Archetypal criticism is a form of criticism based on the psychology of Carl Jung. He argues that there are two levels of the unconscious: the personal and the archetypal.
Archetypes are the unknowable basic forms personified in recurring images, symbols, or patterns which may include motifs. These motifs can be recognizable character types such as the trickster or the hero, symbols such as the apple or snake, or images such as crucifixion.
Archetypal criticism argues that archetypes determine the form and function of literary works that a text's meaning is shaped by cultural and psychological myths. For example, for the myth critic Northrop Frye, an archetype is "a symbol, usually an image, which recurs often enough in literature to be recognizable as an element of one's literary experience." Frye elaborates taxonomy of modes, symbols, myths, and genres, establishing a complex and comprehensive correspondence between the basic genres -- comedy, romance, tragedy, and irony -- and the myths and archetypal patterns associated with the seasonal cycle of spring, summer, fall, and winter.