Log In Start studying!

Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

The Augustan Age

The Augustan Age

Today’s panel shows, comedians, novelists and filmmakers make fun of politicians and the rich and famous all the time. In a liberal democracy like ours, it seems so normal to criticise, parody and satirise our ruling classes. In the 18th century, it was a relatively new idea. The Augustan Age was characterised by satire in novels, poems, and plays.

Satire is a way of making fun of people (often politicians) or ideas by using irony, exaggeration, and humour. The idea is to ridicule the person or idea to show it for what it really is.

The Augustan Age summary

The so-called August Age spanned the period from the beginning of the 18th century to its end, normally dated to the deaths of two writers of the period, Alexander Pope (who died in 1744) and Jonathan Swift (who died in 1745). That said, there are no settled dates for the Augustan age; movements do not begin one day and end on another. Instead, historians identify certain fixed points which seem, on reflection, to be moments at which a movement gets wind in its sails or loses it. For example, the writer Samuel Johnson (who wrote the first English dictionary in 1755) has been linked to the Augustan Age despite living and producing important works after the supposed end of the age.

In Roman times, the Augustan era was largely peaceful. The eighteenth-century movement of the same name harked back to the age of the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus (63BC – AD14).

Augustan Age meaning

It was in this period that the novel rose in prominence as a literary form, as well as genres like political satire, especially drama. In other areas, poetry turned inwards, characterised by reflections on the inner person.

Other areas saw development as well. For example, in science and philosophy, empiricism came to occupy a central position. In economics, capitalism developed, expanded, and ultimately produced the form of capitalism we are familiar with today.

Empiricism is the idea that learning comes from a combination of experience and observation.

Capitalism exists when private businesses and individuals own and control money rather than the government.

Political satire is when humour in literature, drama, poetry, TV, or film is used to point out the folly or double standards of politicians or their policies.

In literature, the period was known as the Augustan Age in part because of Alexander Pope’s use of the reference in his poetry. For example, his use of the name Augusta for Queen Anne draws a comparison between the early 18th century and the reign of Caesar Augustus (63BC-14AD). Augustus, the Roman Emperor, was praised for his peaceful reign.

Because of the Roman reference, some fields outside the field of poetry have given it a different name. Some call it the neoclassical age and some call it the Age of Reason.

Neoclassicism is a movement in the West which draws inspiration from classical antiquity. Neoclassicism can be found across the arts, in painting, theatre, poems, and architecture.

The Age of Reason is the name for a period of European history in which the scientific method became prominent. Older systems of belief, especially religious ones, were rejected in favour of empirical knowledge, that is, knowledge based on experience and the use of reason or deduction.

Augustan Age characteristics

One of the chief drivers of literature in the Augustan Age was its availability. By the eighteenth century, printed material of all kinds (not only books but magazines, newspapers, tracts, and poems) was widely available.

The proliferation of printed material brought down the price of books, which meant even greater circulation. This was also the age before copyright, meaning that copies were widely circulated without the author's permission. As a result of all this, educational levels increased among the general population.

Augustan literature was characterised by a political tendency. Along with journalists, even novelists, poets, and playwrights were political. Political or human satire characterised the style or genre of writing in this period. Not only were politicians and important people satirised, but novels were written satirising other novels. For example, Samuel Richardson’s (1689-1761) novel Pamela (1740) was satirised by Henry Fielding (1707-1754).

A number of other kinds of literature and text characterised the period. The essay, for example. At the time, collections of essays began to be circulated in periodicals. One of these was the political magazine The Spectator, which is still in print today and is widely read. In this vein, essays were considered objective ways of ‘spectating’ or observing what was going on and commenting on it.

Dictionaries and lexicons also became popular at this time, as well as philosophical and religious writing.

The eighteenth-century novel was a vehicle for satire. The famous titles of the period are Gulliver’s Travels (1726) by Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) and Robinson Crusoe (1719) by Daniel Defoe (1660-1731). These novels, and other satirical novels of the period, traced their roots to perhaps the most well-known European novel in the period just before the Augustan Age, Don Quixote by Cervantes (1547-1616).

Augustan Age literature

Other novels of the period include what are called sentimental novels. These became popular around 1740. Examples are Pamela by Samuel Richardson, Tristram Shandy (1759-67) by Laurence Sterne (1713-1768), Julie (1761) by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) and a novel by Goethe (1749-1832), The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774).

Sterne’s Tristram Shandy was written in the mould of Gulliver’s Travels by Swift. It is autobiographical, but it is unusual in that it moves backwards in time. Sterne explains one detail of his life, then explains the cause or reason for that detail, then the reason for that, and on and on, backwards in time.

Tristram Shandy is a satirical novel.

In the Augustan Age, there were other parallel developments going on. For example, there was an increase in the number of women writing novels at this time.

Augustan poetry was dominated by satire. The Augustan poets satirised each other, developing each other’s poems and often writing directly contrasting poems. The idea of the ‘individual’ was invented in the eighteenth century. The emphasis in the early part of the century was on the subjective self rather than on the public persona oriented primarily towards society.

Older styles of poetry, which had been used in public-facing ways, were turned to other uses. Poetry became studies of the individual. One interpretation of this shift of attention from the public to the private is the rise of Protestantism. The idea that it is the individual who stands before God changed the idea, dominant for so long in Catholicism, that it was being part of the community that mattered most.

Alexander Pope, whose death marked the end of the Augustan age, was the central figure of Augustan poetry. He was also a prime mover in the Augustan poetic tradition of ‘updating’ the classical writers.

Pope’s most celebrated poetic satires are The Rape of the Lock (1712; 1714) and The Dunciad (1722). The first was based on a poetic structure used by the Roman poet Virgil. The second was a satire of Pope’s enemy Lewis Theobald.

As for other themes of the period, pastoral was an important one. Landscape in the eighteenth century was a common feature in poetry. The seasons were depicted in the poetry of John Dyer (1699-1757) (in ‘Grongar Hill’, 1726) and Thomas Gray (1716-1771) (in ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’, 1750). It is clear that this interest in nature and landscape and the individual prepared the way for the Romantics of the second half of the eighteenth century.

The Romantics were writers, mainly poets, who lived during the eighteenth century. Their work emphasised nature, beauty, imagination, revolution and the individual.

In Augustan theatre, the same emphasis on satire existed. However, the Licensing Act of 1737 made it law for all plays to be scrutinised before being allowed to be performed. As a result, numerous plays were banned. Popular plays before the passing of the Act included John Gay’s (1685-1732), The Beggar’s Opera (1728) and Henry Fielding’s Tom Thumb (1730).

The Augustan Age - Key takeaways

  • The Augustan Age is characterised by satire in novels, poems, and plays.
  • The so-called Augustan Age spanned the period from the beginning of the 18th century to its end, normally dated to the deaths of two writers of the period, Alexander Pope (who died in 1744) and Jonathan Swift (who died in 1745).
  • In Roman times, the Augustan era was largely peaceful.
  • Because of the Roman reference, some fields outside the field of poetry have given it a different name. Some call it the neoclassical age, and some call it the Age of Reason.
  • The Licensing Act of 1737 made it law for all plays to be scrutinised before being allowed to be performed. Some plays were banned as a result.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Augustan Age

The development of satire as a means of ridiculing the politics of the day. 

The 18th century.

Because it drew on the poetic traditions of the Roman Augustan Age. 

The rise of the satirical novel.

It was in this period that the novel rose in prominence as a literary form, as well as genres like political satire, especially drama. In other areas, poetry turned inwards, characterised by reflections on the inner person. 

Final The Augustan Age Quiz

Question

Whose deaths mark the end of the Augustan Age?

Show answer

Answer

Alexander Pope (died 1744) and Jonathan Swift (died 1745). 

Show question

Question

Which literary movement came after the Augustan Age?

Show answer

Answer

Romanticism

Show question

Question

Which famous book did Samuel Johnson write?

Show answer

Answer

The first English dictionary.

Show question

Question

Which Roman ruler was the Augustan Age named after?

Show answer

Answer

Caesar Augustus

Show question

Question

What genre of literature was generally produced during the Augustan Age?

Show answer

Answer

Satire

Show question

Question

What is political satire?

Show answer

Answer

Political satire is when humour, in literature, drama, poetry, TV, or film is used to point out the folly or double standards of politicians or their policies. 

Show question

Question

Outside literature, what two names were given to the Augustan Age?

Show answer

Answer

The neoclassical age and the Age of Reason

Show question

Question

What is neoclassicism?

Show answer

Answer

Neoclassicism is a movement in the West which draws inspiration from classical antiquity. Neoclassicism can be found across the arts, in painting, theatre, poems, and architecture. 

Show question

Question

What is the Age of Reason?

Show answer

Answer

The Age of Reason is the name for a period of European history in which the scientific method became prominent. 

Show question

Question

What are the characteristics of the Augustan Age?

Show answer

Answer

Political satire, pastoral poetry, and satire of other novelists and poets. 

Show question

Question

List some of the best-known texts from the Augustan Age.

Show answer

Answer

Gulliver’s Travels (1726) by Jonathan Swift (1667-1745); Robinson Crusoe (1719) by Daniel Defoe (1660-1731). 

Pamela (mentioned above) in 1740 by Samuel Richardson, Tristram Shandy (1759-67) by Laurence Sterne (1713-1768), Julie (1761) by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) and a novel by Goethe (1749-1832), The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774). 

Show question

Question

Was Augustan poetry characterised by satire?

Show answer

Answer

Yes

Show question

Question

Which law brought Augustan theatre to a full stop?

Show answer

Answer

The Licensing Act of 1737

Show question

Question

Which type of text became more prominent during the Augustan era?

Show answer

Answer

The novel

Show question

Question

What factor caused the price of books and magazines to come down?

Show answer

Answer

The availability of all kinds of text. 

Show question

Question

Which magazine, founded during the Augustan Age, is still in print today?

Show answer

Answer

The Spectator

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the The Augustan Age quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

Get FREE ACCESS to all of our study material, tailor-made!

Over 10 million students from across the world are already learning smarter.

Get Started for Free
Illustration