Introduction to Early Modern Criticism

Even after having journeyed for around fifteen hundred years—or, as a matter of fact, till now—the importance of classics such as Aristotle and Plato is not ignored. Classics remained highly influential to the intellectual world even during the Middle Ages.

In fact, post the Middle Ages, one witnesses the serious revival of classics in literature. However, the way and for what reasons did the classics remained influential in the Middle Ages is a different and interesting point altogether.

The major amount of intellectual exercise was done by clergy and the people of the Church and the major reason was to incorporate classical philosophy and literature with and in Christian teachings.

The Middle Ages also saw the emergence of people, such as Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374), who would become the torch bearer of the secular and educated modern class who would inject classical thought into poetry and literature.

In this way, a new class of bourgeois liberals would grow out of the Christian feudalist society. They worked on a curriculum that focused on a detailed study of both of the classical languages, rhetoric, poetry and moral philosophy.

This particular kind of engagement with the classics—which was different from that of previous Middle Ages thinkers—gave birth to what came to be known as humanism.

The most crucial characteristic of the early modern period is anthropocentrism. A philosophy that puts human at the centre in place of God. This would also be known as Renaissance or Renaissance humanism. It is the genesis of the word ‘modern’.

One has often believed that literary criticism has existed since the time of the classics—which is true—but literary criticism as an independent entity came into being during the early modern period. 

First, art was separated from the church and the status of being sacred; secondly, artists became more and more autonomous; thirdly, the invention of the printing press gave rise to wider readership, publication and circulation of the written works; fourthly, the middle class that was gaining power began to assert its opinions against the Church and the feudal system based on humanism; and last but not the least, this age also witnessed a very heavy defence of literature and poetry from the charges of immorality made by the clergy.