As this book reveals, the political turbulence of the 17th century had a significant impact on literature and readers’ tastes.
The quick succession of the Civil War, the execution of King Charles I, the austere Interregnum and the ascension of pleasure-seeking King Charles II created a social environment in which the reverence surrounding the monarchy had lessened, while, at the same time, popular interest in the workings of state had increased. This created an audience for literature that lampooned, satirised and exposed the activities of public institutions and political players. Poems on Affairs of State brings together some of the best known and most outrageous satires of the latter half of the 17th and early 18th centuries.
What are the poems about?
Poems on Affairs of State is concerned with all manner of subjects, including war, religion and party politics, as well as royal mistresses and literary rivalries. Personal attacks were common, and it was as much a prominent man or woman’s politics as their personal life that came under fire from satirists.
Who wrote verse-satires?
Verse-satires can be attributed to almost all of the major literary figures of the Restoration and early 18th century. However, satires were usually printed or circulated in manuscript form without any authorial attribution because of the severe legal penalties attached to creating or sharing seditious material. In 1681 Stephen College – a populist writer of satirical verses and ballads condemning King Charles II – was executed for treason on the grounds of his poetry.
Which poems are digitised here?
- ‘The Female Laureat’ by an unnamed poet, about Aphra Behn (pp. 146–48).
- ‘Signior Dildoe’ attributed to John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (pp. 108–91).
- ‘The Encouragement’, attributed to Rochester (p. 191).
- ‘A Satyr by the Lord Rochester, which King Charles took out of his Pocket’ by Rochester (pp. 192–94).
- ‘King James to Himself’, attributed to John Dryden (pp. 215–16).
- ‘On the Duke of Bucks’, attributed to Dryden (pp. 216–18).
- ‘To Mr Dryden, upon his declaring himself a Roman Catholick’, thought to be by John Toland (pp. 221–23).
- ‘A Description of Mr Dryden's Funeral’ by an unknown poet (pp. 229–35).
- ‘The British Muse: or Tyranny expos’d. A Satyr, Occasion’d by all the Fulsome and Lying Poems and Elegies, that have been written on the Death of the Late King James’ by John Tutchin (pp. 387–95).
- Article by:
- Diane Maybank
- Theatre and entertainment, Politics and religion, Satire and humour
Diane Maybank introduces the characters, conventions and historical context of Restoration comedy, and explores what the genre has to say about gender, courtship and class.
- Article by:
- Ashley Marshall
- Politics and religion, Satire and humour
Ashley Marshall suggests that there is more to Dryden's satiric poetry than the expression of high-minded moral values. Trace how Dryden's personal vendettas motivated some of the cruder and more vicious attacks in Mac Flecknoe, and how his satires reflected his immediate political and religious circumstances as much as timeless ideals.
- Article by:
- Elaine Hobby
- Gender and sexuality, Theatre and entertainment, Politics and religion, Satire and humour
Aphra Behn's The Rover engages with the social, political and sexual conditions of the 17th century, as well as with theatrical traditions of carnival and misrule. Elaine Hobby introduces Behn's play and explores how it was first performed and received.