Passive Levity

Restoration Era poetry is another form of the beautifully wordy writing that Britain has graced us with in English classrooms over the years. However first a confession, being a history major, it would be easy to believe that all areas of history would be of equal interest to me. That would be false as the Restoration Era is incredibly boring to learn about in my experience. Despite not being a fan of learning about this era of history, one cannot deny the importance of the restoration of the monarchy had on Britain. The Monarchy would continue to wield some power until the parliament took the form that we see it today as when MPs (Members of Parliament) appointed the first Prime Minister Robert Walpole. Britain had long been a Protestant stronghold when Henry VIII split off from the Catholic church and founded the Anglican church to get a divorce. As usual for the time, Catholics in Britain were not trusted, let alone trusted to assume the head of the monarchy. Britain, as we know it today, would go on to have a monarch from a different country, the well known William of Orange and Queen Mary. These two were Protestants from the Dutch Republic. Towards the end of his life, William lacked heirs to the throne and appointed distant relatives from German-descended House of Hanover. History aside, it is important to note what made Restoration Era poetry different from others. 

Reading a few of the poems, one can distinguish the amount of wit and satire about the subject the poem is describing. Take “The Rape of the Lock” by Alexander Pope, for example, we deconstructed the poem for an entire class and figured out the subject material. The subject of the poem is the trivial act of cutting a lock of a woman and the significance of the lock of hair. The absurd thing about the poem is how dramatized. Pope made frequent use of comparisons to battles between gods, this can be seen in many places such as lines 74-77 in Canto I, “When kind occasion prompts their warm desires,/When music softens, and when dancing fires?/’Tis but their/Sylph, the wise Celestials know,/Tho’ Honour is the word with Men below” and lines 19-21 in Canto II, “This Nymph, to the destruction of mankind,/Nourish’d two Locks, which graceful hung behind/In equal curls, and well conspir’d to deck.” While this poem is one of the many that came out of this era and a fine example of satire and wit, I’d like to propose the theory that poets started to get creative with their poetry for the reason that a new german descended monarchy was in charge of the country. They may have seen whoever in charge (George I, II, and III for example) as not worthy of behaving appropriately while under a monarch that had a British name but not British themselves. Sort of a passive levity while not betraying the expectations that these poets were required to meet by the high society they were part of.

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