This work is a continuation of studies embodied in earlier volumes--Literary Criticism in Antiquity and English Literary Criticism: the Medieval Phase--treating of the history of literary criticism. And in continuing a survey of the development of literary criticism in England beyond medieval times an attempt is here made to review the critical achievement at the Renascence by 'stirring the mould about the root of the question' (as Jonson advised), the aim throughout being to arrive at the ideas of literature then current in England, as revealed in contemporary theorizing and judgments. The period has sometimes been dismissed as lacking great critics; and the critical works themselves have been described as elementary, second-hand and remote. Viewed, however, in the light of what came before and after, those works will be found to be of considerable interest and possessed of intrinsic, as well as historical, value. Now, without a doubt, a new era was dawning, not only in the problems faced and the manner of their treatment, but also in the glimpses afforded of enduring principles, in the new sense of literary values and in the literary charm that lights up so many of the critical pages. It was now, in fact, that the foundations of modern criticism were being laid; and, besides, the critical work of the time, so far from being remote or irrelevant, has, on the contrary, a close bearing on contemporary literature.
In the pages that follow, the general course of the movement has first been sketched; then the main findings and their significance in critical history. And in making the survey what is in some sense a new approach has been adopted. Hitherto attention has been mostly directed to following the fortunes of the new classical teaching, interpreted and modified as it was by 16th-Century Italian critics. The assimilation of classical doctrine, however, was not the only, nor yet the main, concern of English critics; neither were the 16th-Century Italians, for all their admirable theorizing, the real channels through which Englishmen first became acquainted with classical theory. So that for a clear understanding of what actually took place some regard must be paid to other sources of influence. Hence the efforts here made to indicate the part played by the medieval tradition, with its inheritance of post-classical and patristic doctrine; the lead given by 15th-Century Italian and other Humanists, by whom the break with medievalism was first effected; and again, the no less important attempts of independent native writers to work out new artistic and dramatic theories all their own. In this wider persipective the work of . . .