Prof. Cecilia H.C. Liu,
Office: LA 301 (2903-1111 ext. 2560 or 2901-7317)
Webpage Designer: Angela Chang


The Seventeenth Century (1603-1660)  & Metaphysical Poetry

1.  概論General Introduction  and  2. 時代背景Historical Background

The early seventeenth century extends from the accession of the first Stuart king (James I) in 1603 to the coronation of the third (Charles II) in 1660. But the events that occurred between these boundaries make much more sense if they are seen in a larger pattern extending from 1588 to 1688. Between these two dates massive political and social events took place that bridge the gap between the Tudor “tyranny by consent” of the sixteenth century and the equally ill-defined but equally functional constitutional monarchy of the eighteenth century.

A sense of deep disquiet, of traditions under challenge, is felt everywhere in the literary culture of the early 17th century. Long before the term was applied to our own time, the era of Donne and Robert Burton (the obsessive anatomist of melancholy) deserved to be called the Age of Anxiety. One may think of the “Metaphysical” poets who followed Donne (such as Herbert, Crashaw, Vaugham, and Cowley) as trying to reinforce the traditional lyric forms of love and devotion by stretching them to comprehend new and extreme intellectual energies. In the other direction, Jonson and his “sons” the so-called Cavalier poets (such as Herrick, Suckling, Lovelace, Waller, and Denham) generally tried to compress and limit their poems, giving them a high polish and a sense of easy domination at the expense of their intellectual content.  The common contrast of Cavalier with Metaphysical does describe two poetic alternatives of the early century.  Yet both style were wholly inadequate containers for the sort of gigantic energy that Milton was trying to express.

At the heart of the century of rapid change lies the Puritan Revolt of 1640-60. The century together with the English Revolution was a time of intense ferment in all areas of life —religion, science, politics, domestic relations, culture. That ferment was reflected in the literature of the era, which also registered a heightened focus on and analysis of the self and the personal life. However, little of this seems in evidence in the elaborate frontispiece to Michael Drayton's long "chorographical" poem on the landscape, regions, and local history of Great Britain (1612), which appeared in the first years of the reign of the Stuart king James I (1603-1625). The great seventeenth-century heroic poem, Paradise Lost, treats the Fall of Man and its tragic consequences.

重要議題 Important Issues

The first issue: "Gender, Family, Household: Seventeenth-Century Norms and Controversies" provides important religious, legal, and domestic advice texts through which to explore cultural assumptions about gender roles and the patriarchal family. It also invites attention to how those assumptions are modified or challenged in the practices of actual families and households; in tracts on transgressive subjects (cross-dressing, women speaking in church, divorce); in women's texts asserting women's worth, talents, and rights; and especially in the upheavals of the English Revolution

"Paradise Lost in Context," the second topic for this period, surrounds that radically revisionist epic with texts that invite readers to examine how it engages with the interpretative traditions surrounding the Genesis story, how it uses classical myth, how it challenges orthodox notions of Edenic innocence, and how it is positioned within but also against the epic tradition from Homer to Virgil to Du Bartas.

The third topic, "Civil Wars of Ideas: Seventeenth-Century Politics, Religion, and Culture," provides an opportunity to explore, through political and polemical treatises and striking images, some of the issues and conflicts that led to civil war and the overthrow of monarchical government (1642-60). These include royal absolutism vs. parliamentary or popular sovereignty, monarchy vs. republicanism, Puritanism vs. Anglicanism, church ritual and ornament vs. iconoclasm, toleration vs. religious uniformity, and controversies over court masques and Sunday sports. The climax to all this was the highly dramatic trial and execution of King Charles I (January 1649), a cataclysmic event that sent shock waves through courts, hierarchical institutions, and traditionalists everywhere.
Text Source:

John Donne
Ben Jonson
George Herbert
Andrew Marvell
Robert Herrick
John Milton



Image Source: Blake's 1808 Paradise Lost, Luminarium