Categorizing Twentieth-Century Film Using Northrop Frye's anatomy of Criticism

Author: Hamilton, Mark A.
Northrop Frye, in his Anatomy of Criticism, identified four main myths: Comedy, Romance, Tragedy, and Irony/Satire. These were essentially genres, each of which move through six phases. Frye believed a critic could simply organize literature into these phases to show that literature formed ‘an ideal order.’ For each of these phases, Frye identified typical narrative structures and characteristics – primal myths in which humanity was and is consistently concerned. Comedy is the reconciliation of the protagonist with his community at the end, Romance is like a knight’s quest, Tragedy shows us a hero’s separation from his society, and Irony/Satire gives us the everyday difficulties and dissembling of life.

This book shows how Anatomy of Criticism could categorize not only written literature but also 20th- century film. The book matches Frye’s Irony/Satire mythos to Film Noir (fascination with everyday crime), and the Tragedy mythos to the War film (almost always tragic on some level). It equates the Romance mythos to the Western film genre (as Morris Bishop, the medieval historian has said, the western hero is very much the modern-day knight), and Comedy to the comedy genre.


“... Dr. Hamilton has turned out a comprehensive application of Northrop Frye’s theory of myths to films, aided by other ideas from Frye and followers of Frye ... I am delighted with the outcome and expect to see its usefulness bear fruit in many subsequent studies.” – (from the Foreword) Professor Eugene Crook, Florida State University

“In the nearly fifty years since its publication, Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism (1957) has meant surprisingly little to students of the cinema. Now, Dr. Mark Hamilton’s book has remedied this neglect. Recognizing that the primary virtue of Frye’s method lies in its inclusiveness, Dr. Hamilton applies the full rigor of Frye’s system to nearly fifty films ... This book will acquaint readers with one of the most nimble and well-stocked minds in twentieth-century literary theory, and it sheds light on a diverse body of films. This is a wide-ranging and interesting study, from which many students will profit.” – Professor Jan Gorak, University of Denver

Table of Contents

Foreword by Eugene Cook
1. Methodology and Frye’s Archetypal Criticism
2. Movies Illustrating Frye’s Comedy Phases and Their Analogues
3. Movies Illustrating Frye’s Romance Phases and Their Analogues
4. Movies Illustrating Frye’s Tragedy Phases and Their Analogues
5. Movies Illustrating Frye’s Irony/Satire Phases and Their Analogues
6. Summary