The Early Seventeenth Century (Stuart Kings; Jacobean or Caroline Age)



 

I. Transition in political power:

1. The tensions between the monarch and his people; between England and Scotland.

2. The unpopular Stuart kings: endorsing royal absolutism and in constant conflict with the Parliament.
3. The indecorous and disorderly court: constantly in financial crisis but still a center of literary patronage.

II. Mounting religious tensions:

1. Disruption of religious toleration: the Gunpowder Plot as a turning point, intensifying the conflict between the Catholics and Protestants but strengthening James I’s authorities.

2. Death of Prince Henry (shattering the hope of international Protestant movement) and Marriage Negotiations for Prince Charles—with princesses of Catholic countries over the people’s disaffection.
3. The Ascent of Charles I and the Turning to Catholicism: fierce resistance from the parliament, the peerage, Puritans, wealthy bourgeoisie
4. Two Bishops’ War breaking out over Archbishop Laud’s imposition of Episcopal hierarchy upon Presbyterian Scotland.

III. Literary Activities of the Time:

1. Old regime of ideas vs. the new one: The Ptolemaic universe, with a sense of analogical order, in conflict with the Copernican one, with an emphasis on science and experiment.

2. Royal and local courts as the center of literary activities: masques, esp. under Charles I, developing the cult of platonic love (Ben Jonson as the representative composer).

3. The Church: sponsoring the composition of sermons (highly rhetorical and ornate).

4. The City and the Theatre: Drama as the only channel (besides noble patronage) through which writers could win their livings (rise of City Comedies).
5. Change in Poetic Style (The Three Main Figures): colloquial and witty “plain style” for John Donne (gentleman amateur and coterie-oriented; learned, speech-like, unmelodic, dramatic, with metaphoric conceits), Ben Jonson (professional author and public/social, with classical values of simplicity, restraint, economy, decorum, good workmanship; decorum as the guiding principle), and George Herbert (focusing on religious sensibility with artistic subtlety).

6. Familiar essay: Francis Bacon (public and worldly voice).

7. The Rise of female writers in public sphere.

8. Literary and artistic life as a center of political/religious contention: the case of William Prynne.

IV. English Revolution:

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