Politics and religion

The Civil Wars and the Restoration of the monarchy, the Enlightenment or ‘Age of Reason’, and British colonialism: investigate the political and religious contexts of Restoration and 18th-century literature.

Turbulent 17th century crop depicting Oliver Cromwell cutting down the tree of the monarchy

The turbulent 17th century: Civil War, regicide, the Restoration and the Glorious Revolution

Article by:
Matthew White

The 17th century was a time of great political and social turmoil in England, marked by civil war and regicide. Matthew White introduces the key events of this period, from the coronation of Charles I to the Glorious Revolution more than 60 years later.

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Philip Pullman's introduction to Paradise Lost

Philip Pullman's introduction to Paradise Lost

Article by:
Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman first read Paradise Lost as a schoolboy and was dazzled by the sound of its poetry as he and his classmates read it aloud. Since then, he has become fascinated by Milton's tremendous powers of storytelling, and the ways in which he creates narrative tension, complex moods and vivid characters.

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Eve in Milton’s Paradise Lost: Poignancy and paradox

Article by:
Sandra M. Gilbert

Eve in Paradise Lost is vain vulnerable and evidently intellectually inferior to Adam. However, Sandra M Gilbert argues that, though Milton portrays her as a weak character, he also puts her on a par with Satan in her refusal to accept hierarchy and because of her ability to move the plot of Paradise Lost forward.

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Andrew Marvell and politics

Article by:
Nigel Smith

Andrew Marvell was a poet, but he was also a politician and a civil servant at a time of tremendous upheaval. Nigel Smith investigates how Marvell and his writing negotiated the civil wars, Oliver Cromwell's government and the Restoration.

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Crop for Dryden's satire article, taken from a plate in The Works of Virgil, translated by John Dryden 1697

John Dryden’s satiric poetry

Article by:
Ashley Marshall

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.

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Oroonoko: Historical and political contexts

Article by:
Janet Todd

As a young woman, Aphra Behn was a spy for Charles II's government in Antwerp and probably in South America. Two decades later, she used these experiences to write Oroonoko, the story of a prince kidnapped from West Africa, enslaved and taken to a British colony in South America. Janet Todd explains how this extraordinary novella was shaped by the historical and political contexts and beliefs of Behn's time.

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The Rover: An introduction

Article by:
Elaine Hobby

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.

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An introduction to Restoration comedy

An introduction to Restoration comedy

Article by:
Diane Maybank

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.

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Ephraim Chambers' Cyclopaedia, 1741 crop

The Enlightenment

Article by:
Matthew White

The Enlightenment's emphasis on reason shaped philosophical, political and scientific discourse from the late 17th to the early 19th century. Matthew White traces the Enlightenment back to its roots in the aftermath of the Civil War, and forward to its effects on the present day.

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An introduction to Gulliver’s Travels

Article by:
John Mullan

Jonathan Swift initially did his best to conceal the fact that he was the author of Gulliver's Travels. John Mullan explores how Swift constructed the work to operate as an elaborate game, parodying travel literature, pretending to be an autobiography and containing obviously false facts presented by a deeply unreliable narrator.

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Popular politics

Popular politics in the 18th century

Article by:
Matthew White

Caricatures capturing public opinion and riots on the streets; in this article Matthew White discusses how the majority of Georgians, who didn’t have the right to vote, engaged in politics and expressed their grievances.

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Preface to Sancho: An Act of Remembrance

Preface to Sancho: An Act of Remembrance

Article by:
Paterson Joseph

Paterson Joseph describes how his research into Black British history led him to write his first play, Sancho: An Act of Remembrance. In this one-man show, Paterson Joseph inhabits the life of Ignatius Sancho, the 18th-century composer, aspiring actor, letter-writer and anti-slavery campaigner, who became the first person of African descent to vote in a British general election.

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African writers and Black thought in 18th-century Britain: Banner

African writers and Black thought in 18th-century Britain

Article by:
S I Martin

By 1780, Britain had a Black population of at least 20,000 people. S I Martin describes how four writers, taken from Africa as children and sold into slavery, grew up to write works that challenged British ideas about race, called for African brotherhood and demanded the abolition of the slave trade.

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British slave narratives

Voices in the campaign for abolition

Article by:
Brycchan Carey

From the mid 18th century, Africans and people of African descent – many of them former slaves – began to write down their stories. Brycchan Carey describes these writings and assesses their role in the abolition of slavery.

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Travel, trade and the expansion of Empire

Travel, trade and the expansion of the British Empire

Article by:
Jim Watt

In the 17th century, London was at the centre of global trade, with goods and individuals arriving in the capital from all over the world. Jim Watt looks at how travel, trade and empire shaped the works of Daniel Defoe, Alexander Pope, Josiah Wedgwood, Oliver Goldsmith and Ignatius Sancho.

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Britain’s involvement with New World slavery and the transatlantic slave trade

Britain’s involvement with New World slavery and the transatlantic slave trade

Article by:
Abdul Mohamud, Robin Whitburn

With a focus on the 17th and 18th centuries, Abdul Mohamud and Robin Whitburn trace the history of Britain’s large-scale involvement in the enslavement of Africans and the transatlantic slave trade. Alongside this, Mohamud and Whitburn consider examples of resistance by enslaved people and communities, the work of abolitionists and the legacy of slavery.

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Newspapers, gossip and coffee-house culture

Article by:
Matthew White

Matthew White explains how the coffee-house came to occupy a central place in 17th and 18th-century English culture and commerce, offering an alternative to rowdy pubs and more formal places of business and politics.

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‘Reason is but choosing’: freedom of thought in the life and work of John Milton

‘Reason is but choosing’: freedom of thought and John Milton

Article by:
Roberta Klimt

From his politics and religious writings to Paradise Lost, Roberta Klimt traces how the life and work of John Milton was guided by the principle of freedom of thought and how in doing so he challenged fundamental aspects of 17th-century society.

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Further themes

Rise of the novel

Discover how the novel emerged as a new literary form in the 18th century and examine pioneering texts, from Oroonoko and Robinson Crusoe to Gulliver’s Travels and Pamela.

Gender and sexuality

Examine representations of gender and sexuality in Restoration and 18th-century literature including Paradise Lost and The Rape of the Lock, and explore the works of early women writers such as Aphra Behn, Frances Burney and Margaret Cavendish.

Theatre and entertainment

From Restoration comedy to The Beggar’s Opera, She Stoops to Conquer and The School for Scandal: examine key plays alongside the history and conventions of Restoration and 18th-century theatre.

Politics and religion

The Civil Wars and the Restoration of the monarchy, the Enlightenment or ‘Age of Reason’, and British colonialism: investigate the political and religious contexts of Restoration and 18th-century literature.

Georgian society

Explore the Georgian period in its social, political and historical contexts, with overviews of popular politics, the rise of consumerism and entertainment.

Travel, colonialism and slavery

From Robinson Crusoe to the anti-slavery activism of Olaudah Equiano and the letters of Ignatius Sancho: explore a range of writing produced during an age of travel, trade and colonial conquest, in which Britain vastly expanded its Empire, fuelled by its involvement in slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.

Satire and humour

Discover how writers of the 17th and 18th centuries used satire and humour to address issues around politics and power, inequality and class, gender and marriage – as well as to entertain readers and audiences.

Politeness, sensibility and sentimentalism

Explore polite culture, sensibility and sentimentalism in the 18th century, and how these concepts are reflected in the writing of the period.

Language and ideas

From Johnson’s Dictionary to letter-writing, newspapers and coffee-house culture: explore how different forms and mediums helped to develop and circulate language and ideas during the long 18th century.