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The puritan age

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The Commonwealth

Civil War: owing to his difficulties with Scotland,Charles was obliged to call a Parliament again in 1640.But this did not grant money;besides it passed important acts in opposition to the king.In 1641 the Commonsasked the king to relinquish control of all military, civil and religious affairs.The king refused and the Civil War broke out.

The monarchy was abolished with the House of Lords: England was proclaimed a COMMONWEALTH and a free state, with a unicameral Parliament, the Commons. In 1654 England was divided into 11 districts, ruled by Major Generals, and Oliver Cromwell was made Lord Protector of England and Ireland.

He reduced Scotland and Ireland to submission, revived English sea-power and reorganized the Navy. In 1651 he renewed the Navigation Acts, by which goods imported into England could only be carried by English ships. This fact led to a war with Holland, which had been master of the sea for a generation and had the greatest share of the cargo trade. The Dutch were defeated and obliged to accept the English terms.

Cromwell tried to diminish the power of the Army. The major part of people wanted to rivive the monarchy; the crown was offered to Cromwell but he refused it. When cromwell died , his son Richard became Protector, but he was not supported by the Army and was obliged to design. After 18 months of confusion, there wa sthe formation of a free Parliament, which restored the monarchy; the late King's son, the future Charles II, was recalled from Paris, on condition that he allowed religious toleration. The return of Charles II from his exile marked the beginning of the Restoration Period.

The puritan age. Social Background

Under Charles I, in England there was the religious clash between Puritans and Anglicans: this event become a social and political conflict.

The Puritans based their theories on Calvin's teaching: they advocated more semplicità and moral rigour in the Chirch; they abolished what still seemed Catholic in the rituals, such as processions, music,ceremonies, etc. They were agains almost any form of amusement and prohibited Maypole dancing, horse racing and bear-baiting; besides, in 1642, they closed the theatres as improper places for honest people. They loved work for work's sake, and considered the material success a sign of God's grace, while poverty was seen as a crime. They dressed in a very simple way, and wore their hair cut short: their nickname was "Roundheads".

The Anglicans wanted to mantain their religion as it had been established by Elizabeth. The members of the nobility still dressed in satin and velvet garments and wore elaborate plumed hats over their wigs or their natural curls. Since they were minly courtiers, they were usually called "Cavaliers".

When the civil war broke out, they supported the king and were called "Royalists",while the roundheads supported Parliament and were considered "Republicans". Their resistance to despotism in Church and State transformed Puritanism from an exclusively religious matter into a great national movement diffusing the ideals of freedom and progress. The supporters of this movement belonged mainly to the middle class: in this way even the voice of the common people began to be heard.

John Milton

He was the greatest of all the Puritans writers and was the best representative of the historical period in which he lived. He was born in London on December 8, 1608. He studied at Cambridge and, when he finally left the university in 1632, was conversant with the works of classical and contemporary writers, well acquainted with hebrew, Latin. Greek, Italian and french, and had already begun to write poems: but his real vocation was the poetry. Besides he travelled above all in France and Italy, where he visited Galileo in Florence. He was in Naples when the Civil war broke out in his country, and for this reason he returened to England. He settled in London, where he began to work as a teacher. He was a fervent Puritan, in fact he sided with Cromwell, whose cause he supported with his writings till the end. He was abandoned by his wife, Mary Powell: this sad event led him to reconsider the laws regarding the dissolution of marriage and write some pamphlets on divorce. After the execution of Charles I, Milton became Latin Secretary to Cromwell's Council of state, a post which required much written work, above all in Latin. The poet's eyesight grew worse, and by 1652 he was totally blind. In 1658 Cromwell died, and in 1660 the Commonwealth was definitely brought to an end with the restoration of the monarchy in the person of Charles II; for this reason Milton's life was in danger. No real punishment was inflicted on him, however, for he had powerful friends. He lived in London for the rest of his life, in relative poverty and obscurity, together with his daughters.This last part of his life was nevertheless the most creative: in fact he produced his three masterpieces. He died in London in 1674.


- Milton's major themes are all connected with the Christian view of the world, or with his particolar interpretation of the Christian faith.

- In a number of his minor poems, Milton deals with more personal themes: his poetical ambitions, his political hopes, his suffering and sorrows.

- Both Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes were written towards the end of his days, when his life was in danger because of his support for the execution of King Charles I: he was thus in a position analogues to that of Adam and Eve after their expulsion from Paradise, or of samson when he was blind and captive of his enemies. The character of Satan is also similiar to that of Milton since he is represented as a heroic rebel hting against the absolute power of God, just as Milton spent his life in a battle against royal despotism.

The Stuarts

Charles II landed in England in 1660. He was welcomed by people, who were against the republican ideals.

In 1661 Charles summoned a new Parliament. The Test Act included in a series of Acts that were passed, imposed a strict Anglicanism. In fact Charles II was an Anglican, but in his heart he leaned towards Catholicism: he would have allowed toleration to both Catholics and Protestants, but Parliament imposed its will. In fact the Parliament introduced the EXCLUSION BILL, to avoid the return of a Catholic king to the throne of England, and in particolar to exclude the Catholic James, the king's brother, and give the throne to James's daughter Mary, and to her husband William of Orange. The Commons were divided into two parties: those who wanted exclude James from the throne, and those that supported James. The Bill was passed by the Commons, but it was thrown out by the Hose of Lords.Charles II reigned as an absolute monarch in his last years. The reign of Charles II was marked by two terribile events: the Great Plague, and the Great Fire of London, which destroyed a great part of the city.

James II was a Catholic king, and tried to reintroduced catholicism into England and Scotland. Rebellions broke out in the country; they were crushed, and hundreds of rebels were executed. His heir was Mary, the wife of William of Orange, champion of the protestant cause in Europe. But when a son was born to James by his second wife,the English lost hope, and an invitation to come over to England, signed by several representive Englishmen, was sent to William of Orange.William lands in England in 1688.James II fled to France with his family.

Mary II and William III took thr throne and were crowned queen and king in 1689. The English called the political changes of this time the GLORIOUS REVOLUTION, because they were bloodless and peaceful.

The new monarchs were obliged to sign the Bill of Rights, which limited the power of the king in favour of Parliament. Two more Acts were passed, such as the Toleration Act, which gave freedom of worship to all dissenters, with the exception of Catholics and Unitarians; and the Act of Settlement, which stated that Catholic monarchs were excluded from the throne. It establish that after the death of William, the throne would pass to Mary's sister, Anne.

Queen Anne took the throne in 1702. During Anne's reign, the union of England and Scotland was concluded by the Act of Union of 1707, which stated that there was to be one Parliament for both countries, sitting at Westminster. After the death of Anne in 1714, Gorge I of Hanover became king of England.

The Restoration: Social Background

During this period the theatres were re-opened. The sober, the way of living adopted by the Puritans was replaced by licentiousness and immorality :in fact the Court itself indulged in excesses of vice.

The habit of wearing masks or disguise became increasingly widespread among the nobility as did the fashion for fans, which the ladies used to conceal not only their faces, but their thoughts and feelings,too.

As political power came to be more closely connected with the ownership of land, marriage began to be seen as one of the easiest means of acquiring or increasing family property. Arranged marriages, became very frequent, while love and feelings were disregarded.

Cynicism and libertinism spread with a certain taste for elegance and affectation, which the king had brought from France.

Charles II was a brilliant man, interested in art and science. He gave the title of Royal Society to the first scientific society of Great Britain. Spurred on by the new thirs for inquiry, it fostered the development of experimental science. The research contributed to the spread of new scientific methods, which eventually led to a more rational way of looking at life.

Classicism and Rationalism

All literature was influenced by the new spirit of the time. Imagination was slowly replaced by reason, while the passion and extravagance prevailing in Shakespeare's time gave way to self control and balance.

Writers began to look for new models to follow, and found them in the great classicism of the past and in certain contemporary French authors.


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