English 6236: Restoration Literature
Literary Values - Poetry
Dryden: "MacFlecknoe" (Hammond 200)
Rochester: "A Session of the Poets" (Lyons, 54); "An Allusion to Horace" (Hammond 178)
Behn: Epilogue to Sir Patient Fancy (Todd 329); To Mr. Creech . . . on his Excellent Translation" (Todd 335)
Bibliography: Nicole and Sasha
With the exception of Behn's "To Mr. Creech" (and some may debate this), all the poems for this week operate in the mode of satire, and all involve an examination of literary issues and personalities.
What kinds of insights do these poems offer into the literary culture of the Restoration? What can they tell us about the conditions of authorship then?
How valid are these poets' assessments of each other? What standards are they employing to judge? Are these standards predominantly critical ones?
To what extent do these poems reveal conceptions of what good writing should be? If you see such concepts, do they represent the views of individuals or those of the age? In what ways do the differences in class and gender affect the poets' literary views?
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Though not the greatest, MacFlecknoe has remained the most popular of Dryden's works. What does it take to make a lampoon endure over time? How can the continuing appeal of this poem be explained?
How does the portrait of Shadwell here differ from that in the second part of Absalom and Achitophel? For what reasons?
If you were to include MacFlecknoe on an undergraduate syllabus, what benefits would you expect for the students? What difficulties would you anticipate in teaching it?
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"Rochester was the only man in England that had the true veine of Satyre."
"The glare of [Rochester's] general character diffused itself upon his writings; the compositions of a man whose name was heard so often were certain of attentions, and from many readers certain of applause. This blaze of reputation is not yet quite extinguished; and his poetry still retains some splendour beyond that which genius has bestowed."
Compare Rochester as a satirist with Dryden. Does he employ particular methods or techniques that distinguish him from Dryden? From Behn?
"Oh, that second bottle Harry is the sincerest, wisest, and most impartiall downright freind wee have, tells us truth of ourselves, & forces us to speak truths of others, banishes flattery from our tongue, and distrust from our Hearts, setts us above the meane Pollicy of Court prudence, wch. makes us lye to one another all day, for feare of being betray'd by each other att night."
Rochester, in a letter to Savile
In his biography of Rochester, Pinto claims that he "is always more at home with the particular and the concrete than with the general and the abstract. Like Swift's, his mind successfully resisted the Augustan tendency towards high-sounding generalizations" (153).
How is this a strength in satire? To what extent is this a weakness in poetry?
Many of Rochester's works are difficult to attribute because he belonged to a collaborative writing group, called "The Wits." If we consider Rochester as the leading author of "A Session of Poets" and "An Allusion to Horace," how does this affect the interpretation of the poems? What sort of power might a group of writers possess that a solitary writer lacks?
Winn argues that Dryden's ability to write courtly lyrics in his plays caused resentment in Buckingham, Sedley and Rochester, not because they were jealous, but because Dryden's poetry threatened the notion that such skill was an aristocratic birthright (226). How might this explain the caricature of Dryden in these poems? What literary value does the criticism of Dryden have?
Pat Rogers notes that one of the differences between Rochester's "Allusion to Horace" and the original, is that Rochester's target (Dryden) is alive at the time of the writing. "This sense of a live opponent lends a certain menace to the Allusion which is highly characteristic of Rochester, and the sort of thing he turns to good poetic effect" (Spirit of Wit 169).
What does Rochester gain by making his accusations present tense? How does this attack on Dryden differ from that in "A Session of Poets"?
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Aphra Behn has the dubious distinction of being the only female poet honored in "A Session of Poets." What type of honor might this be?
Angeline Goreau, one of Aphra Behn's biographers claims that the author[s] of this poem draw[s] a distinction between gentleman poets and poets who would be competing for the Laureateship, i.e. those who wrote for pleasure versus those who wrote for money. This distinction causes problems for Behn, who is a self-styled commercial poet. Given these distinctions, how does Behn justify her writing? In what ways does this problem exist for Dryden as well? Are there any differences?
Goreau calls the epilogue to Sir Patient Fancy "an unabashed claim for the right of women to write plays, and for those plays to be considered equally with those of men. Again Aphra Behn rejects the Jonsonian classical rules, the unites of time, place and action, which she calls 'learned cant'" (164-5).
What strategies does Behn use to make her argument? How successful is she?
Keeping in mind that epilogues follow certain conventions and perform specific functions, how does this piece operate as poetry? How does its tone, voice and language differ from the satires of Rochester and Dryden? How does it operate as literary criticism?
Compare this poem with her complimentary poetry to Thomas Creech. What issues does she highlight in this poem?
In what ways does Behn establish alternative values for poetry that would not exclude the female writer?