What are the main antecedents of the Romantic movement in English Literature?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would say that the primary antecedent of the Romantic movement would be the Neoclassicists.  They defined reality in a manner that frankly sickened the Romantic thinkers, who in turn used their movement to define themselves in stark opposition to their predecessors.  The Neoclassicists were fueled by a faith in science, in rationality, and in technical precision.  They were ardent believers in cosmopolitan and socially acceptable notions of existence.  Writers like Pope and Swift used satire and salon readings of their work in order to achieve greatness and popular reception.  The ability to be clever and skillful in writing to bring out a certain reaction was vitally important to the Neoclassicists, who viewed reality as a force of homogeneity with the occasional sprinkling of insightful wit as the primary function of art and artistic expression.  All of these notions were strongly challenged by the Romanticists.

lit24 | Student

Literary critics consider 1798, the year when Wordsworth and Coleridge published their "Lyrical Ballads," to mark the beginning of the English Romantic Movement. However, its actual beginnings date back to the poetry of Gray, Collins, Blake and Burns who are regaded as 'Transition Poets' who lived and wrote at the end of the Neo-Classical Age. Critical opinion is divided as to when the Romantic Movement actually came to an end; infact, some critics consider the Victorian age to be a continuation of the Romantic Age and that the English Romantic Age extended till the beginning of the Modern Age in the twentieth century. The main antecedent of the Romantic Age in English literature was the Neo-Classical age, in fact the the Romantic age is considered to be a direct reaction against the Neo-Classical age.

The characteristic features of English Romantic poetry are:

1. Love and worship of Nature and dislike for the urban life was the mostimportant feature of the Romantic Age, whereas the Neo Classical Age was urban centric.

2. Love for the Medieval Age was another important aspect of the Romantic Age, whereas the Neo Classical Age authors preferred anything and everything Greek and Latin.

3. Love for the supernatural and the mystical was an important feature of the Romantic Age, whereas the Neo Classical Age authors were suspicious of the same.

4. Poetry, for the Romantics poets, came to be regarded as the spontaneous expression of the poet's own subjective feelings and did not conform to the poetic conventions of classical doctrines. Poetry according to the Neo Classical poets was a logical and reasoned activity guided by the rules of the ancient Greek and Latin poets and theorists.

5. The Romantic poets Completely abandoned the 'Heroic  Couplet' which was the standard line of verse of the Neo Classical poets and substituted it with simpler verse forms like the ballads which belonged to the English rural Folk. In fact the 'Ballad Revival' is said to have sparked off the English Romantic Movememnt.

6. The 'poetic diction' of the Neo-Classical Age was completely  done away with during the Romantic Age and the language of the ordinary people became the language of Romantic poetry.

7. The subjects of Romantic poetry were often ordinary people:"The Idiot Boy," unlike the subjects of Neo Classical poetry which were always about classical subjects.