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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 Graeco-
Roman 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 Pseudo-
Classicism. It emphasized individuality, subjectivity, freedom of expression and
inspiration. It lashed at the stringent rules and other weaknesses of Pseudo-
Classicism, 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).



Practical Criticism (Applied criticism of Prose and Poetry).

*Writer : YULE,GEORGE Malik,Munawar Ali.

*Year Of Publication : 2006-07.

*Country : Pakistan.

*City : Lahore.


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


Submitted To : Mr.Ghulam Ali Buriro.