Acts of oblivion: The politics of remembering, forgetting, and forgiving on the Restoration stage, 1660-1700

Anthony Alfred Brano, Fordham University


Charles II attempted to allay his subjects’ responses to the traumatic events of the English Civil War with a proclamation: The Indemnity and Oblivion Act of 1660. To promote his program of amnesia, the king used the theatre as the chief instrument at his disposal. In “Acts of Oblivion,” I examine how playwrights Samuel Tuke, John Dryden, Thomas Otway, and Aphra Behn engaged with this manifestation of politics. These playwrights generated works that actively respond to and explore Charles’ mandate and model of forgiving and forgetting. In telling this story, I draw on an array of plays, prose works, pamphlets, newspapers, and letters to demonstrate that oblivion became a crucial, hotly debated, and culturally unifying idea during the Restoration. I explore watershed moments in the political history of the Restoration and their echoes in the plays. In the 1660s, plays modeled forms of forgiving and forgetting that coincided with Charles’ mandate for peace. In the 1670s, as personal freedoms were eroded by Penal Law, plays use forgetting as a way to subvert authority. Later, as the 1670s drew to a close, Titus Oates created widespread panic with his Popish Plot, which led to the Exclusion Crisis. I examine plays from 1679-1682 to argue that characters in plays inject enmity into acts of forgetting. Finally, in the late 1680s, I look to plays performed during James II’s reign, which show that acts of oblivion no longer had meaning for an English society that was once again on the brink of revolution.

Subject Area

Literature|British and Irish literature|Theater History

Recommended Citation

Brano, Anthony Alfred, "Acts of oblivion: The politics of remembering, forgetting, and forgiving on the Restoration stage, 1660-1700" (2015). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3728977.