The very first thing one should know before getting into the details of this idea, what is the difference between literary criticism and literary theory, is that there is not only one difference between these two concepts but many. However, it is equally true that theory and criticism, in the literary context, are two things that are very much related. Literary theory is the idea that controls or guides the action known as literary criticism. However, there are certain differences between these two concepts that we must know. In this article, I will focus on some of the key differences between literary theory and literary criticism. Moreover, if you are still unsure about the very definition of literary theory, you should read the introductory article on English Literature Education platform – what is literary theory?
Main differences between literary criticism and literary theory:
- Let’s begin with the basic distinction. Literary criticism denotes action and a literary theory denotes abstract, an idea, a set of rules.
- Literary theory deals with the ways to distinguish literary texts from each other and establish categories, classifications and schools of thoughts that are apparently visible in literary texts. Literary criticism, on the other hand, is a practical study of a literary text that may be initiated on the basis of any particular literary theory or independently, that deals with analysing, interpreting, extensively studying within certain boundaries and criteria.
- The act of literary criticism generally concerns with comparison, analysis, and evaluation of literary texts. A literary theory takes one step ahead and it may be the result of extensively literary criticism. For instance, the literary theory with the name of Structuralism must have been the result of an extensive act of literary criticism with an intent to establish a theory that certain elements in many literary works are like a pattern – set of characters, ideas for plots, themes etc.
Anything else that I write here will only be the act of saying the same thing in many different ways. The basic difference is in the nature of these two – criticism is an action and theory is, basically, a systematic set of certain ideas. However, there are other things that one should be aware of when we talk about literary theory and criticism. I will highlight them in the sections below.
The Beautiful Paradox: A literary theory should ideally dictate the terms for an attempt of literary criticism. However, how can the literary theory be established without an act of literary criticism? Think about it.
A Question: Is every act of literary criticism guided by a literary theory? Try to find the answer to this question.
We have literary criticism and we have literary theory too. However, there are many books on the subject ‘Critical Theory’ as well. So, what is this new thing? What is a critical theory? Can you find a suitable definition for critical theory? Is it same as a literary theory? Is it a mixture of theory and criticism?
Well, for now, this is what it is and I will have to end this article here. I will be back with more articles in this ongoing series on Literary Theory and Literary Criticism and I hope this series will be helpful to those who are concerned. All the best!
Read next: Types of literary theory
Written by Alok Mishra for English Literature Education