The Age of Milton, the age during which the great poet matured and created, covers roughly the first seventy years or so of the seventeenth century. Thus, Milton is the connecting link between the beautiful age of Queen Elizabeth, the Puritan age which followed, and the Restoration Age. It was an age of disillusionment, increasing gloom and pessimism, and this melancholy and despair of the age colors the literature of the period. Thus, to understand the spirit of Milton’s works, it’s essential to form a concept of his age.
Nature of Puritanism
In the broadest sense, Puritanism can be thought to be the renaissance of the ethical significance of man. The Greco-Roman revival of the 15th and 16th centuries was largely pagan and sensuous. It didn’t touch the moral nature of man; it did nothing for his religious, political, and social emancipation.
On the other hand, the Puritan movement was probably the most vital movement for ethical and political reform. Its goals had been;
(1) religious liberty, i.e., that humans must be free to worship in keeping with their conscience, and
(2) they need to enjoy full civil liberty. The Puritans wished to make humans honest and to make them free. They insisted on the purity of life.
In issues of religion, the Puritans had been fanatics. They had been extremists. There had been Puritans even throughout the reign of Queen Elizabeth. They didn’t accept the Anglican Church, which was primarily a compromise between Catholicism and Protestantism. They thought of its creeds and public worship as too much like Popery. They advocated Church reform. Moreover, they had a rigorous view of life and conduct. They laid down very austere beliefs of life.
The basic tendency of the Puritans was delinquent. “Beauty in his eyes was a snare and pleasure a sin; the only mode of social intercourse which he approved was a sermon.” As Macaulay puts it, he hated bear-baiting, not because it gave pain to the bear however because it gave pleasure to the spectator. The Puritans thus stood for
(1) Church reform,
(2) for the reform of social life in keeping with their austere beliefs,
(3) for the best of liberty, each religious and political—man needs to be free to worship in keeping with his conscience unhampered by the state.
Causes for the Rise of Puritanism
Several causes led to widespread discontent and the emergence of the Puritans as a potent national force. First, there was the speculation of the divine right of kings, the speculation that the king may do no wrong. James I had exalted ideals of kingship and aimed towards despotic powers; however, he was not fit to play the function of flawless divinity. On the opposite, he was ill-mannered, grotesque, and imprudent in appearance and shortly made the English Court the laughing stock of Europe.
Immorality and Corruption
Secondly, the immorality and depravity of the king and his courtiers additionally fed the flames of discontent. The corruption in high places did a lot to alienate the sympathies of the everyday individual and considerably strengthened the ethical and social effect of the Puritans, who despised the Court “as a place of infamy, alien to all good morals.” The immorality of the king and the court is a frequent object of satire in modern literature.
Thirdly, James and his ministers had been extravagant. They had been continuously in debt and constantly in need of money. When James approached the Parliament for money, it demanded more rights and privileges for itself—that it should management faith and finance and even advise on foreign policy. James then tried to raise money by granting commerce monopolies to his favorites.
It was an encroachment on their rights, and the financial virtues of thrift, sobriety, and financial living appealed to this middle-class aspect. Thus emerged a union of pursuits towards James I. This makes the Jacobean Age an interval of stress and pressure, giving rise to a way of frustration and disillusionment.
Loss of Faith
The personal unpopularity of the king, James I, uncouth and awkward, who made the English court the laughing inventory of all Europe, the reducing of requirements of national morality and conduct. The lack of national dignity, slackness of discipline, plots, and intrigues, each political and religious, all contributed to the ambiance of uncertainty and misgiving. This, in its flip, bred pessimism and frustration.
Further, there was a conflict of ideas and philosophies; the old world, the medieval world, with its academic learning and metaphysics, broke down below the effect of the new perspective. Another trigger was the effect of Machiavelli, whose work The Prince enjoyed significant popularity. His materialistic doctrines, alongside his Satanic philosophy—that the world order isn’t ethical however primarily immoral—induced a lot of bewilderment and confusion and lack of religion in current values and ideals.
Literature in Puritanism
The decline from the excessive Elizabethan commonplace is evident in several ways,
(a) The output, particularly poetry, is way smaller, and the style is towards shorter poems, particularly the lyric. The period’s poetry is primarily lyrical, and Donne and Ben Jonson are the two most excellent and unique lyricists of the age. Milton, who hyperlinks up the Puritan age with the Restoration, is a class by himself,
(b) There is critical decay within the exalted poetical enthusiasm of the earlier age. In the new poetry, there’s more intellectual play than passion and profundity. And particularly in prose, there’s a matured melancholy that one is apt to associate with advancing years,
(c) There is a marked enhance in prose activity, and prose is an almost invariable accompaniment of a decline in poetry.
In an age that, by comparison with the Elizabethan period, produced relatively few great writers, Milton stands because the one man might claim a spot among the greatest.
Besides Milton, there are the Metaphysical and the Caroline lyricists. Dr. Johnson first used the term Metaphysical, who applied it to Cowley and Donne. It denotes the work of a group of poets who got here instantly or not directly under Donne’s influence. Donne’s poetry is a poetry of revolt, revolt towards Elizabethan tradition. To this school belong such great poets as Crashaw, George Herbert, Vaughan, and Marvell.
The prose output throughout the age is copious and excellent. There is a notable advance within the sermon; pamphlets are plentiful; history, politics, philosophy, and miscellaneous kinds are well represented. Milton’s Areopagetica is an immortal monument of English prose.
Jonson uses prose in his comedies. The controversies and conflicts, each political and religious, result within the rise of satire and pamphleteering, contributes to the advancement of prose.
Many issues mixed to cause the decay of drama at this time. Chief amongst these was the strong opposition of the Puritans. In a temper, the age was not dramatic. The dramatic work of the interval is characterized by immorality, obscenity, sensationalism, and violence.
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