Neoclassical Literature – Humanity, Society & Classical supremacy

If renaissance was an outburst or interest towards classical literature and subjects surrounding the same; neoclassical literature is its succeeding brother with a primary concern on structure, rules and correctness of form regarding the same subjects or themes. The main characteristics of the period are enhancement of reasoning, focussing man in the society, following Greek and Roman style of presentation and use of the style to works of the age. Another important aspect of neoclassical period is that man is never considered to be fundamentally good [as seen in Renaissance period]; instead, neoclassic writers emphasized on the imperfections of human beings individually and as a part of the society.

Neoclassical Literature

Neoclassical literature can be observed from 1600 – 1785 spanning across three periods of English literature namely,

The Restoration Period – 1660 – 1700

The Augustan Period – 1700 – 1745

The Age of Sensibility – 1745 -1785

Main aspects of neoclassical literature

> The major contributors of the period like Alexander Pope considered that people like Shakespeare and Homer are natural geniuses and such rare cases are a thing of the past. Pope and others emphasized on the appropriateness of art, with a belief that art will survive forever if all the rules of the classic literature are followed. As a result, writers of the neoclassical period are considered to be more traditional with their imitation of Greek and Roman literature as well as other art forms.

> The general focus on man as a social being with imperfectness resulted in the focus on philosophies like empiricism and materialism.

> Neoclassical age concentrated more on the concepts of man such as pride, envy, defects and individual disability to break the ego to realize that not everyone is a “natural genius” or has limitless knowledge about the universe. The neoclassical literature focussed on the limitations of man and mirrored human nature as it is.

Important contributors of neoclassical period

S. No Name Important Works Notable aspects

The Restoration Period

1 Sir George Etherge The Comical Revenge, or, Love in a Tub
The Man of Mode, or, Sir Fopling Flutter
2 William Wycherley The Country Wife
The Plain Dealer
3 John Dryden Marriage a la Mode Essay in Restoration comedy of manners style
The Wild Gallant
The Rival Ladies
Secret Love
Martin Mar-all
The Indian Queen
The Indian Emperor
Tyrannic Love, or, The Royal Martyr
The Conquest of Granada
An Essay of Dramatic Poesie
Annus Mirabilis Historical poem
Absalom and Achitophel Argumentative verse
The Medal
Mac Flecknoe
Religio Laici Religious poem
The Hind and the Panther Religious poem
4 Samuel Butler Hudibras Poetic satire
5 William Congreve The Way of the World Perfect restoration comedy
The Old Bachelor
The Double Dealer
Love for Love
The Mourning Bride

The Augustan Period

6 Joseph Addison and Richard Steele The Spectator
7 Daniel Defoe Essay on Projects
The True Born Englishman Verse satire
The Shortest way with the Dissenters
Robinson Crusoe Novel
Captain Singleton
Moll Flanders
Colonel Jacks
Captain Carl Carlton
8 Jonathan Swift Battle of Books A squib
A Tale of Tub
Drapier Letters Series of 7 pamphlets
Gulliver’s Travels
9 Alexander Pope Essay on Man
Essay on Criticism
Windsor Forest
The Rape of the Lock Mock heroic poem
Dunciad Satirical, mock heroic
Ode on St. Cecilia’s Dau
Ode on Solitude

Age of Sensibility/ Age of Johnson

10 Thomas Gray Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College
On the Death of a favourite Cat
The Bard
The Fatal Sisters
Hymn to Adversity
The Progress of Poesy
11 Dr. Samuel Johnson London Satire
The Vanity of Human Wishes Satire
Irene Neoclassical tragedy & the only play by Johnson
Dictionary of the English Language Published in 1755
Rambler Periodical essay
Preface to Shakespeare Neoclassic criticism
Life of Richard Savage Biographical work
A Voyage to Abyssinia
Lives of  the Most Eminent English poets
12 Oliver Goldsmith The History of Little Goody Two-shoes Children’s tale
The Deserted Village
She Stoops to Conquer Comedy of manners
The Good Natur’d Man
The Vicar of Wakefield Novel
13 R B Sheridan The School for Scandal
A Trip to Sacrborough
The Critics
14 Samuel Richardson The History of Sir Charles Grandison Epistolary novel
Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded Epistolary novel
Clarissa; or, The History of a Young Lady Epistolary novel
15 Henry Fielding Tom Jones Pen name: Captain Hercules Vinegar
Tragedy of Tragedies; or the life and death of Tom Thumb the Great
16 Tobias Smollett The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle
The Adventures of Ferdinand, Count Fathom
Humphrey Clinker
17 Laurence Sterne Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy
A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy

Important Philosophical works

1 Thomas Hobbes Leviathan
2 John Locke Two Treaties on Government Father of classical liberalism
An Essay concerning Human Understanding
3 George Berkeley Principles of Human Knowledge
Alciphron; or, the Minute Philosopher
4 David Hume Treatise on Human Nature
5 Joseph Butler Analogy

As the neoclassical period came after a suppressing puritan period [The Commonwealth period], there was a huge explosion of art and literature. Drama, poetry, novel, essay and everything concerned with English literature flourished with the new era or writers who followed the path of the classical texts and produced some brilliant representations of man through art. As a result, neoclassical literature became a bridge between the Renaissance period and the Romantic period making ways for new ideas and philosophies.


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