Frye’s archetypal criticism
Frye’s archetypes connect “one poem with another and thereby [help] to unify and integrate our literary experience” ( Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays, 1957). Literature, in Frye’s view, is an expression of a person’s imaginative transformation of his (or her) experiences. Ritual and myth were the first creative expressions, beginning as stories about a god and developing into what Frye calls “a structural principle of story-telling” (The Educated Imagination, 1963). Essential mythic patterns or archetypes manifested themselves in literature. Writers in various periods drew upon these archetypes, modifying them in accordance with the conventions of their own day and the force of their own personalities.
The archetypal literary critic views the entire body of literature as a self-contained universe of these archetypes, an autonomous and self-perpetuating universe that is not effectively interpreted by extraliterary analogues. Frye believes that by confining criticism to an exploration of essential archetypes recurring throughout literature, he is developing a “science” of literary criticism, a science that recognizes that literature, like all art, is self-referential and that the function of criticism is to bring past imaginative transformations of human experiences into the present and to explore the parameters of present transformations. According to Frye, the critic is scientific in his study of literature, although his mission is not to proclaim literature as science but to make man’s imaginative transformations of his experience, his literature, “a part of the emancipated and humane community of culture.”
Frye discerned four basic types of imaginative transformations of experience in literature. These types first developed as mythic patterns expressing humanity’s attempt to humanize the world. The imagination fuses the rhythms of human life with the cycle of nature and then invests the whole with variable emotional import. The fused natural-human cycle is one in which a youthful spring declines into winter and death. Frye then relates literature to the following mythic structure: Romance is synonymous with dawn, spring, and birth; comedy is synonymous with the zenith, summer, and marriage; tragedy is synonymous with sunset, autumn, and death; satire is synonymous with darkness, winter, and dissolution.
Frye defines commentary as “the translating of as...
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