The period to be covered in this chapter ranges from the 1660s to the 1780s, and priority will be given to three issues: (i) the development of what in effect was a dominant verse idiom with specified rules for variation-the most significant feature of this being the widespread use of the heroic couplet; (ii) the relationship between poetic writing and a new critical tradition which supplemented advice on how to make poems with directions on how to read them; (iii) the single-handed 'invention' by John Milton of a metrical and stylistic framework for non-dramatic blank verse.
None of these issues can remain immune from the influence of the others and in identifying the correspondences and tensions between them we will provide ourselves with a means of charting the intersections between the formal and referential functions of poetry and the broader cultural/historical conditions of literary history. First, some facts.
The seventeenth century is divided into three principal historical periods; the pre-civil war/post-Elizabethan period of the Stuarts; the civil war and the Cromwellian Protectorate; the Restoration of the monarchy and the beginning of the recognisably modern social/ political structure of government through factional infighting. There are never any direct and predictable causal relationships between history and literary history, but in the period from the beginning of the seventeenth to the beginning of the eighteenth century a number of correspondences become solidly apparent.
From the 1660s to the 1740s poetic writing was dominated by the generic and functional notion of the public poem. This type could range from the direct engagement with contemporary political issues