Contemporary (i.e., from the mid-twentieth century on) criticism has typically found Canto III of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage to be superior to the first two cantos. What do you think are some of the reasons for this opinion? Do you share it? Why or why not?
It is true that the general consensus is that Canto III holds more leverage overall in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. It would also be fair to agree that it is a much better developed canto for many reasons.
The first two cantos were mainly written in a variety of locations and, as a result are most admired for the local descriptions.
What sets Canto III apart is that it gives us an introspective look into the character of Harold who has become enthralled by the developments in Waterloo and the other Napoleonic battles in the Rhine, and the Alps. Waterloo is specifically described at full splendor which is one other strength of this particular part of the Pilgrimage.
There was a sound of revelry by night, And Belgium's capital had gather'd then Her Beauty and her Chivalry, and bright The lamps shone o'er fair women and brave men;
Canto III also shows Harold as a less haughty and more approachable character who now wants to find the love of his life. The narrative in all is a combination of rich and well-developed thoughts that could very well be the same thoughts as any other drifter in time; any other wanderlust-filled traveler such as Harold.
Among other strengths found in Canto III there are also the same locodescriptions mentioned in Cantos I and II, only that these descriptions are actually put together and not just mentioned sporadically like Byron does previously. Harold also engages in deep analytical thought of characters such as Rousseau and Voltaire, among many others.
The Canto also denotes a tendency to the bucolic, focusing on the importance of nature and arguing in its defense in a way that a modern reader would understand it under the parameters of environmentalism.
He who ascends to mountain tops, shall find
The loftiest peaks most wrapt in clouds and snow;
He who surpasses or subdues mankind,
Must look down on the hate of those below.
Part of the reason why Canto III is outstanding is because the voice of Byron, the author, is completely superseded by Harold, the character. All the beliefs and ideals of Lord Byron go silent, and Harold's deep meditative state combined with rich words and awesome reflections are in full throttle. As a literary technique, this "muting" of the author is pretty outstanding especially when compared to the other Cantos and also to other works from Byron. Therefore, it is a combination of description, stream of consciousness, meditation, analysis and strong comparisons that set the canto apart from the first two.