Matthew C. Augustine, Steven N. Zwicker

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Over the past several decades there has been a transformation in our appreciation of the political cultures, the chronologies and the revolutions of the late seventeenth century. We have learned to read its subtleties of confessional identity and paradoxes of tender conscience, and to read anew the full range of Restoration sexualities, gender relations and sociabilities. As importantly, we have enlarged our sense of authorship in this age: its often collaborative character, the role of literary coteries in fashioning discourse and circulating texts and the workings and institutions of the commercial press. We now apprehend the Restoration theatre not simply as a repertoire of heroic plays, witty comedies and tragedies of pathos, but as an emblem of the culture's obsession with roles, performances and the constitution of the self. Naturally, indeed preternaturally, in the sexual mythologies and performance arts of the Restoration, in its literature and theatre, John Wilmot, second Earl of Rochester, plays a starring role. Rather more surprisingly, he now seems important even to our understanding of Restoration religion and ideology: to the ways in which libertinism is bound to the history of toleration and to the manner in which courtly verse at once reifies and critiques the conduct of Restoration politics (see Harris, Chapter 9). For his contemporaries and near-contemporaries, there was no question of Rochester's importance to Restoration culture. From the manuscript circulation of his verse to the posthumous publication of Poems on Several Occasions (1680) through much of the eighteenth century, Rochester's works – authentic and otherwise – were often copied, widely read and steady sellers. And he was hardly to be contained between the boards of quartos and folios; he migrated into fictions – into romances, anecdotes and the theatre, even into European letters. He permeated print culture at every level, though Johnson's biography of Rochester in Lives of the Poets (1779–81) seems to have been a turning point, a key sign of diminution and disapproval.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLord Rochester in the Restoration World
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781107587564
ISBN (Print)9781107064393
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015


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