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Themes of the English Restoration Poetry


The Restoration period in English history lasted from 1660 until 1700. It began when the exiled king, Charles II, came back from France and was restored to his throne. Once the Puritans were defeated and the monarchy was restored, English society saw a complete rejection of the Puritan way of life. The result was a style of poetry, as represented in the works of John Dryden, that emphasized moderation, reason and realism.

Discarding Moral, Judgmental and Religious Themes

In 1649, Puritans defeated and beheaded Charles I; exiled his son, Charles II, to France; and ruled the country according to strict moral and social codes. After the Restoration, Charles II and others, influenced by their experiences in France, encouraged English poets and dramatists to throw away discipline, restraint and conservatism from their works. The result was a literary period that was ruled by themes of moderation, realism and reason instead of the themes of judgment, morality and religion, like the ones imposed by the Puritans.

Moderation

John Dryden is so much the dominant figure of Restoration poetry that the period is often referred to as the Age of Dryden. His poetry, like the rest of Restoration poetry, is realistic, satirical and moderate. It is written in the form of heroic couplets, rhyming pairs of iambic pentameter lines, also characteristic of epic poetry. Restoration poetry is considered moderate in the way it emphasizes precision, or the economical use of language and words.

Realism

The two lasting contributions of the Restoration period on English literature are realism and preciseness. Writers focused on creating vivid and realistic portrayals of the corruption they saw in their society. Precision in words and simplicity of language, a reaction to the exaggerations popular during the Elizabethan and Puritan periods, helped emphasize this theme of realism. Influenced by the French, English writers tried to create a style that most resembled the way that people actually spoke and wrote. Furthermore, they stopped incorporating classical allusions, Latin quotations and romantic extravagances.

Reason

One of Restoration poetry’s other important themes is reason. Instead of focusing on metaphysical ideas, which a lot of poetry prior to this period had relied upon, poetry during the Restoration was inspired by the many scientific advances of the time. These scientific advances encouraged people to use reason to solve problems, and as a result, the language of Restoration poetry also contains many well-constructed and well-supported arguments. These three main themes -- moderation, realism and reason -- made Restoration poetry’s classical style, also known as the classical school of poetry, dominate English literature for more than a century.

About the Author

Kate Prudchenko has been a writer and editor for five years, publishing peer-reviewed articles, essays, and book chapters in a variety of publications including Immersive Environments: Future Trends in Education and Contemporary Literary Review India. She has a BA and MS in Mathematics, MA in English/Writing, and is completing a PhD in Education.

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