- From Republic to Restoration: Legacies and Departures ed. by Janet Clare
Scholars of the turbulent world of seventeenth-century England are tribal by nature. One tribe scrutinizes the early Stuarts, another the civil wars, and a third the Restoration [End Page 221] era. This collection of essays, originating in a multidisciplinary conference at the University of Hull, rejects tribal boundaries to explore the interlocking issues of history, literature, religion, drama, art, and science. The ties between the Interregnum and Restoration worlds are certainly striking. Many contemporaries had to disown their recent past or try to justify it, while others had to decide whether to strive for national reconciliation or seek to crush their adversaries. Moreover, painful issues from the previous half century soon resurfaced, as Charles II rekindled old fears about the crown's trustworthiness. Yet few could forget that resistance had not long since plunged the nation into civil war, and they feared that resistance now could easily precipitate a similar calamity.
The historian Blair Worden opens the collection with a cogently argued essay interpreting the Restoration as a "revolution" rather than a return to the natural order. Given the plethora of competing political "interests," it was by no means inevitable that an unfettered monarchy would emerge triumphant. Worden sees the Rump, restored in May 1659, as a "seemingly impregnable force." While that is highly debatable, the return of the moderate members excluded in 1648 transferred power to a Presbyterian party pursuing the ideal of a tightly bound monarchy. It was General Monck's decision to accede to public pressure for a "free and full" new parliament that triggered the rush to bring back the king without conditions. Glenn Burgess also stresses that royalism could take many forms and unveils another: "republican" kingship. By that paradoxical label he means a limited monarchy that would incorporate the principles of "commonwealth" as elaborated during the civil wars, such as the rule of law and the secure enjoyment of property. He introduces us to several writers in 1659–60 who promoted such a limited monarchy as not merely compatible with these principles, but the best form of government to secure them.
Charles II was fully aware that by no means everyone welcomed his return. His government was obsessed with plots real and imaginary, and Alan Marshall's chapter dissects one of the most important. The literary contributors focus on Marvell and Milton, who had published a provocative defense of republicanism on the very eve of the Restoration. Warren Chernaik examines Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes as Milton's response to this disaster, as he saw it, and his struggle to determine how good men should behave when they lived under an unjust government. Should they bear patiently the afflictions a just God had heaped on an unworthy people? Or should they breathe defiance, whatever the price? Chernaik suggests that the mass slaughter Samson inflicts on the Philistines, at the cost of his own life, can be read as Milton's personal "fantasy of revenge." Andrew Marvell, cautious and more ambivalent, was far less willing to place any such potentially dangerous thoughts in the public domain. Keith McDonald argues that before 1665 Marvell rarely agreed to any form of publication beyond showing a text privately to a few friends. His satirical poem "The Character of Holland" was probably composed in 1653 but not printed and probably not circulated at all until 1665 following the outbreak of the Second Dutch War. McDonald makes a persuasive case, though the motives he suggests for the early nonpublication and for Marvell's change of heart in 1665 are not altogether convincing. He suggests that the Dutch were now economically marginalized, and so a softer target, but the course of the war suggests otherwise.
Turning to the field of drama, Janet Clare challenges orthodoxy by arguing that the [End Page 222] early Restoration stage represented not a point of departure but the "conjoining of plays, theatre production and theories of drama in the Commonwealth." Thus William Davenant, who had successfully advocated and practiced a "reformed stage" during...