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the Neoclassical period covers 1660-1785 - it contain a number of sub-periods: - The Restoration (1660-1700) - The Augustan Age (the Age of Pope) (1700-1745) - The Age of Sensibility (the Age of Johnson) (1745-1785). Neoclassicism. Royal Observatory at Greenwich (1675)

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the Neoclassical period covers 1660-1785

  • - it contain a number of sub-periods:
  • - The Restoration (1660-1700)
  • - The Augustan Age (the Age of Pope) (1700-1745)
  • - The Age of Sensibility (the Age of Johnson) (1745-1785)


  • Royal Observatory at Greenwich (1675)
  • Sir Christopher Wren

literary periods are convenient for the sake of scholarship – they are not hard and fast rules

Some important writers:

John Dryden

Alexander Pope

Joseph Addison

Jonathan Swift

Samuel Johnson

Edmund Burke

Jonathan Swift 1667-1745

Samuel Johnson 1709-1784



Neoclassicism –the period is bounded by the “Restoration” of Charles II as the British monarch and (roughly) the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 (the beginning of the Romantic Period)some features of the period (at least its early years) include:strong interest in tradition (thus the “neo,” meaning new) - distrust of radical innovationgreat respect for classical writers (those of Ancient Greece and Rome) => the idea of “enduring literary models”literature was one of the arts – as an “art” it required the practice and study of a set of skills and the involvement of the artist in the forms and styles of the “classical” era (contrast this to the Romantic ideal of the lone poet, the “natural,” solitary genius....)the Roman poet Horace produced his Ars Poetica (first century B.C.) - consisting of nearly 30 guiding maxims for aspiring poets

Tasso (Italian Renaissance poet – 1544-1595) annotated this copy of Horace’s work. Tasso wrote and revised treatises on poetics throughout his career.


text (Ars Poetica) within text (commentary by Cristoforo Landino, Florence, 1482) within text (annotations by Tasso)


“HOMER is universally allow'd to have had the greatest Invention of any Writer whatever.”

Alexander Pope (1688-1744), Preface to his Translation of Homer's Iliad (1715)

“As in the most regular Gardens, however Art may carry the greatest Appearance, there is not a Plant or Flower but is the Gift of Nature. The first can only reduce the Beauties of the latter into a more obvious Figure, which the common Eye may better take in, and is therefore more entertain'd with.”

“... Our Author's Work is a wild Paradise , where if we cannot see all the Beauties so distinctly as in an order'd Garden, it is only because the Number of them is infinitely greater.”


a formal English garden


Neoclassicism continuedoutside of “natural geniuses” like Shakespeare and Homer, artists strove for correctness, or decorum the “rules” of poetry were largely governed by genre: like epic, tragedy, comedy, pastoral – derived, or “learned,” from Classical authors humanity was taken to be the proper subject for poetry (particularly humans in their social arrangements, as opposed to the individual contemplating his or her own psyche or relationship with natural world)poetry was held to be an “imitation” of reality/nature/humanity: “a mirror held up to nature” – though it was artifice that ordered and organized the materials that nature provided so as to reveal its “genius” and its Beauty

M.H. Abrams discussed the movement from the neoclassical conception of art and the artist to the Romantic conception of art and the artist through the metaphors of the mirror (neoclassical) and the lamp (Romantic)

The Mirror and the Lamp, 1953


Neoclassicism continued

- art should both “instruct and delight” - a classical ideal picked up by many authors, including Sir Philip Sidney (in his “A Defence of Poesie”) and John Dryden (in his “Essay of Dramatic Poesie”)

- neoclassical “humanism” addressed itself to what “mankind” had as universally in common

(a problematic ideal on many levels, including its sexism and eurocentrism)

- the ideal of balance, of accessible goals (the contrary to prideful hubris), and of natural hierarchy as symbolized by The Great Chain of Being

- Pope would write that “The bliss of not to think or act beyond mankind.”


The Great Chain of Being:

the divine, universal hierarchy; humans are represented by the male only.  

From Didacus Valades, Rhetorica Christiana (1579).  

(Anthony Fletcher, Gender, Sex, & Subordination)


neoclassicism was “the art that hides art” (a phrase borrowed from Horace)