Romanticism was a movement in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that revolted against the Neoclassics that were there in the previous centuries. The first man to use the word “romantic” was a German poet, Friedrich Schlegel, who defined it as a form of literature that depicts emotion in an imaginary kind of way. From Germany, the word Romantic gained fame outside of Europe, and later all through the world. Another writer, Victor Hugo, described romanticism as liberalism in literature. In romanticism there are three main focal points: emotion, imagination and freedom. Romantics are free to create anything they want.
At the beginning, the word “romantic” was deeply connected with the politics of the day. People felt that romanticism appealed to their fears, worries, aspirations and hopes. This was the voice that led to revolution at the end of the twentieth century. The movement was invented by the working of the time to express their frustrations. This was approximately at the time of William Shakespeare. He was popular for his romantic plays which he wrote for theatres in London. Shakespeare’s works were highly regarded as very romantic as he was able to mix both tragedy and comedy almost perfectly. He inspired many people through his ability to disregard rules. Among the scholars he inspired were Schiller and Goethe (Hoffmeister, 1990).
Romantics emphasize on a lot of creativity, subjectivity and individualism. They are spontaneous, do not obey any rules and tend to view life from a solitary point of view rather than from a community’s point of view. They believe that imagination is greater than reason, and that devotion is more superior to beauty. Romantics absolutely love nature; people claimed that they even worship nature. They are also known to be totally obsessed with the past, lots of myths and mysteries. Romanticism is an idea that is of a wide scope and is applicable to almost all aspects of life. Romanticism is applicable to history, politics, arts, and philosophy.
This is the reason why many people have disagreed as to the definition of the word and its usage. Many scholars, including Hoffmeister (1990), have argued that the word romantic should be avoided all the same because it has been used so many times that it has almost lost its entire meaning. Other scholars have opposed the removal of the word, arguing that just the reason a word has been misused does not render it useless. Originally, the word “romance” was used in an exaggerated form. In the eighteenth century, the word gained a melancholic definition. There is no single definition in history that has been known to capture the essence of the word.
Romanticism believes in the goodness of human nature. In the view of the romantics, human nature is good but corrupted by civilization. According to Rousseau, a renowned supporter of Romanticism, man is born free but walks around in chains. Humans are born savages with good intentions but are later corrupted by life. In their view, children are born innocent and good-natured. After a while, human life, pressures of life and frustrations create a feeling of fear and distrust in man. They claim that if men were born sinful, they would use reason to control themselves. And if men were born innocent, they would remain that way if they grew up in the right environment.
It was out of the belief in natural goodness of a man that the theory of Romantic individualism was formulated. Romantic Individualism proposes that an individual human is more important than the entire society combined. Romantics believe in the importance of analysing the self. Many poets have over the years written extensively about romanticism and self- dramatization. For those interested in English literature, the one poem that expresses the Romantics views remains the Lyrical Ballads (1800), whose second edition was prefaced by Wordsworth. Wordsworth argued that "all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings." In his view, artist should be allowed to express his feelings and to be spontaneous about it. Romantics believe that artists should not be limited in the way they express themselves, hence the use of the word overflows.
Wordsworth rejected the neoclassic view that artists needed to focus on a particular subject, and instead proposed that they should stick to the simple pleasures of a rustic lifestyle. He insisted that humans needed to remain in touch with the simplicity and beauty of nature and to do this they needed to have the freedom to write anything they felt like writing without being limited by rules and regulations. For many romantic artists, the attachment to nature always has mystical overtones. For them, nature is not just a source of inspiration and immense beauty, but also a manifestation of the free spirit of nature.
For romantics, nature is very important. At the time of romanticism, Europe had become extremely civilized and easier to travel. It was easier for them to travel and view nature, as well as mountains and oceans. Music, storms and paintings were appreciated more during this point in time. None of these forces of nature has been appreciated before. Nature had not been given any importance in literature. Before romanticism, anyone who was seen to be drawn towards nature was demonized and almost thought of as a lunatic. The romantics succeeded in creating sensitivity about both humans and nature. The writing in the nineteenth century, however, had a bit of a religious touch to it.
It also happened so that it was around the same time the industrial revolution began. The industrial revolution led to many trees being cut and in their place buildings and industries were built. It was the romantics that came out in the defence of nature. They raised a lot of awareness concerning the importance of nature. It was during this time that people began to notice the difference between the city and the rural areas and began to appreciate just how romantic nature was. Imagination and subjectivity then became an integral part of this movement. The scholars felt free to express themselves and idolize the beauty of nature (Hoffmeister, 1990).
Intellect and reason were overtaken by sensitivity and imagination during the age of romanticism. The romantics found ways to run away from things that imposed on their freedom. They chose instead to focus on exaggerating their enthusiasm or with a lot of pessimism. For them, there were two ways to escape from reality: suicide or extensive travels. Also, passion and a strong instinct were very important. Nature for them was spontaneous and impulsive. It is this spontaneity and impulse that made them appear salvage.
Romantics go through a form of metaphysical anguish where they desire to reach a better world. Romantics realize that reality does not satisfy their illusions and they have to find something else that does. And because for most of them the world seems grey and dull, they seek to find a brighter place and in the process rebel against the world. Sometimes the best option for the protagonist is to run away from all of it through suicide. The most common settings for romantic texts are near oceans, beaches, blue moons and the jungle.
Characters in the romantic texts believe in metaphysical beings such as the existence of God, a soul, death and a deep sense of life. As a result, they deal with various psychosocial worries. They are concerned about whether or not humanity is happy or satisfied. They are interested in freedom and human rights. They are also concerned about progress that humanity is making and the future of mankind.
Wordsworth describes nature very passionately, saying how nature is gratifying, exciting and extreme. This strong connection between nature and the souls of men remains the single most important factor in the world of romantics. This is not to say that attachment to nature is the only characteristic of romanticism. For romantics, irrationality was more important that rationality, and emotions were allowed to dominate over any form of reason. There is a difference between the fantasy world and the real world. For the romantics, one cannot feel complete until they have left the civil world and have moved to a world of fantasies. The protagonists in most romantic works usually have problems until they escape to a world of fantasies where they find inner peace and quiet.
Protagonists in romantic literature choose the world of fantasies in order to achieve that, which they can find in the real world. The plot of most of these literary texts is set in the evenings or at night. This is especially convenient, scholars argue, since it is dark at night and imagination is high. The fact that other senses are not active at night makes it easier for them to imagine things. Evenings are mysterious, making it easier for authors to connect to the world of fantasies. Ghosts and other fantasy creatures are easier to imagine. Magical things happen at night when the rest of the world has disappeared and there is peace. He or she is able to connect with the inner self.
The connection with the spiritual world, the calm nights and the suspense that comes with the fact that it is dangerous in the dark and anything could happen is what makes romantic movies and literature endearing. Romantic irony also makes it easier for the works to be serious without it being too serious. Romanticism is also exotic, because romantics provide images from a distant past in places that are far away. The distant places used by romantics need to be awesome places. For example, the French romantics have been known to write stories based in Spain. This was because during the romantic time, the Europeans travelled far and wide exploring different places and cultures (Hoffmeister, 1990).
Many males, who travelled out of Europe, returned home with stories about the beauty and sexiness of females from other places. A lot of contrast is involved in these romantic texts. Beautiful is set alongside ugly, and wonderful alongside horrible. All through the Victorian period, romanticism involved a lot of passion, wild energy and sometimes even destructive emotions. Religion was moved away from the traditional view and became subjects of artistic works. Lots of religious imagery was used during this period in time.
Individualism became very important for romantics. Before romanticism, very few Europeans concerned themselves with discovering their individuality. They believed they were what they were born to be and nothing more. Free markets in the west and the changing economy made individualism an option for many of them. People sought to know more about themselves and who they really were. Most importantly, romanticism led to changing the way humans thought and the way they viewed life. Some examples of romanticism can still be fund around, including the designs commonly known as Victorian designs.