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What Is Genre Criticism?

E. Reeder
E. Reeder

Genre criticism is a type of literary criticism in which the work of literature is analyzed to see where it fits in terms of its genre instead of viewing it as a totally independent work. According to genre criticism, which is included in the broad category of rhetorical criticism, works should be interpreted based on the characteristics of the genre under which they fall and on how they fit or break the conventions of that genre. This is in contrast to other types of literary analysis, such as new criticism, in which works of literature are read closely and treated as autonomous and independent pieces. Rather than looking at the individual structure and words of each work of literature, genre criticism seeks to analyze a work of literature by determining in which genre it falls based on the genre’s conventions.

William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, viewed under genre criticism, would fall under the genre of tragedy, because it meets the conventions of that type of literature. Most tragedies begin with characters who have high social standing of some sort, such as being royalty or wealthy nobility. In this play, the two protagonists, Juliet and Romeo, both come from wealthy families with high standing in the community. The protagonists in tragedies usually have a character flaw that causes them a major problem; for Romeo and Juliet, it is their impulsiveness and desire to be together despite the feud between their families. The protagonists in tragedies usually either fall from grace and learn from their mistakes or die, as is the case in this work.

Under genre criticism, "Romeo and Juliet" would be deemed tragedy.
Under genre criticism, "Romeo and Juliet" would be deemed tragedy.

Genre criticism also is focused on deciding whether a certain work qualifies, based on the formal conventions associated with genres, as belonging to that genre, another genre or two or more simultaneous genres. John Milton’s Paradise Lost, for example, could be classified as an epic poem because of its focus on the struggle between good and evil and its characters, who fit the archetypes of heroes and villains. Although this is not the standard interpretation, it also might be classified as satire or comedy because of its exaggerated characters, humorous dialogue and absurd situations. The character of God, for example, often finds humor in some of the ridiculous mistakes of Satan’s character in this work.

As times and means of communications and writing change, so do the various genres under which works can be classified. A person using genre criticism, for example, might analyze Internet blogs in a couple different ways. Some blogs are personal observations or stories while others relate factual information. Genre criticism would evaluate whether these blogs fit the conventions of memoirs or nonfiction articles or whether blogs, as a whole, make up an entirely new genre.

Discussion Comments


The other thing about genres is that they are like frameworks or models and they tend to last indefinitely.

Hamlet was written what, at least 400 years ago? But it can be remade into a millionth film today and it will still work. Because genres like tragedy, remain constant. People will always have tragedy in their lives, they can always relate to it.


@ysmina-- I think it's okay for a piece of work to not rigidly fit into a single genre. I don't think genres define what people write, it never has.

There are so many genres these days and many things subscribe to more than one. Just think about various films that come out. They have genres too and most have multiple. For example, romantic comedy, romantic drama, horror comedy, etc.

I think genre critics just evaluate a piece of work and categorize it into genres just for classification purposes. I, for one, want to know what genre a book or film belongs to before I go for it. It's very helpful because everyone has their favorite genres.


I think that there is a risk with genre criticism. If it's done too strictly, and every time, there will be an encouragement for writers to stick to a genre. They will have to write based on what people think the characteristics of that genre is.

The trouble with that is, new and unique ideas may be discourage in the process. I don't think that should be done. Literary genres developed over time too. And major literary works influenced and shaped them. I think that literature should effect the definition of genres. It shouldn't be the other way around.

Does anyone have an opinion on this?

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    • Under genre criticism, "Romeo and Juliet" would be deemed tragedy.
      By: Anyka
      Under genre criticism, "Romeo and Juliet" would be deemed tragedy.