The Jacobean Age

The Jacobean Age – The Civil War and The Puritan Age
(1603-1660)

The Jacobean Age:

The great Queen (Elizabeth) died in 1603, after a glorious reign. She was succeeded by James I, distantly related to her. The reign of James I ( in Latin called ‘Jacobus’), following the Elizabethan Age, is popularly known as the Jacobean Age.

That Jacobean period kept up the high literary tradition of its immediate predecessor. It was also the period of Shakespeare later and last plays as also the plays of a good many of his big contemporaries and prominent successors, like Ben Jonson, George Chapman, Beaumont and Fletcher, Middleton, Haywood, Webster, Tourneur, Massinger and Shirley. The age also presents a galaxy of great poets like Milton, Donne, Drummond, Drayton and so on. The prose master, like Bacon, Burton, Donne (with his sermons) as also the Authorized Version of the Holy Bible,  published at the personal initiative of King James I, also belong to this age.

Two material elements, however, need be noted ere. The period of James I is actually meant by the term ‘Jacobean’. But factually, in the first place, two ages-Elizabethan and Jacobean– are found to overlap and mingle up in the matter of literature. In the second place, the literature of the Jacobean period ran to the phases that followed- Charles I’s rule and the Civil War, followed by the establishment of the Puritan Parliamentary authority till the restoration of monarchy in 1660.

The Background of the Civil War

When the continent was racked with religious rivalries and strives, England passed through an undisturbed period, free from problem and religious explosions under Queen Elizabeth’s wise rule. By the end of her reign, the English people in general readily accepted he state-made Church, free from either Catholicism or and handled well by efficient administration. The English people, in fact, came to be nurtured in humanism, in the basic tenets of the Bible and their maritime prosperity.

But the situation started to change after the death of the august Queen. The next royal authority James I had some hidden sympathy for the Catholics, but somehow followed the neutral religious policy of Queen Elizabeth. Naturally, religious freedom, humanistic tradition and literary affluences continued, though not as sweepingly as in the Queen’s grand rule.

But the situation very unfavorably changed with the ascension of Charles I. Charles I was somewhat opposite to his father and lacked the royal wisdom that alone could preserve power and achieve prosperity. He was too arrogant and assertive of his sovereign authority over the power of Parliament mainly because of the King’s lack of sense to handle the later with care and caution.

The old tradition of England was parliamentary. The Tudor despotism was a novel policy and based on the skilful parliamentary management by sovereign power with a conciliatory policy of live and let live. Charles, however, tried to go beyond and tramped down Parliament. As a result, a sort of Civil War stared in England. The war continued for about five years and at the end won by the Parliamentarians. The king was disposed.

Parliament, at that time was constituted of the intellectual gentlemen o f high morals. They were, in the main, under the influence of Puritanism. The hostility between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians, mainly Puritans, brought about the deposition of the King. That was followed by the execution of the King in open Parliament in 1649.

The end of monarchy led to the establishment of the Commonwealth, under the authority of Cromwell. The Puritans had the supreme command on all matters, religious as well as literary and cultural. There was he abrupt end of the romantic tradition of the Elizabethan age and the imposition of Puritan austerity was inevitable.

Naturally the character of English literature had a sudden alteration. The liveliness of Elizabethan literature was replaced by sombre Puritanism. There was the end of romantic songs and lyrics and of the light hearted prose-romances. The theatre was closed by a Puritan ordinance in 1642.

Literature of The Jacobean Age

Jacobean literature was yet fresh and lively with Elizabethan inspirations. In the realm of drama, Shakespeare had a number of worthy contemporaries and successors, pursing artistically their craft. Of course, there was a decline in dramatic sphere. But the decline was only in comparison with Shakespeare’s unique dramatic creations.

The University Wits and the Elizabethan Lyricists were no more but they were replaced, not very unworthily perhaps, by the poets, like Donne and Drummond, and the prose masters, like Bacon and the makers of the Authorized Version of the Holy Bible.

Continuity in literature was marked, though a potential change was evident, coming, perhaps slowly, but definitely firmly. A new literary world for England was about to dawn.

Finally, the Civil War and the rigours of the Puritans rule seemed to cut off English literature from its great tradition- from the traditional vitality and variety of English literature. But it was a gloom before a sparkle to flash with the restoration of monarchy. A few years after, English literature yet continued to be fresh and alive.

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