Neoclassicism was a movement whose artists looked to the classical texts for their creative inspiration in an effort to imitate classical form. The writers in particular drew on what were considered to be classical virtues—simplicity, order, restraint, logic, economy, accuracy, and decorum—to produce prose, poetry, and drama. Literature was of value in accordance with its ability to not only delight, but also instruct.
Although the terms Classicism and Neoclassicism are somewhat interchangeable (and often used as such), Neoclassicism refers strictly the specific literary periods in history that produced art inspired by the ancients, which, of course, excludes the ancients themselves. It is usually more specifically defined as a Classicism that originally dominated English literature during the Restoration Age and which lasted well into the eighteenth century.
What these writers longed for began as a reaction to the Renaissance. Neoclassicists believed in Greek ideals, in restraint of passions, and valued communication as an exchange rather than individual self-expression. The Renaissance celebrated human potential, individualism, imagination, and mysticism. In contrast to the Renaissance, neoclassicists saw humans as being limited in potential and imperfect in form. They distrusted innovation and invention and believed in exercising restraint in personal expression. The efforts of the neoclassical writers resulted in the creation of a polite, urbane, and witty art form that was as instructive as it was entertaining.
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