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17 th /18 th Century Goals of the 17 th and 18 th Century Be familiar with the turmoil of the time period and how it is reflected in the diversity of the literature. Understand the significance of metaphysical poetry and the metaphysical conceit.

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Goals of the 17th and 18th Century

  • Be familiar with the turmoil of the time period and how it is reflected in the diversity of the literature.
  • Understand the significance of metaphysical poetry and the metaphysical conceit.
  • Recognize the cavalier or “carpe diem” philosophy and how it came into prominence.
  • Understand the historical and biographical context of the Puritan writer, John Milton.
  • What significant development brought about the movement toward Romanticism?
  • Recognize how the historical changes took place during the time period.

1625 – Charles I of French descent becomes King. Charles was constantly at odds with Parliament. He insisted that all clergy conform to the guidelines and services of the Church of England, placing him in direct conflict with the Puritans who were members of Parliament. Charles dissolved Parliament and a Civil War broke out. The troops supported by Parliament and led by Oliver Cromwell took over the royal forces. Charles I was tried for treason and beheaded.

  • 1649 – Oliver Cromwell, a Puritan leader, takes over the country and is neither King, nor Prime Minister. He gives himself the title of “Lord Protector.” He was much more of a dictator than a democratic ruler. He did just the opposite of what Charles I had done by insisting that the people conform to the precepts of the Puritans, thus outraging the followers of the Church of England. There was a great swell of support for restoring the monarchy; however, Cromwell’s iron rule prevented that until his death.
  • 1660 – Charles II, son of Charles I, ascends to the throne to replace Cromwell, thus beginning the age known as “The Restoration,” representing the restoration of the monarchy. Charles II reestablished the Anglican Church as the official Church of England and tried to outlaw dozens of religious sects; however, he had learned from watching what had happened to his father and did not try to force those laws through Parliament.

1685 – James II ascend to the throne following the death of Charles II. James tried to reestablish the Catholic church as the official church of England; however, because of public opinion and the strength of Parliament, rather than face a revolution and possible death, he ran away to France and Parliament requested his cousin Mary and her husband William take over the throne. This flight of James and the ascension by William and Mary is known as the “Glorious Revolution of 1688.”

  • William and Mary shared the duties of the monarchy and accepted a Bill of Rights written by Parliament, which limited the duties and rights of the monarchy even further. This essentially established England as a Constitutional Monarchy.
  • 1702 – Anne, Mary’s sister, takes over the throne, known as “Good Queen Anne,” because she allowed Parliament to run the country and merely acted as a figure head.

1714 – George I, a cousin of Mary and Anne’s from Germany, takes over the throne.

  • 1727 George II, son of George I.
  • 1760 – George III, son of George II, ascends to the throne and is ruling when the United States wins its independence. He is accused of being “mad” by his son and is essentially tortured while being institutionalized until his death.


  • Scientific investigation – natural phenomena was accounted for by scientific investigation.
  • Reformation – varied religious sects – new questions, theories, rituals, and interpretations.
  • Political scene – began to question the government and “divine right.”
  • Restoration – Just as Emperor Augustus had restored order to Ancient Rome, the Stuart family, beginning with Charles II, restored order to England.

The Age of Enlightenment: natural phenomena was accounted for by scientific investigation.

Reformation: varied religious sects – new questions, theories, rituals, and interpretations.

Political Scene: began to question the government and “divine right.”

Restoration: Just as Emperor Augustus had restored order to ancient Rome, the Stuart family, beginning with Charles II restored order to England.

  • Age of Enlightenment/Age of Reason – scientific revolution
  • Neoclassical Age – imitates or emulates the old Latin classics
  • Age of Elegance – manners and etiquette and the importance of “society”

Parliament developed the two party system: Whigs – liberal, known as the Labor Party today; Tories – conservative, goes by the same name today.

  • England’s greatest rival in the 18th Century was France. They were in competition for colonies and supremacy.
  • The most important historical event of the age was the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
  • The 18th Century was marked by a feeling of complacency.

Literature of the 17th & 18th Century

  • Metaphysical poets: wrote of spiritual, philosophical, or mystical experiences and events. Their poetry is often irregular in meter and quite dramatic and complex. The word, “metaphysical,” means speculative philosophy. The metaphysical poems are often characterized by a metaphysical conceit, an extravagant metaphor which points out a parallel between what seems to be two dissimilar object. EX: John Donne.
  • Age of Johnson: Poets who carry over the Elizabethan tradition. They tend to write pastorals, lyrics, or sonnets. They often use trite metaphors and often speak of the ideal or perfect lady and/or love. EX: Ben Jonson.

Cavalier poets: light and carefree, they support the “carpe diem” philosophy. They glorify the temporary pleasures in life—love, youth, and happiness. EX: Robert Herrick

  • Puritan writers: tend to be solemn, religious, and sermon-like in their poetry and prose. EX: John Milton
  • Pre-romantic writers: stressed nature, but had not yet adopted the philosophies of the later romantics. EX: Thomas Gray
  • Restoration Theatre—differed from Elizabethan Theater. It stressed the “comedy of manners,” plays dealing with the truth that lies beneath shallowness of manners, etiquette, and society.
  • Novels—the 18th Century saw the development and growth of the novel as an art form. Since theatre had become an art for the wealthy, novels became the art for the masses. The first English novels were long, comical, and realistic narratives.

Did you achieve the goals of the 17th/18th Century?

  • List the significant changes that take place historically during this time period and the literature that reflects each of the various changes.
  • Define “metaphysical conceit” and explain its emergence. Why does Donne’s literature fit into the metaphysical genre?
  • Analyze the structural qualities of “carpe diem” poets and explain what each has in common.
  • How did the English Civil War bring about the emergence of John Milton? Why is his portrayal of Satan significant?
  • Why would the beginning of the Industrial Revolution bring about the emergence of a movement toward romanticism?
  • Design a graphic of the significant political/historical changes during this time period along with the literature attached to each change.