Following the Civil War and the with rise of the middle
classes the sharp distinction of the Court from the populace was fading away. Kingship
and the low grotesque were frequently intermingled in the writings of the
period. The popular image of court-society was changing. The court of Charles
II made a farce out of chivalric and classical icons. These transformations
heralded a crisis of nobility. The world of the Court was brought closer to the
town, and it was seen to be grotesquely incompatible with its inherited image
of the high office it once was.
The realm of folly too was a source of troubled and
troubling representations. Bourgeois consciousness held the realm of Folly to
be the playground of the grotesque body which they disdained, while they
increasingly made use of its elements. The masks and costumes of popular
carnivals proved a safe cover for the simultaneous expression and concealment
of their sexual desire and the pleasures of the body. All those masks and
symbols of the street and the marketplace were redistributed for the purpose of
expressing the emergent body/subjects of the coffee-house and cleaned-up
theatre. So the attack on popular culture was not simply the story of
oppression from above.
The grotesque physical body existed as a ‘determining
absent presence’ in the works of Augustan satirists. Hence the paradox that
there is so much of the grotesque in the writings of those champions of
classical grandeur and propriety. To reproduce the classical body required the constant
exclusion from their discourse what they took to be its antithesis, i.e. the
grotesque, and as a result their works revolved around the very thing they were
trying to deny. The grotesque is simultaneously expressed and negated in
The Augustans labored to sublimate and elevate the
grotesque to a higher discursive level in line with the classical genres of
epic and tragedy, and in the process symbolic elements of the grotesque
penetrated their own discourse. Their discourse took the grotesque within
itself so as to reject it. Putting emphasis on formal constraints like the
rhyming couplet was Dryden and Pope’s way of incorporating ‘inferior’
discourses within classical norms.
The coordinates of geography and class were also employed
in the separation of their ideal purified discourse from inferior unruly hybrid
speeches of their inferiors. The grotesque body and all that was deemed filthy
and undesirable was attributed to other places and social classes,
excluding the satirist from them.
So self-exclusion from the sites of popular festivity was
a major symbolic project for the emergent professional classes. And as the two
realms of high culture and low popular culture appeared to be getting closer,
this separation was of paramount importance for the Augustan elite.