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The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism
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    Perry, Nandra 2011. The Imitation of Christ in English Reformation Writing. Literature Compass, Vol. 8, Issue. 4, p. 195.

  • Volume 3: The Renaissance
  • Edited by Glyn P. Norton, Williams College, Massachusetts

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This 1999 volume was the first to explore as part of an unbroken continuum the critical legacy both of the humanist rediscovery of ancient learning and of its neoclassical reformulation. Focused on what is arguably the most complex phase in the transmission of the Western literary-critical heritage, the book encompasses those issues that helped shape the way European writers thought about literature from the late Middle Ages to the late seventeenth century. These issues touched almost every facet of Western intellectual endeavour, as well as the historical, cultural, social, scientific, and technological contexts in which that activity evolved. From the interpretative reassessment of the major ancient poetic texts, this volume addresses the emergence of the literary critic in Europe by exploring poetics, prose fiction, contexts of criticism, neoclassicism, and national developments. Sixty-one chapters by internationally respected scholars are supported by an introduction, detailed bibliographies for further investigation and a full index.


'… its huge and impressive range and scope make its arrival an occasion for great rejoicing … Norton's anthology makes a permanent contribution, not least because it alerts us to how criticism is now, not just to how it was then.'

Valentine Cunningham Source: The Times Higher Education Supplement

'…it will prove to be an invaluable resource for scholars of the early modern period, and will doubtless become a standard work of reference.'

Scott Nixon Source: Review of English Studies

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Page 1 of 3

  • 1 - Theories of language
    pp 23-35
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    The inventors of the Renaissance, along with their sixteenth-century heirs embarked on a kind of crusade, to recover and repossess a part of what they were newly defining as the cultural and political past. The crusade was focused, from first to last, on language: the purification of classical Latin from barbarous, medieval accretions; the establishment of complete, correct, and authentic classical texts, including especially those in ancient Greek, a language unknown to the Western Middle Ages and to Petrarch; and the constant production of grammars, rhetorics, editions, commentaries, and translations of all kinds that were the pedagogical vehicles for these aims and the insurance of their continuation. Considered with respect to the theory of language, the Renaissance, reasserted the ancient referential view against all the challenges to it that had arisen. Valla's philosophy and the humanist discovery of time in the usages of Latin had radically historicized language, finding its meaning in its social uses and not in its referents.
  • 2 - Renaissance exegesis
    pp 36-43
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    Debates on hermeneutics play a prominent role in Renaissance intellectual life. This chapter explores how should one read in order to grasp the full meaning and value of a text, and what issues should the commentary address. Among the Fathers of the Church there arises a principle that will command biblical exegesis throughout the Middle Ages: the Scriptures have several simultaneous meanings. The dismantling of allegory is taken one step further by the hermeneutics performed among Evangelical theologians: the predecessors of the Reformers. The chapter looks briefly at Erasmus's and Jacques Lefèvre d'Etaples's method applied to biblical exegesis. The meaning of the Bible can be neither exhausted nor totalized, and requires a constant quest for the spiritual riches that lie beneath the surface. Paul's saying, the letter kills but the Spirit gives life, is central to Erasmian exegesis. It might be more fruitful to read pagan fables allegorically than to read the Scriptures literally.
  • 3 - Evangelism and Erasmus
    pp 44-52
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    The publication of an amended Greek text of the New Testament with a parallel Latin translation in 1516 established Erasmus as the premier evangelical humanist. Erasmus from historical evidence, philological argument, and liturgical practice translated In the beginning was the Conversation. He acknowledged that Discourse would have been perfect, but rejected oratio as inappropriate for divine incarnation in Christ because of its feminine gender. It was the choice of sermo that Erasmus's detractors seized to secure ecclesiastical opposition, to marshal civic power, and to incite public outrage. They accused him of changing tradition and even of correcting the gospel. The public airing of scholarly dispute about his translation sermo alarmed Erasmus. Retracting his invitation of theology as a profession for everyone, he restricted it to the learned. Nothing, therefore, upset his evangelical humanism more than the evangelical assertion of Luther, and a substantial objection was its publicity as fomenting sedition.
  • 4 - The assimilation of Aristotle's Poetics in sixteenth-century Italy
    pp 53-65
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    Italian men of letters in the mid-sixteenth century were the first to promulgate the idea that Aristotle's Poetics was a central and traditional text of ancient poetic theory. One of the ways they did so was by conflating and harmonizing Aristotle's treatise with Horace's Ars poetica. With the appearance of Francesco Robortello's Explicationes, the first of the commentaries to be published, a real upsurge of interest in the Poetics begins to manifest itself. Although the value and authority that the Poetics began to enjoy in the mid-century had to do with the fact that Aristotle's approach and method corresponded to the new orientations of some Italian critics and writers, there was a marked effort to assimilate Aristotle's view of poetry to prevailing conceptions of that art. This required diminishing or simply overlooking the discrepancies between the ethico-rhetorical preoccupations that characterized mid-century poetics with Aristotle's different concern with the poem's internal and formal aspects.
  • 5 - Horace in the sixteenth century: commentators into critics
    pp 66-76
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    As far as poetics was concerned, by far the most influential, as well as the most comprehensive, prototype was the Ars poetica of Horace in which the humanists had an authoritative text on poetic composition to set beside the old and the newly discovered rhetorical treatises of Cicero. In the sixteenth century commentaries on texts proliferated through which humanist scholars evolved, applied, and propagated the modes of reading. The first humanist commentary was published at Florence in 1482 and is the work of Cristoforo Landino (Christophorus Landinus) far better known as the author of the Neoplatonic interpretation of the Aeneid contained in his Disputationes Camaldulenses. The commentary by Iodocus Badius Ascensius (Josse Bade) was first published at Paris in 1500 and may well have been the most frequently reprinted of all the commentaries on the Ars poetica in the sixteenth century. A third relatively early humanist commentary was by Aulo Giano Parrasio (Ianus Parrhasius) in 1531.
  • 6 - Cicero and Quintilian
    pp 77-88
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    This chapter explores the role of an increasingly comprehensive and critical reading of the rhetorical works of Cicero and Quintilian play in the development of Renaissance ideas about literary criticism. Of obvious initial interest is the insistence in the mature Cicero and in Quintilian that the trainee orator should, in the first place, read the poets, historians, and writers, or learned contributors to all good arts, and, in the second place (for the sake of practice), praise, interpret, and correct them, pointing out their failings and the aspects that required a critical response. Of the major curriculum rhetorical texts inherited by the early fifteenth century from medieval usage, the most important were Cicero's De inventione and the approximately contemporary Rhetorica ad Herennium. The mature rhetorical works of Cicero and the much more comprehensive rhetorical textbook of the early imperial rhetor, M. Fabius Quintilianus, the Institutio oratoria, entered the teaching curriculum fully only in the fifteenth century.
  • 7 - Humanist classifications of poetry among the arts and sciences
    pp 89-97
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    Humanist theory classified poetry among the arts and sciences in various and sometimes conflicting ways. A given classification affirms not only the priority of some genres, styles, modes, and topics over others, but also the values of a social class or order that poetry might address. Humanist theory classified poetry chiefly in relation to rhetoric, political philosophy, and the discourse of history. Medieval grammarians ranked poetry among the natural and moral sciences, as did the Chartrian academician John of Salisbury in his Metalogicon. According to Juan Huarte de San Juan, every power of the mind mirrors a different combination of humours, and each governs a particular art or science. The humanists' classifications of poetry influenced the thinking of nonprofessional scholars and creative writers in several forms. Castiglione's interlocutors in The book of the courtier famously proclaim that, like music and painting, poetry is an art appropriate for exercise by the cultivated nobility and urban bourgeoisie.
  • 8 - Theories of poetry: Latin writers
    pp 98-106
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    The literary criticism of the first thirty years of the sixteenth century is best pursued in commentaries published in the margins of particular poetic texts and in the rambling miscellanies in which humanist scholars amassed the notes they made on their reading. One of the earliest new works of the century devoted solely to the theoretical discussion of poetry was also destined to be the most successful: Girolamo Vida's De arte poetica. The Jesuits' commitment to the criterion of Christian truth has radical implications for practical criticism. In the first place, it leads directly to censorship; in the second, it rehabilitates the late medieval mode of rigorously detailed allegorical interpretation as a way of saving ancient fictions for truth. However, such new departures do not really disturb the bland mixture of well-established critical commonplaces in what was destined probably to be the most influential of all sixteenth-century Latin theories of poetry.
  • 9 - Literary imitation in the sixteenth century: writers and readers, Latin and French
    pp 107-118
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    Renaissance concepts of the relationship between artistically composed language and the true nature of things are usually bound almost inextricably with the presupposition that the genesis of literary composition lies in rhetoric and in the imitation of model authors. The tension between literary imitation and individual genius, already triggered in arguments among Latin humanists, was live for the new vernacular poets, with their sense of self further quickened by their sensitivity to the linguistic divide over which they had to translate their models for writing. The book by Jacobus Omphalius, De elocutionis imitatione ac apparatu, is in Latin by a German rhetorician, published mainly in France, and incorporating texts representative of the ideas of Italian Latin humanists current since the last years of the fifteenth century. A similar review of the state of the question, published first in Italy in 1541, but later also in France, was the De imitatione libri tres of the Italian Bartolomeo Ricci.
  • 10 - Petrarchan poetics
    pp 119-126
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    Credit for canonizing Petrarch's fourteenth-century Rime sparse usually goes to Pietro Bembo's Prose della volgar lingua. He supervised the first unannotated Aldine edition of Petrarch's Cose volgari, claiming for his copytext the poet's own partially autographed final exemplar. Bembo fashioned his Prose della volgar lingua as a vigorous defence of Florentine cultural hegemony, certifying Petrarch's highly artificial literary language as an inescapable product of Florentine genius and promoting it as normative for all Italian poetry. Petrarch emerges as a contemporary of Virgil and Cicero, Horace and Ovid, Plato and Aristotle, Dante and Cino da Pistoia, and a prophet of Bembo and Ariosto, not only recapitulating Western literary discourse before his time, but also improving upon it and offering it as a model for subsequent Italian style. Social class and distinction likewise modified the development of Petrarchism amongst the nobility in France. Many of the rhétoriqueurs came from humble ranks and they displayed their poetic skills.
  • 11 - Translatio and translation in the Renaissance: from Italy to France
    pp 127-135
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    Renaissance humanists have a burning desire to retrieve the classical past, and initiate a dialogue with those whom they admired. The rediscovery of Greek and Latin manuscripts was a preliminary stage in the translatio studiorum, leading to the philologists' quests for the most accurately emended text, and thence to a process of commentary, as each scholar sought to interpret a work anew. The humanists of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Italy vastly increased the corpus of classical texts available in the West: Petrarch and Poggio between them rediscovered approximately half of the works of Cicero which are now extant. It was in sixteenth-century France that debates over translation were subsequently pursued with greatest vigour, for the transmission of classical texts prompted a searching enquiry into the status of all forms of imitative writing. Most translators concur on a fairly rigorous attention to the source text in its entirety and in all its detail.
  • 12 - Invention
    pp 136-144
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    In the European Renaissance the term invention has many senses, several of which inform poetic theory and literary criticism. Dominating the concept of poetic invention is the meaning of inventio in (mainly Latin) rhetorical theory. Even if the discussion of the concept and term invention is limited to a rhetorical and poetic context, the links to other areas in Renaissance poetics are obvious. In the seventeenth century we observe in some quarters an increased emphasis on the faculty of the ingenium, as the capacity to manipulate language in such a way that novel relationships are created between things of the world. This emphasis displaces the focus of invention from the finding of things, or subject-matter, to the finding of words, especially metaphors. Connected to both the mimetic and the rhetorical views of poetic invention, and partaking of the debates on newness and imitation, is an emphasis in Renaissance poetics on the invention (forming) of new words.
  • 13 - Humanist education
    pp 145-154
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    Throughout the sixteenth century Latin literature (and, to a lesser extent, Greek literature) provided cultural, moral, and intellectual norms and, perhaps most important of all, a linguistic model. Although the vernaculars of sixteenth-century Europe become so much more assertive in all sorts of fields, their inherently subversive threat to the cultural uniformity promoted by the humanists is countered by the cohesive force of a language shared by the educated élite. The rhetorical finesse learnt from a critical examination of literary texts could serve the dominant religious ideology. But more importantly, and more influentially, it could and did both educate and serve an élite governing class and its administrators. The training which a humanist education gave in judgement was exercised by sign-posting the heads of argument in any given passage and by allocating the matter of the passage to categories pre-established in a commonplace-book.
  • 14 - Second rhetoric and the grands rhétoriqueurs
    pp 155-160
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    Around the turn of the century literary historians bestowed the name Ecole des Grands Rhétoriqueurs on an array of writers from the latter half of the fifteenth century through to the early reign of Francis I. Their improved rank in the evolution of Renaissance culture has stemmed from several factors including discounting the polemic agenda of sixteenth-century arts poétiques. While their muse neither flowed from nor led to a unified art poétique, criticism can now reconstruct cardinal points in the idiosyncratic art form of Second Rhetoric. One is thus better placed to outline the medieval heritage of the so-called Grands Rhétoriqueurs and to define their dynamic role both in shaping poetic form and in purveying ideals of form. The rhétoriqueurs experimented with structural complications primarily as means of enhancing semantic and rhythmic possibilities of spoken language; separation of prose and verse is secondary to a primary concern for cultivating rhythmic cadences of speech which enhance structures of thought.
  • 15 - The rhetoric of presence: art, literature, and illusion
    pp 161-167
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    Fascination with the idea of illusionist representation pervades the history of Renaissance culture. Great artists were convinced that they had been endowed with a power to instil a supernatural degree of life into their artefacts. In his Theologia Platonica, Marsilio Ficino ecstatically recalls Pliny's most famous examples of illusionary artfulness: ravenous birds preying over Zeuxis's painted grapes, excited dogs barking at Apelles' horse and hound scenes, lascivious men ogling Praxiteles' marble statue of Venus. The pervasiveness of the rhetoric of presence in the Renaissance is mirrored in the numerous rhetorical terms used by theorists for the representation of reality. In classical rhetoric the art of verbal description was known as ekphrasis in Greek. Although the term was used rather loosely at first, it gradually acquired a more technical meaning, namely the literary description of a work of art. Later, in the sixteenth-century humanist reader's mind another exemplary work of art loomed just as large: Aeneas's own shield in the Aeneid.
  • 16 - The paradoxical sisterhood: ‘ut pictura poesis’
    pp 168-175
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    The doctrine ut pictura poesis ('as is' or 'as in painting, so is' or 'so in poetry') lies at the heart of Renaissance aesthetics, the central theme and presiding dogma of the theory and practice of painting and poetry alike. Ut pictura is the universal presumption of all writers on poetry and poetics. It offers a key to understanding both what poetry was thought essentially to be and aim for and the place it occupied as the dominant mode of high cultural expression. One result of the poetic idealization to which subjected painting was a system of stylistic norms and canonic procedures tellingly at odds with the supporting pictorial rhetoric, and in particular the claim that that in which poetry most resembles her Sister is their common effort to present what Philip Sidney calls a perfect picture of the particular truth of things.
  • 17 - Conceptions of style
    pp 176-186
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    As stylistic concepts evolve within the pan-European culture of neo-Latin humanism, it seems possible to sketch a general outline of Renaissance stylistics; yet because the cultural and political functions of these rhetorical categories shift from country to country, such an overview needs to be supplemented by consideration of specific national contexts. This chapter examines the dominant trends in Renaissance stylistics but also their divergent ideological exfoliation in France and England. A fully developed alternative stylistic model emerged in the last quarter of the sixteenth century. Between 1567 and 1590, two leading continental scholars, Marc-Antoine Muret and Justus Lipsius, worked out a new conception of style, whose origins were philosophic rather than rhetorical. This style, which Morris Croll identified with the Attic plain style, substitutes Silver Latin models for Cicero. More important, it substitutes the figures of thought, aphorism, antithesis, paradox, sententiae, for the rhetorical figures of sound and replaces Cicero's musical periods with a briefer and less elaborate syntactic structure.
  • 18 - Sir Philip Sidney's An apology for poetry
    pp 187-198
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    This chapter, on Sir Philip Sidney's An apology for poetry, supports the views that his humanistic defence of literature (poesis) is, in its broadest interpretation, Ciceronian. It emphasizes the importance of Aristotle's Rhetoric in Sidney's analysis of poetic subject-matter in relation to the materiae of the other arts and sciences. The chapter shows that, by rejecting Neoplatonic attitudes towards poetry, Sidney's argument is more consistent than previously recognized. Since poetry has fallen from the highest estimation of learning to be the laughing-stock of children, Sidney proposes to bring four available proofs to its defence. For ease of reference, the proofs are referred to as by antiquity, by etymology, by kinds, and by purpose. Taken together, the proofs constitute Sidney's central argument and form, even before their subsequent recapitulation and amplification, just under half of the treatise as a whole.
  • 19 - Aristotle, Horace, and Longinus: the conception of reader response
    pp 199-204
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    Theorists of poetry and rhetoric have always been concerned with the affective impact of language, and literary critics of the Renaissance and seventeenth century give voice to the issue of reader-response by building on the rhetorical inheritance of Horace, Aristotle, and, increasingly in the seventeenth century, Longinus. Horace's Epistula ad Pisones, (Ars poetica), remained a dynamic presence in the literary criticism of the Renaissance and seventeenth century, though it had been familiar since the Middle Ages. If the writer's purpose is limited to instruction and delight, then the reader's role might seem somewhat passive. But in order to instruct and delight readers, it is necessary also to move them. The most prominent formulation of literature's power to move is the idea of catharsis expounded in Aristotle's Poetics. Support for the idea of the reader's inspiration could be found in Longinus's Of the height of eloquence, the translation of which in English was made in 1632.
  • 20 - Italian epic theory
    pp 205-215
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    The surge of Italian theorizing about epic that began in the mid-sixteenth century was part of a general effort to systematize poetic discourse by classifying and defining it according to its various genres. This chapter first summarizes the norms prescribed for epic in this trattatistica using, aside from Giovan Giorgio Trissino's and Torquato Tasso's codifications, the following sources: Antonio Sebastiano Minturno's L'arte poetica, Tasso's earlier Discorsi dell'arte poetica, Camillo Pellegrino's Il Carrafa o vero della epica poesia and Giason Denores's Poetica. Later, it shows that these prescriptions were actually contested, stretched, and redefined as it became evident that they were designed to exclude chivalric romance from the canon of heroic poetry. One of the reasons sixteenth-century codifications of epic theory seem so derivative of Aristotle is because they usually organize themselves around the four qualitative parts according to which Aristotle had analysed tragedy: plot; ethos or characterization; thought; and diction.
  • 21 - The lyric
    pp 216-228
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    Within the loose system of literary genres that existed in the passage from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, lyric has a problematic trajectory. Lyric is always the most fugitive of genres when it comes to a theory of its identity. This chapter first discusses the developing notion of lyric as a kind of writing much concerned with materiality. Then, it deals with the genre's compact with subjectivity, and the role of lyric in society. This role depends on reconciling materiality, subjectivity, and other features in a specifically modern programme for the genre. The mode of lyric writing based on the example of Francesco Petrarca carries a unique weight in the early modern period. It instantiates a set of expectations about lyric, for instance, that to rethink the genre is to reinvent various lyric forms, and that modern lyric involves a fresh charter between meaning and artifice, opening manifold new ways for a poem to operate as a fiction.
  • 22 - Renaissance theatre and the theory of tragedy
    pp 229-247
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    Renaissance tragedy was fundamental to the establishment of vernaculars, the development of literature, the making of national theatres, to political, religious, educational, and epistemological debate, and to the passage to modernity. The sixteenth century's early decades had seen many mixed tragedies on religious and other themes. There were experiments all over Europe, and older forms of moralizing theatre in classical garb were often named tragedy. For two-thirds of the sixteenth century authors of tragedies and their theory disputed issues of continuity and tradition, discontinuity and originality, antiquity and modernity, vernaculars and Latin, ethics and genre, religion and politics. If tragedies were not continuous from Seneca's first century to the Christian fourteenth, the idea of tragedy was familiar and normative for the Renaissance. Horace had distinguished comedy and tragedy, defined stylistic propriety, explained how tragedies must adopt known stories or be consistent in fictive ones, and praised action over narration, save where decorum forbade performance of atrocious or fantastic acts.

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