Literary criticism has probably existed for as long as literature.

In ancient Greece criticism began almost simultaneously with literary creation. Plato and Aristotle emerged as critics in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. The later (Aristotle) has never lost his relevance, and is therefore studies and disscused even today. He modified Plato’s theory of ‘Imitation’ and laid the foundation of learned critical debate. The decline of Athenian culture in the third century B.C. resulted in decline in the quality of literature and criticism. This second phase known as Hellenistic Phase did not produce anything in literature or criticism of lasting impact.

The decline of Athens was followed by the rise of Rome which came to be not only political and economic center of the known world but also the nucleus of literary and critical activity. In literature and criticism the Romans were inspired by the ancient Greek masters whom they tried to equal and excel. They aimed at originality instead of imitation. In criticism they undertook to interpret and apply the rules and percepts laid down by Aristotle, but in doing so they rather confused some of the main issues handled by Aristotle. It took centuries of research and debate to remove the confusion and restore Aristotle’s criticism to its original shape. Horace and Longinus are the two major critics of the GraecoRoman phase whose contribution to the debate on the art of poetry has never ceased to be relevant.

The fall of the Roman Empire entailed the fall of literary taste and activity. Literature fell in disgrace, being looked down upon as sensuous and pagan. Grammar, Rhetoric and logic came to be regarded as noble pursuit’s. The period, known as the Dark Ages, was particularly the dark age of criticism. Dante is the only saving grace of this otherwise sterile period in the history of literature and literary criticism.


In the 15th century with the fall of Constantinople to the turks, the Greek scholars moved westward along with their treasures of Greek and Roman literature. Thus the great works of those masters came to be translated into the other European languages. This revival of interest in Greek and Roman literature is known as Renaissance. Renaissance encompassed not only currency of Greek and Roman literature but also of physical and social sciences. But here we are concerned only with literature, so the term Renaissance is here confined to the revival of interest in Greek and Roman literature. The scolars and writers of the other European countries (England, France etc.) voraciously studied the great Greek and Roman classics. The study inspired them to come up with better literary creation following the standards set up by the great Greek and Roman masters of the past. In England the flux of superb creative and critical activity spanned almost two centuries. Sir Philip Sidney was the first English critic of note. His Defence of Poetry, published in 1595, is based on the debate sparked off by Plato, and aptly wound up by Aristole. Sidney’s contribution to criticism was an attempt to restore the distorted image of poetry. In the 17th century, the fourth phase of Renaissance, Ben Jonson an erudite scholar and playwright emerged as a discerning critis with a definite leaning towards classicism. He gave currency to the view that the study of the art of poetry was indispensable for creation of good poetry.

Spanning the second half of the 17th century, this period in the history of literature and criticism is characterized by rationalism and emphasis on the significance and exercise of wit. Dryden stands prominent as the leading critic of this age with “An Essay of Dramatic Poetry” as his masterpiece in which he discusses poetry as medium of dramatic expression. Towards the end of the 18th century, Dr.Samuel Johnson became known as a highly influential critic. Legoius and Cazamian label his criticism as Doctrinal Classicism. It is remarkable for a respect for tradition, contempt for all innovation and a search for stability and discipline. As a bold and eloquent spokesman of classicism he bravely held his ground against the onrush of romanticism.

Romanticism was a sort of revolt against the rigidity and stringency of PseudoClassicism. It emphasized individuality, subjectivity, freedom of expression and inspiration. It lashed at the stringent rules and other weaknesses of PseudoClassicism, and exposed their hollowness. It attempted to explain the creative process and show the significant role played by imagination and emotion in that process. Wordsworth and Coleridge were the chief exponents of Romanticism. ”The Preface to Lyrical Ballads”, a joint venture of the two poets is an important specimen of Romantic critical theory. Some of the later critics have called it the

manifesto of Romanticism. Coleridge’s “Biographia Literaria” gives Coleridge’s view of Romanticism.

Victorian criticism was again a reaction in its turn, against the faults of Romanticism which, it argued, was too individualistic and mood oriented. Romantic criticism over-emphasized aesthetic appreciation to the utter disregard of rules and principles. This resulted in awkwardness and sometimes obscurity. Victorian criticism was a conscious effort to bring back order and discipline in literary criticism. It introduced an exalted view of the function of criticism. Matthew Arnold, the most influential Victorian critic, defines criticism as, ”a disinterested endeavour to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world.” As the pace of life and events had by that time, grown quicker than ever before, Victorian criticism was soon overtaken by the aesthetic movement resulting from the influence of French symbolism. The cult of Art for art’s sake came to hold sway. The aesthete’s criticism was impressionistic and somewhat personal as it was expressive of the critics own enjoyment of a work of art.

Chaotic complexity and variety are the hallmark of 20th century criticism. No single approach holds sway. For some time the Arnold-tradition and Pater-tradition lingered around. Quite a number of scholars and professors are in practice as academic critics. T.S.Eliot, the most influential figure of the 20th century, emphasizes the importance of tradition and authority. I.A.Richards advocates the psychological approach. Then there is the textural school of criticism led by F.R.Leavis who emphasizes close discerning study of the text to the entire exclusion of biographical, historical and sociological concerns. Word by word study of the text has produced some entirely new and highly valuable interpretations of some of the best known masterpieces of literature. George Sampson the author of the Concise Cambridge History of English Literature rightly says that reading “Hamlet” itself is more rewarding than reading a hundred books on Hamlet. Then there are several other critical approaches to literature such as Moral , Sociological , Symbolistic and Expressionistic etc. To sum up there is an endless variety of approaches, each claiming to be the best.

However important all of these aesthetic movements were as antecedents, current ideas about literary criticism derive almost entirely from the new direction taken in the early twentieth century. Early in the century the school of criticism known as Russian Formalism, and slightly later the New Criticism in Britain and America , came to dominate the study and discussion of literature. Both schools emphasized the close reading of texts , elevating it far above generalizing

discussion and speculation about either authorial intention (to say nothing of the author's psychology or biography , which became almost taboo subjects) or reader response. This emphasis on form and precise attention to "the words themselves" has persisted , after the decline of these critical doctrines themselves. Mikhail Bakhtin introduced the concepts of heteroglossia , dialogism and chronotope, making a significant contribution to the realm of literary scholarship.

Today interest in literary theory and Continental philosophy coexists in university literature departments with a more conservative literary criticism of which the New Critics would probably have approved. Acrimonious disagreements over the goals and methods of literary criticism, which characterized both sides taken by critics during the "rise" of theory , have declined (though they still happen) , and many critics feel that they now have a great plurality of methods and approaches from which to choose. Some critics work largely with theoretical texts , while others read traditional literature; interest in the literary canon is still great , but many critics are also interested in minority and women's literatures , while some critics influenced by cultural studies read popular texts like comic books or pulp / genre fiction. Ecocritics have drawn connections between literature and the natural sciences. Many literary critics also work in film criticism or media studies. Some write intellectual history ; others bring the results and methods of social history to bear on reading literature.

References : www.wikipedia.org and “Practical Criticism” (Applied
criticism of Prose and Poetry).

*Name Of The Book : THE STUDY OF LANGUAGE : AN INTRODUCTION. Practical Criticism (Applied criticism of Prose and Poetry). *Writer : YULE,GEORGE Malik,Munawar Ali. *Year Of Publication : 2006-07. *Country : Pakistan. *City : Lahore. *Publishing By : THE PRESS SYNDICATE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE. B.A.(Hons) Part-1. Semester : 2nd semester , 2007. Topic Of my Assignment Is : “Brief History Of Criticism”. The Assignment Is The Part Of The Course : Introduction To Literature English:311. Submitted To : Mr.Ghulam Ali Buriro.

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