English Literature: From the Later Renaissance to the Rise of Romanticism
Chapter 1 – Poetry of the Late Renaissance
Though literary history does not lend itself to tidy divisions and the lateRenaissance in England should be seen as a whole movement – from Sidney andSpenser to Marvell and Milton (Vickers 1990, 160), the literary modes, genres orindividual texts included in this survey tend to belong to the historical periodspanning the accession to the throne of James I (1606) and the restoration ofCharles II (1660), at the centre of which there lies the Puritan Revolution whichwrought immense social changes and impinged upon the quality of Englishliterature.Throughout the Jacobite and Caroline ages the court remains an undisputedcentre of national authority, influence, power, reward and intellectualinspiration. As such, the literature produced in this context will tend to reflectcourtly values, favouring an intricate, allusive and decorative writing, where theemphasis is placed on love (not necessarily marriage), warfare (largely free ofpolitical context) or devotional piety (quite apart from practical morality.) In theperiod of the Civil.Wars and Commonwealth, the urgency of crisis dominatesEnglish society, while the court looses its privileged position. Social divisions(e.g. Puritan / Anglican, or Parliamentarian / Royalist) reflect themselveswithin the literary field. If decorative writing survives among culturedparliamentarians and royalists, new developments are registered with thegrowth of a more civic and utilitarian writing favouring plain-style verse orplain-style prose, particularly within politico-religious controversy.If the lyric mode is representative for the courtly values that poetry enshrinesand finds expression in the two ‘alternate’ poetic modes -
- which dominate the first half of the century, John
’s verseis not only too varied in tone and scope to be adequately contained by either ofthem, but also exemplifies the Puritan ethos and its hostility towards the courtlyculture, remaining thus apart.