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Donald Lemen Clark

In this essay I undertake to trace the influence of classical rhetoric on the criticisms of poetry published in England between 1553 and 1641. This influence is most readily recognized in the use by English renaissance writers on literary criticism of the terminology of classical rhetoric. But the rhetorical terminology in most cases carried with it rhetorical thinking, traces of whose influence persist in criticism of poetry to the present day.

By definition the renaissance was primarily a literary and scholarly movement derived from the literature of classical antiquity. Thus the historical, philosophical, pedagogical, and dramatic literatures of the renaissance cannot be accurately understood except in the light of the Greek and Roman authors whose writings inspired them. To this general rule the literary criticism of the renaissance is no exception. The interpretation of the critical terms used by the literary critics of the English renaissance must depend largely on the classical tradition.

1. Aristotle

A survey of what Aristotle includes in his Poetics, what he excludes, and what he ignores, will be a helpful initial step in an investigation of what he meant by poetic. Five kinds of poetry are mentioned by name in the Poetics: epic, dramatic, dithyrambic, nomic, and satiric; and lyric is included by implication as a form of epic, where the poet narrates in his own person.[10]

1. The Decay of Classical Rhetorical Tradition

The seven liberal arts of mediaeval education carried the blending almost to the absorption of poetic by rhetoric, and the debasement of rhetoric itself to a consideration of style alone.

1. The Content of Classical Rhetoric Carried Over into Logic

1. The Reestablishment of the Classical Tradition

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