Neoclassical Literature: Definition, Characteristics & Movement

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  • 0:01 Definition
  • 0:43 The Neoclassical Era
  • 1:20 Characteristics of…
  • 1:53 Three Stages
  • 3:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Debbie Notari
Neoclassical literature was written between 1660 and 1798. It was a time of both formality and artificiality. In this lesson, we will examine the characteristics and literature of this time period.

Definition

Neoclassical literature was written between 1660 and 1798. This time period is broken down into three parts: the Restoration period, the Augustan period, and the Age of Johnson.

Writers of the Neoclassical period tried to imitate the style of the Romans and Greeks. Thus the combination of the terms 'neo,' which means 'new,' and 'classical,' as in the day of the Roman and Greek classics. This was also the era of The Enlightenment, which emphasized logic and reason. It was preceded by The Renaissance and followed by the Romantic era. In fact, the Neoclassical period ended in 1798 when Wordsworth published the Romantic 'Lyrical Ballads'.

Neoclassical Era

Understanding the Neoclassical era helps us better understand its literature. This was a time of comfortableness in England. People would meet at coffee houses to chat about politics, among other topics, and sometimes drink a new, warm beverage made of chocolate! It was also the beginning of the British tradition of drinking afternoon tea. And it was the starting point of the middle class, and because of that, more people were literate.

People were very interested in appearances, but not necessarily in being genuine. Men and women commonly wore wigs, and being clever and witty was in vogue. Having good manners and doing the right thing, particularly in public, was essential. It was a time, too, of British political upheaval as eight monarchs took the throne.

Characteristics of Neoclassical Literature

Neoclassical literature is characterized by order, accuracy, and structure. In direct opposition to Renaissance attitudes, where man was seen as basically good, the Neoclassical writers portrayed man as inherently flawed. They emphasized restraint, self-control, and common sense. This was a time when conservatism flourished in both politics and literature.

Some popular types of literature included:

  • Parody
  • Essays
  • Satire
  • Letters
  • Fables
  • Melodrama, and
  • Rhyming with couplets

Three Stages

As I noted at the beginning, the Neoclassical period of literature can be divided into three distinct stages: the Restoration Period, the Augustan Period, and the Age of Johnson. We will take a look at some of the prominent writers in each of these stages.

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