How was Romanticism different from Neoclassicism?

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Neoclassicism is characterized by order, restraint, righteousness, and proper forms of behavior. The movement coincided with the "Age of Reason." The neoclassicists looked to the ancient literary works and classics for inspiration. The term "neoclassical" means "new classical." They wanted to use the classical works as a basis for their artistic movement. Neoclassicism overlaps with Augustan literature and the movements are sometimes said to be the same. Alexander Pope is perhaps the most famous English writer of the Neoclassical period. His works "Essay on Man" and "Essay on Criticism" are significant works of the movement. Both of these works are guides. For instance, his "Essay on Criticism" contains rules on how to judge poetry. Order, restraint, and classical rules are all staples of Neoclassicism. 

Romantic literature is a reaction to the strict rules of what poetry should be and how it should be judged. Romantic poetry focused on individual experience and expression. In other words, whereas the neoclassical writers focused on order and how literature should be, the Romantic movement encouraged the individual to choose for him/herself. As a result, Romantic writers embraced emotion, as opposed to the neoclassical writers who focused on restraint. The Romantic movement is often cited as the birth of Modern literature because, in celebrating individual experience and expression, it overtly broke the rules and freed up what poetry and literature could be. Good examples of Romantic works are Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey" (an individual contemplation of nostalgia and nature) and Coleridge's "Kubla Khan," (an expressive dream vision).