Renaissance and Restoration Period (Part III, Last)
My History of English Literature Assignment part III, Last
In 1660 Charles II returned to England from France following the end of Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth and the re-establishment of the monarchy. Charles I had been executed in 1649, and from that date until 1660 England had been a Commonwealth, with Cromwell as Lord Protector. With the restoration of the king there came a change in cultural direction. The returning court was heavily influenced by French fashion and ideas, especially by a more secular view of the world. In addition, there were also other changes taking place outside the court which gave a new tone to life.
When the theaters reopened after their official closure in 1642, they were not the open-air arenas of the renaissance, but indoor theaters with moveable scenery. The audience was no longer the public at large, but mainly drawn from fashionable circles.
The theatrical menu consisted of three types of play: operas, heroic tragedies and comedies. The firs of these fairly bombastic pieces, but the second category merits attention. These tend to be plays showing a hero choosing between love and humour, and arte set in faraway places associated with romance, such as Granada or Venice. We can see that the comedies of this physicality of sexual innuendo and focus on the physicality of sexual behavior. Restoration comedy puts immortality on public display, but the instinct of the middle classes is always towards privacy, secrecy and concealment.A changing social structure is also apparent in other ways in these plays. There is the presence of actresses in stage, the plays takes place at carnival time and, inline with both Restoration and romantic comedy and the action focuses on four cavalries, followers of Charles II. It is a cold moment in the play, and suggests how Restoration comedy often lets slip the mask of the social world to reveals something more brutal. It is this as much as anything that the Restoration period perhaps signals: that, in the world after the Civil War, any kind of social order can only be a disguise or mask which cannot really hide the harsh realities that underlie the pretence of social and political order. Restoration comedies, with their mixture of social types, offer us an impression of the changing mature of fashionable society, but they also reveal the fragility of the veneer of civilized behavior.