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Romanticism was, in essence, a movement that rebelled against and defined itself in opposition to the Enlightenment. For the artists and philosophers of the Enlightenment, the ideal life was one governed by reason. Artists and poets strove for ideals of harmony, symmetry, and order, valuing meticulous craftsmanship and the classical tradition. Among philosophers, truth was discovered by a combination of reason and empirical research. The ideals of the period included a faith in human reason to understand the universe and resolve the problems of the world, expressed in the couplet by Alexander Pope:
Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night:
God said, "Let Newton be!" and all was light
The Romantic movement emphasized the individual self and sentiment as opposed to reason and was more pessimistic in attitude, viewing the intellectual and artist as solitary geniuses rather than integral parts of a social system. Rather than valuing symmetry and harmony, the Romantics valued individuality, surprise, intensity of emotion, and expressiveness. They looked back to medieval (or "Gothic") models as much as to the Augustan tradition of Rome.
The ideals of these two intellectual movements were very different from one another.
The Enlightenment thinkers believed very strongly in rationality and science. They believed that the natural world and even human behavior could be explained scientifically. They even felt that they could use the scientific method to improve human society.
By contrast, the Romantics rejected the whole idea of reason and science. They felt that a scientific worldview was cold and sterile. They felt that science and material progress would rob people of their humanity (this is, for example, one of the major themes of Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley). In place of reason, the Romantics exalted feelings and emotions. They felt that intuition and emotions were important sources of knowledge.
Thus, the ideals of the Romantics and the thinkers of the Enlightenment were very much opposed to one another.
Romanticism was a movement that stressed human emotions and beauty of nature, while Enlightenment was quite an opposite movement.
While Enlightenment's belief about the material world is that it is the reflection of the ideal world, Romanticism's belief about the material world is that it is the manifestation of divinity or God's self-expression.
The Enlightenment movement was characterized by moderation and order, while Romanticism admired spontaneity and disorder.
While the Enlightenment believed that objectivity and realism can be possible, Romanticism believed that subjectivity and relativity cannot be avoided.
The Enlightenment's literary forms kept and applied traditional forms, while Romanticism's literary forms revealed stylistic autonomy. Enlightenment's art had to be educational and it had to prove its utility, while Romanticism's art appealed mainly to emotions.
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