Types of Literary Criticism

Categories : Literary Criticism
Types of literary Criticism

Types of literary Criticism



Legislative criticism


Legislative criticism was earliest. The critic sought to teach writers how to write and laid down cannons, rules, formulae of literary composition. This school dominated the sixteenth century and died its natural death in the seventeenth century. It occasionally raises its head in a trickle of handbooks of composition and “creative writing” assembled by American academics.

Judicial criticism

Judicial criticism seeks to pronounce judgment on works of literature based on certain rules. Such rules are derived often wrongly from Greek and Latin masters. Dr. Johnson may be regarded as a typical example. No proper evaluation is possible in this way.

Theoretical criticism

Theoretical criticism deals with literary aesthetics. Attention is not on a particular work but the study is made of the process of creation and the basic principles of artistic beauty and in this way a literary theory created. Sydney’s “An Apology for poetry” was beginning of this school and Dryden later contributed to it significantly. S.T.Coleridge’s “Biographia Literaria” put a full stop to it. Best theoretical criticism has come from the pens of poet-critics.

Evaluative criticism

Evaluative criticism is concerned with the assessment or evaluation of the worth and the significance of art. The work is examined regarding standards that may be aesthetic, moral, or purely personal and thus an attempt is made to estimate it’s place and importance. We find in the case of T.S. Eliot considers moral and ethical standards as necessary to determine the greatness of the work of literature. Such evaluations are subjective and likely to differ from critic to critic and age to age.

Historical criticism

Historical criticism views a work of art against the background of age in which it was written. Historical criticism examines a work regarding social milieu and thus seeks to account for his shortcomings and excellencies. It also examines a work regarding other works in the same genre and determines its importance and place. Often, the critic with pre-occupation with history forgets merit of work under consideration.

Biographical criticism

Biographical criticism considers writers’ family background, ancestry, personal circumstances, friends, profession, occupation, etc. and also character and temperament and ideas and beliefs of the writer. T.S.Eliot’s famous theory of the impersonality of poetry is a warning against the pitfalls of biographical criticism.

Comparative criticism


Comparative criticism seeks to evaluate a work by comparing it to other works of similar nature, wither in the same or other languages. Mathew Arnold was the advocate and exponent. He also suggested the “Touchstone Method” for measuring intrinsic excellence of a work of art. This method expects critics to have thorough knowledge not only of anyone literature but several kinds of literature. The comparison must be made between works of the same type and genre. It can be both illuminating and interesting.

Descriptive criticism

Descriptive criticism is the analysis of work, aims, methods, and effects. Dryden’s criticism begins with self-justification, the poet discussing his works and defending against hostile attach as in prefaces. His essay “Essay of Dramatic Poesy” is a good example of descriptive criticism.

Impressionistic criticism

Impressionistic criticism seeks merely to record of personal response. It is a record of the critic’s responses, application of aesthetic beauty, untrammeled by rules and regulation. The critic does not evaluate a work nor does call it good or bad. He simply conveys how he has enjoyed. Much of romantic criticism is individualistic. Walter Pater is impressionistic in his criticism. Often such critics are wayward, unbalanced, and erratic, most of this belongs only to the past.

Textual or Ontological criticism

Textual or Ontological criticism in the modern age this is a new trend. Consideration is the thing in itself and is studied examined analyzed without consideration of extrinsic factors as biography, history, sociology, psychology. Critic concentrates on structure, diction, language, image meter, tone, theme, etc. We may call them New Critics or Formalists.

Psychological criticism

Psychological criticism based on Freud, Jung, Bergson, and others. It provides critic as precise terminology and allows him to discuss the creative process. Dr. I.A.Richards is one of the ablest and most prominent practitioners of this type of criticism.

Sociologic and Marxist criticism

Sociologic and Marxist criticism enjoyed popularity in the twentieth century. This examines the work of art regarding the social milieu of its author, keeping in mind the artist’s responsibility to society. Art is not created in a vacuum. It is not the work of a person. The author is fixed in time and space answerable to the community. Therefore, the sociologic critic is interested in understanding how is the author connected to society. Marxist criticism is a special type of social criticism.

Archetypal criticism

Archetypal criticism is a branch of psychological criticism which deals with the unconscious, not of the writer or his imagined characters, but the human race. It is also called “Teutonic”, “Mythological”, or “Ritualistic” criticism. It tries to examine literature with the hope of discovering the existence of the mythological pattern. It is based on Sigmund Freud’s theory of collective consciousness. It is proposed that civilized man preserves though unconsciously, those prehistoric areas of knowledge which he articulated. Obliquely in primitive myths – James Frazer and Miss Jessie Weston have demonstrated that human behavior and culture follow the same pattern in all ages and places. Poets like T.S.Eliot make mythical parallels and contrasts between past and present. Critics study and examine literary masterpieces with the hope of discovering mythical patterns.

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