Early Modern British Literature

This video discusses the Early Modern period in Europe and the literature produced during that time, from Milton’s Paradise Lost to the various types of poetry, from the metaphysical to the cavalier. By the end of the period, literature started moving away from epics and religious figures, and towards everyday life. Hey, people like to read about themselves.

LanguageEnglish Language
Literary TopicsSpecial Interest
LiteratureBritish Literature

Transcript

00:28

Back then, if someone maced you…

00:30

…you wouldn’t get back up for a while. Times were rough in Early Modern England…

00:36

…but it doesn’t mean that nothing good came out of the era.

00:39

There was plenty of great literature written in seventeenth-century England.

00:42

Which was great, because then you had something to read while you were dying of smallpox.

00:47

The King James Bible was a biggie.

00:52

It contains symbols and genres that we still make use of today…

00:55

…as well as such memorable phrases as… Ask and it shall be given… let there be

01:01

light… and… fight the good fight.

01:04

In its time, it was more quotable than Anchorman. A few decades later, John Milton wrote a blockbuster

01:11

hit.

01:13

Paradise Lost was the most epic… epic… since Homer’s Odyssey.

01:18

Unfortunately, James Cameron wasn’t alive at the time to adapt it to film…

01:25

…but it still did pretty well in bookstores. The book’s cast of characters included…

01:30

…well, most of the same cast as the King James Bible.

01:34

God, Jesus, Satan… the whole gang. But… are you ready to be really impressed?

01:39

Milton was blind. He wrote the entire thing by dictation.

01:44

So, for all we know, Milton wasn’t a good writer at all…

01:47

…but the guy taking dictation was brilliant. Poetry became quite popular in the first part

01:55

of the century…

01:55

…even if it was pretty limited in its subject matter.

01:58

These… metaphysical poets… basically only wrote about either sex or God.

02:04

If you weren’t a big fan of either, poetry probably wasn’t going to be your thing.

02:07

Neither was living in the Early Modern Period, though.

02:08

Later on, a rival gang of Cavalier poets popped up.

02:11

Oh, yeah. It was intense. Jets versus Sharks, Montague versus Capulet sort of thing.

02:18

Once in a while someone would get limericked to death.

02:20

Hey, we warned you they were dark times. One of the Cavalier poets, Robert Herrick…

02:25

…made a name for himself with poems that urged his listeners to… seize the day. And

02:32

the girl.

02:32

He might have been the first Newsie. But enough with the rhymes. How about the

02:37

guy named Samuel Pepys <<peeps>> who started recording his life…

02:40

…just like any twenty-first century hipster…

02:42

…but without the knit cap and handlebar moustache.

02:45

Well, okay, he went through a phase. His nine-year long diary recorded everything

02:50

from the Great Plague…

02:52

…to fantasies he had while at church.

02:55

And they were more elaborate than simply... fantasies about the pastor having a decent

02:58

singing voice. Then James Boswell published a biography of

03:02

eighteenth century celebrity Samuel Johnson.

03:04

He was sort of like the TMZ or People Magazine of the Early Modern Period.

03:09

Without him, no one would have known what all the stars were wearing to their premieres.

03:14

Eventually, literature had a clear new direction.

03:17

It was moving away from the super-complex, super-elite world of metaphysical poetry and

03:22

Biblical epic…

03:23

…and was starting to focus more on… everyday life.

03:26

People were realizing that it was actually more interesting to read about themselves…

03:30

…than about a bunch of gods, kings and monsters.

03:32

Although… the stories that combined all of the above were generally the best of the bunch.