Age of Milton || Main Features in Literature

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       The age in which Milton lived and wrote is known in history as the Puritan age. It was filled with the political and religious strife - the Civil War, the triumph of Puritanism and the Restoration. The Renascence impulse which produced the 'spacious times' of Queen Elizabeth and its brilliant literature had all but spent itself. The old ideals were slowly crumbling and yet the new were powerless to be born. It was, indeed, the period of the alter-glow of a brilliant age. The emotional fervour had decayed yielding place to play of intellect and fancy. Literary fashions were rapidly and radically changing. In short, it was an age of transition. The age of the understanding, unable to take pleasure in the exuberant fancy of such poets as Spenser and shocked by the metaphysical poets, was at hand.

the title conferred on the basis of the study of the great art of antiquity, he who would deserve it above all others would be Milton who wrote Paradise Lost
Paradise Lost

      The new literature that was coining was called 'classical' but the word signified that it sought restraint rather than inspiration from the ancients. Were the title conferred on the basis of the study of the great art of antiquity, he who would deserve it above all others would be Milton who wrote Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes. No poet of the later age that goes by the name Neo-classical showed as great and accurate understanding of the beauty of the ancients as Milton. In him there was a perfect fusion of the influences of the Renaissance and the Reformation. "No other poet was at once so profoundly religious and so much an artist".

      The rise of Puritanism had made the middle class people religion minded. It produced a noble but stern and hard type of character. It bred a narrow religious aspect of man's conduct, aim and destiny. In consequence it looked askance at art, science, human culture and whatever else makes life sweet and beautiful. It was, therefore, fatal to literature. Fortunately Milton transcended this limitation of Puritanism. He was not a representative of the age but stood "like an alien conqueror, dominating it from above".

      John Milton has been called a 'belated Elizabethan' with his two faces turned in two directions. The political and religious unrest of the age also told heavily on the growth of literature. The Civil War had divided the nation into two rival camps. Religion intensified and completed the split. It was the age of pamphleteering, political and religious and almost great literary men of the time even Milton, not excepted, threw themselves into the vortex of the strife. Thus the output of prose in the age was abundant and also excellent in kind. The opposition of the Puritans stopped dramatic activity. he theatres were closed in the Puritan regime.

      In poetry, too, the influence of religion was uppermost. The Metaphysical poets were of a religious and mystical cast of mind. John Donne, among the poets fashioned a new kind of poetry which blended wit and passion. He wrote his love poems in the Elizabethan age, but he created a different idiom and pattern. Other poets who followed John Donne and his metaphysical tradition were mainly religious and did not produce anything great or outstanding. The Cavalier poets (the Catholics) dealt with themes of life and love. From Ben Jonson they derived their classical restraint and concise lucidity. Their style is simple, polished and graceful.

      Thus the age was poor in literary output, both in quantity and quality and in this respect it stands in sad contrast with the age just gone. The sun of the Elizabethan age had set and the twilight had descended on the literary scene.

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