THE RENAISSANCE
CRITICS AND
MILTON
1
The Renaissance Critics

The Renaissance critics were out to bestow form, classical
form, on the literature and Tile of their age.
a.
b.
c.
d.
e.
f.
They look upon the Middle Ages as a semi-barbaric period.
They aim to revive the language and literature of the classical age.
Therefore, they imitate the languages of Homer and Cicero.
Latin was the language of great literature and noble thoughts.
The Renaissance critics believed that the ancient writers had used a
superior language.
For them, one should go back to the ancients even for meter.
2
The Renaissance Critics

The Renaissance critics’ theory of imitation is different from
that of Plato and Aristotle.
a.
b.
c.
Imitation for Plato and Aristotle was the imitation of persons and
things in nature.
Horace and Longinus used it as meaning the imitation of other
writers.
This latter sense is the one in which it was most often used by the
Renaissance critics.
3
The Renaissance Critics

The Renaissance critics regarded the age that had preceded
them as crude and formless.
a.
b.
c.
d.
e.
f.
They looked for form to the Greeks and Romans.
Rome offered the prototype of the society they most admired.
They loved Vergil because he had created a new literature for a new
empire.
It was the spirit of Rome, not only Roman forms, which the writers
wanted to imitate.
They felt that the best way of attaining to the ancient spirit was to
write in the ancient forms or genres of epic, tragedy, and comedy,
They mould their style upon that of the great ancients.
4
The Renaissance Critics

The Renaissance critics had the desire to systematize
literature.
a.
b.
c.
They were conscious that there are rules of behaviour or a decorum
that a poet should follow.
What was fitting or decorous for life was so for literature.
That is why the Italian critic Daniello termed Decorum the special
study of the poet.
5
The Renaissance Critics

Almost all of Renaissance criticism has the following
features:
Genres are classified according to the class of people they deal with;
b. Style was considered largely a matter of seeing that people speak as
their position in society demands that they speak.
c. The Renaissance critics divided style into the grand, the middle, and
the humble.
d. The high style is to be used for "gods, heroes, kings, and generals, and
not for inferior characters such as sailors, hostlers, and tradesmen."
e. They even divided the alphabet into noble and less noble letters.
f. If the poet would keep decorum, he must not only use the right style
for each character but also describe actions differently according to
the class of the person acting.
g. Horace's remarks about portraying young men as wild, old men as
avaricious, and so forth, fitted in beautifully with their taste.
a.
6
The Renaissance Critics

The Renaissance critics apply social criteria to their
discussion of the genres of literature.
They make the rank of the characters the distinguishing difference
between the dramatic genres.
b. Tragedy is ranked highest among plays because its characters are
kings and princes.
c. Comedy deals with people of the middle class.
d. The speech in comedy must be the everyday speech in the middle
style between the high and the low.
e. The farce is a dramatic form reserved for the lowest classes.
f. The language is that of the gutter or the vulgar and the actions are
appropriately low.
a.
7
The Renaissance Critics

The French and the English critics follow this threefold
division and give almost word for word the same
definitions, as do the Italians.
Yet the English critics were not satisfied that the playwrights kept
strict-enough decorum.
b. Many of the English dramatists wrote plays in which the class of
characters, speech, and action were mixed up.
c. This led Sir Philip Sidney in his Apology for Poetry to say that such
plays were neither right tragedies nor right comedies;
d. For Sidney, a tragicomedy was no true genre.
a.
8
The Renaissance Critics

For The Renaissance critics, the mixing of genres as is the
case with tragicomedy is not acceptable since it can destroy
the sense of decorum.
For them, decorum cannot be kept if the characters are of different
rank.
b. The use of appropriate language cannot be achieved. Will it be
humble or grand?
c. The choice of the appropriate setting cannot be determined. Will it be
a palace or a humble cottage?
d. Thus, they thought mixed genres violate decorum since whatever one
did would be inappropriate for one class of the characters.
a.
9
The Renaissance Critics
During the Renaissance, the epic comes in for a full share of
attention.

The Italian critics maintain that an epic should deal with the adventures
of a great hero, usually a legitimate prince seeking his heritage.
b. Unlike a tragedy, people are of different ranks in an epic.
c. The form of an epic is a noble one since the protagonist is of royal
rank.
d. For the Renaissance critics, the poet must take care to see that decorum
is kept for all the ranks introduced in an epic.
e. The Italian critics give little emphasis to the epic's national qualities.
f. The French critics, much more nationalistic, are particularly anxious
that a French poet present France with a great epic.
g. In England, the epic, or heroic poem, is placed above tragedy partly
because it can celebrate the nation.
h. All the critics agree that the epic should be based on history, preferably
national history.
a.
10
The Renaissance Critics
During Renaissance, a problem connected with the epic
appeared:
 Is it appropriate to consider the long verse romances epics?
 In Italy, the debate was fierce:

Certain critics considered the romance as the modem form of the epic.
b. Many critics condemned romance as unworthy of consideration.
c. For them, romances are written by vulgar men that do not know what
poetry is, nor in what the excellence of the poet consists.
a.
The French critics are not greatly concerned with this
problem.
 The English critics are so interested in this debate:

The romances in England belonged to the past of the Roman Catholic.
b. They scorn the medieval romances as productions of the “Dark Ages”.
c. They found that only
the common people still cherish the old
romances.
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a.
The Renaissance Critics
The Renaissance critics thought that learning as well as
gentle blood (inborn genius ) is necessary.

The French critics have great contempt for the mere "courtier poet"
who caters to the less sophisticated tastes that exist even in the courts.
b. One must know his classics in order to imitate the ancients.
c. The poet is the teacher of the age and must know all.
d. No learning is foreign to the muses.
e. It is not sufficient for poets to be superficial humanists;
f. They must be exquisite artists and universal scholars.
g. The poet must know all so that he can teach all.
a.
12
The Renaissance Critics
The Renaissance critics were not of the "art for art's sake"
school.

They believed in the pedagogical theory of art.
b. Horace had said that poetry has to teach and to delight.
c. Thus, the prevailing renaissance version of this is that poetry teaches
delightfully.
d. This was in answer to the medieval view that poetry is either dangerous
or a waste of time.
a.
13
The Renaissance Critics

The Renaissance critics considered poetry as one of the
three arts necessary for the well-being of the state.
1.
History
teaches the rulers;
2.
Poetry
teaches the people;
3.
Oratory
teaches lawyers how to defend cases;
For the Renaissance critics, poetry purges the citizens of
dangerous emotions.
 It makes them content with the government under which
they live
 It helps to train young men for the state militia.

14
The Renaissance Critics

For the Renaissance critics, each of the literary genres has
its own teaching function.
Tragedy
1.
2.
3.
4.
It deals with kings.
It seems ideally designed for an audience of one type —the ruler.
Its purpose is to present terrifying accidents that may befall the great in
order that princes may learn to moderate their ambitions.
By showing the horror of tyranny, Its function for the people is to
make them content with the well-ordered monarchy under which they
live.
15
The Renaissance Critics

For the Renaissance critics, each of the literary genres has
its own teaching function.
Comedy
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
It deals with common people.
Its purpose is to teach the common people to avoid the follies incident
of their way of life.
Since comedies end happily, they console the common people for their
low station in life.
Turbulence and discontent are allayed by comedy.
It makes people love their private life and the state under which they
live.
16
The Renaissance Critics

For the Renaissance critics, each of the literary genres has
its own teaching function.
The Epic
1.
2.
3.
4.
It has a two-fold purpose: patriotic and aristocratic.
It is the poetic form that teaches noblemen how to act properly.
It teaches noblemen the virtues of their class, particularly the warlike
ones.
The picture of the epic hero stirs the mind with a desire to be like him
and advises how to be worthy.
17
The Renaissance Critics

For the Renaissance critics, each of the literary genres has
its own teaching function.
The Lyrical Poetry
1.
2.
3.
Its function has a two-fold purpose: patriotic and aristocratic.
It gives everlasting fame to great men.
Great men who want their fame to last longer than marble and bronze
are as much dependent on the poets as the poets are on them for
patronage.
18
The Renaissance Critics
Renaissance criticism has been exaggeratedly equated with
neoclassical criticism.

a.
b.
c.
d.
e.
f.
Actually, they are not the same.
They have common features
The great glory of the Renaissance critics remained.
They set the standards for their own age and the age that followed
them.
They established literary criticism as an independent form of
literature.
Henceforth the critic was given an honourable place as a citizen in
the republic of letters.
19
John Milton (1608 – 1674)
As social conditions change, literary criticism has to change
too.

We have seen how the literary criticism of the Renaissance was
coloured by the social conditions of the age.
In England with the revolution of the seventeenth century, a new set
of social and political ideas was introduced.
a.
b.
The 17th century was not an age of literary criticism.

The English were too busy building the New Jerusalem.
The old criticism, as well as the old literature, was too closely
connected with the old order of things to arouse the enthusiasm of the
Commonwealth men.
The Parliament banned the theatre from a Puritan distaste for
"poetry" and for political reasons.
a.
b.
c.
I.
The actors and playwrights were Royalists for the most part.
II.
The plays they gave often mocked the London middle class, which was
the backbone of the Parliament Party in London.
20
John Milton (1608 – 1674)
John Milton was for Parliament and against the King.
 He was a member of the Commonwealth Government.
 He was also not only a poet but a serious student of literary
criticism.
 As a result, we find in his own criticism much that merely
repeats what the older critics said.
 According to Milton, the old monarchical-aristocratic
conception of the poet's function is no longer acceptable.
 For Milton, poets are the strong enemies of despotism.

21
John Milton (1608 – 1674)

Henceforth, the function of the poet according to Milton is:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
To create and cherish in a great people the seeds of virtue and public
civility;
To calm the worries of the mind
To sing the virtuous agonies of martyrs and saints, the deeds and
triumphs of just and pious nations doing fearlessly through faith
against the enemies of Christ;
To deplore the general declines of kingdoms and states from justice
and God's true worship.
To teach Milton's love of liberty and purified religion.
22
John Milton (1608 – 1674)

Milton looks to the Bible to furnish his types of poetry, as
his predecessors did to the classics for theirs:
1.
2.
3.
4.
The Song of Solomon is a pastoral drama;
The Apocalypse of St. John is a high and stately tragedy, and so
forth.
When he considers writing an epic on King Arthur, it is because he
may be made the pattern of a Christian hero.
We can say that Milton’s reference of imitation is the Bible.
• Because of his new political and religious ideas, Milton
never uses the key word decorum in a class sense.
1. For him, the meaning of decorum is always moral or aesthetic.
2. He accuses an opponent of being ignorant of decorum because he
"ascribes to the vilest men sentiments which could become only the
good and wise."
23
John Milton (1608 – 1674)

Milton is against the mixing of genres:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
It is not because of the class difference between kings and subjects.
He considers true tragedy not in terms of kings and princes but in
terms of men whose moral worth has raised them to a high position.
His own Samson Agonistes is modelled as it is on ancient tragedy.
His Samson Agonistes rejects the distinctions of birth and social
position.
For Milton, the leading characters of tragedy may even be used to
point out the errors of princes.
Milton does not mean by this merely what the Renaissance critics
meant when they said tragedy should teach kings not to be tyrants.
Milton wants no kings, tyrants or not.
24
John Milton (1608 – 1674)

Milton is interested in both poetry and the Commonwealth:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

It is natural that he should give advice to the magistrates on the
political function of poetry.
He agrees with them in their condemnation of libidinous and
ignorant poets;
He advises them that poetry is necessary to the spirit of man.
What the magistrates should do is to encourage the kind of poetry
they want.
Faced with the role of poetry in the Commonwealth, his attitude for
a moment seems to be that of Plato in his Republic.
Milton rejects the old class standards for poetry:
1.
2.
In their place, he emphasizes moral standards of the middle class
who are beginning to demand their rights
They are not those of the ignorant crowd, with whom the learned
Milton refuses to identify his cause.
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INTRODUCTION TO THE SCOPE OF LITERARY CRITICISM