The genre approach
Approaching literature through study of its genres has been fundamental to literary criticism in the European languages since Aristotle’s Poetics in the fourth century BC. What Aristotle did was, first, to gather as many examples of a given literary phenomenon as possible and then, by observing resemblances, differences and alliances, to extract from these examples a few general descriptive principles. This is the approach he used, for instance, when preparing to analyse tragedy. Tragedy, he said, was a serious, dramatic representation of an important human action, arousing pity and fear so as to purge those emotions. Tragedies had unity (beginning, middle and end), plots and characters. The hero was a person of significance who was flawed…and so the analysis proceeded.