17th Century Literature: The Puritan Period

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Chapter 3 – Puritan Period
17th century literature must be divided into two ages – The Puritan Age and The Age of Milton (1600 – 1660). This period was marked by the decline of the Renaissance spirit of rejuvenation, enthusiasm and experimentation. This effected the literature of this period, the writers would either try to imitate the great masters of the Elizabethan period or created a new path to follow on. No longer could we find the great imaginative artists such as Shakespeare, Sidney or Spencer. A shift in temperament is seen in Puritan literature which can be marked as essentially Modern. However, it was already seen in the Elizabethan period the break from the medieval ages to the new spirit of Renaissance and starting of a new modern
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One can say the spirit was very scientific, popularized by men like Newton, Bacon and Descartes. In the field of literature this translated into the form of criticism, a creation of the 17th century England. The 16th century is the period of exploration and experimentation, gaining new knowledge in all directions, the seventeenth century is the analysis of what all had been acquired. Not only was it analysed but also classified and systemised accordingly. This was the period when the writers for the first time began to use the English language as a vehicle to store and convey facts.
Most of the Puritan literature is seen to be sermons of God, such as “Sinners in the Hand of Angry God” by Johnathan Edwards, as the name suggests these texts had a clear purpose to impose the strict living standards set by the rulers in the name of religion and God’s will, His plan. The Puritans used the medium of literature to inflict the changing lifestyle, from what was followed in the despotism society and what now was a liberal yet rigid
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King Charles I , as well as his clergymen with Bishop Laud were against the Puritan Movement. But this did not stop the movement in becoming a national movement against the tyrannical leadership of their King and unitedly stood for liberty. There were many extremists amongst the Puritans who were rigid and stern, and the prolonged struggle against despotism made even the milder ones harsh and narrow-minded with passing time. When Charles I was dethroned and beheaded in 1649, the Puritans came out strong and proud and with triumph they established the Commonwealth under Cromwell. With this victory, certain changes were made, several severe laws were passed, some of which banned many recreational and amusement activities. A very formal standard of living was imposed unwillingly upon the people. No matter how harsh the living and its laws sound, we should not forget that Puritans were the ones fighting against despotism and because of them and their austere way of life was England safe from falling into the hands of tyrannical
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