prose often included political as well as social commentary, in addition to the expected devotional writings and published collections of sermons.
Examples of authors of religious prose:
- Robert Boyle
- John Bunyan
- John Milton
- Izaak Walton
Journalism was also in its infancy during this period, and often took the form of essays published in pamphlets as well as broad-sheets. One notable, or perhaps notorious, pamphleteer was Roger L’Estrange, who was later implicated in the Popish Plot. At this time, the genre made no claim to objectivity, and most was openly partisan. Some of the Inns of Court also published their own journals.
Examples of such publications:
- The News
- City Mercury
- London Gazette
- Oxford Gazette
- The Parliamentary Intelligencer
- The Guardian
- The Observer
- Grey’s Inn Journal
- Temple Bar Journal
Romance novels were very popular with women. The genre was often looked down on by learned gentlemen (or those purporting to be so). To be considered a “reader of romances” was a mild chastisement. Aphra Behn is credited as the first professional female novelist in England.
Other forms of fiction were also popular, including retellings of folk tales, translations of foreign works of fiction, and political fables. A notable innovator, Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, showed her enthusiasm for science in her novels of that theme.
Examples of authors of fiction works:
- Aphra Behn
- Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle
- Lady Mary Wroth
- John Locke
- Dorothy Osborne
- Henry Pierpont, Marquis of Dorchester
The Restoration brought with it a proliferation of playwriting. Charles II’s enthusiasm for theatre was contagious, and both the King’s Company and the Duke’s Company quickly came into being to perform both old and new works. The mid-1670s saw the pinnacle of dramatic composition during this period, with such notable plays as John Dryden's Aureng-zebe (1675), William Wycherley's The Country Wife (1675) and The Plain Dealer (1676), George Etherege's The Man of Mode (1676), and Aphra Behn's The Rover (1677) all written in a two-year span. Although innovations certainly occurred, drama remained within the two traditions: tragedy and comedy.
The period began with the male-dominated heroic tragedies, by authors like John Dryden. These works were also referred to as historical drama, concerned with great men of power.
There was, however, a gradual shift to what became known as pathetic tragedy. These centered on romantic and domestic themes, often with female protagonists. Thomas Otway and Nicholas Rowe wrote such works.
Major political events, such as the Exclusion Crisis inspired a third variant: the political tragedy. Thomas Otway also wrote in this sub-genre.
Examples of authors of tragedy:
- John Dryden
- Thomas Otway
- Nicholas Rowe
Restoration comedy was remarkably bawdy. Authors, such as John Dryden, William Wycherley, and George Etherege, found inspiration in the sexual intrigue of Charles II’s Court. Even Aphra Behn turned her pen to this form of play, and was notable in her ability to write as explicitly as her male counterparts.
Examples of authors of comedy: