The Tudors and the Elizabethan Age

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The Tudors and the Elizabethan Age

The beginning of the Tudor dynasty coincided with the first dissemination of printed matter. William Caxton's press was established in 1476, only nine years before the beginning of Henry VII's reign. Caxton's achievement encouraged writing of all kinds and also influenced the standardization of the English language. The early Tudor period, particularly the reign of Henry VIII, was marked by a break with the Roman Catholic Church and a weakening of feudal ties, which brought about a vast increase in the power of the monarchy.

Stronger political relationships with the Continent were also developed, increasing England's exposure to Renaissance culture. Humanism became the most important force in English literary and intellectual life, both in its narrow sense—the study and imitation of the Latin classics—and in its broad sense—the affirmation of the secular, in addition to the otherworldly, concerns of people. These forces produced during the reign (1558–1603) of Elizabeth I one of the most fruitful eras in literary history.

The energy of England's writers matched that of its mariners and merchants. Accounts by men such as Richard Hakluyt, Samuel Purchas, and Sir Walter Raleigh were eagerly read. The activities and literature of the Elizabethans reflected a new nationalism, which expressed itself also in the works of chroniclers (John Stow, Raphael Holinshed, and others), historians, and translators and even in political and religious tracts. A myriad of new genres, themes, and ideas were incorporated into English literature. Italian poetic forms, especially the sonnet, became models for English poets.

Sir Thomas Wyatt was the most successful sonneteer among early Tudor poets, and was, with Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, a seminal influence. Tottel's Miscellany (1557) was the first and most popular of many collections of experimental poetry by different, often anonymous, hands. A common goal of these poets was to make English as flexible a poetic instrument as Italian. Among the more prominent of this group were Thomas Churchyard, George Gascoigne, and Edward de Vere, earl of Oxford. An ambitious and influential work was A Mirror for Magistrates (1559), a historical verse narrative by several poets that updated the medieval view of history and the morals to be drawn from it.

The poet who best synthesized the ideas and tendencies of the English Renaissance was Edmund Spenser. His unfinished epic poem The Faerie Queen (1596) is a treasure house of romance, allegory, adventure, Neoplatonic ideas, patriotism, and Protestant morality, all presented in a variety of literary styles. The ideal English Renaissance man was Sir Philip Sidney—scholar, poet, critic, courtier, diplomat, and soldier—who died in battle at the age of 32. His best poetry is contained in the sonnet sequence Astrophel and Stella (1591) and his Defence of Poesie is among the most important works of literary criticism in the tradition.

Many others in a historical era when poetic talents were highly valued, were skilled poets. Important late Tudor sonneteers include Spenser and Shakespeare, Michael Drayton, Samuel Daniel, and Fulke Greville. More versatile even than Sidney was Sir Walter Raleigh—poet, historian, courtier, explorer, and soldier—who wrote strong, spare poetry.

Early Tudor drama owed much to both medieval morality plays and classical models. Ralph Roister Doister (c.1545) by Nicholas Udall and Gammer Gurton's Needle (c.1552) are considered the first English comedies, combining elements of classical Roman comedy with native burlesque. During the late 16th and early 17th cent., drama flourished in England as never before or since. It came of age with the work of the University Wits, whose sophisticated plays set the course of Renaissance drama and paved the way for Shakespeare.

The Wits included John Lyly, famed for the highly artificial and much imitated prose work Euphues (1578); Robert Greene, the first to write romantic comedy; the versatile Thomas Lodge and Thomas Nashe; Thomas Kyd, who popularized neo-Senecan tragedy; and Christopher Marlowe, the greatest dramatist of the group. Focusing on heroes whose very greatness leads to their downfall, Marlowe wrote in blank verse with a rhetorical brilliance and eloquence superbly equal to the demands of high drama. William Shakespeare, of course, fulfilled the promise of the Elizabethan age. His history plays, comedies, and tragedies set a standard never again equaled, and he is universally regarded as the greatest dramatist and one of the greatest poets of all time.

The Jacobean Era, Cromwell, and the Restoration

Elizabethan literature generally reflects the exuberant self-confidence of a nation expanding its powers, increasing its wealth, and thus keeping at bay its serious social and religious problems. Disillusion and pessimism followed, however, during the unstable reign of James I (1603–25). The 17th cent. was to be a time of great upheaval—revolution and regicide, restoration of the monarchy, and, finally, the victory of Parliament, landed Protestantism, and the moneyed interests.

Jacobean literature begins with the drama, including some of Shakespeare's greatest, and darkest, plays. The dominant literary figure of James's reign was Ben Jonson, whose varied and dramatic works followed classical models and were enriched by his worldly, peculiarly English wit. His satiric dramas, notably the great Volpone (1606), all take a cynical view of human nature. Also cynical were the horrific revenge tragedies of John Ford, Thomas Middleton, Cyril Tourneur, and John Webster (the best poet of this grim genre). Novelty was in great demand, and the possibilities of plot and genre were exploited almost to exhaustion. Still, many excellent plays were written by men such as George Chapman, the masters of comedy Thomas Dekker and Philip Massinger, and the team of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher. Drama continued to flourish until the closing of the theaters at the onset of the English Revolution in 1642.

The foremost poets of the Jacobean era, Ben Jonson and John Donne, are regarded as the originators of two diverse poetic traditions—the Cavalier and the metaphysical (see Cavalier poets and metaphysical poets). Jonson and Donne shared not only a common fund of literary resources, but also a dryness of wit and precision of expression. Donne's poetry is distinctive for its passionate intellection, Jonson's for its classicism and urbane guidance of passion.

Although George Herbert and Donne were the principal metaphysical poets, the meditative religious poets Henry Vaughan and Thomas Traherne were also influenced by Donne, as were Abraham Cowley and Richard Crashaw. The greatest of the Cavalier poets was the sensuously lyrical Robert Herrick. Such other Cavaliers as Thomas Carew, Sir John Suckling, and Richard Lovelace were lyricists in the elegant Jonsonian tradition, though their lyricism turned political during the English Revolution. Although ranked with the metaphysical poets, the highly individual Andrew Marvell partook of the traditions of both Donne and Jonson.

Among the leading prose writers of the Jacobean period were the translators who produced the classic King James Version of the Bible (1611) and the divines Lancelot Andrewes, Jeremy Taylor, and John Donne. The work of Francis Bacon helped shape philosophical and scientific method. Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy (1621) offers a varied, virtually encyclopedic view of the moral and intellectual preoccupations of the 17th cent. Like Burton, Sir Thomas Browne sought to reconcile the mysteries of religion with the newer mysteries of science. Izaak Walton, author of The Compleat Angler (1653), produced a number of graceful biographies of prominent writers. Thomas Hobbes wrote the most influential political treatise of the age, Leviathan (1651).

The Jacobean era's most fiery and eloquent author of political tracts (many in defense of Cromwell's government, of which he was a member) was also one of the greatest of all English poets, John Milton. His Paradise Lost (1667) is a Christian epic of encompassing scope. In Milton the literary and philosophical heritage of the Renaissance merged with Protestant political and moral conviction.

With the restoration of the English monarchy in the person of Charles II, literary tastes widened. The lifting of Puritan restrictions and the reassembling of the court led to a relaxation of restraints, both moral and stylistic, embodied in such figures as the Earl of Rochester. Restoration comedy reveals both the influence of French farce (the English court spent its exile in France) and of Jacobean comedy. It generously fed the public's appetite for broad satire, high style, and a licentiousness that justified the worst Puritan imaginings. Such dramatists as Sir George Etherege, William Wycherley, and William Congreve created superbly polished high comedy. Sparkling but not quite so brilliant were the plays of George Farquhar, Thomas Shadwell, and Sir John Vanbrugh.

John Dryden began as a playwright but became the foremost poet and critic of his time. His greatest works are satirical narrative poems, notably Absalom and Achitophel (1681), in which prominent contemporary figures are unmistakably and devastatingly portrayed. Another satiric poet of the period was Samuel Butler, whose Hudibras (1663) satirizes Puritanism together with all the intellectual pretensions of the time. During the Restoration Puritanism or, more generally, the Dissenting tradition, remained vital. The most important Dissenting literary work was John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (1675), an allegorical prose narrative that is considered a forerunner of the novel. Lively and illuminating glimpses of Restoration manners and mores are provided by the diaries of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn.

The Restoration era is ushered in with the return of Charles II in 1660. It is marked by anti-Puritanism and Francophilia, a tendency which encouraged its classcism. Both the Restoration era and the 18th century can be thought of a Neo-Classical period. This reacted against Renaissance enthusiasm for man's potential (and against religious strife) and sought to impose reason, order, and a decent sense of limits on man. In art this favored humanistic, didactic, formal art, with the merits of grace, unity, harmony, and proportion. Wit was praised rather than feeling. Nature was seen as a source of natural law, and liked best when it had been reduced to order. The French were admired more than early English writers, and the heroic couplet was especially popular.

The Eighteenth Century

The Glorious Revolution of 1688 firmly established a Protestant monarchy together with effective rule by Parliament. The new science of the time, Newtonian physics, reinforced the belief that everything, including human conduct, is guided by a rational order. Moderation and common sense became intellectual values as well as standards of behavior.

These values achieved their highest literary expression in the poetry of Alexander Pope. Pope—neoclassicist, wit, and master of the heroic couplet—was critical of human foibles but generally confident that order and happiness in human affairs were attainable if excesses were eschewed and rational dictates heeded. The brilliant prose satirist Jonathan Swift was not so sanguine. His “savage indignation” resulted in devastating attacks on his age in A Tale of a Tub (1704), Gulliver's Travels (1726), and A Modest Proposal (1729).

Middle-class tastes were reflected in the growth of periodicals and newspapers, the best of which were the Tatler and the Spectator produced by Joseph Addison and Sir Richard Steele. The novels of Daniel Defoe, the first modern novels in English, owe much to the techniques of journalism. They also illustrate the virtues of merchant adventure vital to the rising middle class. Indeed, the novel was to become the literary form most responsive to middle-class needs and interests.

The 18th cent. was the age of town life with its coffeehouses and clubs. One of the most famous of the latter was the Scriblerus Club, whose members included Pope, Swift, and John Gay (author of The Beggar's Opera). Its purpose was to defend and uphold high literary standards against the rising tide of middle-class values and tastes. Letters were a popular form of polite literature. Pope, Swift, Horace Walpole, and Thomas Gray were masters of the form, and letters make up the chief literary output of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Lord Chesterfield. The novels of Samuel Richardson, including the influential Clarissa (1747), were written in epistolary form. With the work of Richardson, Fanny Burney, Henry Fielding, Tobias Smollett, and Laurence Sterne the English novel flourished.

Probably the most celebrated literary circle in history was the one dominated by Samuel Johnson. It included Joshua Reynolds, David Garrick, Edmund Burke, Oliver Goldsmith, and James Boswell, whose biography of Johnson is a classic of the genre. Other great master prose writers of the period were the historian Edward Gibbon and the philosopher David Hume. Dr. Johnson, who carried the arts of criticism and conversation to new heights, both typified and helped to form mid-18th-century views of life, literature, and conduct. The drama of the 18th cent. failed to match that of the Restoration. But Oliver Goldsmith and Richard Brinsley Sheridan rose above the prevalent “weeping comedy”—whose sentimentalism infected every literary genre of the period—to achieve polished comedy in the Restoration tradition.

Among the prominent poets of the 18th cent. were James Thomson, who wrote in The Seasons (1726) of nature as it reflected the Newtonian concept of order and beauty, and Edward Young, whose Night Thoughts (1742) combined melancholy and Christian apologetics. Anticipations of romanticism can be seen in the odes of William Collins, the poems of Thomas Gray, and the Scots lyrics of Robert Burns. The work of William Blake, the first great romantic poet, began late in the 18th cent. Blake is unique: poet, artist, artisan, revolutionist, and visionary prophet.

In prose fiction, departures from social realism are evident in the Gothic romances of Horace Walpole, Anne Radcliffe, “Monk” Lewis, Charles Maturin, and others. These works catered to a growing interest in medievalism, northern antiquities, ballads, folklore, chivalry, and romance, also exploited in two masterpieces of forgery—the Ossian poems of James Macpherson and the “medieval” Rowley poems of Thomas Chatterton.

Overview of 18th-Century Poetry

By Kelly Rowles

Eighteenth-century poetry has been both criticized and praised. Many critics contend that the style is lacking in substantial content; they believe that it is often superficial. According to Eighteenth Century Prose and Poetry the attitude of the time which was that of hard realities shaped the literature into often “moralizing” and “didactic works” (ed. Bredvold, Mckillop, Whitney, xvii). However one cannot discount the cleverness of the poetry and detail to both form and style (Sutherland, 16). “The 18th century appeals to the eye and the brilliant surface of its life, . . . it has led some to condemn the period as trivial and superficial, while others admire the styles for their own sake and look no farther then the quaintness and charm (ed. Bredvold, McKillop, Whitney, xvi).

The dominant style of the eighteenth century was Neoclassicism. Order, balance and harmony characterize this style. Neoclassicism is responsible for the change in poetic style of “plain expository prose style” (ed. Bredvold, McKillop, Whitney). This change led to a greater emphasis on the mechanics of poetry. “The limitation of neo-classical verse have often been described in terms of meter and diction…” (ed. Bredvold, McKillop, Whitney, xx). At its best the neo-classic idea “sought to mediate between nature and art, imagination and reason, delight and instruction” (ed. Bredvold, McKillop, Whitney, xix). The types of poetry that Neoclassicism gave way to in the eighteenth century include: “mocking heroic, georgic, ode, elegy, epistle, verse tale, character, “night piece,” hymn, song ballad, epigram, prologue etc." (Sutherland, 6).

Eighteenth-century poetry also gave way to a trend of grandiose and abstract themes. The individual became secondary. The poetry at the time became more concerned with the general in order to elevate the ideas it was trying to convey. “Eighteenth-century theory and practice, then, tended to favour the abstract because it meant a concentration on the essential” (Sutherland, 12). These themes allowed for a straightforward style. This can be seen in much of the satirical poetry of the time, which gave examples of individuals but did so only to illustrate the greater meaning, which was usually societies, evils (Sutherland 13).

The audience of the poetry of the time was often that of the aristocracy and upper middle class. Those who believed that art should be for the common man as well often criticized this (Sutherland 14). But one must remember that the poets at the time were educated men; therefore, when they wrote they wrote for those who would understand their message. Only a select few were really able to relate to the aesthetic beauty that many of the poets were often speaking of.

Despite all the criticism eighteenth-century poetry receives no one can discount the brilliance of poets such as Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, John Gay and Thomas Wharton. The poetry of the time may not be easy for a modern audience to relate to, but it should not be discounted. Eighteenth Poetry and Prose states:

To an age like ours, remembering, experiencing, and anticipating one national crisis after another, the eighteenth century may seem at first to be an age of trivialities; but as we continue our study we may come to feel that people who could work so quietly and urbanely had high and exacting standards from which we still have something to learn. (ed. Bredvold, McKillop, Whitney, xxvii)

Work cited

Sutherland, J.R. ed.. Early Eighteenth Century Poetry. University of South Carolina: Columbia, S.C., 1965.

Brevold, Louis, Alan. McKillop, Louis Whitney, ed. Eighteenth Century Poetry and Prose. The Ronald Press: New York, 1956.

The Romantic Period

At the turn of the century, fired by ideas of personal and political liberty and of the energy and sublimity of the natural world, artists and intellectuals sought to break the bonds of 18th-century convention. Although the works of Jean Jacques Rousseau and William Godwin had great influence, the French Revolution and its aftermath had the strongest impact of all. In England initial support for the Revolution was primarily utopian and idealist, and when the French failed to live up to expectations, most English intellectuals renounced the Revolution. However, the romantic vision had taken forms other than political, and these developed apace.

In Lyrical Ballads (1798 and 1800), a watershed in literary history, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge presented and illustrated a liberating aesthetic: poetry should express, in genuine language, experience as filtered through personal emotion and imagination; the truest experience was to be found in nature. The concept of the Sublime strengthened this turn to nature, because in wild countrysides the power of the sublime could be felt most immediately. Wordsworth's romanticism is probably most fully realized in his great autobiographical poem, “The Prelude” (1805–50). In search of sublime moments, romantic poets wrote about the marvelous and supernatural, the exotic, and the medieval. But they also found beauty in the lives of simple rural people and aspects of the everyday world.

The second generation of romantic poets included John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and George Gordon, Lord Byron. In Keats's great odes, intellectual and emotional sensibility merge in language of great power and beauty. Shelley, who combined soaring lyricism with an apocalyptic political vision, sought more extreme effects and occasionally achieved them, as in his great drama Prometheus Unbound (1820). His wife, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, wrote the greatest of the Gothic romances, Frankenstein (1818).

Lord Byron was the prototypical romantic hero, the envy and scandal of the age. He has been continually identified with his own characters, particularly the rebellious, irreverent, erotically inclined Don Juan. Byron invested the romantic lyric with a rationalist irony. Minor romantic poets include Robert Southey—best-remembered today for his story “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”—Leigh Hunt, Thomas Moore, and Walter Savage Landor.

The romantic era was also rich in literary criticism and other nonfictional prose. Coleridge proposed an influential theory of literature in his Biographia Literaria (1817). William Godwin and his wife, Mary Wollstonecraft, wrote ground–breaking books on human, and women's, rights. William Hazlitt, who never forsook political radicalism, wrote brilliant and astute literary criticism. The master of the personal essay was Charles Lamb, whereas Thomas De Quincey was master of the personal confession. The periodicals Edinburgh Review and Blackwood's Magazine, in which leading writers were published throughout the century, were major forums of controversy, political as well as literary.

Although the great novelist Jane Austen wrote during the romantic era, her work defies classification. With insight, grace, and irony she delineated human relationships within the context of English country life. Sir Walter Scott, Scottish nationalist and romantic, made the genre of the historical novel widely popular. Other novelists of the period were Maria Edgeworth, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, and Thomas Love Peacock, the latter noted for his eccentric novels satirizing the romantics.

The Victorian Age

The Reform Bill of 1832 gave the middle class the political power it needed to consolidate—and to hold—the economic position it had already achieved. Industry and commerce burgeoned. While the affluence of the middle class increased, the lower classes, thrown off their land and into the cities to form the great urban working class, lived ever more wretchedly. The social changes were so swift and brutal that Godwinian utopianism rapidly gave way to attempts either to justify the new economic and urban conditions, or to change them. The intellectuals and artists of the age had to deal in some way with the upheavals in society, the obvious inequities of abundance for a few and squalor for many, and, emanating from the throne of Queen Victoria (1837–1901), an emphasis on public rectitude and moral propriety.

The Novel

The Victorian era was the great age of the English novel—realistic, thickly plotted, crowded with characters, and long. It was the ideal form to describe contemporary life and to entertain the middle class. The novels of Charles Dickens, full to overflowing with drama, humor, and an endless variety of vivid characters and plot complications, nonetheless spare nothing in their portrayal of what urban life was like for all classes. William Makepeace Thackeray is best known for Vanity Fair (1848), which wickedly satirizes hypocrisy and greed.

Emily Brontë's (see Brontë, family) single novel, Wuthering Heights (1847), is a unique masterpiece propelled by a vision of elemental passions but controlled by an uncompromising artistic sense. The fine novels of Emily's sister Charlotte Brontë, especially Jane Eyre (1847) and Villette (1853), are more rooted in convention, but daring in their own ways. The novels of George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) appeared during the 1860s and 70s. A woman of great erudition and moral fervor, Eliot was concerned with ethical conflicts and social problems. George Meredith produced comic novels noted for their psychological perception. Another novelist of the late 19th cent. was the prolific Anthony Trollope, famous for sequences of related novels that explore social, ecclesiastical, and political life in England.

Thomas Hardy's profoundly pessimistic novels are all set in the harsh, punishing midland county he called Wessex. Samuel Butler produced novels satirizing the Victorian ethos, and Robert Louis Stevenson, a master of his craft, wrote arresting adventure fiction and children's verse. The mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, writing under the name Lewis Carroll, produced the complex and sophisticated children's classics Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass (1871). Lesser novelists of considerable merit include Benjamin Disraeli, George Gissing, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Wilkie Collins. By the end of the period, the novel was considered not only the premier form of entertainment but also a primary means of analyzing and offering solutions to social and political problems.


Among the Victorian masters of nonfiction were the great Whig historian Thomas Macaulay and Thomas Carlyle, the historian, social critic, and prophet whose rhetoric thundered through the age. Influential thinkers included John Stuart Mill, the great liberal scholar and philosopher; Thomas Henry Huxley, a scientist and popularizer of Darwinian theory; and John Henry, Cardinal Newman, who wrote of religion, philosophy, and education. The founders of Communism, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, researched and wrote their books in the free environment of England. The great art historian and critic John Ruskin also concerned himself with social and economic problems. Matthew Arnold's theories of literature and culture laid the foundations for modern literary criticism, and his poetry is also notable.


The preeminent poet of the Victorian age was Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Although romantic in subject matter, his poetry was tempered by personal melancholy; in its mixture of social certitude and religious doubt it reflected the age. The poetry of Robert Browning and his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, was immensely popular, though Elizabeth's was more venerated during their lifetimes. Browning is best remembered for his superb dramatic monologues. Rudyard Kipling, the poet of the empire triumphant, captured the quality of the life of the soldiers of British expansion. Some fine religious poetry was produced by Francis Thompson, Alice Meynell, Christina Rossetti, and Lionel Johnson.

In the middle of the 19th cent. the so-called Pre-Raphaelites, led by the painter-poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti, sought to revive what they judged to be the simple, natural values and techniques of medieval life and art. Their quest for a rich symbolic art led them away, however, from the mainstream. William Morris—designer, inventor, printer, poet, and social philosopher—was the most versatile of the group, which included the poets Christina Rossetti and Coventry Patmore.

Algernon Charles Swinburne began as a Pre-Raphaelite but soon developed his own classically influenced, sometimes florid style. A. E. Housman and Thomas Hardy, Victorian figures who lived on into the 20th cent., share a pessimistic view in their poetry, but Housman's well-constructed verse is rather more superficial. The great innovator among the late Victorian poets was the Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins. The concentration and originality of his imagery, as well as his jolting meter (“sprung rhythm”), had a profound effect on 20th-century poetry.

During the 1890s the most conspicuous figures on the English literary scene were the decadents. The principal figures in the group were Arthur Symons, Ernest Dowson, and, first among them in both notoriety and talent, Oscar Wilde. The Decadents' disgust with bourgeois complacency led them to extremes of behavior and expression. However limited their accomplishments, they pointed out the hypocrisies in Victorian values and institutions. The sparkling, witty comedies of Oscar Wilde and the comic operettas of W. S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan were perhaps the brightest achievements of 19th-century British drama.

The Early Twentieth Century

Irish drama flowered in the early 20th cent., largely under the aegis of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin (see Irish literary renaissance). John Millington Synge, William Butler Yeats, and Sean O'Casey all wrote on Irish themes—mythical in Yeats's poetic drama, political in O'Casey's realistic plays. Also Irish, George Bernard Shaw wrote biting dramas that reflect all aspects of British society. In fact, many of the towering figures of 20th-century English literature were not English; Shaw, Yeats, Joyce, O'Casey, and Beckett were Irish, Dylan Thomas was Welsh, T. S. Eliot was born an American, and Conrad was Polish.

Poetry in the early 20th cent. was typified by the conventional romanticism of such poets as John Masefield, Alfred Noyes, and Walter de la Mare and by the experiments of the imagists, notably Hilda Doolittle (H. D.), Richard Aldington, Herbert Read, and D. H. Lawrence. The finest poet of the period was Yeats, whose poetry fused romantic vision with contemporary political and aesthetic concerns. Though the 19th-century tradition of the novel lived on in the work of Arnold Bennett, William Henry Hudson, and John Galsworthy, new writers like Henry James, H. G. Wells, and Joseph Conrad expressed the skepticism and alienation that were to become features of post-Victorian sensibility.

World War I shook England to the core. As social mores were shaken, so too were artistic conventions. The work of war poets like Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, the latter killed in the war (as were Rupert Brooke and Isaac Rosenberg), was particularly influential. Ford Madox Ford's landmark tetralogy, Parade's End, is perhaps the finest depiction of the war and its effects. The new era called for new forms, typified by the work of Gerard Manley Hopkins, first published in 1918, and of T. S. Eliot, whose long poem The Waste Land (1922) was a watershed in both American and English literary history. Its difficulty, formal invention, and bleak antiromanticism were to influence poets for decades.

Moved by the Great Depression, the rise of fascism, and English policies of appeasement, many writers and intellectuals sought solutions in the politics of the left—or the right. Wyndham Lewis satirized what he thought was the total dissolution of culture in Apes of Gods (1930). George Orwell fought with the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. The experience left him profoundly disillusioned with Communism, a feeling he eloquently expressed in such works as Animal Farm (1946) and Nineteen Eighty-four (1949). The poets W. H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, Stephen Spender, and C. Day Lewis all proclaimed their leftist respective political commitments, but the pressing demands of World War II superseded these long-term ideals.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2005, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
Beat Poetry
The term "the beat generation" was first used by John Clellon Holmes in a 1952 article, This Is The Beat Generation, about the young people of his time for the New York Times Magazine. Recalling a conversation with Jack Kerouac in 1948, Holmes had asked Kerouac to think of a way to describe the unique qualities of his generation; Kerouac came up with the term 'Beat Generation' on the spot. The term "beat" bears connotations of down-beat, worn out, down-and-out, drop-out and beatitude.
The Beats are particularly associated with San Francisco, especially North Beach, and their generally accepted father-figures were the poet Kenneth Rexroth ("Godfather of the Beats"), Henry Miller and William Burroughs. Other poetic influences include Walt Whitman, Arthur Rimbaud, Ezra Pound, and William Carlos Williams.

The core group of beats were friends living in New York all struggling to be poets and writers: Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, and William S. Burroughs. Gregory Corso also fell in with them at this time. They met in the neighborhood surrounding Columbia University in uptown Manhattan in the mid-40's.

In 1953, around the time they all migrated to San Francisco, Ginsberg introduced himself to Kenneth Rexroth who in turn introduced them to a young group of poets just coalescing: Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael McClure, Philip Whalen and Lew Welch.

The beat poets and writers developed their own slang and highly idiosyncratic style. Their convictions and attitudes were unconventional, provocative, anti-intellectual, anti-hierarchical and anti-middle-class. They were influenced by jazz, by Zen Buddhism and by American Indian and Mexican Peyote cults, and their Bohemian lifestyle was popularly associated with drugs, 'free' sex, drink and permissive living in general. It was in some respects anarchic and provoked considerable hostility.

Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems (1956) represents as well as anything the disillusionment of the beat movement with modern society, its materialism and militarism and its outmoded, stuffed-shirt, middle-class values and mores. Ginsberg's Kaddish (1960), an elegy for his mother, and Reality Sandwiches (1963) were other important publications. So were Lawrence Ferlinghetti's Pictures of the Gone World (1955) and A Coney Island of the Mind (1958), Gregory Corso's Gasoline (1958) and Bomb (1959), and Gary Snyder's collection of work songs and haikus in Riprap (1959). Jack Kerouac wrote both poetry and novels, but it was his novel On the Road (1957) that really defined the Beat Generation, outlining the road-tripping, bohemian lifestyle of he and his friends, who are all featured in the book under different names.
The Beat movement has greatly affected pop culture and continues to influence it and poetry today.

Sixteenth-Century Cultural Changes (and their Medieval roots)

Political Power Centralized in a London-Based Court (vs. the rival "magnates" in the provinces) and England Begins its Empire

1399 Richard II deposed and assassinated by agents of Henry Bolingbroke (IV)--duke of Lancaster's economic and political power is added to the taxation and war-making powers of the kingship  (Want to see a list of kings and queens of England to put this into perspective?)

1422-1485 Political Struggles Between Competing Magnates: Henry VI (Lancaster), Richard of York, the earl of Warwick, Edward IV (Lancaster), Richard III (York)--ends with overthrow of Richard by Henry Tudor (VII, a distant Lancastrian relative who marries a Yorkist princess)

1485-1588 Political Struggles Between Competing Emerging Imperial States: France (Catholic), Spain (Catholic), the Netherlands (Protestant, occupied by Spain), and England (Protestant)--Henry VIII declares himself head of a Protestant English Church (1534); daughter Mary, a Catholic, marries Phillip II of Spain and declares England Catholic; second daughter Elizabeth, a Protestant, declares England Protestant (1558); Spanish Armada defeated in battle and destroyed by storms (1588)--the last Early Modern threat to English sovereignty until Napoleon (1803-12).

1497-8 Giovanni Caboto, a Genoese sailing an English ship as "John Cabot" discovers the Georges Banks (Newfoundland) fishery; 1583, Sir Humphrey Gilbert lays claim to St. Johns, Newfoundland, as an English possession to secure the fishing grounds against French claims.

English Grammar, Usage and Spelling Stabilized by Printers / Destabilized by Latin, Italian, Spanish, and French "Loan Words"

        The Great Vowel Shift (Middle English to Early Modern English) leaves us with no sounded final "-e"

Continental Humanists Educate Nobles' Sons (and some daughters) in Latin and English Rhetoric and Literature

        Erasmus tutors Henry, Prince of Wales and later Henry VIII--"The Education of the Christian Prince" becomes a plan to convert Anglo-European leaders to Christian and classical ethics by teaching the future rulers.

Rise of Guild Schools Educates Guildsmen's Sons (and some daughters) in Latin and English Rhetoric and Literature

        Richard Mulcaster (1530-1611) founds the Merchant Tailors School, and other guilds soon follow the Merchant Tailors' example to enable their children to compete in a society that now values literacy in trade as well as at court.

Printed "Conduct Books" Enable Any Reader of English to Acquire the Manners and External Appearance of Nobles

        Baldasari Castiglioni's Il Cortegiano (1528), translated and published in English as The Courtier by Sir Thomas Hoby in 1561, taught readers to acquire subtle skills that indicated one belonged in court society, as well as the higher motivating goals of Neo-Platonist Christian Humanism supposed to be the true motivation for doing so.  Nicolo Machiavelli's Il Principe (1513, published in 1532 after his death in 1527), was not published as an English translation by the anonymous "E.D." until 1640, after Parliament began to exert its power against royal censorship of the press (Nicholas Machiavel's Prince.

Also, the life of Castruccio Castracani of Lucca ... 
  Translated out of Italian into English by E.D. London : Printed by R. Bishop, for Wil: Hils, and are to sold by Daniel Pakeman, 1640).  Manuscript translations in English circulated freely enough so that Machiavelli's reputation as a cruel practioner of real politik made his name a by-word for treacherous, scheming stage characters like King Lear's Edmund.  Obviously, Machiavelli's instructions were believed to be more practically powerful than Castiglioni's, and they were far more dangerous for a king's subject to be translating.

Prose Style, Influenced by Latin, Borrows Poetic Ornaments

        John Lyly's Euphues popularizes multiple repetitions of illustrative similes ("Euphuism"); sentences become longer and more complexly subordinated ("hypotaxis" vs. medieval "parataxis" [and then...and then...and then]); prose is used more commonly for entertainment as well as instruction, including the first experiments with "fiction" in "Coney Catching Pamphlets," thieves' "autobiographies," etc..

Theater, Influenced by Humanist Translations of Greek and Roman Plays Becomes Public, Secular, and Popular

        Mysteries (the York Crucifixion, etc.), and Moralities (Everyman) with their allegorical and biblical content are replaced by comedies about human follies and tragedies, usually concerning government of the state, and outdoor performances on pageant wagons are replaced by semi-outdoor permanent theaters like the Swan and Globe (opening in 1599).

Lyrics Influenced by Court Nobles' Translations of French and Italian Forms Become Private, Secular, and Popular

        Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, translate Petrarch's sonnets from the Rima

Seventeenth-Century English Literature and Cultural Change

Key Dates in the Post-Elizabethan Political Struggle--

1603 Elizabeth I dies without an heir--cousin James VI of Scotland, son of Mary Stuart, becomes James I of England (staunch Protestant but autocrat who believes in the "divine right of kings" to govern with absolute authority over their subjects)

1605 Gunpowder Plot, Titus Oates accuses Guy Fawkes and other Catholics of planning to blow up King and Parliament--massive persecution of Catholics and Dissenters follows. In 1608, a group of Puritan Dissenters flee to the Continent.

1620 Puritan Dissenters from Anglican church, having fled to the Netherlands, set sail for New World colonies at Massachusetts Bay.

1625 Charles I succeeds James I--more absolutist than his father and Catholic in his personal beliefs, alienating Parliament. Puritans increase Parl. power.

1632  Charles I grants Cecil Calvert millions of acres on both sides of a large bay in the New World, with the explicit purpose of offering refuge to English Catholics who were increasingly persecuted by the Puritan forces seizing control of Parliament.  Calvert is said to have named it "Maryland" after Charles' wife.  In 1634, Calvert's brother, Leonard, leads the first expedition to the mouth of the Potomac where St. Mary's City is founded.

1639  Maryland tobacco and grain farmers import their first African slaves to augment the labor power of indentured English servants.

1642 Civil War begins, Parliamentary armies (Oliver Cromwell most famous general) pray before battle and adopt severe "Roundhead" haircuts; Royalist forces, called "Cavaliers" dress in traditional feudal finery with long hair and write love poetry. Theaters closed by Parliamentary decree as seat of immorality; printing freed from royal authority and broadside pamphlets flourished.

1647 Charles I captured, end of monarchy--son Charles (II) exiled in France.

1649 Charles I executed--beginning of "Commonwealth" ruled by Parlaiment; Maryland's legislature defensively passes the Act Concerning Religion (later called "of Religious Toleration") forbidding persecution of any Trinitarian Christian faiths.

1660 The Restoration--after Cromwell's heir cannot rule effectively, Parliament recalls Charles II from France. French court styles influence literature again.

1688 Bloodless Revolution, after James II threatens to take the nation Catholic again, attorneys persuade William of Orange, and Mary, to reign as figureheads.

1694 Annapolis, at the mouth of the Severn River, founded as Maryland's capital.

Key dates/discoveries in science redraw the universe & human nature--

1453-1543 Nicholas Copernicus, a Polish astronomer, posits a heliocentric universe to explain flaws in the Ptolemaic explanation of the planets' movements (in manuscript, 1512, published 1543). Without evidence, slow to win converts.

1546-1601 Tycho Brahe, astronomer, observes a supernova in Cassiopeia (1572) and makes precise observations on planetary and lunar orbits that nearly confirm C's theory, but rejects Copernicus' theory.

1561-1626 Sir Francis Bacon, in Advancement of Learning (1605) and Novum Organum (1625) develops scientific method of inquiry by controlled experiment, drawing conclusions from evidence via induction (vs. deduction).

1571-1630 Johanes Kepler, mathematician, based on TB's observations, abandons "perfect" circular orbits of planets for elliptical orbits, which fit observations perfectly. Mysterium cosmographia (1596) and Harmonia mundi (1619) explain celestial mechanics as a result of three divine "laws."

1578-1657 William Harvey, first modern medical researcher in comparative anatomy and embryology, describes the heart as a blood pump and maps the circulatory system in On the Movement of the Heart and Blood in Animals (1628)

1546-1642 Galileo Galilei builds telescope with power to resolve craters on the "perfect" moon, to describe Milky Way galaxy, and to detect four moons orbiting Jupiter. In 1616, the pope declares Copernican system "false and erroneous." Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (1632) disproves Ptolemaic system and upholds Copernican. Called to Rome by Inquisition (1633), Galileo recants. "The Book of Nature is written in mathematical characters" (1623). His word for "experiment" is "cimeno," "ordeal."

1642-1727 Isaac Newton, in 1666 discovers the law of universal gravitation (force varies inversely proportionate to the inverse square of the distances between the bodies) which explains Kepler's observations. The Principia naturalis principia mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, 1667) explains the forces controlling planets, comets, moons, earthly tides, and falling bodies. He invents differential calculus and the particulate theory of light (Optics, 1704), which was combined with wave theory by quantum mechanics.

1656-1742 Edmund Halley, using Newton's physics calculates the orbit of the "Great Comet of 1682," now "Halley's Comet," showing it to have been the comets of 1531 and 1607, calculating its return around 1759, and enabling us to predict its return in 1835, 1910, and 1982. Its next return will be in 2057.

Modes of thought and literary change--

"Enthusiasm" becomes a synonym for dangerous emotional instability. Reasonableness comes to be sought after as the ideal mental state and many poems (e.g., Shakespeare's sonnets) lament the disruptive effects of passions on the human mind.

"Humors" theory of human medicine--Human emotional states and character were produced by an excess of one of the four "humors" thought to control the human body (blood=hot+wet, phlegm=cold+wet, choler=hot+dry, black bile (cold+dry). In proper proportion, they produced health, but in whose excesses and deficiencies they produced mental illness (e.g., Lear was "bloody-minded" when he raged against his daughters, and Kent was "choleric" in his violent outrage at Oswald). The "comedy of humors" (esp. Jonson) depicts emotional states as a psychological drama that might be thought of as a more sophisticated, materialist way to understand our inner workings than the spiritual mechanism of the moralities' allegory.

Melancholy (usually attributed to excess black bile) becomes a popular concern, perhaps a psychological response to dislocating intellectual and social change. A natural counterpart of "enthusiasm," it was to be expected in "reasonable minds" as they resisted the stresses surrounding them.

"Wit" changes meaning from rapid fluency of dialogue (Kent railing on Oswald or Hal and Falstaff trading insults) into a seemingly effortless capacity for a ready reply, and finally to quick, unexpected and often paradoxical discovery of equivalence between two apparently opposed things or difference between things thought the same. Late in C17, "wit" is a code word for social debate, but some continue to identify it with "raillery" or rapid exchanges of ironic humor, and others with insightful observations reasonably expressed. It's now mainly a synonym for comic expressions.


Genres on the way out: sonnets, after a brief resurgence on divine subjects (Donne, Milton) and Lady Mary Wroth's abduction of it to express a woman's experience of being the pursued Beloved; epic, after Paradise Lost (1667,1674); pastoral poetry, after Marvell and Herrick; masque (rarefied court drama on mythical or allegorical subjects, like Milton's Comus or Jonson's Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue [see 1244-53]).

Genres being invented or on the way up: the novel (Oroonoko, 1700); irregular lyrical stanzas (Donne, Herbert, Crashaw); prose essays (Bacon; Mary Astell), satires (Rochester, Montagu, Swift), heroic couplet verse (Swift, Pope and Johnson [in 212]), blank verse for serious, big, epic poems (Paradise Lost [1667/1674 2nd ed.] and later Wordsworth's answer to it in The Prelude [1798], and much later, Walt Whitman's free verse answer to Milton and Wordsworth in Leaves of Grass).

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