United Kingdom Literature: Neoclassicism and Romance

By | November 4, 2021


The sense of frustration and moral emptiness that one grasps is imported from the crisis that marked the passage from the sixteenth to the seventeenth century and which found complete and valid poetic expression in the work of J. Donne (1572-1631). Witness and participant of all this is W. Shakespeare (1564-1616), who in the height of his inspiration, in the breadth of his interests and in the variety of his works reflects the exaltation of the Elizabethan era, the crisis of the sixteenth century and the gloomy transition to a troubled and turbulent century. The early seventeenth century was in fact an era of political uncertainty and philosophical crisis, which not for nothing led to the civil war and was reflected in the works of “metaphysical” poets: the followers of J. Donne such as G. Herbert (1593-1633) And R. Crashaw (ca. 1613-49), which is riallacciarono to the next generation poets, such as H. Vaughan (1622-95), Th. Traherne (1637-74) and A. Marvell (1621-78), in which also matured the lesson of the “knight” poets, in turn followers of B. Jonson, such as R. Herrick (1591-1674) and Th. Carew (ca. 1595-1640). The lyrical vein and purity of dictation of the latter contrasted with the formal and meaningful tortuosity of the former, which already seemed to prelude to those neoclassical tendencies that manifested themselves in E. Waller (1606-87) and J. Denham (1615-99), before establishing itself in the second half of the century with J. Dryden (1631-1700).

According to Zipcodesexplorer, these tendencies to neoclassicism passed in the English seventeenth century through the experience and contamination of attitudes and forms mainly baroque, such as can be traced in A. Cowley (1618-67), in Dryden himself of the “heroic dramas” and above all in the central poet, in every sense, of the century, J. Milton (1608-74). In him, the religious theme, linked to his experiences as a committed Puritan, and the problems of the time, the late flowering of a classicism imbued with moral and civil commitment alongside the disturbances and exaltation of a sensitivity and language have very high expression. baroque. These tendencies are also evident in the prose: not only in the religious treatises of J. Taylor (1613-67), but in the encyclopedic compilations of R. Burton (1577-1640) and in the erudite essays of Sir Th. Browne (1605-82), in which the seventeenth-century taste for ornate prose, hyperbole and l ‘eloquence. This taste was programmatically opposed by the dictates and ideals of the Royal Society (founded in 1662), the elegant simplicity of I. Walton (1593-1683) and the allegorical-moralizing narrative of the Puritan J. Bunyan (1628-88). With the monarchical Restoration (1660), of which the delightful diaries of J. Evelyn (1620-1706) and S. Pepys offered a vision from the inside (1633-1703), established itself besides, alongside the frivolous and elegant, witty and sometimes lascivious theater of Sir G. Etherege (1634/35-ca. 1691), W. Wycherley (1640-1716) and W. Congreve ( 1670-1729), the taste for satire, present both in Dryden and in Marvell, in the libertine Earl of Rochester (1647-80) as in S. Butler (1612-80); a taste that is a further indication of that neoclassicism towards which neo-Augustan society and culture turned in the first half of the eighteenth century, also following the French example.


Author of lyrics modeled on Elizabethan songs, despite his visible eighteenth-century matrix, in his mature works Blake inaugurated a type of mythical-philosophical, esoteric and visionary poetry, animated by an absolute faith in the power of the imagination, for which it could be considered, according to certain continental schemes, the romantic poet par excellence. But it must be said that English romanticism, which anticipated European phenomena by several years, had its own characteristics. It coincided with the years of ephemeral exaltation and rapid disappointment of the French Revolution, the Napoleonic wars and the legitimist Restoration in Europe, and at least in its first phase it was a bourgeois phenomenon, of emotional and formal reaction to the rationalist eighteenth century. In that joint manifesto which are the Lyrical Ballads (1798; Lyrical ballads), W. Wordsworth (1770-1850) and ST Coleridge (1772-1834) had shared the tasks, one aiming to transfigure things by adopting a simple and common language. every day, the other to give the appearance of reality and credibility to the supernatural thanks to the power of the imagination.

The first then reached the conception of the “sublime egotism” and the celebration of the poet’s mind that communion with nature enabled him to reach every peak; the second dissolved in the thousand streams of a dispersive personality, and for both of them there was talk of involution. On course with their time were the poets of the second generation, PB Shelley (1792-1822) and J. Keats (1795-1821), the first aimed at the Platonic contemplation of beauty, the second at the apprehension of aesthetic truth in human drama: but despite or precisely because of the very high poetic peaks reached especially in the field of lyric, their charge of revolt burned very quickly in a few years, and already with Lord Byron (1788-1824), despite his enormous importance for European romanticism, there was a phase of ebb, if in his mature and today more appreciated works such as Beppo and Don Juan there is a noticeable return to eighteenth-century language and attitude. Around them revolved poets and minor prose writers such as R. Southey (1774-1843), Th. Moore (1779-1852), Ch. Lamb (1775-1834), Th. De Quincey (1785-1859), W. Hazlitt (1778-1830), JHL Hunt (1784-1859), who added richness of aspects and facets to the rapid and intense flowering. If in the field of fiction romanticism coincided with the “black” novel and above all with the taste for history and for the recreation of the past that animates W. Scott (1771-1832), novelists such as J. Austen (1775-1817) or Th. L. Peacock (1785-1866) seem to barely grasp its distant and muffled echoes.

United Kingdom Literature