IV. English Literature During the Bourgeois Revolution 1642-1660

The English Bourgeois Revolution may be divided into three periods:

1. The Eve of the Revolution (1642).

2. The Civil War (1642-1649).

3. The Formation of the Commonwealth and the Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell which lasted until his death in 1660.

During the last years of Elizabeth’s reign Parliament began to be very powerful. In summer 1642 King Charles I raised his army at Nottingham, and a Civil War began between the Royalists — the Supporters of the King and the Puritans (Protestants who felt that the English Church had too many Catholic trappings). The Puritans were often called the Roundheads, because they cut their hair very close to the head to distinguish themselves from the Royalists. The Puritans wore black hats and clothes and condemned amusement as a sinful waste of time. Some left to start new lives abroad. The Pilgrim Fathers, who set sail in the “Mayflower” in 1620, headed for North America.

The closing of the theatres meant that no important drama was produced. The language of drama was poetry. Instead of poetry the political prose came into being. Meanwhile, the political struggle involved broad masses of the population. Not only the crown and parliamentary armies fought over a range of religious, constitutional and economic issues. The population divided into Royalists and Roundheads. Political literature appeared: leaflets and pamphlets. Leaflets reported the events, and pamphlets explained the events to the population. Journalism came to start. The proceedings of the sessions of Parliament were printed in “Diurnals” (journals in Old French). The “Diurnals” contained the daily information of the proceedings. Periodical political press sprang up.

The most famous among the Roundheads’ general was Oliver Cromwell who managed to destroy the King’s Army. Charles I was sentenced to death, and in 1649 he was beheaded. King Charles I’s trial and execution marked a victory for Parliament. England was proclaimed a Commonwealth (a Republic). Royalist Scotland and Ireland were then forced into a short-lived “commonwealth” with England and Wales, but neither Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell nor his son and successor Richard could devise a workable alternative to monarchic rule.

A real fighter of the Revolution in England was John Lillburne, a distinguished publicist of that time. He fought for equal rights for all people. He proclaimed the idea of a democratic Republic that should be based on a free agreement between the population and the government. Most of his works were written in the Tower. His pamphlet “The Agreement of the Peoples” appeared in 1647. But the greatest of all publicists during the Puritan Revolution was John Milton. His works and pamphlets gave theoretical foundation to the struggle of the bourgeoisie against the monarchy. Milton became the main ideologist of that time.

John Milton (1608-1674)

John Milton is the second poet after William Shakespeare. He was born in London in 1608 and educated at Christ’s...

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