Study Guide

Restoration Literature

Restoration Literature Introduction

The Restoration is a period in literary history full of humor and hanky-panky. Shocking, right? We thought dudes that looked like this would be super-uptight. But nope—the most popular writers of the age wrote bawdy comedies packed with sexual innuendo. These writers loved to satirize social manners, sexual codes, and the social classes of their day. They were lusty and snarky: a dynamic combo if ever there was one.

What set the literature of this period going was—history time!—the restoration of monarchy in England in the year 1660. The deal was this: Charles II, who'd been exiled in France, returned to the throne. He brought back with him the French taste for big curly wigs, ribbons and fancy clothes, as well as the French love of leisure and indulgence (and chocolate croissants). The writers of the period followed Charles' lead, and their writing also came to emphasize leisure and indulgence… not to mention that everybody started wearing big wigs.

What's more, the theaters—which had been closed for more than a decade by those uptight Puritans who were in power before Charles II was restored to the throne—were reopened during this time. All those playwrights who'd been pining away under the Puritan ban jumped for joy when Charles reopened the theaters. They sharpened their pens (or rather, dusted off their quills), and began writing away. There was a revival in English theater, and the comedies that were written and performed during this revival are one of the lasting legacies of Restoration literature.

But it wasn't just theater that was important during the Restoration age. Poetry also flourished, especially under the influence of the most important writer of the era, John Dryden. Spiritual literature was also important during the Restoration. In fact, one of the greatest works of religious literature—John Milton's Paradise Lost—was published during this period.

The Restoration writers were men and women who liked to let their hair down, so to speak (they were actually wearing their hair under wigs). They were into having fun, and poking fun at others, and took pride in giving their audiences a few good laughs.

What is Restoration Literature About and Why Should I Care?

If you're into comedy—and especially stand-up comedy—then you should definitely care about Restoration literature. You're a Shmooper, after all, how could you not love comedy? And how could you not love the Restoration writers, who did stand-up comedy before "stand-up comedy" before it was a thing? Yup—Restoration writers were the stereotypical hipsters of stand-up.

Why did the hipster burn her mouth? Because she ate the pizza before it was cool. Heyo! Hmm, maybe we should leave the comedy to the Restoration writers. They were really good at it.

The theater of the period is where all the comedy happened. Restoration plays are full of one-line zingers, sex jokes, and witty repartee. If you want to learn a thing or two about how to write snarky, witty dialogue, crank the social satire up to eleven, and generally make people laugh so hard they cry or lose their ginormous wigs, you should turn back to the Restoration writers.

Restoration Literature Resources

Websites

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature: The Age of Dryden
A website with detailed analyses of the literary, cultural, and political aspects of the Restoration period. Super, super useful.

The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Restoration and 18th Century
A website that provides plenty of historical, cultural, and political background to the Restoration. Also super-useful… because there was a ton of vital background to the Restoration.

The Literature Network: From the Restoration to the Death of Pope 1660-1744
An overview of the Restoration period, and beyond. How many huge wigs? So many huge wigs.