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Literary Theory

Class at Faculty of Arts |



To introduce students to the main features of English and American aesthetic and literary theories and to the major developments in literary criticism from the Renaissance to the present time. To give a survey of the most important theories and concepts of antiquity (Aristotle, Plato, Horace, Longinus) used in later theoretical and critical discourses.


The lecture starts with a survey of relevant works of ancient Greek and Roman aesthetics, rhetoric and poetics (Plato, Plotinus, Aristotle, Horace, Longinus) and concentrates on the explanation of major categories and concepts taken over by modern (and postmodern) authors. Then it discusses in some detail Renaissance notions of poetry and rhetoric (Sir Philip Sidney, George Puttenham). It explains Classicist, Augustan and Neo-classical opinions of the author, the style and the unity of the work of art (John Dryden, Alexander Pope, Dr Samuel Johnson), and deals with Romantic theories of imagination, metre, poetic language and ideas of the function of poetry (William Wordsworth, S.T.Coleridge, William Hazlitt, P.B.Shelley). Victorian views of the social function of art, cultural development, aesthetic value and the perception of art (Thomas Carlyle, Matthew Arnold, John Ruskin, William Morris, Walter Pater) are also analyzed. In 20th-century criticism the focus is on the aesthetics and poetics of the New Criticism in Britain and the USA (I.A.Richards, William Empson, J.C.Ransom, Percy Lubbock, W.K.Wimsatt), the influence of structuralism mediated by the Prague School (Roman Jakobson, René Wellek, Jan Mukařovský), the structuralist nature of recent archetypal and mythological criticism (Northrop Frye), and the influence of French Structuralism (Roland Barthes).


The lecture is geared to the seminar Literary Theory (111. Literární teorie). Students must answer correctly at least sixty percent of the questions in the final test which includes topics covered in the lecture (Literární teorie / Main Trends in Anglo?American Aesthetic Thought and Literary Criticism) or the course book (Literary Theory. A Historical Introduction), and in the handouts (available in digital form).