Cambridge School

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The name sometimes given to an influential group of English critics associated with the University of Cambridge in the 1920s and 1930s. The leading figures were I. A. Richards, F. R. Leavis, Q. D. Leavis, and William Empson. Influenced by the critical writings of Coleridge and of T. S. Eliot, they rejected the prevalent biographical and historical modes of criticism in favour of the ‘close reading’ of texts. They saw poetry in terms of the reintegration of thought and feeling (see dissociation of sensibility), and sought to demonstrate its subtlety and complexity, notably in Empson's Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930). The Leavises achieved great influence through the journal Scrutiny (1932–53), judging literary works according to their moral seriousness and ‘life-enhancing’ tendency. See also leavisites, practical criticism.

A second group sometimes referred to in the contexts of tragedy and myth as the Cambridge school, although more often known as the Cambridge Ritualists or the myth-and-ritual school, was made up of the classical scholars Jane Harrison, Gilbert Murray, F. M. Cornford, and A. B. Cook, who in the early 20th century applied the anthropological theories of J. G. Frazer's The Golden Bough (1890–1915) to the origins of Greek tragedy, arguing that the drama was derived from religious rituals. Their views influenced the development of myth criticism.

Subjects: Literature.

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