[PDF Notes] The chief literary trends of the New Age may be summarized as follows

The chief literary trends of the New Age may be summarized as follows:

(1) Dominance of Satire:

As R.G. Cox points out, there is an increase in skepticism, introspection, self-consciousness, and self-criticism. In literature this results in a growing emphasis in satire and realism. Satire is everywhere, in prose, in poetry and on the stage. Joseph Hall claims to be the first English satirist. Marston is a great satirist, and Donne’s poetry is not only satirical, but often cynical and brutal in tone. The professed aim of the Ben Johnsonian Comedy is satirical i.e., to laugh folly out of court. Ben Jonson represents the typical antithesis to Shakespeare. Romance and imaginative exuberance in him are replaced by classical self-control and realism.

(2) Realism in Love-Poetry:

The Elizabethan love-poetry was largely Petrarch an. There were also the medieval and Platonic strains in Elizabethan love-poetry. In the new age, love- poetry is characterized by increasing realism.

Thus Donne emphasizes that, to be a satisfactory relationship, love should be a mutual passion. Claims of the body are recognized, and woman is no longer treated as a goddess, but as a creature of flesh and blood.

(3) Development of New Style:

The language of poetry had grown too poetic, and a conventional and stereotyped phraseology was used by poet after poet. Classical mythology was freely exploited for decoration and imagery.

In the new age there is development of new styles: the older rhetorical method in verse, with its copiousness and formal elaboration, gives way to a more concentrated manner, following more closely the diction and rhythms of speech, to what were called at the time “strong lines”, and to what became known later as “metaphysical” wit. In prose there is a reaction away from Ciceronian eloquence as a model towards the packed terseness of Seneca and Tacitus.

(4) The Metaphysical Trend:

There are marked changes in style and interest. Metaphysical elements were the main agents of change and the dominant molders of the new tradition as are seen in John Donne and Ben Jonson. Of the two, Donne’s originality is by far the more spectacular.

One aspect of Donne’s originality, in fact, is that he gave to the short lyric something of the flexibility, the urgent and profound expressiveness, that came to be developed in dramatic, Jonson’s non-dramatic verse does not show such an obvious originality or such a decisive breach with contemporary fashion as Donne’s; yet his different modification of the Elizabethan manner is almost equally significant.

Even his songs have a greater neatness and point; they are more economical in method, and the best of them achieves a striking sureness of movement, a king of controlled élan, which is different from the limpid Elizabethan flow.

(5) Abundance of Religious Poetry:

Besides the Metaphysical poets and the Caroline lyricists, religious poetry also occupies an important place in the literature of the period. John Donne is the greatest of the religious poets of the century and following his example, the metaphysical style is used for religious poetry by such religious poets as George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, Richard Crashaw, and many others.

(6) A Unique Element of Epic Poetry:

It is an age of short lyrics rather than of long poems. However, Milton’s epics are an exception. In this connection, one is reminded of Daniel’s The Civil Wars and Drayton’s Polyolbion.

But they are long narrative poems, rather than epics in the classical style. Similarly, Spenser’s Fairy Queen is a “romantic epic” or an “epical romance” rather than a classical epic of the type of the epics of Homer and Virgil. Later in the 17th century, Abraham Cowley (Divide) and Davenant (Gondibart) also tried their hand at the epic. But none could succeed. It was left for Milton to achieve this goal, and in the cosmic sweep and range of his epic to surpass even the ancients. Therefore it would be correct to say that, “the English epic begins and ends with Milton.”

(7) Prose of Matter Rather Than Manner:

The prose of the earlier half of the seventeenth century is even more varied than its verse, and the lines are harder to distinguish. This is partly because of the more varied functions that prose has to serve – practical, informative, persuasive, rhetorical, artistic – functions which at this time were not clearly distinguished and some of which overlap those of verse; and partly because there was as yet no prose of everyday use, as a norm from which significant variations could be made for special purposes.

In some respects, nevertheless, the age shows developments in prose roughly parallel to those in the domains of poetry. If we move forward from renaissance period the new concern is with matter rather than manner, a desire for more concentration and weight, and a preference for the epigrammatic terseness of Seneca or Tacitus.

(8) Logical and Straight Forward Style:

Character- writing or character is a prose “erne” which encouraged pithy and epigrammatic writing, rather than elaboration and amplification, and it is cultivated by a number of writers. One of the most popular forms of prose- writing is the sermon. Prose is used for science and philosophy, for history and travel, for biography, for diary and letter, for pamphleteering and ‘journalism’.

On the whole, the movement is towards a simpler, clearer, more logical and more straight – forward prose style. The general concern of the new age is intellectual, and both prose and poetry display this concern.

(9) Degeneration of Drama:

The exhaustion of the Renaissance impulse results in the drying up of the creative vein, and literature becomes decadent. This degeneration is best reflected in the Drama of the New Age. Sensationalism, a morbid preoccupation with disease and death, the exploitation of crude physical horrors and unnatural themes, such as incest, and growing obscenity and immorality of the plays, are all symptoms of this decadence, this degenerate drama died natural death with the closure of the theatres in the 1640’s.

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