17th Century English Writers

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Matt Mclellan
February 4, 2002
6pm class Monday

The Pen Is Mightier Than The King

The 17th century saw a king's head roll and an English Caesar sit the throne, in the midst of all of this a new class was rising. England in the 17th century was rife with change, there was much work to be done before the industrial revolution could fully grip the nation. For hundreds of years the monarch had dominated the political landscape, now that was changing radically. Although their remained a Monarch in power for most of this period they had seen their powers limited to the point of reducing them to the status of figurehead. As farming techniques and technology had improved, the population in England had increased steadily and the use of this new technology created a new class in society.(1) This merchant class was on the rise due in large part to the captured markets in North America and the West Indies which had made many a merchant richer than their aristocratic brethren. The British Parliament had seen its power expand over the last hundred years and would continue that trend in the 17th century finding itself with the power to behead even the king.(1) As Parliament flexed their new found muscle the king was forced to find the funding for his political intrigues among the new merchant class. In addition to this new found monetary prowess the middle classes had been exposed to a rich variety of philosophers who espoused the right of the people to rule themselves.(1) Revolution in the New World and in parts of Europe increasingly made the lower classes aware of their right to self-governance. The parliament a representative of the people showed its power in the 17th century by enacting the "Glorious Revolution" and crippling the English monarchy for the rest of time.(1) Indeed in the next century the French Revolution would show that not only a government body had the power to remove royalty, the common people could also spill royal blood. As a result of this change in the class structure Monarchs and parliament where forced to recognize the power of the common people and they would from then on need to seek the peoples favor. The danger of an uprising was quite real and could not be controlled by marshal means, as there was no standing police force or army.(1) In addition leaders of the time where selected by birth and not by political prowess and as such many of them lacked the eloquence to persuade the people. Because of this they where forced to find an emissary to express their ideas to the people and many of the individuals chosen logically were talented writers of the age. The wealth of the new merchant class allowed many of them to better educate their children, and so the middle class author came into prominence.(1) The ruling class would use these authors to curry the peoples favor for their often conflicting agendas. Writers in 17th century England soon found that their abilities and viewpoints were a powerful political tool. They used the support of the government in power to expose themselves to their audience and to expand their trade for future generations. Early 17th century authors where faced with a more than difficult task to succeed in their career and indeed even to survive. At that time writing, even if you where a masterful author was not much of a career, finding funds to survive on was quite difficult and often not possible using your writing talents alone.(1) In order to really earn any money from your scribbling you had to reach the readers that your work was intended for. This was not so easy in a time before mass communication, and without some form of significant exposure you were condemned to forever wallow in obscurity. In addition the law of the time was not friendly to authors as there was still no allowance for freedom of the press. A government branch was still designated for the censoring of writers material, and if your particular beliefs did not agree with the person or persons...
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