History of Literature, Fhilosophy and Religions



A Brief History of Western Literature
Introduction Western Literature
The Foundations of Western Literature
The Bible
Classical  Literature
The Middle Ages and the Renaissance
The 17-18th Century
The 18-19th Century 





see also texts:

BACON  FRANCIS "New Atlantis"

 BUNYAN JOHN "The Pilgrim’s Progress "

CLELAND JOHN "Fanny Hill, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure"

COLERIDGE SAMUEL "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"

DE SADE "Justine"

JOHN DONNE "Songs and Sonnets", "Elegies"

MILTON  JOHN "Paradise Lost"

CHARLES PERRAULT "The Tales of Mother Goose"

POPE ALEXANDER "The Rape of the Lock"

PREVOST ABBE "Manon Lescaut"

 VOLTAIRE "Candide"


see also illustrations:

John Milton "Paradise Lost"

Illustrations by G. Dore, J.  Martin, H. Fuseli

Cervantes "Don Quixote"

Illustrations by G. Dore


Literary periods do not necessarily coincide with political ones. The extraordinary flowering of Elizabethan drama did not coincide with the reign of Elizabeth: many of the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries were actually written in the reign of James I (1603-25). As with so many other periods of artistic innovation, the golden age of Elizabethan poetry and drama began uncertainly, as writers found their way gradually and experimentally to a new conception of literature; it flourished for a generation and, again gradually, having surmounted the creative peak declined into mannerism, even (some critics would say) into decadence. In prose, the glories of Shakespearean English shone most brilliantly in the King James Version of the Bible, a project completed between 1603 and 1611 (faster than any such project would be today). Numerous attempts have been made to produce a more accurate version and one more appropriate to modern times. None has replaced what is called the Authorized Version in the affections of the English people.


Jean-Antome Watteau
Gilles and Four Other Characters from the Com media dell'Arte (Pierrot)
Oil on canvas
184 x 149 cm
Musee du Louvre, Pans



Jacobean drama was more exotic and more obsessive, less vigorous, less direct in its appeal, and less popular. Puritan influence was growing, and theatre depended more upon Court patronage. Nevertheless, it was far from worthless and encompassed at least one playwright of near genius, John Webster (d.?1632). A coach maker by trade, he wrote many plays in collaboration with Dekker and others, and his reputation today rests almost entirely on two plays, The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi, both written in about 1612. Critics have pointed out Webster's technical deficiencies, and others have objected to the gruesome and shocking events -the fifth act of The Duchess of Malfi is a kind of literary chamber of horrors — but Webster has passages of sublime poetry and can be seen as a powerful moralist. Shakespeare apart, these two plays have been revived in the 20th century more often than those of any other playwright of the period. (One advantage is that both have challenging female leading roles). Another notable Jacobean dramatist is Cyril Tourneur (d. 1626), a proponent of the 'revenge' tragedy, a famous example of which is Shakespeare's Hamlet.


              Lope de Vega

The period was also a fruitful one for drama in the golden age of Spain. As in England, all parts in Spanish plays in the 16th century were played by males, and actors were organized into companies run by a manager. Public theatres were owned by local authorities or religious organizations and were set up in large open yards between buildings. The actual theatres were similar to those in England, with a platform stage backed by a building on two storeys, the spectators on balconies in the houses surrounding the yard or benches in the 'pit'. In the 17th century, the patronage of the Court became increasingly important, and stage design fell increasingly under Italian influence.
The greatest Spanish playwright was Lope de Vega (1562-1635), "the Spanish Shakespeare", a passionate man, author of many love poems (to a variety of lovers), and of a ferocious attack on the depredations of the English, in particular Sir Francis Drake (Lope took part in the Armada). He had an inexhaustible imagination and is said to have written nearly 1,500 plays. About 500 survive, in every possible style, sacred and secular, pastoral and heroic, romance, tragedy and low-life comedy. He is remembered above all for the Spanish comedia, criticized at the time for its rejection of Aristotelian principles but very popular with less learned audiences. His influence spread well beyond Spain.
Lope's follower and nearest rival was Calderon de la Barca (1600—81), a royal chaplain and author of over 100 plays, similarly diverse in type, though later in life Calderon concentrated on highly regarded religious allegories.



In matters of style, Italy was still the European leader. During the Renaissance, earnest efforts were made to reproduce the theatres of Classical times, which eventually led to the adoption of the proscenium arch and the proliferation of scenery and 'special effects', features that were adopted throughout Europe in the course of the 17th century.
The first professional actors were those of the commedia dell'arte, popular comedies based on a traditional plot with the actors wearing masks and employing much improvisation, also deriving ultimately from Classical theatre. The traditional characters, Harlequin, Pulcinella, Pantaloon, etc., developed only gradually into fixed stereotypes. These companies seem to have included female performers from an early date. Because they travelled widely outside Italy, they influenced other countries and were probably responsible for the admission of women to the acting profession much earlier in France and Spain than in England, where the commedia dell'arte did not venture.


"To every thing there is a season, and a time to
every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to
plant, and a time to pluck up that which is
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to
break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to
mourn, and a time to dance . . .
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to
keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to
keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of
war, and a time of peace."

Ecclesiastes 3 (Authorized Version of the Bible).





The metaphysical poets were a recognizable group, sharing common characteristics, but they were not a close-knit school and the term was not applied to them until later. Broadly, they can be seen as having reacted against the honeyed smoothness of Spencer and the earlier Elizabethans. They approached the world in a rational manner, while simultaneously exhibiting strong feelings; they employed striking, sometimes unlikely, images and sophisticated stylistic devices. Results are sometimes beautiful, sometimes rather odd.


(in Russian):

Josif Brodsky

"Elegy to John Donne"


John Donne

(in Russian):

Josif Brodsky

"Elegy to John Donne"

The greatest of the metaphysical poets was Donne (? 1572—1631), a Londoner by birth, son of a prosperous tradesman and grandson of the playwright John Heywood. Gifted and handsome, he was brought up a Roman Catholic and had a varied career as a soldier and an M.P. before ruining his prospects by marrying a minor in 1601. After some difficult years, both materially and mentally (severe depressions, religious doubts), he was ordained in the Church of England, a sound move professionally, although there is no doubt of his increasingly profound religious spirituality. An outstanding preacher, he became Dean of St Paul's in 1621.
Donne's poetry, mostly published after his death, strongly influenced Sir John Suckling (1609-41) and the lyric poets loosely grouped as the 'Cavalier poets'. Donne's work falls into two: the earlier secular poems, especially on the subject of love (he was one of the first and greatest erotic poets), and the later religious works. The former, especially Songs and Sonnets, are more popular and easier to follow. Donne knew his ground, none better, on love, but his religious poems reflected his own uncertainties. Donne's ingenious rhetorical devices, puns, paradoxes and intellectual tricks, can have a dizzying effect, though at other times they are exhilarating. He was a poet of flashes: he wrote a good deal of indifferent verse, and good and bad are often found in the same poem. But Donne is one of those writers a few of whose poems are familiar to almost everyone.

"Come live with me and be my love,
And we will some new pleasures prove
Of golden sands, and crystal brooks,
With silken lines, and silver hooks."

Donne, "The Bait".


W. Blake
"...And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die!"

Holy Sonnet X
by John Donne


There are parallels between Donne and Herbert (1593-1633), a gifted young man, ambitious for advancement at court and briefly an M.P. In about 1625, his life changed, perhaps initially due to changing political circumstances, but also to the powerful strivings of his soul against his diminishing ambition for worldly success. He spent the last three years of his life as rector of a Wiltshire parish, earning a remarkable reputation for his humble devotion to pastoral duties. Before his death he sent his poems to a friend, Nicholas Ferrar, suggesting he either burn them or publish them. Ferrar chose to publish.
Herbert's reputation rests on the collection The Temple, reflecting 'the many spiritual conflicts that have passed between God and my soul'. Their simple piety, enhanced by clear, forceful expression and arresting imagery, had a strong appeal to Puritans especially. He was out of favour in the worldly 18th century but revived by Coleridge and the Romantics.
Herbert's elder brother was Lord Herbert of Cherbury (1583-1648), poet, philosopher and diplomat, who has been called the 'father' of English Deism as a result of the principles of natural religion he described in De Veritate.


Overall, the work of Marvell (1621-78) is a good illustration of the variety of verse forms in the 17th century, but in his own time Marvell was known almost exclusively as a political and religious satirist. His pastoral poetry ("The Garden", "The Nymph Complaining for the Death of Her Fawn"), for which he is chiefly remembered today, was little considered until the 19th century. Marvell's political sympathies lay with Parliament and Cromwell, but he survived the restoration of the monarchy (1660), retaining his seat as M.P. for his native Hull and becoming a ferocious critic of the government of Charles II. His closely observed lyric poetry is clearly influenced by Donne, though his style is smoother. The erotic "To His Coy Mistress" is probably his most famous poem.
Of the lesser metaphysical poets, the best were Henry Vaughan (1621-95) and Thomas Traherne (1637—74). Vaughan is remembered chiefly for the contemplative verse, written in rural Wales, of Silex Scintdlans. He was deeply influenced by Herbert, though more visionary in style. Traherne held a living in Herefordshire. He was hardly known until the present century, when his delight in the natural world, combined with his deep religious sensitivity, established him as one of the finest minor poets of his time.
Abraham Cowley (1618-67), a qualified physician and possibly a Royalist spy under the Commonwealth, is also usually classed as a metaphysical poet, though not all of his work is in that vein. His love poems in The Mistress, in the style of Donne, and odes following Pindar are scholarly and rather difficult. At one time he was honoured most for his essays, notably "On Myself", in the manner of Montaigne.






Milton is the greatest English poet after Shakespeare and similarly dominates his era,
the mid-17th century.
It was a turbulent period of strong passions and internecine violence,
yet it encompassed some of the finest lyric poets:
Richard Lovelace, author of the famous couplet

"I could not love thee, Dear, so much,
Loved I not honour more"
(from "To Lucasta");
Robert Herrick, considered by many contemporaries a finer poet than Milton himself;
and Edmund Waller, a pioneer of the heroic couplet.
The religious and political divisions of the time naturally
coloured most contemporary literature, not least
the work of Milton himself.



John Milton

see also:

John Milton "Paradise Lost"

(Illustrations by G. Dore, J. Martin, H.Fuseli)

The career of John Milton (1608-74) falls into three periods. As a young man, financially independent, he was something of a dilettante, pursuing his own, extensive, studies (he failed to take his degree at Cambridge), visiting Italy, and writing some superb poems. The finest of them were "L'Allegro" and "II Penseroso", the volume-length Lycidas, the masque Comus, and several sonnets. The second period began with the onset of the Civil Wars when he became a propagandist, attacking the established Church in a series of pamphlets. His unfortunate marriage prompted him to argue for easier divorce, his experience as a teacher led to Of Education, which recommends a decidedly rigorous regime, but his most notable work in prose was Areopagitica (1644), a sterling defence of the freedom of the press. Otherwise, his pamphleteering in favour of Parliament and Cromwell tended to be unattractively strident, though it earned him a job in government (Andrew Marvell was one of his assistants). By 1651 he was blind - his sonnet on this subject ("When I consider how my light is spent...") is one of his finest short poems - though he continued his indefatigable defence of Cromwell and the Commonwealth.


After the Restoration (1660), Milton was blind, ageing and in disgrace. His greatest work now began. Paradise Lost was the result of Milton's long-eherished ambition to write a great epic. The twelve books (originally ten) of blank verse were probably written in 1658-63 and published in 1667, Milton receiving an advance of £5. The aim of Paradise Lost, as the poet explains, is 'to justify the ways of God to men'. It opens with the expulsion of Satan from Heaven and ends with the Fall of Man and the promise of future redemption through Jesus. The hero is Adam, the 'villain' Satan, though as many readers have remarked, Satan is almost too interesting as a character. Immensely long, it is a work of continually sustained intellectual imagination backed by prodigious learning, of glorious, inimitable verse and an unrivalled ear for language. As a work of Christian art, it stands with Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel vault.
Paradise Regained (published 1671) is a kind of sequel, shorter (six books), the language rich, but less exalted. The theme is again temptation - of Jesus by Satan. Samson Agonistes is a tragedy on the Greek model relating the last days of Samson, "eyeless in Gaza". It was not meant to be performed, but sometimes has been, and it provided the subject of one of Handel's finest oratorios.

John Milton

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

born Dec. 9, 1608, London, Eng.
died Nov. 8, 1674, Chalfont St. Giles, Buckinghamshire

one of the greatest poets of the English language. He also was a noted historian, scholar, pamphleteer, and civil servant for the Parliamentarians and the Puritan Commonwealth.

Milton ranks second only to Shakespeare among English poets; his writings and his influence are an important part of the history of Englishliterature, culture, and libertarian thought. He is best known for Paradise Lost, which is generally regarded as the greatest epic poem in the English language. Milton's prose works, however, are also important as a valuable interpretation of the Puritan revolution, and they have their place in modern histories of political and religious thought.

Milton's grandfather, an Oxfords hire yeoman, had been a staunch Roman Catholic who had disinherited his son, the poet's father, for turning Protestant. John Milton, Sr., went to London, where he made his way to prominence and a comfortable fortune as a scrivener, or notary, and through the collateral business of private banking or money lending. Milton was to pay repeated tributes to his father's generous concern with his education. Of his mother (d. 1637) Milton said only that she was well esteemed and known for her charities. He had an older sister, Anne, and a younger brother, Christopher, who became a lawyer.

Education and early poems

Milton was educated at St. Paul's School, London. The conventional date given for his admission is 1620, but it may have been as early as 1615. In addition to his regular schoolwork in Latin, Greek, and, later, Hebrew, the boy had instruction at home, perhaps partly in modern languages, from private tutors. Milton was a voracious student; he traced the initial cause of his later blindness to his having, from his 12th year, rarely quit his books before midnight. Along with a couple of Latin exercises that have survived, his earliest attempts at verse, made when he was 15, were rhymed paraphrases of Psalms 114 and 136. Milton's closest friend, at school and later, was Charles Diodati, the son of a prominent physician of Italian origin, who went from St. Paul's to Oxford.

On April 9, 1625, Milton entered Christ's College, Cambridge; he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in March1629 and his Master of Arts in July 1632. His experience at Cambridge can be partly gathered from his abundant Latin verse and his seven Latin prolusions (public speeches that were expected to display the speaker's learning and rhetorical and argumentative powers). Apparently in March 1626 he clashed in some way with his tutor and was suspended temporarily. On his return to the university he was assigned to another tutor and graduated at the normal time.

Milton's nickname at the university, “the Lady,” was apparently bestowed because of his handsome and delicate features and a purity of mind and behaviour that disdained the diversions of his coarser fellows. During his seven years at Cambridge he seems to have moved from some unpopularity to general respect and, among dons and cultivated students, to high esteem. He did not love the scholastic logic that dominated the curriculum; then, as well as later, he denounced it as barren. In his last prolusion (c. 1631/32) he proclaimed the fervent creed and dream of a young Renaissance humanist who was at once a Christian and a Platonist. By Milton's own account, his early enthusiasm for the sensual poetry of Ovid and other Roman writers gave way to an appreciation of the idealism of Dante, Petrarch, and Edmund Spenser. He then moved on to Platonic philosophy and finally came to hold the mysticism of the biblical Book of Revelation in the highest esteem.

Meanwhile, Milton had been learning his craft and sometimes revealing his inner self in writing Latin verse. (Latin was then the standard language of the university world.) The young poet's sensuous instincts were revealed inthese poems and were further displayed, along with his mastery of Italian, in six Italian pieces (1630?), with which his first English sonnet, “O Nightingale,” may be linked.

Early in 1628 Milton wrote the first of his extant English poems (apart from the two psalms), “On the Death of a Fair Infant,” an elegy, in the Elizabethan vein, on his baby niece, Anne Phillips. In part of an academic prolusion in English couplets (“At a Vacation Exercise,” July 1628) he declared his devotion to his native language, a style free from eccentricity, and exalted themes concerning nature and humanity. And in the Latin “Elegy VI,” addressed to Diodati in the Christmas season of 1629–30, he praised the light verse kindled by wine and love but turned from that to celebrate the ascetic purity of the heroic poet. The elegy ended with a reference to a poem he had just written, his first great poem in English, “On the Morning of Christ's Nativity.” Such a poem, composed shortly after his 21st birthday, may be taken as a kind of announcement of his poetical coming of age and future direction, both in its religious theme and in its mastery of conception and form and image and rhythm. Probably in 1631 Milton wrote the companion poems “L'Allegro” and “Il Penseroso.” Though less ambitious in theme than the “Nativity,” they have their own complexity, concealed beneath a unique grace and charm. Milton had lately (1630) also written the lines “On Shakespeare,” which were printed in the Shakespearean Second Folio, 1632.

Milton's scholarly and literary gifts had from childhood marked him out in the minds of his family and teachers for the ministry; in his later prose he said he had refused to “subscribe slave” in a church governed by prelacy, but the date of his negative decision is not known. As his academic career approached its end, the problem of an occupation came up, and the poem “Ad Patrem”—though some scholars link it with Comus (1634)—may well have been written in 1631–32. In “Ad Patrem” (“To Father”), with a mixture of filial gratitude, firmness, and confidence in poetry and himself, Milton assumes or urges that he should not be pushed into some basely lucrative profession by a father who has fostered his literary pursuits and is himself a devotee of the muses.

Horton period (1632–38)

On taking his Master of Arts degree in July 1632, Milton retired to his father's house—until 1635 at Hammersmith, then at the country estate at Horton, near Windsor—and proceeded to give himself the liberal education Cambridge had not provided. It was in these years that he laid the foundation or set the direction of his liberal thinking. He sought to digest the mass of history, literature, and philosophy, to gain the “insight into all seemly and generousarts and affairs” needed by the citizen-poet who would be a leader and teacher.

Two short religious poems written at this time, “On Time” and “At a Solemn Musick” (1632–33?), are early renderings ofthe beatific vision that always kindled Milton's imagination. Both contrast the grossness of temporal life, the jarring discord of sin, with the eternity and harmony of heaven and good. The same contrast is sounded in the masque known as Comus . During 1630–34, perhaps in 1632, Milton had, at the invitation probably of the musician Henry Lawes, written Arcades, a miniature masque of Jonsonian courtliness. This presumably led to a request from Lawes for another masque.Comus was presented on Sept. 29, 1634, before John Egerton, earl of Bridgewater, at Ludlow Castle in Shropshire, in honour of his becoming lord president of Wales. The acted version of Comus, though somewhat shorter than the text familiar to readers, in length and elevated seriousness went far beyond the limits of the usual court masque, which emphasized lavish costumes, spectacle, music, and dancing. Comus is a masque against “masquing,” contrasting a private heroism in chastity and virtue with the courtly round of revelry and pleasure. It was Milton's first dramatizing of his great theme, the conflict of good and evil.

The allegorical story in Comus centres on a virtuous Lady who becomes separated from her two brothers while traveling in the woods. The Lady encounters the evil sorcerer Comus, son of Bacchus and Circe, who imprisons her by magic in his palace. In debate the Lady rejects Comus' hedonistic philosophy and defends temperance and chastity. The chastity the Lady represents is not mere abstinence; it is a positive love of the good that is both Christian and Platonic. Comus, who is portrayed with a dramatic irony that anticipates the treatment of Satan in Paradise Lost, puts forth specious naturalistic arguments which the Lady answers first on the rational level; then, with a conscious change of tone, she rises to an impassioned religious affirmation of chastity, and the masque's epilogue celebrates the love of virtue.

If Comus is, in a way, a song of innocence, “Lycidas” (written in November 1637) is a song of experience—Milton's first attempt to justify the ways of God to himself and to men. His former fellow collegian, Edward King, was drowned in a shipwreck in the Irish Sea in August 1637, and Milton was asked to contribute to a volume of elegies; “Lycidas,” signed“J.M.,” appeared at the end of an undistinguished collection of pieces in Latin, Greek, and English (1638). The classical pastoral elegy had, from its Greek beginnings, proved its value as a dramatic vehicle for almost anything that a poet wished to say. Milton, working as usual within a venerable tradition, as usual re-created it. He had no reason to feel deep personal sorrow, but the drowning of a virtuous and promising young man, on the threshold of service as a clergyman, brought home the whole enigma of life and death, of the rightness of things in a world where such events could happen. What if his own talents—which during his years of study he had been nurturing—should be cut off? At the poem's end, divine justice and providence and the conditions of earthly life are vindicated not by reason but by the beatific vision of Lycidas' soul received into heaven. It is impossible to summarize the complexities and depths of the poem, its reverberating solidity of reference, its rich variety of pace and tone, the artistic control that dominates turbulent emotions and ends with the high serenity of victory won. “Lycidas” may be the greatest short poem in the English language.

Italian tour (1638–39)

In May 1638, a year after his mother's death, Milton set off—with one servant—on a visit to Italy. He sojourned chiefly in Florence, Rome, and Naples. Milton and some of his early Latin poems were cordially welcomed among men of letters and patrons and their academies. This experience warmed his heart and nourished his self-confidence. (It should be remembered that at home he had very little literary acquaintance and, outside a small circle, no poetic reputation.) In Naples he was the guest of Giambattista Manso, marchese di Villa, who had been the patron of Torquato Tasso, and in Florence he made a call—later recorded in Areopagitica—on the aged astronomer Galileo Galilei, who was under house arrest because his views on the universe conflicted with the doctrine of the Roman Catholic church. Milton felt obliged to forgo a visit to Sicily and Greece because of news of mounting political tension in England, although he lingered some time longer in Italy. In August 1638 Milton's friend Diodati died. Milton had been informed of his loss while in Italy; on his way home he stopped to see Diodati's uncle, Giovanni Diodati, who was professor of theology at the University of Geneva.

Middle period (1641–60)

Milton returned to England in July 1639, settled in a house in London, and prepared to take in pupils. He composed an elaborate pastoral elegy on Diodati, “Epitaphium Damonis” (c. 1640), which has commonly been ranked as his finest Latin poem, though as an elegy it is inferior to “Lycidas.” Milton had returned to England with plans for an Arthurian epic; like other ambitious poets of the Renaissance, he hoped to write the great modern heroic poem. But he was also deeply anxious about the Puritan cause. In his denunciation of hireling clergy in “Lycidas,” Milton had virtually declared his Puritan allegiance, and the years 1641–60 he gave almost wholly to pamphleteering in the cause of religious and civil liberty. There is an important personal passage in his fourth tract, The Reason of Church-Government Urg'd Against Prelaty (1642), that show sit was a heavy sacrifice to put aside his craving for poetic immortality and leave his cherished studies to “embark in a troubled sea of noises and hoarse disputes.” And, as his work went on, he was sustained by the conviction that in his many and varied defenses of liberty he was, in another way, fulfilling his epic and patriotic aspirations. His first five pamphlets (1641–42) were contributions to the attack made on prelacy in the Anglican church by a group of Presbyterian divines (called, from their initials, the “Smectymnuus” group). The attack was directed chiefly against the church's episcopal hierarchy, The Book of Common Prayer, and ritual, as being a compromise with Rome. The group urged a return to the democratic simplicity and purity of the apostolic church. Milton's first tract was Of Reformation Touching Church Discipline in England (1641). This begins by assailing the Anglican service and ends with a vision of the new and grand Reformation. In a personal passage in his fourth pamphlet, The Reason of Church-Government, Milton explains his religious conception of poetry and the deferment of his great epic because of what he feels to be his public duty.

Notoriety came in 1643, with Milton's pamphlet Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (enlarged edition 1644), which was followed by three more tracts in 1644 and 1645 on the same theme. His preoccupation with the subject of divorce was presumably hastened by his own marital disaster. In June(?) 1642, several months before the outbreak of the Civil Wars, Milton had married Mary Powell, the daughter of a royalist squire of Oxfords hire who owed money to his father. Success could hardly be predicted for the marriage of a scholar and poet of 33 to an uneducated girl half his age from a large, easygoing household. The young wife, visiting her family a little later, declined—doubtless with their backing—to return to her new husband's household. The shock must have been especially severe for a man who—as one may infer from the anguished cries that recur in the Doctrine—had approached marriage with high hopes and earnest prayers, and there was no release from such a tragic mistake. In the tracts Milton argued that the sole cause admitted for divorce—adultery—might be less valid than incompatibility and that the forced yoke of a loveless marriage was a crime against human dignity. For this he was attacked as a libertine by royalists and Presbyterians alike. In 1645 friends brought about a reunion between Milton and his wife, and in1646, when the Powells had been ruined by the war, he took into his house, for nearly a year, the whole noisy family of 10. Three daughters, Anne, Mary, and Deborah, were born in 1646, 1648, and 1652. A son died in infancy. Mrs. Milton dieda few days after Deborah's birth.

In 1644 Milton published what are for modern readers his best-known pamphlets, Of Education and Areopagitica . Of Education is one of the last in a long line of European expositions of Renaissance humanism. His aim was to mold boys into enlightened, cultivated, responsible citizens and leaders on the basis of the study of the ancient classics, in due subordination to the Bible and Christian teaching. But he also gave notable emphasis to science. Areopagitica is on the freedom of the press and was specifically written to protest an order issued by Parliament the previous year requiring government approval and licensing of all published books. Milton argues that to mandate licensing is to follow the example of the detested papacy. He defends the free circulation of ideas as essential to moral and intellectual development and reasserts above all his belief in the power of truth to triumph over falsehood through free inquiry and discussion. Areopagitica is now regarded as a classic plea on behalf of civil liberties and democratic values, but the tract seems to have had very little effect in its own time.

During the next four years Milton may have worked chiefly on his The History of Britain (1670). On Feb. 13, 1649, two weeks after the execution of Charles I, Milton's first political tract, The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates , appeared. In it he expounds the doctrine that power resides always in the people, who delegate it to a sovereign but may, if it is abused, resume it and depose or even execute the tyrant. A month later he was invited to become secretary for foreign languages to Cromwell's Council of State. Hitherto a detached observer, Milton, in spite of his private studies, was doubtless eager to have a hand in the workings of government. He was not on the policy-making level, but he had the easy command of Latin needed for foreign correspondence. Also, as a publicist of demonstrated sympathy with the revolution, he was expected to continue his defense of the cause against the multiplying attacks on the regicides.

Milton's first effort in this line was Eikonoklastes (October 1649), one of a number of answers to Eikon Basilike, a book edited from the late king's papers by his chaplain, John Gauden. During 1651 Milton was censor and supervisory editor of the chief Commonwealth newspaper, Mercurius Politicus, edited by Marchamont Needham. In this year appeared his Latin Defence of the People of England. CharlesII, in exile, had engaged Claudius Salmasius (Claude de Saumaise), the most eminent of classical scholars, to arraignthe regicides (Defensio Regia pro Carolo I, 1649). Milton was less effective in legal argument than in discrediting Salmasius by personal abuse; like some other crusaders, he tended to see opponents as monstrous enemies of a sacred cause who must be destroyed by any means.

If he was, then and later, uplifted by the vanquishing of a renowned antagonist, he was inevitably and profoundly depressed by the loss of his eyesight; it had been failing for years, and blindness became complete in the winter of 1651–52. Milton was only 43, and the great poem was still unwritten. Blindness reduced his strictly secretarial duties, though he continued through 1659 as a translator of state letters.

The Second Defence of the People of England—also in Latin, since it was also addressed to Europe at large—was much more worthy of its subject and its author. In it he celebrated the achievements of the Commonwealth leaders (though he was bold enough to warn Cromwell against one-man rule). In 1659 two more tracts on church and state were published. In A Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Causes Milton argued for religious freedom (except for Roman Catholics, since Catholicism had shown itself a danger to national security). In Considerations Touching the Likeliest Means to Remove Hirelings out of the Church he reasserted the ideal of a clergy of apostolic simplicity of life.

His last political pamphlet, The Readie and Easie Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth, was published in March 1660 and again, enlarged, in April. It was an act no less courageous than futile, since machinery was patently moving to bring back Charles II and install him as king (he made his triumphal entry on May 29). Milton's pamphlet is a cry of incredulity and despair from the last champion of “the good Old Cause.” The glories of the Commonwealth, to which he himself had given 20 years and his eyesight, were being swept away by a nation of slaves “now choosing them a captain back for Egypt.” The Restoration was the last and heaviest of Milton's many disillusionments.

The Restoration government executed the Commonwealth leader Sir Henry Vane the Younger and exhumed and hangedat Tyburn the bodies of Cromwell, Henry Ireton, and John Bradshaw. Milton himself, as a noted defender of the regicides, was in real danger. In the summer of 1660 a warrant was out for his arrest; he was kept in hiding by friends. In August the Act of Oblivion, granting pardon to most Commonwealth supporters, was passed. Milton was safe within its terms but was nevertheless taken into custody (and released on December 15). According to various early stories, his life was spared through the intercession either of the poet Andrew Marvell, who in 1657 had become a fellow secretary and was now a member of Parliament, or of the royalist playwright Sir William Davenant, whose life Milton had earlier been the means of saving. It may have been decided that the blind writer was now harmless and that token proceedings against him would be enough.

The large bulk of Milton's prose—which fills four times as many volumes as his poetry—is read only by scholars, but much of it is important for several reasons. In an age of great prose, Milton's, at its best, has an individual if often undisciplined greatness, and Areopagitica at least is a classic document. Moreover, as the record of Milton's growth (a leftward growth, in religion and politics) and of his dreams and disillusionments, his prose works are the essential introduction to Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes, providing a bridge between the radiant idealism of his youth and the much-tried faith and fortitude of his later years. In particular, his A Treatise on Christian Doctrine held a central place in his thoughts and labours. He seems to have finished it by about 1658–60 (it was first printed and translated by Charles Sumner in 1825). Its importance is that it expounds, with differences, the theological frame of Paradise Lost. Viewed in perspective, most of Milton's essential beliefs are those of traditional Christianity, but he does depart from orthodoxy on a few points, notably his denial of predestination. Brought up, like most Anglicans of his time, as a Calvinist, he regarded himself as one at least until 1644, but his final belief was in the Arminian doctrine—the salvation not of a predestined few but of all believers, who constitute the true elect. Milton above all insisted on humanity's rational freedom and responsible power of choice.

Sonnets and other poems (1642–58)

Milton's early poems, in English, Latin, Greek, and Italian, were published at the beginning of 1646 (dated 1645). During the 20 years given to public affairs he was mostly cut off from poetry but did write 17 occasional sonnets, versifieda number of psalms, and began the composition of Paradise Lost. Some of the sonnets are deeply personal: two on his blindness (1652–55) and one on the death in 1658, some months after childbirth, of his second wife, Katherine Woodcock, whom he had married in 1656.

The major sonnets have much poetical as well as autobiographical interest, and as a group they illustrate (with “Lycidas”) both in texture and rhythm the beginnings of the grand style (i.e., a literary style marked by a sustained and lofty dignity and sublimity) that was to have full scope in Paradise Lost. One is less conscious of sonnet structure and of rhymes than of a single massive unit that approaches a paragraph of Milton's blank verse.

Paradise Lost

By 1650 Milton had given up the idea of composing a Britishepic. Instead he chose what was considered the most momentous event, next to the life and death of Christ, in the world's history—the fall of mankind from grace. It is not known when Paradise Lost was actually begun. Guesses have centred on 1655–58. Clearly, the lines on the poet's having fallen on evil days, in the prelude to Book 7, were composed after the Restoration, and the whole may have been done pretty much in the order in which it stands. It was finished by 1665. The first edition of 1667 was in 10 books; this was reissued in 1668 and 1669, and in some of these issues Milton added the prefatory note on his use of blank verse and “The Argument.” In the second edition (1674), Books 7 and 10 were each split into two, making a total of 12 books. The arguments, which summarize the contents of each book and were formerly grouped together, were placed at the head of the respective books.

Paradise Lost is an epic poem written in blank verse—i.e., unrhymed iambic pentameter verse. It tells the story of Satan's rebellion against God and his expulsion from heaven and the subsequent temptation and expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. By Milton's time the Fall of Man had already received innumerable literary treatments, narrative and dramatic, so that the simple tale in Genesis and the more shadowy role of Satan in heaven, earth, and hell had acquired a good deal of interpretative and concrete embellishment. So the main motives and events of Paradise Lost had abundant literary precedent, though they were handled with powerful originality; Milton, like a Greek dramatist, was reworking a story familiar in outline to his audience. His story, moreover, gave him the advantage of immemorial belief and association in the minds of his earlier readers. This advantage no longer operates in the same way—although, for modern readers, the fable still possesses at least the immemorial and universal import of archetypal myth.

The story of the Fall of Man had little of the solidity and variety of character and action of the classical epics, however, and so Milton the classicist naturally borrowed much in the way of form and style and epic convention. While he was said to have known the Homeric poems by heart, his great classical model was Virgil's Aeneid, with which Paradise Lost has some inner as well as surface affinities.

Some Virgilian features of Paradise Lost are easily observable. Milton centres the magnificent first two books of his poem on the figure of Satan and his legions as they lie in hell. Virgil has a roll call of the Italian chiefs who gather to oppose Aeneas; Milton's roll call of the leaders of the fallen angels, in making them individuals, also becomes a survey of the spread of heathen idolatry over the Eastern world. The realistic power of the debate of the fallen angels in hell dwarfs all other epic councils. Epic accounts of Hades are combined, in Milton's pictures of hell, with Christian lore, but the lurid and dismal scenes and the physical and mental diversions of the fallen angels symbolize their spiritual death and futile striving. The wars of gods and Titans and giants in classical literature supply details for the war in heaven in Paradise Lost, which is a large metaphor for the anarchy of sin. And Odysseus' and Aeneas' retellings of past events become the archangel Raphael's account of Satan's revolt and war and the Son's creation of the world.

Much has been written about Milton's powerful characterization of Satan, who is one of the supreme figures in world literature. Satan has, on a superhuman scale, the strength, the courage, and the capacity for leadership that belong to the ancient epic hero, but these qualities are all perverted in being devoted to evil and self-aggrandizement. In his first grand speech to his lieutenant Beelzebub, Satan's defiance of God manifests his egoistic pride, his false conception of freedom, and his alienation from all good; and his other public harangues reinforce and amplify our sense ofpower that is religiously and morally corrupt and blind. Against the background of hell, Satan maintains the false magnificence of his “heroic” stature, but outside of hell he loses even that. In his soliloquy addressed to the Sun, he reveals, like Dr. Faustus or Macbeth, his despairing consciousness of his own evil and damnation, a consciousness that gives him potentially tragic dimensions. Thus Satan and his fellows are enveloped in dramatic irony because—though the corruption of man is achieved—they fight and scheme in ignorance of the unshakable power of God and goodness.

Adam and Eve are enveloped in a parallel kind of irony. The picture of the Garden of Eden is a symbolic rendering of Milton's vision of perfection, but it is presented when the reader accompanies Satan into the garden, so that idyllic innocence and happiness are seen only under the shadow of evil. Though the pair have had warnings, Eve is beguiled by an appeal to her vanity and ambition, by the hubristic dream of attaining godlike knowledge and power; and Adam allows his love for Eve to oversway his love for God. Both, far from attaining godlike knowledge, succumb to animal lust; yet, when grace and penitence begin to work in them, they have astrength beyond the reach of Satan. On the other hand, though there is promised redemption for the faithful, and though the poem is, logically, a divine comedy with a happy ending, Milton's panorama of human history gives little ground for hope on earth. Irony, profoundly compassionate irony, pervades the moving last lines which describe Adam and Eve as they depart from Eden—not now the majestic lords of creation but two frail human beings beginning life anew in the world of sin and sorrow and death, though “with Providence their guide” and the hope of achieving a “paradise within.”

The more one reads Paradise Lost the more one recognizes Milton's powers of imagination and organization. Everywhere, on the largest or the smallest scale, in abstract idea or concrete act, theme and material are closely knit through parallel and contrast. The central conflict and contrast between good and evil are reflected and intensified in the contrasts between heaven and hell, light and darkness,order and chaos, love and hate, humility and pride, reason and passion. In the council in hell, Satan alone volunteers forthe perilous journey to earth to bring about the Fall of Man; inthe council in heaven, the Son alone volunteers to suffer on earth for man's salvation. Satan unlooses the destructive anarchy of war; the Son creates the world. Eve and Adam reenact the sin and fall of Satan. The boundless scene of Paradise Lost is indeed only a backdrop or magnified reflection of the drama that goes on in the hearts of the human protagonists, and, when they fall, the ideal world of eternal spring and eternal life becomes the world we live in.

To speak of the setting in more literal terms, Milton's imagination fills space so immense that the created universe—the Ptolemaic one—hangs from heaven like one of the smallest stars close to the Moon. Milton showed his awareness of the Copernican universe, but the Ptolemaic one had the advantages of traditional familiarity and of keeping earth and man at the focal centre. In his handling of vast space Milton's imagination and language work with a suggestive vagueness that is very different from the minute particularity of Dante's world. He is excited by the starry dance of the cosmic order and, likewise, by the fecundity of Eden, and his account of creation is alive with the sense of movement and growth. The poem is rich in its appeal to both the eye and the ear.

Milton's preface stresses the novelty and rightness of blank verse for a heroic poem, and his manipulation of rhythm and sound is of course one of his supreme achievements. The continuous flow of his long sentences and paragraphs is naturally unlike the dramatic blank verse of Shakespearean dialogue, and it builds up a continuous onward pressure. While the iambic pentameter line remains the norm, there may be extra syllables, and there is endless variety in the number, weight, and position of stresses. At the same time there is a secondary and still more fluid system of rhythmic units, which flow from the caesura in one line to the caesura in the next, resulting in an infinity of permutations and combinations. Milton's blank verse is never monotonous, and the pattern of sound is so wedded to the pattern of sense that each is essential to the other.

Milton's frequently Latinate syntax and diction have sometimes been censured, especially by modern poets and critics for whom colloquial speech and rhythm are the only acceptable medium. But Milton's means of achieving the elevation required by a lofty theme is intermixed with pure simplicity. His use of Latinate syntax or structure and his freedom in the placing of phrases and clauses greatly enlarge and enrich his range of emphasis and his use of economy, contrast, suspension, all the devices of forceful utterance—devices often really colloquial. Many other functional elements of the grand style can be noted: periphrasis, epic similes, geographic, historical, and mythological allusions, and so on.

Last major works

In Paradise Lost (Book 9) Milton had spoken of “patience and heroic martyrdom” as themes unsung, though nobler than martial prowess, and this “better fortitude” was celebrated in the epic poem Paradise Regained and the tragedy Samson Agonistes (published in the same volume in1671). Paradise Regained is a natural sequel to Paradise Lost : Christ, the second Adam, wins back for man what the first Adam had lost. But Milton did not, as might have been expected, deal with the Crucifixion; instead, he showed Christ in the wilderness overcoming Satan the tempter, thereby proving his fitness for his ultimate trial and, in his human role, showing what humankind might achieve throughstrong integrity and humble obedience to the divine will. Although the poem has been found cold by the mass of readers and critics, it nevertheless has all the fire of Milton's religious and moral passion and his reverence for true heroism.

For some readers, the drama of Samson Agonistes is the most powerful and completely satisfying of Milton's major works. It is by far the greatest English drama on the Greek model and is known as a closet tragedy—i.e., one more suitedfor reading than performance. The play deals with the final phase of Samson's life and recounts the story as told in the Book of Judges of the Old Testament. The action, up to the reported catastrophe, is wholly psychological; it is the process by which Samson, “eyeless in Gaza at the mill with slaves,” moves from preoccupation with his misery and disgrace to selfless humility and renewed spiritual strength, so that he can once more feel himself God's chosen champion. He is granted a return of his old strength and pullsdown the pillars that support the temple of the Philistine god Dagon (also spelled Dagan), crushing himself along with his captors. The drama must owe a great deal of its power to Milton's sense of kinship with his hero; he has been eyelessin London among a nation of slaves. But nowhere does the classical impersonality and restraint of Milton's art show so strongly; there is nothing in the drama that does not belong to the story of Samson. And Milton's classical style appears in a new phase, in a rugged, sinewy, colloquial texture, and inirregular rhythms of new expressiveness.

Altogether, if Samson was his last epic poem, it was a grand testament. Like Samson, Milton was able to conquer despairor to sublimate it in his last three great poems. These expressed not his earlier revolutionary faith in men and movements but a purified faith in God and the regenerative strength of the individual soul.

Last years (1658–74)

The poet's final 16 years of life, during which these three works were finished or composed, were peaceful, although there were concrete troubles: a frugal domestic economy necessitated by greatly diminished resources; blindness and what was sometimes a more severe affliction, the pains of gout; and a degree of friction with his daughters, due probably to faults on both sides. Apart from the publication of books, the chief events of these years were Milton's marriage (1663) to a third wife, the young and amiable Elizabeth Minshull, who survived him, and the removal, during the plague of 1665, to a house (now a Milton museum) at Chalfont St. Giles, Buckinghamshire.

The publications of Milton's late years were Paradise Lost (1667), for which he received £10; textbooks of simplified Latin grammar (1669) and logic (1672); The History of Britain(1670); Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes (1671); the second, enlarged edition of the Poems of 1645 (1673); the second, revised edition of Paradise Lost (1674); and Epistolae Familiares with the Prolusiones Oratoriae (1674). A Brief History of Moscovia appeared in 1682. A Latin dictionary on which Milton had long worked was completed by others and published in 1693. Edward Phillips translated Letters of State (1694). Milton's great epic poems were, of course, composed in his head, especially at night, as famous allusions in Paradise Lost indicate; when he was ready “to be milked,” he would dictate, often with one leg flung over the arm of his chair. The taking of dictation, the correcting of copy, and reading aloud in various languages were services performed by paid assistants, his two nephews, his younger daughters, and friends and disciples.

In religion Milton had moved from the low-church Anglicanism of his parents to Presbyterianism to Independency to independence. In the latter part of his life, according to his early biographer John Toland, “he was not a professed member of any particular sect among Christians, he frequented none of their assemblies, nor made use of their peculiar rites in his family.” But, as Samuel Johnson observed, “his studies and meditations were an habitual prayer.” Milton died “of the gout stuck in,” just before his 66th birthday. His burial in the churchyard of St. Giles, Cripplegate, was attended by “all his learned and great friends in London, not without a friendly concourse of the vulgar.”


Milton's reputation grew steadily after 1667 and was well established before Joseph Addison's papers on Paradise Lostappeared in The Spectator (1712); these were instrumental in extending the poet's fame to the Continent. His influence on 18th-century verse was immense. In the 19th century two main streams of critical opinion are evident. On the one hand, the revolutionary Romantic poets William Blake and Percy Bysshe Shelley launched the “Satanist” misinterpretation of Paradise Lost and made its author, like themselves, a rebel; their attitude is summed up in Blake's saying that Milton was of the devil's party without knowing it (in other words, that he had projected himself into Satan, who was the poem's real hero). On the other hand, other critics—also concentrating on the epic—threw overboard Milton's beliefs and ideas as long-dead fundamentalism and attended to the poem's purely literary qualities.

The poet's influence waned during the Victorian age, and in the 20th century the new poetry and criticism launched by Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot were strongly anti-Milton and pro-John Donne. But during the 1940s and '50s a shift in critical attitudes took place, and dozens of books and hundreds of articles were given to the ideas and beliefs of the thinker, the publicist, and the poet and brought a new refinement of perception and analysis to the aesthetic study of Milton's poetry. By the second half of the 20th century his works had regained their place in the canon of Western literature.

Douglas Bush



John Bunyan (1628-88) was a Puritan of a different stamp: son of a tinker and largely self-educated, he fought for Parliament in the Civil War and became a Nonconformist preacher, as a result of which he spent several years in prison. His religious allegory The Pilgrim's Progress, the simple man's search for truth, has a universal appeal resulting from its folklore quality, and the names of places and people encountered by the pilgrim (Vanity Fair, Doubting Castle, Giant Despair) have entered the language.
Two interesting figures on the other side of the political/religious divide were Sir Thomas Browne (1605-82) and Izaak Walton (1593-1683). Browne was a Norwich physician, best known for a religious work Religio Medici, though his Vulgar Errors, an attempt to correct quaint misconceptions (e.g. that elephants have no knees) is more amusing reading. So is his correspondence with other literary figures, such as the great 17th-century gossip and connoisseur of trivia, John Aubrey (author of Brief Lives). The avuncular Izaak Walton was a friend and biographer of Donne and also wrote the life of George Herbert, as well as assorted bishops, but he is best remembered for The Compleat Angler, first published in 1653 and never out of print since. Written in the form of a dialogue, it is a loving invocation of the English countryside (a marked feature of much contemporary poetry), as seen from the river bank, and subtly seems to equate angling with Anglicanism. It was not the first book about fishing, and on technique Walton was not an outstanding expert (later additions included a section on fly fishing, which Walton knew very little about, by Charles Cotton), but it has a uniquely sympathetic flavour.

"Him the Almighty Power
Hurled headlong flaming from th' ethereal sky
With hideous ruin and combustion down
To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
In adamantine chains and. penal fire
Who durst defy th' Omnipotent to arms."

Milton, Paradise Lost, bk. 1, 1. 44.



In France as in England, the language was being refined during the 16th century, notably in the poetry of Ronsard, du Bellay and the other poets of the Pleiade, who laid the foundations of modern French poetry. In the 17th century, as France emerged as the greatest power in Europe under Louis XIV, French literature entered its golden age. With monarchy supreme and Catholic influence predominant, the trend was towards Classicism - the virtues of reason, order, proportion, harmony as laid down by Nicolas Boileau-Despreaux in his seminal Art of Poetry (1674) and upheld by the Academie Francaise, founded by Cardinal Richelieu in 1635.




Pierre Corneille (1606-84) came from Rouen and was a member of the parlement of Rouen for over 20 years. During that time he also wrote the best of his 32 plays. He is regarded as the founder of French tragedy, but his early plays were mostly comedies, though not without serious content and personal conflict. His major plays, starting with Le Cid (163"7), are concerned with the conflict between the claims of society - honour, patriotism, politics, religion, etc. - and personal inclinations, notably love. The playwright transmits a powerful moral vision; his heroes, choosing public duty above private satisfaction at great personal cost, nevertheless experience moral growth. Corneille's later plays, like his early comedies, have traditionally been regarded as inferior, though modern criticism puts a higher value on his work as a whole and has reinterpreted some of his plays in a new light.
While Corneille's status as a master of the grand Classical style is undisputed, it must be admitted that his plays have a certain monotony. They have not often been performed in languages other than French.





Jean Racine

Racine broke off his dramatic work suddenly, permanently
and without regret, after thirteen years of brilliant achievement.
He became an adroit courtier and a good husband - to a woman
who, according to her son, "did not know what a verse was".


Jean Racine (1639—99), Corneille's contemporary and rival, infused the high Classical style with more passion and has been generally more popular. He was influenced by the Greek concept of fate - his plays are often set in Classical times - which he connected with the belief in human helplessness he derived from the Jansenists, to whom his grandmother (he was an orphan) entrusted his education (Corneille was educated by the Jesuits). Unlike Corneille, Racine's heroes and heroines generally fall victim to their own uncontrollable passions: it was said that Racine portrayed people as they are, Corneille as they ought to be. He was already a well-known literary figure when his first play, La Thebai'de, was produced by his friend Moliere. His greatest plays were written between 1667 (Andromaque) and 1677 (Phedre, his masterpiece), when he overhauled Corneille in public esteem, at least among the younger generation. Nevertheless, in his later years Racine came under fierce attack from rival playwrights, which was in part the cause for his abandonment of the theatre after Phedre, except for a couple of religious plays written for female students.






"M. Jourdain:
"What? When I say, 'Nicole, bring me my slippers,
and give me my night cap',
is that prose?"
Master of Philosophy:
"Yes, sir."
M. Jourdain:
"Well I'm damned! I've been speaking
prose for forty years without even knowing it.""

Moliere, Le Bourgeois Cicntilhomme, II, iv.


Far more influential internationally, especially on Restoration comedy in England, much of which was a pastiche of his work, was the brilliant Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, who adopted the nom de theatre Moliere (1622-73). Actor, director and dramatist, he led a professional touring company for many years before attracting royal approval and a theatre in Paris. Soon hugely popular, not least with the King, he was also fiercely attacked by various vested interests.
In the 30 comedies that he wrote in Paris, Moliere combined virtually all earlier comedie traditions from Plautus to the commedia dell'arte, and showed that comedy, without ceasing to be comic, could also deal with the oddities of human nature on a universal scale. His understanding of contemporary society, owing much to Montaigne (though Moliere's outlook was more optimistic), and in particular his perception of human frailties, was Shakespearean in scope and depth, and his technical gifts — for the flavours of dialect and jargon for instance — were extraordinary. Plays such as Le Tartuffe (1664) and Le Misanthrope (1666) are ageless. Moliere can still pack the house in the West End or even Broadway. Yet 17th-century France was no place for jokers, and Moliere was a seriotis man, worried by his responsibilities and frail in health. Ill, he insisted on going to the theatre because so many people depended on him. He died on stage that same night, playing the leading role. The play was Le Malade Imaginaire.
Corneille and Racine established classical tragedy, Moliere classical comedy, and the classical French novel, the novel of character, was also established by the end of the 17th century, m La Princesse de Cleves by the Comtesse de La Fayette (1634-93). Paris of the 17th century is deftly pictured in the letters of the Comtesse's friend, Mme de Sevigne (1626-96), and human nature and morality are crisply dissected in the Maxims ('Virtues are mainly vices in disguise') of another friend, the Duc de La Rochefoucauld (1613-80). The Pensees of Blaise Pascale (1623-62), also a remarkably creative scientist, were expressed in luminous prose and dealt with religious questions (among others) with a wit and intelligence far from common in that area during the 17th century.




The restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660 was accomplished with remarkable political
smoothness, but in cultural terms it introduced a strong reaction against the stern sobriety of the
Puritan Commonwealth. The theatres reopened and — a sensation - with real actresses. There
was initially a shortage of modern plays, but that was soon rectified. One has the impression
that half the gentlemen at Court were excellent playwrights. This was an accomplished age:
Milton, Locke, Newton and Purcell were all alive in 1660. It considered itself a sophisticated, witty
and enlightened age, but it was also coarse and cynical, characteristics typified by the Royal
Court. It was also, to the delight of posterity, well reported, in particular by England's greatest
diarists, John Evelyn and the incomparable Samuel Pepys.




The outstanding literary figure of the reign, created Poet Laureate in 1668, was John Dryden (1631-1700), an instinctive moderate in the vicious controversies of the time, a supporter of the Establishment, who eventually converted to Roman Catholicism. Dryden wrote prolifically in many genres: one criticism of him is that he wrote too much and was insufficiently self-critical, though he was a highly perceptive critic of others' work. To modern tastes, his satirical verse (Absalom and Achitopbel, MacFlecknoe) is most entertaining, and his plays, mostly in heroic couplets, are seldom performed. The best is probably All For Lore in blank verse, a rewrite of Antony and Cleopatra which, though Dryden did not think so, suffers from the comparison.



Contemporary heroic drama, except for, perhaps, Dryden and Thomas Otway's Venice Vreserv'd (1682) was second-rate (and amusingly mocked in the Duke of Buckingham's The Rehearsal, 1672). The new comedy, owing much to Molicre who was well-known in translation, was introduced by George Etherege (She Would If She Could, 1668; The Man of Mode, 1676) and William Wycherley (The Country Wife, 1675; The Plain Dealer, 1676). Like other leading exponents of the 'comedy of manners', such as Sir John Vanbrugh (the architect of Blenheim Palace) and George Farquhar, they were fashionable gentlemen writing for a fashionable audience. Plots, and often-confusing subplots, are broadly concerned with conflicts over sex and money, and the machinations of fashionable gentlemen to acquire a rich wife or conceal their adultery. Characters have names like Sir Fopling Flutter, Pinchwife and Loveless. The victor is usually the greatest wit, and the repartee is slick, steely, amoral and often obscene.
The ablest of these playwrights was also more or less the last, William Congreve (1670-1729), another well-heeled gentleman and lover of the Duchess of Alarlborough. His plays are beautifully constructed and the dialogue is genuinely witty, as well as elegant. The Double Dealer (1693) and Love for Love (1695) are still revived, though less often than his undisputed masterpiece, The Way of the World (1700). By that time, Restoration comedy was under attack. In Colley Gibber's Love's Last Shift (1696), the rakish hero is reformed: the play indicates a reaction against moral decadence and points the way to the 'sentimental comedy' of the 18th century. When Jeremy Collier published his Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage in 1698, Congreve was stung. He published a refutation of Collier, and The Way of the World came down on the side of morality. However, it was not well received and Congreve never wrote another play.



The 'sentimental comedy' of the 18th century was hardly an improvement, and can now be seen as a kind of dress rehearsal for Victorian melodrama. Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816), born into a theatrical family in Dublin, restored the edge to English comedy by reviving the 'comedy of manners', which in his hands achieved new heights. His first play was The Rivals (1775), set in the fashionable spa town of Bath. It was a shambles on the first night but, after hasty rewriting, became very popular. The character Mrs Malaprop has given a new word to the language, malapropism. As she says, 'Sir, if I reprehend (comprehend) anything in this world, it is the use of my oracular (vernacular) tongue, and a nice derangement (arrangement) of epitaphs (epithets)'. Even better is The School for Scandal (1777), the best play of the century, ingeniously plotted, extremely funny and frequently revived. Like The Critic, Sheridan's third great comedy, it was written for the Drury Lane Theatre in which he had an interest.




        Carlo Goldoni


Italian theatre in the 17th century was still dominated by the stock characters and improvisation of the commedia dell'arte tradition. It was rescued by Carlo Goldoni (1707—93) who, influenced by Moliere, wrote comedies about the idiosyncrasies of ordinary people. The best-known internationally are The Respectable Girl (1749), The Coffee Shop (1750) and The Mistress of the Inn (1753), but Goldoni was highly productive. He wrote over 130 comedies in Italian (some, said to be his best, in his native Venetian dialect), and at least 100 others in French for the Italian theatre in Paris, where he died - in wretched poverty.




Everyone knows, more or less, what a novel is, but it is a term that is not
easily defined. The Oxford Dictionary says: 'A fictitious prose narrative
of considerable length, in which characters and actions representative of
real life are portrayed in a plot of more or less complexity', and dates the
use of the word in that sense to the mid-17th century. The Latin novella
or novellae ('news') was in use 200 years earlier to describe short stories
such as those of Boccaccio. The Oxford Companion to English
admits it cannot improve on the definition of Sir Walter Scott
in 1824: 'a fictitous narrative... accommodated to the ordinary train of
human events'. Any concise definition must fail to be all-inclusive, but it is
agreed, first, that the developments culminating in the novel as we know it
took place in the 18th century and, second, that its origins are vastly older,
older indeed than written literature.




The adjective picaresque comes from the Spanish picaro, a rogue,
and is applied to a story in which the roguish hero undergoes a series
of loosely-linked adventures, often encountered on a journey, as in the
English novels of Fielding or Smollett. Usually cited as the first
picaresque novel is the anonymous Lazarillo de Tormes (1533).
Cervantes's famous story of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza is the
greatest example of the genre, but it is much more than that, and is now
often regarded as the first 'modern' novel. Moreover, many would argue
it is the greatest novel ever written, which influenced not only the early
English novelists but also writers of many cultures over the centuries.





see also:

Cervantes "Don Quixote"

(Illustrations by G. Dore)


Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
(1547—1616) was a slightly younger contemporary - and rival — of Lope de Vega. He had an adventurous career as a soldier for Philip II of Spain and in 1571 fought in the great sea battle of Lepanto, where he lost the use of his left hand. He was captured by Barbary pirates in 1575 and spent nearly five years as a slave, making several unsuccessful attempts to escape before he was ransomed. Back in Spain, he became a lowly, underpaid official in the government while writing rather unsuccessful plays, a pastoral romance, and a lament in verse for the defeat of the Armada (1588). He was several times imprisoned for debt, and began writing The History of the Valorous and Witty Knight Errant Don Quixote while in prison. It was published in 1605 and was an immediate success not only in Spain but across Europe. Cashing in on the success, someone brought out a spurious sequel, provoking Cervantes into writing a second part himself. It appeared in 1615, not long before Cervantes died, which was apparently on the same day as Shakespeare (23 April 1616).


Cervantes "Don Quixote"
Illustrations by Gustave Dore



The hero of Cervantes's masterpiece, from whom we gain the word 'quixotic', is an elderly, stick-thin and destitute nobleman of La Mancha, labouring under delusions induced by reading too many chivalric romances. He embarks on a one-man knightly crusade through Andalucia, riding his emaciated 'charger', Rosinante, and accompanied by his weary, cynical but loyal 'squire', the tubby Sancho Panza, seeking adventures through which he may gain honour and fame. He treats everyone he meets as if they are characters from pastoral or chivalric romance, including Dulcinea, a humble peasant girl whom he sees as the exquisite high-born maiden that every chivalrous knight required to spur him on his quest. In perhaps the most famous episode, the gallant hero attacks windmills that he takes for giants (hence our phrase, 'tilting at windmills'); in another, he rides to assist a great Christian host fighting a Muslim army, heedless of Sancho Panza's advice that they are in fact a flock of sheep. His exploits generally end in bruises and embarrassment.
Don Quixote is one of the funniest books ever written, but as in all good humour there are deeper resonances. Cervantes himself declared that his purpose was to put an end to the popularity of Spanish chivalric romances. The book is certainly fine satire: the Don is the very antithesis of a knightly hero, being old, ugly and barmv. Yet he is also sympathetic. He represents romantic imagination and idealism as against the earthy realism of the picaresque Sancho Pan/a. By combining these two traditions, broadly 'medieval' and 'modern', Cervantes creates a rich tapestry, incorporating a picture of contemporary life and culture, with vivid, comic characters equalled on this scale perhaps only by Chaucer and Dickens.


In the end Don Quixote, having been tricked by friends, returns sadly home, rid of his delusions, renouncing the knightly enterprise. 1 he curtain is coming down, just as the curtain was coming down on the 'golden age' of Spain, an age built largely on illusions — such as the belief that importing American treasure by the ton would make the country rich. But while Spam, the greatest Christian power, entered its decline, Spanish literature, with Castilian now-established as the language of Spanish culture, flourished. Besides the world-renowned figures of Cervantes and Lope de Vega, Mateo Aleman's Guzman de Alffarache, an orthodox picaresque novel, was also read all over Europe. Francisco de Quevedo, best known as a satirist, wrote a picaresque novel, The Rogue, in 1626, and many playwrights found an audience, despite Lope de Vega's prodigious output. Still, the enduring image of the country is the dusty plain of La Mancha, heroically if unsteadily traversed by a lean and lengthy Don, 'the Knight of the Doleful Countenance', followed by a short round squire on his donkey, with windmills slowly turning m the background. The image has fascinated the world, and it is as Spanish as dry sherry.



"Blessings on him who invented sleep, the mantle that covers all human thoughts, the food that satisfies hunger, the drink that slakes thirst, the lire that warms cold, the cold that moderates heat, and lastly, the common currency that buys all things, the balance and weight that equalizes the shepherd and the king, the simpleton and the sage"

Cervantes, Don Quixote, ch. 68.


Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

born September 29?, 1547, Alcalá de Henares, Spain
died April 22, 1616, Madrid

in full Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra Spanish novelist, playwright, and poet, the creator of Don Quixote (1605, 1615) and the most important and celebrated figure in Spanish literature. His novel Don Quixote has been translated, in full or in part, into more than 60 languages. Editions continue regularly to be printed, and critical discussion of the work has proceeded unabated since the 18th century. At the same time, owing to their widespread representation in art, drama, and film, the figures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are probably familiar visually to more people than any other imaginary characters in world literature. Cervantes was a great experimenter. He tried his hand in all the major literary genres save the epic. He was a notable short-story writer, and a few of those in his collection of Novelas exemplares (1613; Exemplary Stories) attain a level close to that of Don Quixote, on a miniature scale.

Cervantes was born some 20 miles from Madrid, probably on September 29 (the day of San Miguel). He was certainly baptized on October 9. He was the fourth of seven children in a family whose origins were of the minor gentry but which had come down in the world. His father was a barber-surgeonwho set bones, performed bloodlettings, and attended lessermedical needs. The family moved from town to town, and little is known of Cervantes's early education. The supposition, based on a passage in one of the Exemplary Stories, that he studied for a time under the Jesuits, though not unlikely, remains conjectural. Unlike most Spanish writers of his time, including some of humble origin, he apparently did not go to a university. What is certain is that at some stage he became an avid reader of books. The head of a municipal school in Madrid, a man with Erasmist intellectual leanings named Juan López de Hoyos, refers to aMiguel de Cervantes as his “beloved pupil.” This was in 1569, when the future author was 21, so—if this was the same Cervantes—he must either have been a pupil-teacher at the school or have studied earlier under López de Hoyos. His first published poem, on the death of Philip II's young queen, Elizabeth of Valois, appeared at this time.

Soldier and slave

That same year he left Spain for Italy. Whether this was because he was the “student” of the same name wanted by the law for involvement in a wounding incident is another mystery; the evidence is contradictory. In any event, in going to Italy Cervantes was doing what many young Spaniards of the time did to further their careers in one way or another. It seems that for a time he served as chamberlainin the household of Cardinal Giulio Acquaviva in Rome. However, by 1570 he had enlisted as a soldier in a Spanish infantry regiment stationed in Naples, then a possession of the Spanish crown. He was there for about a year before he saw active service.

Relations with the Ottoman Empire under Selim II were reaching a crisis, and the Turks occupied Cyprus in 1570. A confrontation between the Turkish fleet and the naval forcesof Venice, the papacy, and Spain was inevitable. In mid-September 1571 Cervantes sailed on board the Marquesa, part of the large fleet under the command of Don Juan de Austria that engaged the enemy on October 7 in the Gulf of Lepanto near Corinth. The fierce battle ended in a crushing defeat for the Turks that was ultimately to break their control of the Mediterranean. There are independent accounts of Cervantes's conduct in the action, and they concur in testifying to his personal courage. Though stricken with a fever, he refused to stay below and joined the thick of the fighting. He received two gunshot wounds in the chest, and a third rendered his left hand useless for the rest of his life. He always looked back on his conduct in the battle with pride. From 1572 to 1575, based mainly in Naples, he continued his soldier's life; he was at Navarino and saw action in Tunis and La Goleta. He must also, when opportunity offered, have been familiarizing himself with Italian literature. Perhaps with a recommendation for promotion to the rank of captain, more likely just leaving the army, he set sail for Spain in September 1575 with letters of commendation to the king from the duque de Sessa and Don Juan himself.

On this voyage his ship was attacked and captured by Barbary corsairs, and Cervantes, together with his brother Rodrigo, was sold into slavery in Algiers, the centre of the Christian slave traffic in the Muslim world. The letters he carried magnified his importance in the eyes of his captors. This had the effect of raising his ransom price, and thus prolonging his captivity, while also, it appears, protecting his person from punishment by death, mutilation, or torture when his four daring bids to escape were frustrated. His masters, the renegade Dali Mami and later Hasan Paşa, treated him with considerable leniency in the circumstances,whatever the reason. At least two contemporary records of the life led by Christian captives in Algiers at this time mention Cervantes. He clearly made a name for himself for courage and leadership among the captive community. Atlong last, in September 1580, three years after Rodrigo had earned his freedom, Miguel's family, with the aid and intervention of the Trinitarian friars, raised the 500 gold escudos demanded for his release. It was only just in time, right before Hasan Paşa sailed for Constantinople (now Istanbul), taking his unsold slaves with him. Not surprisingly, this, the most adventurous period of Cervantes's life, supplied subject matter for several of his literary works, notably the Captive's tale in Don Quixote and the two Algiersplays, El trato de Argel (“The Traffic of Algiers”) and Los baños de Argel (“The Bagnios [an obsolete word for “prisons”] of Algiers”), as well as episodes in a number of other writings, although never in straight autobiographical form.

Civil servant and writer

Back in Spain, Cervantes spent most of the rest of his life ina manner that contrasted entirely with his decade of action and danger. He would be constantly short of money and in tedious and exacting employment; it would be 25 years before he scored a major literary success with Don Quixote. On his return home he found that prices had risen and the standard of living for many, particularly those of the middle class, like his family, had fallen. The euphoria of Lepanto was a thing of the past. Cervantes's war record did not now bring the recompense he expected. He applied unsuccessfully for several administrative posts in Spain's American empire. The most he succeeded in acquiring was a brief appointment as royal messenger to Oran, Algeria, in 1581. In vain he followed Philip II and the court to Lisbon in newly annexed Portugal.

About this time he had an affair with a young married woman named Ana de Villafranca (or Ana Franca de Rojas), the fruit of which was a daughter. Isabel de Saavedra, Cervantes's only child, was later brought up in her father's household. Late in 1584 he married Catalina de Salazar y Palacios, 18 years his junior. She had a small property in the village of Esquivias in La Mancha. Little is known about their emotional relationship. There is no reason to suppose that the marriage did not settle down into an adequate companionableness, despite Cervantes's enforced long absences from home. Neither is there any special reason to suppose that Catalina was an inspiration or a model for characters in the poetry Cervantes was now writing or in his first published fiction, La Galatea (1585; Galatea: A Pastoral Romance), in the newly fashionable genre of the pastoral romance. The publisher, Blas de Robles, paid him 1,336 reales for it, a good price for a first book. The dedication of the work to Ascanio Colonna, a friend of Acquaviva, was a bid for patronage that does not seem to have been productive. Doubtless helped by a small circle of literary friends, such as the poet Luis Gálvez de Montalvo, the book did bring Cervantes's name before a sophisticated reading public. But the only later editions in Spanish to appear in the author's lifetime were those of Lisbon, 1590, and Paris, 1611. La Galatea breaks off in mid-narrative; judging by his repeatedly expressed hopes of writing a sequel, Cervantes evidently maintained a lasting fondness for the work.

Cervantes also turned his hand to the writing of drama at this time, the early dawn of the Golden Age of the Spanish theatre. He contracted to write two plays for the theatrical manager Gaspar de Porras in 1585, one of which, La confusa (“Confusion”), he later described as the best he ever wrote.Many years afterward he claimed to have written 20 or 30 plays in this period, which, he noted, were received by the public without being booed off the stage or having the actorspelted with vegetables. The number is vague; only two certainly survive from this time, the historical tragedy of La Numancia (1580s; Numantia: A Tragedy) and El trato de Argel (1580s; “The Traffic of Algiers”). He names nine plays, the titles of a few of which sound like the originals of plays reworked and published years later in the collection Ocho comedias, y ocho entremeses nuevos (1615; “Eight Plays and Eight New Interludes”). Fixed theatre sites were just becoming established in the major cities of Spain, and there was an expanding market geared to satisfying the demandsof a public ever more hungry for entertainment. Lope de Vega was about to respond to the call, stamping his personal imprint on the Spanish comedia and rendering all earlier drama, including that of Cervantes, old-fashioned or inadequate by comparison. Though destined to be a disappointed dramatist, Cervantes went on trying to get managers to accept his stage works. By 1587 it was clear that he was not going to make a living from literature, and hewas obliged to turn in a very different direction.

Cervantes became a commissary of provisions for the great Armada. Requisitioning corn and oil from grudging rural communities was a thankless task, but it was at least a steady job, with a certain status. It took him traveling all overAndalusia, an experience he was to put to good use in his writing. He was responsible for finances of labyrinthine complexity, and the failure to balance his books landed him in prolonged and repeated trouble with his superiors. There also was constant argument with municipal and church authorities, the latter of which more than once excommunicated him. The surviving documentation of the accountancy and negotiations involved is considerable.

After the disastrous defeat of the Armada in 1588, Cervantes gravitated to Sevilla (Seville), the commercial capital of Spain and one of the largest cities in Europe. In 1590 he applied to the Council of the Indies for any one of four major crown posts vacant in Central and South America. His petition was curtly rejected. Wrangles over his accounts and arrears of salary dragged on. He seems to have kept some contact with the literary world; there is a record of his buying certain books, and he must have managed to find time for reading. In 1592 he signed a contract to supply six plays to a theatrical manager, one Rodrigo Osorio. Nothing came of this. His commissary work continued, and the litigation came to a head; in September 1592 he was imprisoned for a few days in Castro del Río.

In 1594 Cervantes was in Madrid seeking a new post. He received an appointment that took him back to Andalusia to collect overdue taxes. Although it was in effect a promotion, the job was no more rewarding than the previous one and was similarly fraught with financial difficulties and confrontations. Cervantes was not by temperament a businessman. Probably by mutual agreement the appointment was terminated in 1596. The previous year he had won first prize (three silver spoons) in a poetry competition in Zaragoza. Back in Sevilla, he likely started seriously writing stories at about this time, not to mention a wickedly satirical sonnet on the conduct of the duque de Medina Sidonia, to be followed by one obliquely disrespectful of the recently deceased king himself. Again he met with financial troubles. In the summer of 1597 discrepancies in his accounts of three years previous landed him in the Crown Jail of Sevilla. He was confined until the endof April 1598 and perhaps conceived there the idea of Don Quixote, as a remark in the first prologue suggests:

And so, what was to be expected of a sterile and uncultivated wit such as that which I possess if not an offspring that was dried up, shriveled, and eccentric: a story filled with thoughts that never occurred to anyone else, of a sort that might be engendered in a prison where every annoyance has its home and every mournful sound its habitation?

Information about Cervantes's life over the next four or five years is sparse. He had left Sevilla, and, perhaps for a while in Esquivias and Madrid, later for certain in Valladolid (where the royal court established itself from 1601 to 1606), he must have been writing the first part of Don Quixote. Early versions of two of his stories, "Rinconete y Cortadillo" (“Rinconete and Cortadillo”) and "El celoso extremeño" (“The Jealous Extremaduran”), found their way into a miscellaneous compilation, unpublished, made by one Francisco Porras de la Cámara.


Publication of Don Quixote

In July or August 1604 Cervantes sold the rights of El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha (“The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha,” known as Don Quixote, Part I) to the publisher-bookseller Francisco de Robles for an unknown sum. License to publish was granted in September and the book came out in January 1605. There is some evidence of its content's being known or known about before publication—to, among others, Lope de Vega, the vicissitudes of whose relations with Cervantes were then at a low point. The compositors at Juan de la Cuesta's press in Madrid are now known to have been responsible for a great many errors in the text, many of which were long attributed to the author.

The novel was an immediate success, though not as sensationally so as Mateo Alemán's Guzmán de Alfarache , Part I, of 1599. By August 1605 there were two Madrid editions, two published in Lisbon, and one in Valencia. There followed those of Brussels, 1607; Madrid, 1608; Milan, 1610; and Brussels, 1611. Part II, Segunda parte del ingenioso cavallero Don Quixote de la Mancha (“Second Part of the Ingenious Knight Don Quixote of La Mancha”), came out in 1615. Thomas Shelton's English translation of the first part appeared in 1612. The name of Cervantes was soon to be as well known in England, France, and Italy as in Spain.

The sale of the publishing rights, however, meant that Cervantes made no more financial profit on Part I of his novel. He had to do the best he could with patronage. The dedication to the young duque de Béjar had been a mistake. He had better fortune with two much more influential persons: the conde de Lemos, to whom he would dedicate Part II and no less than three other works, and Don Bernardo de Sandoval y Rojas, archbishop of Toledo. This eased his financial circumstances somewhat. However, it is apparent that he would have liked a securer place in the pantheon of the nation's writers than he ever achieved during his lifetime—he wanted a reputation comparable to that enjoyed by Lope de Vega or the poet Luis de Góngora, for example. His sense of his own marginal position may be deduced from his Viage del Parnaso (1614; Voyage to Parnassus), two or three of the later prefaces, and a few external sources. Nevertheless, relative success, still-unsatisfied ambition, and a tireless urge to experiment with the forms of fiction ensured that, at age 57, with less than a dozen years left to him, Cervantes was just entering the most productive period of his career.

No graciousness descended on Cervantes's domestic life.A stabbing incident in the street outside the house in Valladolid, in June 1605, led ridiculously to the whole household's arrest. When they later followed the court to Madrid, he continued to be plagued by litigation over money and now, too, by domestic difficulties. The family lodged in various streets over the next few years before finally settling in the Calle de León. Like a number of other writers of the day, Cervantes nursed hopes of a secretarial appointment with the conde de Lemos when, in 1610, the conde was made viceroy of Naples. Once more Cervantes was disappointed. He had joined a fashionable religious order, the Slaves of the Most Blessed Sacrament, in 1609, and four years later he became a Franciscan tertiary, which was a more serious commitment. Students of Cervantes know, too, of some increased involvement in the literary life of the capital in the form of his attendance at the Academia Selvaje, a kind of writers' salon, in 1612.

The next year, the 12 Exemplary Stories were published. The prologue contains the only known verbal portrait of the author:

of aquiline countenance, with dark brown hair, smooth clear brow, merry eyes and hooked but well-proportioned nose; his beard is silver though it was gold not 20 years ago; large moustache, small mouth with teeth neither big nor little, since he has only six of them and they are in bad condition and worse positioned, for they do not correspond to each other; the body between two extremes, neither tall nor short; a bright complexion, more pale than dark, somewhat heavy in the shoulder and not very light of foot.

Cervantes's claim in this prologue to be the first to write original novellas (short stories in the Italian manner) in Castilian is substantially justified. Their precise dates of composition are in most cases uncertain. There is some variety in the collection, within the two general categories of romance-based stories and realistic ones. El coloquio de los perros (“Colloquy of the Dogs,” Eng. trans. in Three Exemplary Novels [1952]), a quasi-picaresque novella, with its frame tale El casamiento engañoso (“The Deceitful Marriage”), is probably Cervantes's most profound and original creation next to Don Quixote. In the 17th century theromantic stories were the more popular; James Mabbe chose precisely these for the selective English version of 1640. Nineteenth- and 20th-century taste preferred the realistic ones, but by the turn of the 21st century the others were receiving again something like their critical due.

In 1614 Cervantes published Viage del Parnaso, a long allegorical poem in mock-mythological and satirical vein, with a postscript in prose. It was devoted to celebrating a host of contemporary poets and satirizing a few others. The author there admitted that writing poetry did not come easilyto him. But he held poetry in the highest esteem as a pure artthat should never be debased. Having lost all hope of seeing any more of his plays staged, he had eight of them published in 1615, together with eight short comic interludes, in Ocho comedias, y ocho entremeses nuevos. The plays show no shortage of inventiveness and originality but lack real control of the medium. The interludes, however,are reckoned among the very best of their kind.

It is not certain when Cervantes began writing Part II of DonQuixote, but he had probably not gotten much more than halfway through by late July 1614. About September a spurious Part II was published in Tarragona by someone calling himself Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda, an unidentified Aragonese who was an admirer of Lope de Vega. The book is not without merit, if crude in comparison with its model. In its prologue the author gratuitously insulted Cervantes, who not surprisingly took offense and responded, though with relative restraint if compared with the vituperation of some literary rivalries of the age. He also worked some criticism of Fernández de Avellaneda and his “pseudo” Quixote and Sancho into his own fiction from chapter 59 onward.

Don Quixote, Part II, emerged from the same press as its predecessor late in 1615. It was quickly reprinted in Brussels and Valencia, 1616, and Lisbon, 1617. Parts I and II first appeared in one edition in Barcelona, 1617. There was a French translation of Part II by 1618 and an English one by 1620. The second part capitalizes on the potential of the first, developing and diversifying without sacrificing familiarity. Most people agree that it is richer and more profound.

In his last years Cervantes mentioned several works that apparently did not get as far as the printing press, if indeed he ever actually started writing them. There was Bernardo (the name of a legendary Spanish epic hero), the Semanas del jardín (“Weeks in the Garden”; a collection of tales, perhaps like Boccaccio's Decameron), and the continuationto his Galatea. The one that was published, posthumously in 1617, was his last romance, Los trabaios de Persiles y Sigismunda, historia setentrional (“The Labours of Persiles and Sigismunda: A Northern Story”). In it Cervantes sought to renovate the heroic romance of adventure and love in the manner of the Aethiopica of Heliodorus. It was an intellectually prestigious genre destined to be very successful in 17th-century France. Intended both to edify andto entertain, the Persiles is an ambitious work that exploits the mythic and symbolic potential of romance. It was very successful when it appeared; there were eight Spanish editions in two years and French and English translations in 1618 and 1619, respectively.

In the dedication, written three days before he died, Cervantes, “with a foot already in the stirrup,” movingly bade farewell to the world. Clear-headed to the end, he seems to have achieved a final serenity of spirit. He died in 1616, almost certainly on April 22, not on the 23rd as had been traditionally thought. The burial certificate indicates that the latter was the day he was buried, in the convent of the Discalced Trinitarians in the Calle de Cantarranas (now the Calle de Lope de Vega). The exact spot is not marked. Nowill is known to have survived.

Edward C. Riley

Don Quixote and critical traditions

Cervantes's masterpiece Don Quixote has been variously interpreted as a parody of chivalric romances, an epic of heroic idealism, a commentary on the author's alienation, and a critique of Spanish imperialism. While the Romantic tradition downplayed the novel's hilarity by transforming Don Quixote into a tragic hero, readers who view it as a parody accept at face value Cervantes's intention to denounce the popular yet outdated romances of his time. Don Quixote certainly pokes fun at the adventures of literaryknights-errant, but its plot also addresses the historical realities of 17th-century Spain. Although no proof has been found, it is likely that Cervantes was a converso (of Jewish descent), given his father's ties to the medical profession, the family's peripatetic existence, and the government's denial of his two requests for posts in the Indies. However, the author's nuanced irony, his humanistic outlook, and his comic genius contrast notably with the melancholy, didactic tone attributed to many other Spanish converso writers.

Cervantes's strikingly modern narrative instead gives voice to a dazzling assortment of characters with diverse beliefs and perspectives. His inclusion of many differing opinions constitutes a provision called heteroglossia (“multiple voices”) by the Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin, who deemed it essential to the development of the modern novel. Don Quixote's comic edge illustrates another of Bakhtin's concepts, carnivalization, which favoursthe playfully positive aspects of the body over an ascetic rejection of the carnal. Sancho Panza's rotund shape—his name means “holy belly”—offsets Don Quixote's elongated, emaciated frame, and together they recall the medieval folkloric figures of an expansive, materialist Carnival and a lean, self-denying Lent. Yet, far from depicting illusion and reality as equal opposites, their relationship undergoes constant change: if Don Quixote assumes the lead in Part I, Sancho overtakes his master and secures his own independence in Part II.

The differences between Part I and Part II demonstrate Cervantes's awareness of the power of the printed word. Don Quixote's history began with his obsessive reading of chivalric romances; in Part II, he realizes that his adventures are eagerly read and discussed by others. The knight's visit in Part II to a Barcelona printing shop, where he finds a spurious Part II in press and denounces it as injurious to the innocent reader and to his own rightful authorship (since he stands to lose royalties from its sales), underscores the cultural and economic impact of books of fiction. Despite his own books' popularity, Cervantes earned little from their sales. Nonetheless, his innovative reworkings of literary forms—from the pastoral novel La Galatea and exemplary short stories to the acclaimed novel Don Quixote and his one serious attempt at romance, the posthumously published Persiles y Sigismunda—show just how well Cervantes understood not only the 17th-century marketplace but the social effect of literature.

Importance and influence

Cervantes's influence resonates in the popular term “quixotic” and the immediately recognizable forms of his two major protagonists, whose adventures reappear continually across the cultural landscape in theatre, film, opera, ballet, and even comic books. No study of the novel can ignore the author or his most famous work: the Hungarian theorist Gyorgy Lukács considers Don Quixote “the first great novel of world literature,” while the Mexican author Carlos Fuentes calls Cervantes the “founding father” of Latin American literature. The novel form, according to some late 20th-century critics, has no one originbut began to exist in different countries at different times and for different reasons. Nonetheless, Cervantes's novel, with its innovations to Spanish literature, is outstanding in its creation of a new worldview. It is not coincidental that the writers most influenced by Cervantes—Daniel Defoe, Laurence Sterne, Tobias Smollett, to name only British novelists—initiated radical changes in their own literary traditions.

By illuminating the many differences in and surrounding his world, Cervantes placed in doubt the previous ways of portraying that world, whether those were literary or historical. Indeed, one of Don Quixote's main tenets is that fiction and historical truth are frequently indistinguishable, as both are dependent on the reader's perception. Cervantes's approach is frequently dubbed “dualistic” since he often opted to express diverse modes of thought through the pairing of opposites, as with Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, the talking dogs of “Colloquy of the Dogs,” or the image of the baciyelmo (“basinhelmet,” as the narrator describes the bright object worn on a distant rider's head). Representing the opposites of reality and illusion, baciyelmois Sancho's brass basin but Don Quixote's gold helmet.

The split depicted within Cervantes's characters—Don Quixote's “reasoned unreason” for example—has sometimes been attributed to the author's intended contrast of reality and illusion (as well as of other opposites). The question of whether the self-proclaimed knight stands for an idealism never fully attainable or for a laughably meaningless madness continues to shadow interpretations of Don Quixote, as it has since its introduction by the German Romantics. Opposition between idealism and realism as a leading theme in Cervantes's fiction, includingthe Exemplary Stories and his plays, remained influential as late as the mid-20th century.

Yet Cervantes was characteristically ambiguous on these issues, and this ambiguity inspired criticism of the later 20th century to reconsider previous judgments on his literary prominence. Translated almost immediately into English, French, and Italian, Don Quixote was viewed primarily as a comic work or a satire of Spanish customs. Ironically, it was the German Romantics, selectively reading Don Quixote as atragic hero, who granted his author world standing. In contrast, 19th-century Spanish academics dismissed Cervantes's accomplishments, even though his style and language set the standard for modern Castilian. Not until the 20th century did the acclaim of foreign critics and Spanish expatriates finally rehabilitate Cervantes in his own country.

When Freudian psychology became popular, it engendered critical interest in the psychological force of Cervantes's fiction. European criticism was predisposed early on toward psychoanalytical approaches, which stressed the Spanish author's duality and ambiguity. From the 1970s, French and American criticism viewed Cervantes as a fragmented character not unlike his protagonists. Both the author and hischaracters have been perceived as psychoanalytical cases, with Don Quixote's madness attributed to his “middle-age crisis” and Cervantes's treatment of several characters to his “subconscious sympathies.” As these critics worked to reveal unexpressed desires, they also analyzed the roles played by women. Feminist and gender studies have increasingly looked to Cervantes for his perceptive approach to portraying the women of 17th-century Spain. Unlike the majority of his contemporaries, Cervantes expressed great empathy toward women. Although he stops short of a “feminist” position, numerous female characters such as Marcela and Dorotea in Don Quixote and Isabela Castrucho in Persiles y Sigismunda speak forcefully in defense of women's rights.

Similarly, criticism in the late 20th century began to focus onCervantes's preoccupations with contemporary economic and historical events. The 1609 expulsion of the Moriscos (converted Moors), the correct governance of Spain's overseas colonies, and the exploitation of African slaves are often considered as covertly polemical topics for Don Quixote's alert readers. The Exemplary Stories and plays have been plumbed for their engagement with political and economic factors. Documented in Don Quixote and Persiles y Sigismunda, Cervantes's knowledge of and interest in theNew World are central to his perception of a different world, one equally as cross-cultural and multilingual as that of the 21st century.

Anne Cruz






The modern novel had its roots in the verse romance, or fabliau, though it is a long line of
development with many sideshoots. Chaucer is a key figure in the change to more modern modes of
narrative, with his unusual interest in character for its own sake and his realistic observation of
contemporary social life; the first novels in this, modern, sense are the picaresque stories associated
with Spain and above all with Cervantes. Thereafter, the most important developments are,
arguably, to be found in France and England and, just as the English romance was largely derived
from (and inferior to) the French fabliaux, early French narratives had a marked influence on the
English novel of the 18th century.



The revocation of the Edict of Nantes (removing toleration of the Huguenots) in 1685 is often taken as a convenient marker for the changing literary era in France. Cervantes and other satirists notwithstanding, Romance was not yet dead. Madeleine de Scudery was still alive, and though her improbable tales of love and war set in antiquity had mostly been written in the 1650s, they remained popular. However, the romance was transformed by the Comtesse de La Fayette, in particular by her La Princesse de Cleves (1678), with its sympathetic study of character. (It was a good time for women in literature, though as writers they still used synonyms, and the wonderful Letters of Mme de Sevigne were not published until 1725, nearly thirty years after her death.) Another important influence was Jean de La Fontaine, whose verse Fables ('The Grasshopper and the Ant' etc.), drawn from a wide variety of sources, were published between 1668 and 1694. Paul Scarron, first husband of the future Mme de Maintenon - Louis XIV's mistress and (secret) wife — was the author of the two-part Le Roman Comique, the Comic Novel (1651 and 1657), the story of a theatrical company in Le Mans which gives a lively account of provincial life. However, as far as the novel is concerned, the 17th-century heritage is not especially impressive, yet by the end of the century the novel was set to become a major genre.




Alain-Rene Lesage (1668—1747) was a prolific author, said to have been the first French writer to live exclusively by the pen who, often with others, wrote about 100 popular comedies for the fairground stages of Paris. Many were based on Spanish originals. His Le Diable Boiteux (1707) is an imaginative, picaresque-satirical tale, but of interest chiefly as a rehearsal for his masterpiece, The Adventures of Gil Bias Santillana, which was published in instalments between 1715 and 1735. One of the most successful novels in French literary history, it was, along with Rabelais, probably the single greatest French influence on the English comic novels of Fielding and Smollett (who translated it into English). Again, the Spanish influence is strong; in fact Lesage was accused of plagiarism. The form is broadly picaresque — the adventures of Gil Bias as he travels across Spain, with extraneous tales inserted here and there, written in a lively, earthy style, with a sharp but relatively benign eye for human idiosyncrasies and presenting a detailed panorama of contemporary life and manners.




Manon Lescaut (1731) represents a big step forward. It was the last of a scries of novels by the Abbe (Antoine Francois) Prevost (1697— 1763), whose work as a translator of Richardson did much to popularize English literature in France. The Histoire du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut, its original title, tells of the love of the young aristocrat, des Grieux, torn disastrously between his conscience and his - stronger — passion for the beautiful but treacherous courtesan, Manon Lescaut. It was enormously successful, and later inspired operas by Alassenet and Puccini.
Manon Lescaut appeared in the same year as the first part of Marianne, a novel by Pierre Marivaux, best known as a playwright, who gave the French language the term marivaudage, light-hearted banter.


Abbe Prevost Reading "Manon Lescaut," 1856,
by Joseph Caraud



An important minor form of the early novel, written in the form of letters or a diary, dates from the 17th century, an early example being the French Letters from a Portuguese Nun. The chief proponent of the form in England was Samuel Richardson, whose work, translated by the Abbe Prevost, was an influence on Jean Jacques Rousseau's Julie, ou La Nouvelle Heloise (1761), in which the love story is mingled with a survey of contemporary ideas and customs. It was so popular when first published that libraries used to charge readers by the hour. The novel as memoir, which also originated in 17th-century France, took the form of autobiography, though in fact fictional. Early examples are on the whole less interesting than genuine memoirs of the time, of which there were many, the Memoires of the Due dc Saint-Simon, which cover the last years of the court of Louis XIV, being the best-known.





One reason for the comparatively late development of the novel as a literary genre was that relatively few people could read. Literature was written for a comparatively small elite, and everyday stories of country folk were not in great demand. In 18th-century England, however, most males (fewer females) of the middle and upper classes, together with perhaps half the male working classes, could read. Production, as usual, expanded to satisfy the market. In spite of promising beginnings in the Elizabethan era, realistic English narrative fiction made slow progress in the 17th century, partly no doubt because political turmoil turned writers in other directions. Bunyan emerged as the first proletarian writer, though his literary method was practically medieval, and it was not until the turn of the century that the real beginnings of the English novel appeared.





              Daniel Defoe


Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) was himself something of a picaro, who served spells in prison, even the pillory, and was not noted for his high principles either in life or literature. He was a prodigious writer, and a complete bibliography of his works poses a formidable challenge to the most assiduous researcher armed with the heftiest computer. He took to fiction late (though there is a fair amount of it in his historical works), adopting a true-life incident for Robinson Crusoe (1719), his story of the experiences of a shipwrecked sailor which was calculated to appeal to a public fascinated by travel stories. It displayed Defoe's talent for organizing an effective narrative and his eye for telling and convincing detail. It was an enormous success (it still is) and he followed it with five more novels, the most famous of which today is Moll Flanders (1722), a picaresque novel of a female rogue. Defoe has little time for form and structure - his novels simply go on until they stop and are liberally sprinkled with inconsistencies - but Moll Flanders in particular is a novel of character, not just another 'romance'.




      Jonathan Swift


Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) was a gifted but complex person and a writer of incandescent talents, variously described as a poet, pamphleteer and satirist, who devoted much of his energy to propaganda for the Tory cause. From 1714 he was a virtual exile from the London literary scene as dean of St Patrick's in Dublin, his birthplace. His The Conduct of the Allies (1711), against the further prosecution of the War of the Spanish Succession, is often cited as the greatest work of its kind in English, but the book that established his immortality in literature is Gulliver's Fravels, published anonymously in 1726.
Gulliver makes four voyages of which the first two, to Lilliput, where the people are very small, and to Brobdingnag, where they1 are very large, are the best known. They are usually published in abbreviated versions that make them more suitable for children. For some critics, the last section, in the countrv ruled by the rational Houyhnhms, who arc horses, and their subjects, the bestial Yahoos (one of many Swiftian inventions that has entered the language), are more or less humans, is the best. When Gulliver finally returns home, he prefers to live in a stable, where the company is more congenial.
Gulliver's Travels is, m the first place, a good story, which can be simply read as that and little more. However, it is also a seering political satire, guying contemporary politics and politicians, and, most powerfully, it is a savage indictment of human intolerance, meanness and small-mindedness, as relevant today as it was in the lS'th century. Swift was no novelist and Gulliver's Travels has little structural coherence or characterization. Nevertheless, it is one of the most popular, most often reprinted books ever written, and the main reason for its success is clearly its brilliantlv imaginative narrative.



Swift was a friend of the essayists Joseph Addison (1672-1719) and Richard Steele (1672—1729), leading figures in the London literary scene who contributed to Tatler and founded The Spectator (1711). They had none of Swift's satirical violence, but wrote on a variety of subjects in beautifully simple and coherent prose, achieving a standard of journalism seldom equalled, let alone excelled, thereafter. The journal contained the work of a fictional group of gentlemen, the Spectator Club, representing various walks of life (the Army, trade, etc.), in particular a country gentleman, Sir Roger de Coverley. Its amusing character sketches contributed to the development of the English novel.


"I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most pernicious race
of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to craw! upon the surface of the earth."

(The King's response to Gulliver's proud account of the achievements of humanity.)

Swift, Gulliver's Travels, "Voyage to Brobdingnag", ch. 6.






Although Defoe had no obvious successor, Samuel Richardson's Pamela (1740), generally regarded as the first true English novel, was in some ways a reaction against the kind of risque, incident-driven, narrative tradition that Defoe represented. Its heroine is a virtuous servant, who resists the advances of a young gentleman and gains the reward for her virtue in the form of marriage. A priggish tale perhaps, but Richardson knew the human heart, and had an instinctive understanding of the feelings of ordinary folk.



Samuel Richardson (1689-1761), known as 'Serious' as a boy, was a printer by trade, who discovered an aptitude for writing model letters for the illiterate, and when he turned late in life to novel writing (Pamela was followed by Clarissa, 1747, perhaps his best, and Sir Charles Grandison, 1753), he adopted the epistolary form. The limitations of that form and Richardson's image of rigid, middle-class respectability provoked the antagonism of Henry Fielding (1707—54), who mocked him in Shamela and set out to do so in Joseph Andrews (1742), until plot and characters took him over and his satirical purpose was largely forgotten.
Richardson's reputation has undergone severe ups and downs. Immensely popular in his day, especially with female readers, he was denigrated in the 19th century, especially in comparison with Fielding, but has since risen again in critical esteem. Still, few people would read Clarissa rather than Tom Jones (1749), Fielding's masterpiece.
Tom Jones is a foundling, brought up by the benevolent Allworthy along with his own nephew and heir, the devious Blifil, who is destined to marry Sophia, Squire Western's daughter, with whom Tom falls mutually in love. As a result of indiscretions with a gamekeeper's daughter, Tom leaves Allworthy's household and embarks on a series of adventures, which are enhanced by Fielding's brilliantly drawn minor characters. The construction of the novel is masterly - Fielding planned it with great care - and the story carries real suspense up to the highly satisfactory conclusion. Tom Jones is no Richardsonian hero, being impulsive and even foolish, but a generous, open-hearted soul. Sophia, the heroine, is a thoroughly convincing character, not a personification of feminine virtues. With Fielding's Tom Jones, the English novel came of age.
Fielding, a gentleman by birth, wrote many plays and other works - skillful, inventive, often amusing. He was a man of large human sympathies who from 1748 was a highly committed magistrate in Westminster. His powerful, deeply felt opposition to social injustice and judicial corruption is manifest in a series of essays.




           Tobias Smollett


Tobias Smollett (1721-71), a Scot by birth, was a ship's surgeon, and made excellent use of his seafaring experience in his first and best-known novel, the picaresque Roderick Random (1748). His stories are violent and boisterous, and the comedy is sometimes spoilt by crudeness. But Smollett is still enjoyably readable, although he lacks the vision of Fielding and his major characters, especially his heroines, are hard to believe in. Of his later novels, perhaps the best is the last, Humphrey Clinker (1771), written in a modified epistolary form in which the same events are seen through the eyes of different characters. It contains some fierce, sometimes unconvincing satire on English fashionable society, but in general the humour is less coarse.




                      Lawrence Sterne


Even by the standards of Church of England clergymen, Lawrence Sterne (1713—68), a parish priest in Yorkshire, was very odd. An admirer of Rabelais and Cervantes, he wrote one great novel, The Life and Opinions of Tristram
published in instalments from 1760. At first sight it is total anarchy. The hero is not even born until the third book, and the narrative is an apparently incoherent succession of episodes, conversations, strange digressions, bawdy humour, mini-lectures and sentiment, with unfinished sentences and even blank pages. All this, however, is by design, since Sterne wishes to convey that life and the human mind are not orderly. For all his sympathy with the miseries that human beings endure (Sterne's wife was a manic depressive), he sees them as essentially comic, even in appearance. Sterne had some formidable opponents and Tristram Shandy, though it sold well, was not really appreciated until after his death.
Richardson, Fielding, Smollett and Sterne are the giants of the first great period of the English novel, but they were not alone. Samuel Johnson's Rasselas (1759) is largely a tract in the form of a novel, but Oliver Goldsmith's The Vicar of Wakefield (1766), another 'novel of sentiment', has proved to be of long-lasting popularity.



The late 18th century produced two masterpieces in France. Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Chodcrlos de Laclos was published in 1782. The form was influenced by Richardson, but it is a very different kind of novel, a cynical treatise on the art of seduction. The second was Paul et Virginie (1787) by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, friend of Rousseau. The story is of two children raised in a Rousseauesejue state of nature, brought to destruction by the dire influence of modern society.


"His designs were strictly honourable,
as the phrase is; that is, to rob a lady
of her fortune by way of marriage."

Fielding, Tom Jones, bk. xi, ch, 4.


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