The Age Of Reason

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The eighteenth century saw unprecedented growth of literature and the arts in Europe and America. Britain during this time period also enjoyed prolonged periods of civil peace that stood in sharp contrast to the bloody and protracted civil and international conflicts that lasted throughout the 17th century. Furthermore, as the rising middle classes increasingly sought both education and leisure entertainment, the marketplace for artistic production swelled dramatically. One of the most critical elements of the 18th century was the increasing availability of printed material, both for readers and authors. The period was markedly more generally educated than the centuries before. Education was less confined to the upper classes than it had been in centuries, and consequently contributions to science, philosophy, economics, and literature came from all parts of the newly United Kingdom. It was the first time when literacy and a library were all that stood between a person and education. The first half of the century has often been aptly described as the Age of Reason, the Augustan Age and the Neo-classical Age. The very description of this period as Augustan throws light on the prosperity and growth of this period, drawing a direct parallel to the affluent era of Latin literature during the reign of Augustus and in the process, claiming a similar Golden Age of English literature and arts. It was an "age of reason" in that it was an age that accepted clear, rational methods as superior to tradition. The period saw the development and growth of a new attitude towards life and more importantly towards the role of nature around us. Rationalism, as an ideology, gained importance and influenced literary works to a large extent. Rationalism as a philosophical doctrine, asserts that reason and factual analysis, rather than faith, dogma or religious teaching should determine the truth. Such a philosophy provided stability and order to the society and was hence considered as a welcoming change from the chaos that Europe had recently experienced. The Age of Reason, hence, emphasized on the importance to perceive life in a scientific and detached manner. It rejected emotion or fashionable belief and stressed on a more rational, logical and scientific attitude towards life. The discoveries of Isaac Newton, the rationalism of Réné Descartes, the skepticism of Pierre Bay... ... middle of paper ... ...ight be taken to include the rise of individualism, as seen by the cult of the artistic genius that was a prominent feature in the Romantic worship of Shakespeare and in the poetry of Wordsworth, to take only two examples; a new emphasis on common language and the depiction of apparently everyday experiences; and experimentation with new, non-classical artistic forms. Romanticism also strongly valued the past. Old forms were valued, ruins were sentimentalized as iconic of the action of Nature on the works of man, and mythic and legendary material which would previously have been seen as "low" culture became a common basis for works of "high" art and literature. Romanticism played an essential role in the national awakening of many Central European peoples lacking their own national states, particularly in Poland, which had recently lost its independence. Revival of ancient myths, customs and traditions by Romanticist poets and painters helped to distinguish their indigenous cultures from those of the dominant nations (Russians, Germans, Austrians, Turks, etc.). Patriotism, revolution and armed struggle for independence also became popular themes in the arts of this period.

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