What are the differences between Romanticism and classicism?

The differences between Romanticism and classicism include that classicism emphasized order and reason while Romanticism emphasized feelings and emotions, that classical architecture insisted upon symmetry while Romantic architecture allowed for artistic flourishes, and that classical literature focused on important figures while Romantic literature focused on common people.

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Classicism and Romanticism are opposing movements and styles which have been influential in all the major arts of the Western hemisphere. Architecture, painting, music, and literature have all gone through consecutive (and occasionally concurrent) periods of classicism and Romanticism, the two extremes of which are instantly recognizable. The great public buildings of Washington DC, for instance, are ostentatiously classical, with the notable exception of the Smithsonian Castle. Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, the inspiration behind the Disney castle, is extravagantly Romantic.

The difference between classical and Romantic art in all genres has been eloquently expressed by numerous highly partisan commentators. John Ruskin, for instance, writing on architecture, argued that the Romantic style elevated the artisan to an artist, while classicism debased him into a slave. This was because classical architecture demanded perfect symmetry and prearranged order, while gothic architecture (the most completely Romantic style), allowed the workman to create gargoyles and other individual flourishes.

On the other hand, Jane Austen, who wrote some of the most purely classical novels in the English language during a period of burgeoning Romanticism, mocked what she regarded as the extreme emotions and egotism of Romantic literature. In general terms, the values of classicism are order, calm, intellect, and symmetry. In America, it is overwhelmingly the style of secular public architecture: city halls, courthouses, and libraries. In literature, classicism is most completely expressed by epic poetry, regular meter, and rhyming couplets, such as the work of Alexander Pope. Romanticism emphasizes emotion, the senses, and the individual. It provides the architecture of cathedrals and castles and finds expression in poetry about the beauty of nature and the agony or ecstasy of love.

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Classicism, or Neo-Classism, was in many ways a revolt against the excesses of the Baroque period. Classism, which was both an artistic and intellectual movement during the 1700s, emphasized a return to order, restraint, and reason. The movement looked to classical Greece and Rome for its inspiration. For example, the architecture of the period had the classic columns characteristic of Ancient Greece and Rome. Classicism reigned during the Enlightenment, a period that emphasized reason and brought about political change, including the French, American, and Haitian Revolutions.

Romanticism, which developed around 1800, was a literary and artistic movement that was in many ways a rejection of Classicism. It emphasized feeling and emotion, particularly the emotion of the individual. The Romantic poets, for example, wrote in ways that emphasized horror and the supernatural as an expression of emotion over reason. The emphasis was not on order, as it was during the Neo-Classical period, but on feeling.

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Romanticism was a reaction against Classicism in poetry. Classical poetry in the eighteenth century modeled itself on the work of Greek and Roman poets, and it used Classical characters and situations such as figures and stories from Greek mythology and history. For example, Pope's Rape of the Lock is a parody of a heroic epic, based on the Iliad. It was written to mock or make fun of a diminished English aristocracy that was not off fighting wars in the Classical model, but feuding over locks of hair. Pope assumed that his audience would be familiar with the Iliad.

Classical poetry had very clear, regular meters and rhyme schemes, was more interested in the important people in society than anyone else, and was more likely to convey ideas than emotions.

The age of Romantic poetry in England is often associated with the publication of Wordsworth's and Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads. In the preface, Wordsworth writes about a kind of poetry that puts the emphasis on the common person, nature, and the supernatural. Rather than reason, emotion predominates. Wordsworth famously wrote that 

Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.

Romantic poets wanted to write in simple, everyday language that was accessible to ordinary people who might not have been schooled in the Greek and Latin classics. It was far less rigid in rhyme scheme and often referenced folk stories or ballads rather than Classical literature. 

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Romanticism and Classicism exist on two very different poles within literary movements. Many new periods came about as a reaction to the previous period, and the contrasts between these periods are no different.

First, to differentiate between the two, we will begin with their differences in how they regarded nature. The Romantics believed that nature was powerful and constantly changing. The Romantics believed that nature was a force that would/could never be fully understood. Unlike the Romantics, the Classicists believed that nature could be rationalized and, therefore, completely understood.

Second was the differentiating thoughts on truth. The Romantics believed that one would only find truth through their own intuition given they highlighted the importance of individual thought and not societal thought. The Classicists, instead, believed that truth existed only as a result of reason. They found that imaginative thought failed to be able to be studied scientifically and, therefore, upheld no realistic function.

Third, ties into scientific thought differences. The Classicists believed that man should conform to universal thought and ideas. The Romantics believed that they should embrace their own individual innovations. Perhaps the most poignant quote to exemplify Romantic thought on tradition and innovation is from William Blake:

I must create a system or be enslaved by another mans; I will not reason and compare.

Basically, the Romantics believed in the endless possibilities which man could change the world, and they embraced them. The Classicists, instead, held up the importance of adhering to what has already been said and done and mastering only those ideals.

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