A study of the changing concept of imagination in pre-Romantic criticism

Fallon, Ruth Marie (1979) A study of the changing concept of imagination in pre-Romantic criticism. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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It is a well-known fact of literary history, that between the Renaissance and the Romantic period, a radical change took place in the manner in which poets and literary critics conceived of the faculty and function of imagination and its role in the poetic process. Put briefly and over-simply, it was a change from a concept of imagination as a begetter of visual images, an instrument of dreams, fiction, and poetic diversion, to one in which this faculty came to be considered as not only a creative one, but also an 'organ of truth I, so to speak, whose visions, insights, and illuminations possessed unquestioned validity. -- This paper attempts to trace the historical steps by which this change occurred, and to examine the major differences between the way the imagination was conceived of in Romantic theory and criticism, as compared with prevailing conceptions among earlier theorists. -- I believe this change in the concept of the poetic imagination to be an important distinguishing characteristic between the poetry of the English Romantics and that of Renaissance and Neoclassicism. In my focus on seminal writers whose views helped bring about this change, I have kept in mind the two-fold question: What is poetry? What is its relation to reality? -- Three distinct answers emerge in this historical search. Briefly stated, a view of Renaissance poetry emerges which sees poetry as being ‘fictional’ in nature. The Renaissance theorist does not conceive of the imagination as a faculty which portrays reality. Neoclassic theory, the poet and critic are seen to refer poetry directly to the reason, rather than to the imaginative faculty. They attempt to portray empirical truth in their poetry. In doing so, imagination becomes "the dress of thought", the faculty of "adornment". -- In Romantic theory, on the other hand, one sees emerging a new concept of imagination. Here, the poet and critic believe that poetry refers directly to the imagination. Consequently, the imaginative faculty becomes, in Romanticism, the most vital agent in poetic composition, thought to be capable of presenting truth of a much higher nature than that which could be ascertained through the exercise of reason and the senses. It becomes the only sure way of arriving at truth. -- These three distinct views of the nature of poetry and its relation to reality characterize English literary criticism between the sixteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and have a direct bearing on the developing concept of the faculty and function of imagination. They provide valuable insights into the way imagination was seen to operate; consequently, they form the foundation on which I build my case for imagination's changing role.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/10475
Item ID: 10475
Additional Information: Bibliography : leaves 101-106.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature
Date: 1979
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: English poetry--History and criticism; Imagination.

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