The 1680s were an exciting decade in Britain, a period of dizzying turmoil and upheaval that paved the way for a great many changes characteristic of modernity: dramatic imperial expansion, a shift to a representative form of government, the development of new rationales for the distribution of power, widening literacy and print capabilities, and the emergence of new literary forms capable of engaging a changing world. Partisan-religious divisions that had been simmering since Charles II’s Restoration (1660) boiled over to produce tense standoffs between king and parliament, assassination attempts, armed rebellion and bloodshed on British soil, and, at the decade’s end, a coup that unseated the monarch, divided the populace, and moved the nation(s) toward parliamentary governance.
Imaginative writers and contemporary chroniclers played an enormous role in these upheavals, at once representing and shaping their own histories. Many greeted the changing political climate with joy, using their work to define and celebrate the brave new world being created during the 1680s. Others used language to revise or resist the changes overtaking their generation. Prose fiction, partisan pamphlets, drama, poetry, proclamations, and sermons, among many other forms, joined in a cacophonous debate over the location of legitimate authority, the role of creed, gender, and national origin in British public life, Britain’s place(es) in an expanding world, and the respective authorities of inheritance and capital, tradition and innovation.
This course is designed to offer graduate students an opportunity to concentrate in depth on a single, rich decade, developing expert knowledge and ease in an idiom that may be unfamiliar at the start. Emphasis will be on primary materials in several genres and individual archival research. Each student will present two reports on primary texts with partially-annotated bibliographies, and a final essay of approximately 12 pages.