The Purpose Of Criticism Essay

4098 words - 16 pages

The Purpose of Criticism:Literary criticism has at least three primary purposes.(1) To help us resolve a difficulty in the reading.The historical approach, for instance, might be helpful in addressing a problem in Thomas Otway's play Venice Preserv'd. Why are the conspirators, despite the horrible, bloody details of their obviously brutish plan, portrayed in a sympathetic light? If we look at the author and his time, we see that he was a Tory whose play was performed in the wake of the Popish Plot and the Exclusion Bill Crisis, and that there are obvious similarities between the Conspiracy in the play and the Popish Plot in history. The Tories would never approve of the bloody Popish Plot, but they nonetheless sympathized with the plotters for the way they were abused by the Tory enemy, the Whigs. Thus it makes sense for Otway to condemn the conspiracy itself in Vencie Preserv'd without condemning the conspirators themselves.(2) To help us choose the better of two conflicting readings.A formalist approach might enable us to choose between a reading which sees the dissolution of society in Lord of the Flies as being caused by too strict a suppression of the "bestial" side of man and one which sees it as resulting from too little suppression. We can look to the text and ask: What textual evidence is there for the suppression or indulgence of the "bestial" side of man? Does Ralph suppress Jack when he tries to indulge his bestial side in hunting? Does it appear from the text that an imposition of stricter law and order would have prevented the breakdown? Did it work in the "grownup" world of the novel?(3) To enable us to form judgments about literature.One of the purposes of criticism is to judge if a work is any good or not. For instance, we might use a formalist approach to argue that a John Donne poem is of high quality because it contains numerous intricate conceits that are well sustained. Or, we might use the mimetic approach to argue that The West Indian is a poor play because it fails to paint a realistic picture of the world.Historical / Biographical Approach:Definition:Historical / Biographical critics see works as the reflection of an author's life and times (or of the characters' life and times). They believe it is necessary to know about the author and the political, economical, and sociological context of his times in order to truly understand his works.Advantages:This approach works well for some works--like those of Alexander Pope, John Dryden, and Milton--which are obviously political in nature. One must know Milton was blind, for instance, for "On His Blindness" to have any meaning. And one must know something about the Exclusion Bill Crisis to appreciate John Dryden's "Absalom and Achitophel." It also is necessary to take a historical approach in order to place allusions in there proper classical, political, or biblical background.Disadvantages:New Critics refer to the historical / biographical critic's belief that the meaning or...

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