18th and 19th Century Literature: Rape of the Lock and Lady of Shalott

Topics: Poetry, Victorian era, Alexander Pope Pages: 8 (2527 words) Published: November 2, 2014
Thesis: The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were times of major change for the British Empire. A monarchy restored, a city destroyed, colonies lost, technology gained, civil unrest, parliamentary reform, trains, a queen, and a lot of social change. The frequent shifts in social, political, and economical status were welcomed by some, but made most fearful. This essay will examine these changes in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, respectively, and then look at how these shifts affected the literature of the time, using the examples of Alexander Pope and Alfred, Lord Tennyson. On Literature in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were times of major change for the British Empire. A monarchy restored, a city destroyed, colonies lost, technology gained, civil unrest, parliamentary reform, trains, a queen, and a lot of social change. The frequent shifts in social, political, and economical status were welcomed by some, but made most fearful. This essay will examine these changes in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, respectively, and then look at how these shifts affected the literature of the time, using the examples of Alexander Pope and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

1 Eighteenth Century

Eighteenth century British literature is usually thought of as beginning in 1660, when the monarchy was restored to the throne. But in order to understand why this was such a change, it is necessary to go all the way back to the rule of Charles I in 1642. He struggled for power against Parliament for years, finally leading him to dissolve it only one month after it had been in session. Some saw this as tyranny, others as the divine right of the King, and the country was torn between supporters of the monarchy and those who believed in the rights of Parliament, and that is what led to the English Civil War. Eventually Charles I lost and was supposed to agree to a constitutional monarchy, but he fought again, lost, and was executed for treason. So began the rule of Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, from 1653 to 1658. His rule was characterized by relative religious freedom (for Christians), and strict military policies. After his death Richard Cromwell, his son, attempted to rule in his stead, but failed and lost his power (Morril).

Then, in 1660, Charles II was restored to the throne. His problems with Parliament mainly came from differing opinions on Catholicism. In becoming king Charles II also became the head of the Church of England, and while he wanted to pardon as many people for their religious dissent as possible, Parliament wanted people punished. In the end all civil and military officials had to swear an oath to the Anglican church, which made it so that Roman Catholics could not “attend a university, own land, or vote” (Greenblatt, 2179) because they would not join the Anglican church. When the king challenged them on the “dissenters” issue he won only by dissolving Parliament. This effectively split the country into two political parties: the Tories (loyal to the king) and the Whigs (loyal to the king’s enemies). This is a very condensed summary of a few events that had a large impact on eighteenth century British society and literature (2179-80).

1.1 Eighteenth Century Literature 1660-1744

After all the complexities of the Restoration there was a desire for simplicity. Writers created literature that was written so that even people who weren’t formally educated could understand. Literature at this time period was designed to examine social behavior, but to critique it with good manners. In 1700, this literary movement morphed into a return to the classics, neoclassicism. If one wanted to be a writer, one studied the greats of classical literature, and tried to format his (or rarely her) writings to match. Poets would plan their works out in traditional forms, complete with meter and rhyme. But at the same time there...
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