Libertines Real and Fictional in Rochester, Shadwell, Wycherley, and Boswell Page: 4
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eighteenth-century Libertinism "refers not to a single entity with different facets, but to three
distinct movements of thought or clusters of attitudes: religious ('spiritual') libertinism,
philosophical libertinism (the combination of antireligious skepticism and scientific materialism
studied by Rene Pintard), and sexual libertinism" (79). Though a standard definition of
Restoration and Eighteenth Century libertinism does not exist-at least not a precise one-a
commonality in definitions of libertinism in this period includes a rejection of the rigidity
perpetuated by religious and social institutions. Libertines not only "mock[ed] Scripture and the
liturgy," but also "rebelled against the rules of upper-class civility even though it is precisely
those rules that give them the license to be uncivil" (Webster 80-81). As Underwood writes,
"The libertine considered human laws and institutions as mere customs varying with the
variations of societies and characteristically at odds with Nature as, of course, with 'right
reason'" (Underwood 14). These institutions and laws against which they revolted to various
degrees include marriage, the Church, family, and traditional views and standards regarding
courtship and love-libertines considered heterosexual love as "physical appetite" (14).
Despite their disdain for social institutions, some of the most famous Restoration
libertines were members of the royal court and not only subjects of, but intimately acquainted
with King Charles II. In fact, Charles II often joined libertines such as John Wilmot, Earl of
Rochester, Charles Sedley, William Wycherley, and George Villiers, Second Duke of
Buckingham at brothels, imbibed with them at private houses, and "protect[ed] them from some
of the consequences of their behavior" (Webster 11). Libertines, the above five included, often
questioned "social, political, and moral values" and were particularly notorious for their public
drunkenness, promiscuity, sodomy, subversion, assault, and irreverence (2). The libertines'
insatiable need for various kinds of pleasure and instant gratification of these pleasures often
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Smith, Victoria. Libertines Real and Fictional in Rochester, Shadwell, Wycherley, and Boswell, dissertation, May 2008; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc6051/m1/10/?q=rochester: accessed February 22, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .