Neoclassical Literary Period





Neoclassical Literary Period

The neoclassicism period may be viewed in three instances, each happening at a certain period, and these periods include the Augustan age, the enlightenment, and the age of Johnson. Poetry during Augustan age depended on the knowledge of the poet. Poets controlled their imagination, and they did not express their fantasies in their work. During the period, poets presented men as the master of all things and were at the top of all world creatures (Zgorzelski 7). Basho’s poem illustrates his journeys to different places. His ability to visit wherever he places and to survive the dangerous journey illustrates his dominion over nature. He presents man as a person who is capable of doing anything he wills. The neoclassical writers got their inspiration from classical literature, especially the Greek and Roman literature. The dependence on classic literature contributed to the conservative nature of the writers. Writers during this period believed that passion and emotions were not as powerful as the representation of social needs. They believed in the use of reason and establishment of rules. The belief in rules followed their conviction that there has to be some order in the universe (Golban 2). This followed their belief that writing was not a means of individual expression, but was rather for public purposes.

Writing in the neoclassicism period was distinct from that of other periods. The authors wrote in a clearly ordered and unified way as they sought to create harmony. Harmony in writing was important as it signified sequence and a process of the way things should have been. This was important to the authors because it signified their preference for the literature of the classic period. Basho presents this sequence and order in his poem as he tells of his travels from one region of Japan to the other. This unity is reflected in Moliere’s Tartuffe, where he displayed the unity of space, time and action. All the events during the play happen in a day, and they all happen in a single location. The play has no subplots, thus creating unity of action. Voltaire describes the events in Candide’s life, beginning from his time in the baroness’s house to when he marries Cunégonde. The reader is able to follow all the details and events of his life. Order is a valued personal and societal commodity. Things are bound to go wrong and out of harmony when there is no order. Candide would not have experienced the suffering he endured, had he realized and accepted his place in society.

The neoclassical authors valued their traditions, and this made them critical of any radical changes. Social hierarchy was essential, and the authors believed that people should accept their position in the society. In Candide, Voltaire showed how people would rather continue suffering when trying to maintain their social hierarchies. Although Cunégonde and her brother are no longer rich, they continue to act as though they belong to a higher social hierarchy, and they continue treating Candide as a low class member, although he is better and in a more privileged position than they are. This showed people’s willingness to maintain their traditions. Moliere shows some form of societal hierarchy through Dorine. Dorine reasons that it would not be wise for Tartuffe to marry Mariane, considering he does not have any money or property of his own. Orgon then makes a drastic decision regarding his wealth, and he decides that Tartuffe should have part of his wealth.

Writers during this period believed people should develop goals that were realistic and should have a realistic perspective of life. Basho presents this same reality in his work, The Narrow Road to the Interior. He writes with a directness that enables the readers to form a direct connection of his subjects. Dorine, Orgon’s servant, is a representation of reality in Tartuffe. She has a clear perspective of all the things that are happening in the house. She is the first person to see Tartuffe’s hypocrisy, and she tries to warn her master about him. She admonishes Mariane for failing to oppose his decision concerning her intended marriage to Tartuffe. Dorine paints a clear and realistic picture of what marriage to Tartuffe would be like.

Literature during this time showed an increasing use of logic while it did not condone superstition, since it did not present reality. Instead, there was an emphasis on scientific discovery and rational thought. The literature showed the people’s beliefs in the use of logic as a way of advancing knowledge and transforming and improving their society. The people applied their reason even in religion, and there was less emphasis on revelation as far as religion was concerned. Thus, although the people were to a certain extent religious, they did not tend to believe in the supernatural, and many of them saw religious beliefs and practices as a way of life. Moliere shows this in Tartuffe, where Tartuffe suggests that even though adultery is against God’s will, there is a way that they can receive God’s grace even if they enjoyed their pleasures. By pretending to be a holy man, and proposing adultery, Tartuffe is no longer afraid of God or the religious consequences he would face. He reasoned that people were no longer bound to religion, as they were in previous years. The fear of religion kept some people from openly engaging in sin, but Tartuffe did not seem to care about this.

People believed that they could discover all things and understand everything through reason. Although Candide is an optimist who believes in God, he suffers great misfortunes, and this leads him to reason and conclude that God is not as compassionate as he had previously thought. Voltaire uses different misfortunes throughout the novel to show that contrary to the optimist beliefs at the time, God does not create the best of all possible worlds (Hersberger 2). Basho does not separate religion from his life in his poetry. Religion is not some extraordinary phenomena to him, and it is part of his daily life experience. He exercises his religious beliefs and practices as he goes on with his life. Voltaire shows the importance of reason by showing the absurdity of Pangloss’ beliefs. Pangloss has strange explanations for all the things that are happening. He, at one time, suggests that it was necessary for syphilis to come to Europe so that the Europeans would enjoy the benefits and joys of chocolate. At another time, he tells Candide not to save Jacques from drowning because the bay of Lisbon exists for that very purpose. Such beliefs show a lack of reasoning, and they end up leaving them in trouble. Candide only has a realistic and practical perspective of issues once he rejects the philosophies passed on to him by Pangloss.

The use of satire was prevalent during this time as the authors used it to ridicule those who did not behave according to the societal expectations of them. The writers used satire as a way of controlling passions, as they urged people to restrain themselves. The use of satire was to illustrate an opposition to tradition and to reason. True to the character of neoclassicism, the authors believed in representing the truth as it has always been, and many of them found satire a good way of doing so. Moliere satirizes the character of Orgon, who despite being wealthy, is foolish enough to believe Tartuffe’s ideas and he even makes him heir to his property. He gives almost everything he owns, including his daughter, and even that which he does not own, such as the secret documents to Tartuffe. Dorine shows the extent to which Tartuffe has managed to blind Orgon, such that Orgon is no longer concerned about his wife. Instead, he seems to be more concerned about Tartuffe who is doing well in his house, instead of the reports he is getting of his sick wife. Orgon does not seem to have any words to describe Tartuffe, other than the fact that he is a religious man. Satire is evident in Voltaire’s work, Candide. He uses humor to criticize the government, society, and religion. Voltaire also satirizes the human philosophy, which encourages people to have an optimistic view of all things. Once seen as the wisest of all philosophers, different events happen, which lead Candide to dispel this notion concerning Pangloss. Voltaire describes some of Pangloss beliefs, which makes one question the wisdom of his thinking.

The society is crucial to the writers, and this is especially characterized in the neoclassical period. The writers regarded themselves as part of the society, and this meant exposing the ills in the society. They are concerned with whatever is happening to people. They are especially concerned with the actions of those in power, especially the government and the church, which at this time had significant influence in people’s lives. They are also concerned with people’s actions, and individuals’ contribution to the degrading of the society through their actions. They showed how the society could sometimes portray varying degrees of corruption and foolishness. Moliere did that when he exposed the religious hypocrisy and people’s willingness to believe anyone who said he was religious. Tartuffe represents the people in society who are willing to do anything for the sake of wealth, and who have no shame in their actions.

Voltaire exposes religious hypocrisy throughout the novel. He writes about the daughter of a pope. This is an unusual occurrence, considering that the pope is the head of the Catholic Church, and all priests are celibate. He also writes about different individuals, such as the Franciscan friar, whose greed for wealth has led to him becoming a jewel thief and another who sleeps with a prostitute. Ordinarily, this would not raise as much objection and speculation, but in this case, such an act shows a high level of hypocrisy because the members belonging to the Franciscan order have to take a vow of poverty. Candied and Pangloss suffer under the hands of religious leaders. They are persecuted, yet they have not done anything wrong.

The neoclassical literary period was an interesting period because it was a mixture of the old and the new. Writers during this period used the classical writers as their models. They were conservative in their writing in the sense that they wanted to maintain the social order and hierarchy in the system, and they were critical of radical change. At the same time, they exposed the ills that plagued the society. The writers used satire in their writing, and this enabled them to address serious concerns. Society was crucial to them, and they addressed different issues that the people faced. The writers used logic and reason, and they were more realistic, hence they avoided writing about fantasy and superstition. They exposed religious hypocrisy in different forms, and they exposed the weaknesses of the government.













Works Cited

Golban, Petru. Transitional Phenomena in the 18th Century English Literature.

Hersberger, Eli. Candide and Religion. October 2005. Web. June 21, 2013.

Pearson, Roger. Voltaire Candide and other Stories. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Print.

Tokareva, Galina. Ways to Express the Moment of Enlightenment (satori) in Classical Japanese Hokku Poetry.

Zgorzelski, A. Sinko. General View of Neoclassicism. The Augustan Age (1700-1740).

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