Sunday, April 15, 2012

Literary Criticism: New Criticism

Broad topic, I know, too broad for a blog, but New Criticism reading should encourage you to find a copy of Critical Theory Since Plato, Hazard Adams. New criticism considers the art object in and of itself, apart from any other critical mode. Until the advent of New Criticism, for example, Hamlet had been considered a coward, a man who delayed dispatching his Uncle Claudius and who thus failed to avenge Hamlet's father's murder.

New Criticism--the consideration of the words on the page and nothing else--completely refuted Hamlet's delay. If you read Shakespeare's text only, and nothing else, every time in the first four acts that Hamlet comes upon his Uncle Claudius, Hamlet states the reason he waits to kill Claudius, and his reason is based in perfect Catholic theology. Denmark was part of the Holy Roman Empire. When Shakespeare was writing, England had broken from the Catholic Church; however, England was still Catholic in practice. When Hamlet finds his uncle at prayer, Hamlet states "If I kill Claudius at prayer, he'll be in a state of grace and he will go to Heaven, whereas my father is in purgatory (as we know from the first act). That's not the way to avenge my father's murder."  Hamlet waits until Claudius is in a state of sin.

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