Literary
Criticism: An
Overview
Critical Approaches to Literature
Dr, Amy Berry SMSU
February 1, 2012
Literary criticism gives us a window
into a work of literature
It gives us a particular way of
understanding the text
from a specific viewpoint
Formalism maintains that a literary work
contains certain intrinsic features, and the
theory "...defined and addressed the
specifically literary qualities in the text"
(Richter 699). Therefore, it's easy to see
Formalism's relation to Aristotle's theories of
dramatic construction
Dramatic Form
Denouement—Climax and unraveling
Dramatic Conflict Builds
Rising Action
Falling action
Resolution
Applying Formalist Dramatic Form to
Understanding Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Hamlet Dramatic Form
What is the rising action, conflict,
denouement, and falling action in
Shakespeare’s Hamlet?
How does dramatic form analysis help us to
understand the play?
Formalism: New Criticism
New Critical theories are still used in secondary and college level
instruction in literature and even writing
•How does the work use imagery to develop its own symbols?
•What is the quality of the work's organic unity "...the working together
of all the parts to make an inseparable whole..." In other words, does how
the work is put together reflect what it is?
•How are the various parts of the work interconnected?
•How do paradox, irony, ambiguity, and tension work in the text?
•How do these parts and their collective whole contribute to or not
contribute to the aesthetic quality of the work?
•How does the author resolve apparent contradictions within the work?
•What does the form of the work say about its content?
• Is there a central or focal passage that can be said to sum up the entirety
of the work?
•How do the rhythms and/or rhyme schemes of a poem contribute to the
meaning or effect of the piece?
Using New Critical Approaches to Understand Hamlet
What are the main ironies in Hamlet?
What are several strong tragic ironies in the play?
Is there a central passage or passages that sums up the play?
That captures the essence of Hamlet’s character?
What recurring images or symbols connect the various parts
of the play?
What recurring themes create the overall meaning of the
play?
Reader Response/Close Reading
What Do You Think?
At its most basic level, reader response criticism
considers readers' reactions to literature as vital to
interpreting the meaning of the text
• The role of the reader is critical to the meaning of the
text
• There is no objective literary text
• Readers create the meaning of the text through the act
of reading and interpreting
The reader, not the writer, creates the text!!!!
What Does Hamlet Mean to You??
What meaning do you create as you read the text?
How might we interpret a literary text to show
that the reader's response is the topic of the story?
Historicism
Historicism places the literary text in an
historical context. History is a series of events
that have a linear, causal relationship: event A
caused event B; event B caused event C; and
so on
The literary text is a product of history, a
reflection of history, and a record of history
• What language/characters/events present in the
work reflect the current events of the author’s day?
•Are there words in the text that have changed their
meaning from the time of the writing?
•How are such events interpreted and presented?
•How are events' interpretation and presentation a
product of the culture of the author?
•Does the work's presentation support or condemn the
event?
•Can it be seen to do both?
•How does this portrayal criticize the leading political
figures or movements of the day?
•How does the literary text function as part of a
continuum with other historical/cultural texts from the
same period...?
Using Historicism to Understand Hamlet
What language/characters/events present
in the play reflect the current events of
the author’s day?
How does this portrayal criticize the leading
political figures or movements of the day?
How does the play relate to
other historical/cultural texts from
the same period? Relate Hamlet to Dr. Faustus
Feminist Literary Criticism
Feminist criticism makes women’s experience, status,
and power the center of reading and interpretation
Feminist criticism is concerned with "...the ways in
which literature (and other cultural productions)
reinforce or undermine the economic, political, social,
and psychological oppression of women
Feminist Principles that Inform Feminist
Literary Criticism
Women are oppressed by patriarchy economically,
politically, socially, and psychologically; patriarchal
ideology is the primary means by which they are kept
oppressed
Using Feminist Criticism to Understand Hamlet
What are the power differences between women
and men?
How do these power differences limit the power,
status and choices of women?