Restoration Drama and Prose

The Restoration of King Charles II to the English throne in 1660 brought a new change in English literature. Previously closed theatres were opened again. New groups of writers began to write plays.

During the restoration period, we also notice some development in prose work John Dryden wrote his critical work named Essay on Dramatic Poesy. In this work, Dryden compares English drama with French drama. He points out the limitations of French drama and considers English drama to be superior to French drama. He has written it in a clear, reasonable and balanced way. His popularity as a critic is also very great.

John Bunyan wrote two allegorical prose works, namely The Pilgrims Progress and The Holy War. The first allegorical story presents Christian’s difficult journey to the heaven. Its best metaphor is ‘life is a journey’. The English language has borrowed some phrases and words from this work and they are commonly used in day-to-day conversation, such as Vanity Fair, Slough of Despond, Mr. Great Heart. In the second work he has presented his own experience of the civil war. Bunyan sets an example of writing prose in clear and simple style.

John Locke’s prose was also clear, earnest and without ornament, though it lacks the balance in its sentences which gives Bunyan’s style its charm. But Locke’s Essay on the Human Understanding is one of the most important works of English philosophy. It gave a new direction of thought, not only in England but in other countries of Europe.

Samuel Pepys famous diary is also considered as a prose work. His diary could not be read until 1852, because it was written in secret signs. It gives the true picture of the social life of that time and describes some events of the time in detail. His diary, which presents himself as a hero, is very interesting and colorful work.

The Restoration Drama

We generally notice two kinds of developments in this period, namely the Heroic plays and the Comedy of Manners. These plays were quite different from Elizabethan plays in some ways. Heroic plays showed the heroic virtues in noble men, and the women were described as wonderfully beautiful. The tragic drama of this period was made up of heroic plays which were mainly written in heroic couplet. The main character in these plays was torn between the patriotic duty to their country and their duty as a lover. In these dramas we find brave heroes, beautiful women, a great deal of shouting and nonsense things.

John Dryden was a famous dramatist of restoration period. He was a genius who had perfect command over stagecraft. His plays were greatly successful on the stage. His best heroic plays were The Conquest of Granada and Aurengzebe which he had used the rhymed form. The second one is about the struggle for empire in India. His famous play All for Love deals with the tragic love of Antony and Cleopatra and was written in blank verse. It is supposed that he wrote this play by improving Shakespeare’s play Antony and Cleopatra. Of the tragedies by other dramatist, there are three best heroic plays written by Thomas Otway. They include Don Carlos, The Orphan and Venice Preserved. The last one was his well- received and best play.

A new type of comedy called the Comedy of Manners appeared the end of the seventeenth century. This comedy was unique in itself. It was written in prose. These plays were witty, difficult, bright and heartless. They showed the life and manners of the upper-class society of the day. They laughed at the fashionable society, their witty and fine conversation, and their immoral behaviors. It was introduced by Sir George Etherege. It was mainly confined to the rich, courtly and fashionable circle of London. Generally, people from the country are ridiculed for their humbleness and lack of sophistication.

George Etherege wrote The Man of Mode (1696) which shows the immoral manners of the society. William Wycherley, was a satirical dramatist. His best works were The Country Wife and The Plain Dealer.

One of the famous dramatists who wrote Comedy of Manners was William Congreve. His plays are not as coarse as the earlier plays. His Old Bachelor was a perfect comic picture of the hypocritical society. It is about an old man who pretends to hate women, but marries a bad one. The Double Dealer is about angry lovers. Love for Love is funnier and contains clever speeches and interesting, but foolish, characters. His best play is The Way of the World. It truly represents the comedy of manner of restoration period. When this play was not well received, Congreve gave up writing plays in disgust.

John Vanbrugh a professional architect wrote three successful comedies. They are The Relapse, The Provoked Wife and The Confederacy. Then much later, another two dramatists Goldsmith and Sheridan wrote this type of comedy, Sheridan’s important satirical play is The Critic which attacks drama and literary criticism in a funny way.