The Cavalier mode in Restoration drama, 1661-1676



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In seventeenth-century England, the Cavaliers became increasingly disillusioned with the harsh realities of an ever-changing world. After the Restoration in 1660, a return to pre-Commonwealth conditions was not possible—the Cavaliers could not forget years in exile, the loss of estates, and the beheading of Charles I. Pre-Restoration concepts of honor and idealism, to which the Cavaliers had been exposed at the court of Henrietta Maria, became for many empty and meaningless. To the Cavaliers, nothing remained sacred in a world of hypocrisy, pettiness, and deceit. By approaching the drama of the Cavaliers as an indicator of the contemporary milieu, the intrinsic merit of these works can be viewed in a clearer perspective, Davenant, Killigrew, Tuke, Buckingham, Sedley, and Etherege, Cavalier playwrights of the early Restoration, reduce Carolinean attitudes of honor and chivalry to hedonism. Marriage, politics, and religion are among the institutions ridiculed by these Cavaliers. The Puritans and middle class are consistently targets of ridicule for their rigidness, piety, and subversiveness. Davenant and Killigrew, who write in a pre-Commonwealth mode, anticipate Restoration drama in their thematic motifs. Tuke, in his Spanish intrigue, Buckingham, in his burlesque, and Sedley, in his comedy, present more sophisticated plays which ridicule heroic ideals. The most artful of the Cavalier plays are by Etherege, who expresses the amorality and skepticism of this unsettled era, as well as man's desire for freedom, individuality, and naturalness, when faced with the constrictions of society.