What are the various types of criticism that Frye talks about in Anatomy of Criticism

What are the various types of criticism that Frye talks about in Anatomy of Criticism

Northrop Frye's "Anatomy of Criticism" is a seminal work in the field of literary criticism, first published in 1957. Frye provides a thorough and methodical framework for evaluating and comprehending literature in this seminal study. He outlines a number of fundamental ideas, archetypal patterns, and literary criticism subtypes that can be used with literary works.

What are the various types of criticism that Frye talks about in Anatomy of Criticism

Historical Evaluation:

According to Frye, historical Evaluation entails analysing a literary work within its historical setting. This approach considers the political, social, intellectual, and cultural influences on the work as well as the author's aims. Understanding how the book reflects the issues, ideals, and beliefs of the historical era in which it was created is the aim of historical criticism. It involves looking into the background of the writer, the era in which the work was produced, and any historical events that might have influenced the writing. Frye argues that there are alternative methods of literary interpretation even if he acknowledges the need of historical evaluation.

Ethical Reproach:

Ethical criticism focuses on the moral and ethical dimensions of literature. This kind of criticism evaluates the ethical ramifications of the values and concepts that are portrayed in a literary work. Ethical criticism is assessing the motivations and acts of the characters in addition to the moral conundrums they encounter. It also takes into account how the book handles issues of justice and injustice, morality, and the decisions that people make. Frye contends that as literature frequently addresses moral and ethical issues, ethical criticism is a crucial component of literary study.

Rhetorical Criticism:

Rhetorical criticism centers on the use of language and rhetoric within a literary work. It involves an analysis of the author's style, tone, figurative language, and persuasive techniques. Rhetorical criticism examines how the author employs various rhetorical devices, such as metaphors, similes, symbolism, and irony, to convey their message and engage the reader. 

What are the various types of criticism that Frye talks about in Anatomy of Criticism-Frye emphasizes the importance of understanding the author's use of language and the impact it has on the reader's experience.

The Criticism of Mythology:

Mythological criticism, perhaps one of Frye's most notable contributions, focuses on the archetypal patterns and mythic elements present in literature. Frye argues that literature is rooted in universal myths and archetypes that recur across cultures and time periods. Mythological criticism seeks to identify these recurring patterns, such as the hero's journey, the quest, the fall, and the resurrection. By recognizing these archetypal elements, critics can better understand the deeper, timeless meanings present in literature.

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Archetypal Criticism:

Archetypal criticism, closely related to mythological criticism, explores the recurring patterns, symbols, and character types that appear in literature. These archetypal elements, which are often derived from myths and folklore, include the hero, the villain, the mentor, and the quest. Archetypal criticism aims to uncover the underlying structures and motifs that give literature its universal and timeless appeal. Frye suggests that understanding these archetypes can provide insight into the thematic and symbolic richness of a text.

Historical Criticism of Modes:

Frye introduces the concept of "modes," which are narrative structures or genres that recur throughout literary history. These modes include comedy, romance, tragedy, irony, and satire. Each mode has its own set of conventions, themes, and character types. Historical criticism of modes involves examining a text within the context of the specific mode to which it belongs. For example, a comedy would be analyzed differently than a tragedy, considering the distinct expectations and conventions associated with each mode.

Genre Criticism:

Genre criticism delves into the various literary genres and their characteristics. Frye emphasizes the importance of understanding and recognizing the genre of a given work, as it determines the reader's expectations and the criteria for evaluating the text. Different genres, such as poetry, drama, and the novel, have unique conventions, structures, and purposes. Genre criticism involves analyzing how a work conforms to or subverts the expectations of its genre.

Theory of Symbols:

Frye's theory of symbols is a central component of his criticism. He suggests that symbols play a crucial role in literature, serving as keys to understanding the deeper meanings and themes within a text. Symbols are not confined to specific works but are part of a larger system of literary symbols. They can be cultural, mythological, or archetypal in nature. Frye's theory of symbols is closely related to his discussions of mythology and archetypes, as symbols often draw from these sources.

Concept of Irony:

Frye introduces the concept of irony as a fundamental element in literature. He distinguishes between various forms of irony, including verbal irony (saying one thing and meaning another), dramatic irony (the audience knowing something that the characters do not), and situational irony (a discrepancy between expectations and reality). Understanding the role of irony in a text is essential for a nuanced interpretation, as it can convey complex layers of meaning and provoke thought.

Theory of Modes:

Frye's theory of modes identifies four fundamental narrative structures or modes: lyric, narrative, dramatic, and thematic. The lyric mode emphasizes the expression of the author's emotions and subjective experience. The narrative mode focuses on storytelling and the unfolding of events. The dramatic mode centers on the interaction of characters in dialogue and action. 

What are the various types of criticism that Frye talks about in Anatomy of Criticism-The thematic mode is concerned with presenting ideas and arguments. Understanding which mode a work predominantly employs can help in analyzing its form and purpose.


Northrop Frye's "Anatomy of Criticism" presents a groundbreaking and influential framework for the analysis of literature, which encompasses various types of criticism and theoretical perspectives. Frye's approach seeks to provide a comprehensive understanding of the complexities of literary works, emphasizing the importance of considering both the intrinsic nature of literature and its connection to universal myths and archetypes.

The various forms of critique that Frye offers readers—historical, ethical, rhetorical, mythological, archetypal, and genre—allow them to approach literature in a variety of ways. Through an analysis of a literary work's mythic components, ethical implications, rhetorical devices, historical and cultural background, and recurrent archetypes, critics can delve deeper into the work's meaning and significance. This method makes it possible to analyse literature in a more thorough and nuanced way than using conventional types of critique.

Frye's theory of symbols, concept of irony, and theory of modes further enrich the understanding of literature. Symbols, in particular, play a pivotal role in conveying the profound and universal themes found in literary works. Irony adds complexity to narratives and can provoke deeper reflection, while the theory of modes helps classify and comprehend the form and purpose of different texts.

Moreover, Frye bases his own method on his criticism of the literary criticism that already exists. He draws attention to the shortcomings of conventional approaches, such historical and biographical critique, which frequently impose rigid standards on literature. Readers and critics are encouraged by Frye's framework to embrace the symbolic and imaginative aspects of literature and to appreciate it on its own terms.

Overall, "Anatomy of Criticism" offers a comprehensive and systematic framework for understanding literature, one that transcends the limitations of single-minded approaches and explores the deep, universal patterns and structures that underlie the world of literary creation. 

What are the various types of criticism that Frye talks about in Anatomy of Criticism-It continues to be a valuable resource for scholars, students, and enthusiasts of literature, providing a rich and multidimensional lens through which to explore the vast and intricate world of literary expression. Frye's contributions to the field of literary criticism have had a lasting impact and continue to shape the way we approach and appreciate the written word.



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