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Donald Lemen Clark

1. The Rhetorical Period of English Criticism

Spingarn has carefully traced the introduction of the theories of poetry formulated by the Italian critics into England at the end of the sixteenth century. It is the purpose of this study not to go over the ground which Spingarn has so admirably covered, but to point out in English renaissance theories of poetry those elements which derive from the mediaeval tradition and from the classical rhetorics, and to trace the gradual displacements of these elements by the sounder classical tradition which reached England from Italy.

1. General

To say that poetry has a moral effect on the reader is not the same as to say that moral improvement is the purpose of poetry. The following section of this historical study will be devoted to tracing the substitution of the second assertion for the first.

With the breaking up of the Empire the stream of classical culture was restricted to a narrow channel—the Church. Opposed as it was to pagan morals and theology, the church could honestly retain classical literature only if it were allegorized. This explains the allegorical nature of mediaeval poetry and of poetical theory.

In his study of the function of poetry in the literary criticism of the Italian renaissance, Spingarn has shown[339] that the characteristic opinions reflect the ideas of Horace in his famous line,

  Aut prodesse volunt aut delectare poetae.

In England the Italian interpretations of the literary criticism of Greece and Rome made slow headway against the established traditions of the middle ages. In particular the vogue of allegory did not yield to the idea of the moral example transferred from rhetoric to poetic.

1. Allegory and Example in Rhetoric

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