How does romanticism differ from neoclassicism?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Romanticism developed primarily as a reaction to the neoclassical or Augustan movement in literature, and should be read as a rebellion against many of the neoclassical strictures.

First, neoclassicists view themselves as the heirs of the past, carrying forward the great traditions of classical antiquity and adapting them to present use. They see the role of the writer or artist as one of cultural transmission and craftsmanship, working within a society and expressing its ideals. In the English Augustan poets, this notion is associated with a religious one, that the writer or artist lives in a divinely ordered world, and sees and expresses its providential, harmonious, and symmetrical nature, as expressed for example, in Pope's statement:

Safe in the hand of one disposing Pow'r, ..

All Nature is but Art, unknown to thee;  ...

All discord, harmony not understood, ...

Romantics, on the other hand, saw the artist as a solitary individual, rebelling against and critiquing society and religion. Rather than admiring order and symmetry, they preferred untamed nature, and rather than imitating the disciplined craftsmanship of antiquity, they emphasized spontaneous expression of emotion, often using irregular verse forms, as opposed to the heroic couplet. Their vision was a deeply personal one, focused on the experience of the sensitive individual as opposed to traditional heroic epics.

While the Augustans were masters of satire, epic, and verse essays, the Romantics (with the exception of Byron, whose work bridges the divide between the two schools) excelled at more lyrical and personal works.