IntroductionA literary movement is a generalterm which is defined by a variety of authors from a particular time period whoshare similar ideas regarding literary works, subjects, approaches, style,content, philosophy, sociological concerns, art, culture and etc. Usually aliterary movement can be considered a reaction to a current literary movement.For example, in England, Romanticism (approximately 1789-1832) was seen as areaction to neoclassical literature (approximately 1660-1789). Even though scholarsare continually debating the dates and even the “titles” of thedifferent movements, it can be said that the dates given are often historicallyinfluenced with significant historical events. For example the launch ofRomanticism coincides with the year of the French Revolution, both indicatingnew found freedoms and individuality.
Some other examples of literary movementsinclude Classicism and Neoclassicism. Both of these movements, in the arts,historical tradition or aesthetic attitudes are grounded in the ancient art ofGreece and Rome. In the context of convention, classicism denotes either to theart produced in antiquity or to later art, inspired by that antiquity. LikewiseNeoclassicism is usually concerned with the art produced later but is motivatedby antiquity or the classics. Hence the terms Classicism and Neoclassicism are often usedinterchangeably. The focus of this paper will be on an in-depth analysis ofboth Classicism and Neo Classicism as literary movements.
This willinclude a general definition of both terms, a historical background,characteristics, the figures and works associated with each movement as well asa brief comparative study between the two. Historical Background of Classicism andneo-classicism ClassicismClassicism or theclassical period is generally known to have emerged around 500 BC with greatclassical dramatists Euripides, Aeschylus, and Sophocles, in addition to theprominent philosophers Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle and finally the schoolsof rhetoric, and the rise of Athenian democracy and power. The classical period (sometimes referred to asGreco-Roman or antiquity) belonged to the noble works of ancient Greece andRome.This old period is considered the golden age for literature and arts. Thefamous writers belonging to this period consist of all the Greek and Romanwriters and philosophers.
These included writers like Homer who wrote epicslike the Iliad and Odyssey fame, and the Roman poet Virgil who authored thefamous Aeneid. The Greek philosophers Plato, Socrates and Aristotle alsoassociated themselves with this era. Moreover the Greek playwrights Euripidesand Aristophanes also fit into this poet. Among the famous influential poets ofthis era included Horace and Ovid.
It can be said that all these writers shareda common feature in their works, which is discussing literature that isdistinctive for its balance, order and reasonableness. For example Aristotle’sPoetics played a vital role in describing these features for drama. Othersincluded Horace’s Ars Poetica. With regards to the arts, Classicism isconsidered an imitation of the arts of the ancient Greek and Rome. This genreis considered an inventive genre that has been prevalent throughout a varietyof ages, most prominently in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, hencecontinual imitation of the classical authors is where we get the wordneoclassical.
Classicism usually portrays its classical principles in art,literature, architecture, and music, hence artistic excellence and conservatismare elements of classicism. Moreover, for centuries the study of Greek andLatin as well as the arts of antiquity became major modules of education. Classicism was first established after the collapse ofByzantium of the Italian Renaissance. The thrive of education following themedieval age as well as the emergence of knowledge of Europe’s ancient history,led artists to imitate classical art in form, symmetry, balance and an overallsense of order. Furthermore the classical models were particularly expressed insculpture, drawing and painting. Some of the chief artists of the Renaissanceclassicism include Michelangelo, Raphael, and Correggio.
In the 16th and 17th centuryclassicism was more formally regarded and was given a greater gist of artistic discipline.Art and music establishments started to acquire lessons for the expanding ofclassical ideals. The Age of Enlightenment of the 18th centuryclassicism became a fundamental component of a formal education. This era’sprimary principles of freedom and democracy were embedded in classicalantiquity, especially the democratic government of ancient Greece. Classicismled to the emergence of neo-classicism, and eventhough these words can be used interchangeably, they belong to differentperiods; however both movements embody the artistic influence of the ancientGreece and Rome. Classicism also inspired the arts of the 19th and20th centuries. The Greek andRoman classical works exhibit characteristics of order and balance and mostcommonly they embody classical subject matter.
Neo-Classicism The Enlightenment is considered to be a time of importantinvention and development; hence one of major literary movements that isresponsible for the establishment of the Enlightenment is the architectural andartistic movement of Neoclassicism. The neoclassicism of the 18thand 19th century was one that treasured the ancient Greek and Romanideals. These ideals which includedorder, symmetry, and balance were considered by many European generations asthe highest point of artistic excellence.
The classics were always a source ofinspiration with many European movements especially in Neoclassicism.The rise of Neoclassicism was the result of severalevents and movements within the Enlightenment. This includes the expansion,evolution, and redefinition of the European standard classical education. This increasedthe influence and awareness of Greek and Roman art in the studies of thedeveloping artists, which would soon begin to show in their designs. Moreover, therecent archeological discoveries of Pompeii and Herculaneum also played a vitalrole.
The excavation of these sites revealed massive amounts of newinformation about the Roman’s everyday life, and it astonished thosewho read about or visited these sites. Moreover,the development of commissioned art and architecture and the refinement of theart scholarship also played an important role in the rise of the neoclassicalmovement. Finally one of the earliest causes for the rise of this movement was areaction to the Baroque and Rococo art style. This art was too busy andornamental; hence it was too trivial for the people, making it a necessity to returnto the harsher and more order of the ideals of antiquity.
The Neoclassical movement was a dominant art form whichlooked back to the Greek and Roman artists, philosophers, and ideals as thehighest point. It influenced and endured many national revolutions andinternational wars and due to its strength and balance, perhaps the era wasmade all the stronger because of the art and architecture that was the backdropfor the action of the age. Definition of Classicism and Neoclassicism:ClassicismGenerally classicism refers to the styles,rules, modes, conventions, themes and sensibilities of the Classical writersand their impact and occurrence on later authors. Classicism denotes a stresson the virtues of reason, moderation, balance and harmony, in addition to aview of human beings as essentially social in their nature. For the Romansclassicism was coterminous with Greek influence. For example, Seneca imitatedthe Greek tragedians and Virgil was greatly influenced by Homer. Additionallyin the 12th c, we have Graeco-Roman styles that were used by French and Germancourtly romance writers. The imitation of the rules of Classicalpoetics is another very important development.
Two major influential works ofthe 15th and 16th c were Aristotle’s Poetics and Horace’s Ars Poetica .Aristotle’s influence can be greatly seen in most of the16th centuryto the end of the 18th century dramas, hence many critics spreadAristotle’s theories of imitation. Additionally his notions on tragedy and epicwere almost considered a manifesto The main observers of Aristotle’s works weremostly Italian whom included: Robortelli, Segni, Maggi Vettori and Castelvetro.Furthermore Scaliger’s Poetica (1561) wan an important piece in England. In the 16th century Vida,Robortelli, Joachim du Bellay, Pierre de Ronsard and Sir Philip Sidney studiedand spread Horace’s notes on decorum, the propriety of language and style, themutual propriety of action and character, and his insistence on craftsmanship chieflyin Sidney’s Apologie for Poetrie, 1595.
Seneca was also another influentialclassical on drama particularly in tragedy to the point where we have what isknown as Sececan tragedy.In the 17th and 18th century Classicism was most prominent in France Classicismwas strongest in France and at the same time in England. The French writers whoadhered to the Classical teachings were Corneille, Racine, Molière, Voltaire,Boileau and La Fontaine, hence the most influential treatise by a Frenchman iswithout a doubt Boileau’s Art poétique (1647). For the Englishmen, the majorwriters to follow Classical teachings and styles included Ben Jonson, Dryden,Pope, Swift, Addison and Dr Johnson. Classical influence was also quite evident in the works of numerous Germanauthors in the second half of the 18th century.
These included Winckelmann,Lessing, Goethe, Schiller and Hölderlin. These writers imitated mostly Greekforms and were not as interested in the French neoclassic or Roman works. The Italianauthors also took influence from the classics for example Alfieri.
It can besaid that Classicism in literature is still apparent today specifically in Classicalthemes in drama, fiction and verse, particularly in French drama, and mainly inthe plays of Sartre, Cocteau, Giraudoux and Anouilh. Neo classicismThe neoclassical period is usually said to have lasted from 1660 to 1780.That’s to say it can be dated back to the beginning of Dryden’s career toJohnson’s death in 1784. Apart from the dramatists, Dryden (1631–1700), Swift(1667–1745), Addison (1672–1719), Steele (1672–1729), Pope (1688–1744), LordChesterfield (1694–1773), Fielding (1707–54), Johnson (1709–84), Goldsmith (1730–74)and Gibbon (1737– 94) are considered to be the main English writers in thisperiod.
Additionally in areas of literary theory and practice most authors ofthis era were traditionalist, and highly esteemed Classical authors,particularly the Romans who they claimed perfected the rules of literary genres. They believed that literature wasconsidered an art whereby it can be excelled by a professional approach of closelystudying Classical authors and imitating them. Since the 18thcentury was considered the Age of Reason, and that decorum was essential, reasonand judgment were thought to be the most looked upon faculties. In both proseand verse writing the most suitable tributes included harmony, proportion,balance and restraint, hence the neoclassical writers aimed at correctness.
This was quiet apparent in their use of heroic couplet. Neoclassical beliefsand ideals created a definite vision of man and mankind. Man and his activitieswere considered to be the main subjects of poetry. As Pope put it in An Essayon Man:Know thenthyself, presume not God to scan, The properstudy of mankind is man.
It can be said that the main preoccupation of the poets were, man insociety and man in his social environment. They tended to shed light on whatmen possess in common; the general and representative characteristics ofmankind. Johnson summarized it all in The Vanity of Human Wishes:Let observationwith extensive view,Survey mankind,from China to Peru; Remark each anxious toil, each eager strife, And watch thebusy scenes of crowded life.There thusevolved a general view of nature and mankind; a general vision of man’sposition and function in the universe, his relationship to the natural orderand his relationship with and to God.Regardless, theneoclassicists were not conservative in any negative way. Even though they weremotivated to settle for the traditional and the typical, they were ready toaccept the novel and the particular, and they were much concerned with theimportance of invention, and fancy and imagination. The preservationand establishment of order, balance and correctness was quite cherished by Pope,Swift or Johnson, yet no one accuse them for a lack of originality. Their recurrent use of satire was a mean ofcontrolling excess, folly, stupidity and corruption; indeed, any shortcoming inman and society which threatened to be contrary to the maintenance of goodmoral order and literary discipline.
As Pope wrote, ‘Order is Heav’n’s firstlaw.’ Thus the writer was under some moral and aesthetic obligation to instructas well as to please. Characteristics of Classicism and Neoclassicism Characteristicsof NeoclassicismRationalismRationalism is the most important characteristicof neoclassicism.
Neoclassicist saw reason as the mainspring of learning,knowledge and inspiration for their works. Neoclassicism is a reaction againstthe renaissance style of writing. The neoclassicists made an effort todisregard imagination, emotion and feelings, while composing their works.
Scholarly AllusionsThe neoclassicists were very interested inmaking use of scholarly allusions in their writings. Because they were welleducated and well-versed in various fields of studies, they knew a lot aboutreligious, biblical and classical literature. Most of their works is full ofallusions to classical writers i.e., Virgil, Horace and Homer. Look at thefollowing examples taken from Rape of the Lock by AlexanderPope:Safe past theGnome thro’ this fantastic band,A branch of healing Spleenwort in his hand.(Rape of the Lock, Canto IV)In the above-mentioned lines, Spleenwort is abranch of a tree. Pope is referring to Virgil’s Aeneid, wherein the Aeneasvisits the gangland safely just because of having magical branch of a tree.
The Goddesswith a discontented airSeems to reject him, tho’ she grants his pray’r.A wond’rous Bag with both her hands she binds,Like that where once Ulysses held the winds.(Rape of the Lock, Canto IV)In the above-mentioned lines, the poet has madeallusions to Homer’s Odyssey.
DidacticismNeoclassicists were against the romantic natureof writing of the Renaissance Period, thus the neoclassicist focused significantlyon the didactic purpose. They were mainly concerned with the didactic aspectsof their writings. Consider the following lines taken from Alexander Pope’spoem An Essay on Man, which is absolutely an excellent example inthis regard:Vice is amonster of so frightful mien,As to be hated needs but to be seen;Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,We first endure, then pity, then embrace.(An Essay on Man by Alexander Pope)RealismRealism is one of the main features ofneoclassicism. They were hard realists and they presented the true picture oftheir society.
They didn’t turn their eyes from the harsh realities of life. Theywere men of action and practically lived in the midst of people; hence they hada very keen observation of their society. They avoided abstract ideas,imaginative thoughts and idealism in their writings. Dryden’s and Pope’s poetryare replete with excellent examples of realism. Look at the following example:When I considerLife, ’tis all a cheat;Yet, fooled with hope, men favour the deceit;Trust on, and think to-morrow will repay:To-morrow’s falser than the former day;Lies worse; and while it says, we shall be blestWith some new joys, cuts off what we possesst.(Aurang Zeb by John Dryden)Adherence to Classical RulesThe neoclassicists were without doubt great advocatesof classical rules.
They went all-out to revive the Classicism in their writingsby following each and every rule of Classicism. They respected the classicalrules a great deal. Look at the following example from Pope’s poetry:Those RULES ofold discovered, not devised,Are Nature still, but Nature Methodized;Nature, like Liberty, is but restrainedBy the same Laws which first herself ordained.(Essay on Criticism by AlexanderPope)Heroic CoupletHeroic couplet is another characteristic ofneoclassicism. The neoclassical poets were primarily responsible for reputationof heroic couplets in the history of English literature.
Dryden and Pope are considered to be the onlypoets, who refined the heroic couplet, corrected it, made it regular, moreflexible and a polished medium of poetic expression. It is said that Dryden wrotealmost thirty thousand heroic couplets. His poems like Absalamand Achitopel, MacFlecnoe and The Medal are all in heroic couplets.Look at the following examples:Music resemblespoetry: in eachAre nameless graces which no methods teach,And which a master hand alone can reach.(An Essay on Criticism by AlexanderPope)Good nature andgood sense must ever join;To err is human, to forgive, divine.(An Essay on Criticism by AlexanderPope)No Passionate LyricismNeoclassicists lack any lyrical features becauseof their apathy for passion, feelings and emotions. That is the reason; veryfew lyrics were written in the age of Pope and Dryden. Look at the followingexample:I am HisHighness’ dog at Kew;Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?(Engraved on the Collar of a Dog Which IGave to His Royal Highness by Alexander Pope)ObjectivityObjectivity is another important characteristicof neoclassicism.
Because these writers were firmly against subjectivity they strivedto write objectively by dweling upon the miseries, hardships and problems ofthe people around them. Poetic DictionPoetic diction of neoclassical writings isrestrained, concrete and rigid. They were of the view that decorum, specificstyle and mannerism are the vital elements of poetry. Alexander Pope was veryconscious about the language of his poetry.
He says in Essay onCriticism:Expression isthe dress of thought, and stillAppears more decent as more suitable.A vile Conceit in pompous words express’dIs like a clown in regal purple dress’dFor diff’rent styles with diff’rent subjects sort,As sev’ral garbs with country, town, and court.