Early Modern British Literature, a la Shmoop.
The next time you step into your time machine and are trying to decide when to set your
coordinates… …we don’t recommend the Early Modern Period. Not unless you particularly enjoy plagues,
fires, regicides and dubious personal hygiene. We’re talking about the period of time directly
following the Middle Ages. Back then, if someone maced you… …you wouldn’t get back up for a while.
Times were rough in Early Modern England… …but it doesn’t mean that nothing good
came out of the era. There was plenty of great literature written
in seventeenth-century England. Which was great, because then you had something
to read while you were dying of smallpox. The King James Bible was a biggie. It contains symbols and genres that we still
make use of today… …as well as such memorable phrases as…
Ask and it shall be given… let there be light… and… fight the good fight. In its time, it was more quotable than Anchorman.
A few decades later, John Milton wrote a blockbuster hit. Paradise Lost was the most epic… epic…
since Homer’s Odyssey. Unfortunately, James Cameron wasn’t alive
at the time to adapt it to film… …but it still did pretty well in bookstores.
The book’s cast of characters included… …well, most of the same cast as the King
James Bible. God, Jesus, Satan… the whole gang.
But… are you ready to be really impressed? Milton was blind. He wrote the entire thing
by dictation. So, for all we know, Milton wasn’t a good
writer at all… …but the guy taking dictation was brilliant.
Poetry became quite popular in the first part of the century… …even if it was pretty limited in its subject
matter. These… metaphysical poets… basically only
wrote about either sex or God. If you weren’t a big fan of either, poetry
probably wasn’t going to be your thing. Neither was living in the Early Modern Period,
though. Later on, a rival gang of Cavalier poets popped
up. Oh, yeah. It was intense. Jets versus Sharks,
Montague versus Capulet sort of thing. Once in a while someone would get limericked
to death. Hey, we warned you they were dark times.
One of the Cavalier poets, Robert Herrick… …made a name for himself with poems that
urged his listeners to… seize the day. And the girl. He might have been the first Newsie.
But enough with the rhymes. How about the guy named Samuel Pepys>who started
recording his life… …just like any twenty-first century hipster… …but without the knit cap and handlebar
moustache. Well, okay, he went through a phase.
His nine-year long diary recorded everything from the Great Plague… …to fantasies he had while at church. And they were more elaborate than simply…
fantasies about the pastor having a decent singing voice.
Then James Boswell published a biography of eighteenth century celebrity Samuel Johnson. He was sort of like the TMZ or People Magazine
of the Early Modern Period. Without him, no one would have known what
all the stars were wearing to their premieres. Eventually, literature had a clear new direction. It was moving away from the super-complex,
super-elite world of metaphysical poetry and Biblical epic… …and was starting to focus more on… everyday
life. People were realizing that it was actually
more interesting to read about themselves… …than about a bunch of gods, kings and monsters. Although… the stories that combined all
of the above were generally the best of