Difference Between Neoclassicism and Romanticism

Main Difference – Neoclassicism vs Romanticism

Neoclassicism and romanticism are often considered to be opposing movements. The main difference between neoclassicism and romanticism is that neoclassicism emphasized on objectivity, order, and restraint whereas romanticism emphasized on imagination and emotion.

This article explores, 

1. What is Neoclassicism?
      – Definition, Features, Writers

2. What is Romanticism?
      – Definition, Features, Writers

3. What is the difference between Neoclassicism and Romanticism?Difference Between Neoclassicism and Romanticism - Comparison Summary

What is Neoclassicism

Neoclassicism is a movement in literature that drew inspiration from the classical age. The writers of this period tried to imitate the style of Greeks and Romans. This movement, which was a reaction against the renaissance, lasted from about 1660 and 1798. John Milton, Alexander Pope, Voltaire, John Dryden, Jonathan Swift and Daniel Defoe are some well-known neoclassic writers. Parody, essays, satire, novels and poetry are some popular genres in this movement.

Neoclassicism was based on classical themes and forms. Structure, restraint, simplicity, decorum, order, logic, and objectivity were the main features of neoclassical literature. These were classical virtues which neoclassical writers admired and attempted to imitate. In his “An Essay on Criticism”, Alexander Pope describes the benefits of order and restraint as follows.

“Tis more to guide than spur the Muse’s Steed;
Restrain his Fury, than provoke his Speed;
The winged Courser, like a gen’rous Horse,
Shows most true Mettle when you check his Course”

This movement can be typically divided into three periods:

  • The Restoration Age (1660 to 1700):  This period marks the British King’s restoration to the throne. It is marked by Classical influence.
  • The Augustan Age (1700 to 1750): The Augustans believed that their period was similar to that of Augustus Ceaser in Rome, which was a period of tranquility and stability. 
  • The Age of Johnson (1750 to 1798): Also called the Age of Transition, this stage was marked by the upcoming Romantic ideals and influence and slow transition from neoclassical ideals to romantic ones. 
Main Difference - Neoclassicism vs Romanticism

Alexander Pope

What is Romanticism

Romanticism is a literary movement that lasted from about 1789 to 1832. This can be described as a reaction against industrial revolution and neo-classicism. The main feature of this movement is its emphasis on imagination, subjectivity, and emotion. William Wordsworth words in his preface to Lyrical ballads describes this emphasis on imagination and emotion as follows:

“For all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: and though this be true, Poems to which any value can be attached were never produced on any variety of subjects but by a man who, being possessed of more than usual organic sensibility, had also thought long and deeply.”

William Wordsworth, John Keats, Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Walter Scott, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelly, and William Blake are some famous writers in the Romantic Movement. This movement drew inspiration from Medieval and Baroque eras and its main themes were nature, legends, pastoral life, and supernatural elements.

Difference Between Neoclassicism and Romanticism

William Wordsworth

Difference Between Neoclassicism and Romanticism

Period

Neoclassicism: Neoclassicism lasted from about 1660 and 1798.

Romanticism: Romanticism lasted from about1789 to 1832.

Emphasis

Neoclassicism: Neoclassicism emphasized on structure, restraint, and objectivity.

Romanticism: Romanticism emphasized on imagination, emotion, and subjectivity.

Inspiration

Neoclassicism: Neoclassicism drew its inspiration from Classical age (Greeks and Romans).

Romanticism: Romanticism drew its inspiration from Medieval and Baroque eras.

Themes

Neoclassicism: Greek and Roman history, bravery, restraint, and courage were major themes in neoclassicism.

Romanticism: Nature, legends, and pastoral life were major themes in romanticism.

Tone

Neoclassicism: Neoclassical writers used a calm, rational tone.

Romanticism: Romantic writers used a spontaneous, sometimes moody tone.

Writers

Neoclassicism: John Milton, Alexander Pope, Voltaire, John Dryden, Jonathan Swift and Daniel Defoe are some well-known neoclassic writers.

Romanticism: William Wordsworth, John Keats, Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Walter Scott, Percy Bysshe Shelley are some well-known writers of this movement.

Image Courtesy:

“Alexander Pope circa 1736″ – Attributed to Jonathan Richardson – Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, online database, Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia

“William Wordsworth” – Attributed Margaret Gillies (1803-1887)From en:, uploaded 13:55, 12 October 2002 by Magnus Manske – “Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.” (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia 

About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.

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