The 17th century

The 17th century is a period, which many English historians and literary scholars prefer to any other. During most of it England had her own course both in her political and literary life.
After Queen Elizabeth's death James VI of Scotland became King James I of England in J603 Like Elizabeth he tried to rule without parliament as much as possible. He believed in the divine right of kings, that is the king was chosen by God and only God could judge him. He expressed his opinion openly and that led to trouble with Parliament.
In 1618 the Thirty Years War began, and Parliament wished to go to war against the Catholics James I did not agree. Until his death in 1625 he was always quarrelling with parliament over money and over its desire to play a part in his foreign policy. His son, Charles I, quarrelled with the House of Commons even more than his father. It was also over money. Finally Charles 1 dissolved Parliament. After that he had to recall Parliament, because he needed money, but each time he did so, he quarrelled with it.
Charles I disliked Puritans. Puritans were serious Christian believers, who wanted to purify their religion of the formal ceremonies of the Church of England They wanted a democratic Church They condemned singing, dancing, going to the theatre, all popular amusements and pastimes Many members of Parliament (MPs) were either Puritans or sympathized with them.
The Civil War between Charles I and his supporters (the Cavaliers) and the Parliament forces (the Roundheads) began in 1642. Victory went to Parliament at the end. Charles I was executed in 1649. Oliver Cromwell, a military leader, became a dictator, calling himself the Protector. From 1649 to l660 Britain was a republic.
When Cromwell died in 1658, the Protectorate collapsed. Richard Cromwell, his son, was not a good leader. In 1660 Charles II was invited to return from France, where he had escaped after his father's execution. The republic was over, the monarchy was restored. The Restoration of Monarchy brought about many changes. The greatest European power at that time was France. French influence in manners, literature and arts was now irresistible. What was fashionable in Paris, soon „ became fashionable in London. At that time two great disasters happened in Great Britain: the Plague (1665) and the Great Fire of London (1666), which devastated the old city. However, it was rebuilt under the direction of the famous architect Sir Christopher Wren.
Literary forms were quick to change and develop during the 17th century. Prose writing offers us a particularly good example of this change and development. It moved in two different directions. The earliest development, which can be found in John Milton's prose, gives us writing of increasing complexity Sentences in his prose branch out into dozens of clauses. His prose is quite unlike ordinary speech
John Milton (1608 - 1674) is considered to be the most outstanding writer of the 17th century He is a representative of English Puritanism in English literature He was brought up in the family where the culture of the Renaissance was combined with the life of the Puritans. Following his mother's wish, John was preparing for the religious career, and at the age of 16 he went to Cambridge His life seems to have revolted around three great decisions.
At the University he gave up the idea of taking orders in the Anglican Church. However, he always remained religious, and poetry was a sacred calling for him.
In 1640s Milton was forced to make a second decision - his role in the Civil War He joined the Puritans in Parliament and began to write pamphlets on the Church reform. He also became Oliver Cromwell's Latin Secretary.
He took his third decision when he was faced with the threat of blindness. If he had given up his political work, he would not have lost his eyesight. But the call of duty was powerful Thus, at the age of 44, he went completely blind.
It was during the last 10 years of his life that Milton, totally blind, completed his great long poems – “Paradise Lost" and " Paradise Regained". He often dictated them to his daughters. "Paradise Lost” (completed in 1658, published in 1667) is the most famous of his poems It consists of 10 000 lines of grand blank verse. This poem is considered to be the finest artistic development of the Puritan Age in England. The poem tells in 12 books the Biblical story of the temptation and fall of Man in the hands of Satan
The later development (the last twenty years of the century) is quite different: it begins to reproduce the manner and rhythm of the best talk of the time. John Dryden (1631 - 1700), though he was primarily a poet, was an original master of this new kind of prose. The poetry of the 17th century shows an astonishing variety.
John Donne (1572 - 1631) was the greatest metaphysical poet. He was brought up as a Roman Catholic, but later joined the Church of England and finally became Dean of St Paul's Cathedral His sermons were very popular, but he had the strongest influence as a poet, first in the 17th century, and then after World War I. Modern poets turn to him because he was highly intellectual and impassioned, he used imagery in modern manner His manner of writing is obscure and unmusical Unlike poets of the Elizabethan Age, who praised faithfulness in-love and beauty in life, he glorified inconstancy and explored the dark paths of the mind While they depended on a regular rhythm in verse, he varied lines, metre and stress whenever he felt it necessary.
The lighter side of literature in the 17th century is reflected in the lyrics of the Cavalier poets. They sing of love, youth, happiness, they take life as they find it- often with a mocking spirit. For example, Richard Lovelace (1618 - 1658), one of the Cavaliers, who was a gallant and handsome gentleman, who spent his fortune and much of his time in prison for his King. While there, he composed a number of exquisite lyrics.

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