University of Oxford

Differences between Classicism and Romanticism

Introduction:

Generally, ‘Classicism’ was the collection of the standards or pattern embodied in the literature, art, or architecture of ancient Greece and Rome. In other words, it meant following traditional standards (as of simplicity, self-control, and proportion) that were universally and permanently appropriate. Broadly, Classicism meant clearness, elegance, symmetry, and repose produced by attention to traditional forms. It was, sometimes, synonymous with excellence or artistic quality of high distinction. More precisely, the term meant the respect and following of Greek and Roman literature, art, and architecture. Because the principles of Classicism came from the rules and practices of the ancients, the term came to mean the devotion to specific academic standards.

In the 18th century, ‘Romanticism’ appeared as a creative, literary, and scholarly movement; it actually began in Europe and  was at its summit in most areas in the estimated period from 1798 to 1832 (some historians say- from 1800 to 1840). It was partly a reaction to the Industrial Revolution and was also a revolt against aristocratic social and political norms of the Neo-classical Age (Neo-classicism) or the ‘Age of Enlightenment’; it was also against the scientific interpretation of nature. Many critics mention that the Romantic Movement appeared in Germany, which soon spread to England as well as France, however, the main source of inspiration came from the events and ideologies of the French Revolution. Other than this, even the industrial revolution which began during the same period is also said to be responsible for the development of this movement. Though Romantic elements were found in art and literature since several centuries, it was the publication of ‘Lyrical Ballads’ by Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1798 that marked the beginning of the Romantic Period; it emphasised on the imagination and emotions, and marked especially in English literature by sensibility and the use of autobiographical material, an admiration of the primitive and the common man, an appreciation of external nature, an interest in the remote, a liking for melancholy, and the use in poetry of older verse forms. This period was (and still is) called the second creative period of English literature (Elizabethan Age is the first). The literature of this period was highly poetical and it was the golden age of the lyric.

Differences between Classicism and Romanticism:

Toward the end of the eighteenth-century, Romanticism emerged as a response to Classicism. Even though this change was gradual, it transformed everything from art and philosophy to education and science. While the Classicists thought of the world as having a rigid and strict structure, the romanticists thought of the world as a place to express their ideas and beliefs. The Romanticists and the Classicists differed in their views of the relationship between an individual and society, their views of nature and the relationship between reason and imagination. The particular differences between Classicism and Romanticism are-

1

Classicism emphasised on ‘reason’ and ‘restraint’.

Romanticism emphasised on ‘imagination’ and ‘passion’.

2

Classicism followed the three unities of time, place and action.

Romanticism only followed the unity of action, but does not follow the unities of time, place.

3

Classicism used strict, rigid and logical diction and theme.

Romanticism used simple diction of common men from their everyday life.

4

The Classicists thought that the world has a rigid and stern structure.

The Romanticists thought that the world is a place to express their ideas and beliefs.

5

Classicism was based on the idea that nature and human nature could be understood by reason and thought. The Classicists believed that nature was a self-contained machine, like a watch, whose laws of operation could be logically understood.

Romanticism viewed nature as mysterious and ever changing. The Romantic writers believed that nature is a forever changing living life form, whose laws we will never fully understand.

6

The Classicists thought that it was literature’s function to show the everyday values of humanity and the laws of human existence. Their idea was that Classicism supported and defended tradition, often to the point of opposing change, because tradition seemed a dependable testing ground for those laws; human potential is limited.

As for the Romanticists, they wrote about how man has no boundaries and endless possibilities. The Romantics emphasised the human potential for social progress and spiritual growth. Human potential is not limited. As Emerson asked, “Who,” “can set bounds to the possibilities of man?”

Conclusion:

In the end, Classicism indicates the civilization of antiquity from Ancient Greece and Rome. In Classical era, it believed in thought and reason. Meanwhile, Romanticism derives from ‘romance’ – associated with imaginative literature and the free play of imagination. Each of these eras shares parallel and distinctive traits that had philosophical and cultural changes, which impacted musical styles and innovations.

Works Cited:

Ferber, Michael. 2010. Romanticism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Kallendorf, Craig. A Companion to the Classical Tradition. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2012-05-06.

Smith, Logan Pearsall (1924) Four words: romantic, originality, creative, genius. Oxford, Clarendon Press.

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