William Empson Essays On Shakespeare

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And anything of value must accept this because it must not prostitute itself; its strength is to be prepared to waste itself, if it does not get its opportunity.

A statement of this is certainly non-political because it is true in any society, and yet nearly all the great poetic statements of it are in a way "bourgeois," like this one; they suggest to readers, though they do not say, that for the poor man things cannot be improved even in degree.

Empson's skill in discovering a rich variety of interpretations of poetic literature was more than a wildly indulged semantic refinement.

Empson is as much interested in the human or experiential reality of great works of literature—the deep truths communicated, often only by intimation, to the reader.

After his banishment from Cambridge, Empson supported himself for a brief period as a freelance critic and journalist, living in Bloomsbury, London, until 1930, when he signed a three-year contract to teach in Japan after his tutor, Richards, had failed to find him a post teaching in China.

He returned to England in the mid-1930s, only to depart again upon receiving a three-year contract to teach at Peking University, where, upon his arrival, he discovered that due to the Japanese invasion of China, there was no longer a post available.Empson's remarks (in the very next paragraph) are reminiscent of Dr.Johnson in their pained insistence: And yet what is said is one of the permanent truths; it is only in degree that any improvement of society could prevent wastage of human powers; the waste even in a fortunate life, the isolation even of a life rich in intimacy, cannot but be felt deeply, and is the central feeling of tragedy.Perhaps it should be expected, then, that Empson consistently ridiculed, both outrightly in words and implicitly in practice, the doctrine of the Intentional Fallacy formulated by William K. Indeed, Empson's distaste for New Criticism could manifest itself in his distinctive dismissive and brusque wit as when he describes New Criticism, ironically referring to it as "the new rigour," as a "campaign to make poetry as dull as possible" (Essays on Renaissance Literature: Volume 1, Donne and the New Philosophy, p. Similarly, both the title and content of one of Empson's volumes of critical papers, Using Biography, show a patent and polemical disregard for the teachings of New Critics as much as for those of Roland Barthes and postmodern literary theories predicated upon, if not merely influenced by, the notion of the "Death of the Author." Despite the fact that some scholars regard Empson as a progenitor of certain of these currents of criticism, he was vexed enough about this view to comment: Now and again somebody like Christopher Norris may, in a pious moment, attempt to "recuperate" a particularly brilliant old-style reputation by claiming its owner as a New New Critic avant la lettre—Empson in this case, now to be thought of as having, in his "great theoretical summa," The Structure of Complex Words, anticipated deconstruction.The grumpy old man repudiated this notion with his habitual scorn, calling the work of Derrida (or, as he preferred to call him, "Nerrida") "very disgusting" (Kermode, Pleasure, Change, and the Canon).Empson is today best known for his literary criticism, and in particular, his analysis of the use of language in poetical works: His own poetry is arguably undervalued, although it was admired by and influenced English poets in the 1950s.In his critical work, he was particularly influenced by the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, whose own work is largely concerned with the nature of language in its relation to the world and to its speakers.Empson's best known work is the book, Seven Types of Ambiguity, which, together with Some Versions of Pastoral and The Structure of Complex Words, mine the astonishing riches of linguistic ambiguity in English poetic literature.Empson's studies unearth layer upon layer of irony, suggestion, and argumentation in various literary works—a technique of textual criticism so influential that often Empson's contributions to certain domains of literary scholarship remain significant, though they may no longer be recognized as his.He was a great critic of John Milton , William Shakespeare (Essays on Shakespeare), Elizabethan drama (Essays on Renaissance Literature: Volume 2, The Drama), and published a monograph on the subject of censorship and the authoritative version of Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus (Faustus and the Censor); but he was also an important scholar of the metaphysical poets John Donne (Essays on Renaissance Literature: Volume 1, Donne and the New Philosophy) and Andrew Marvell.Rather more occasionally, Empson would bring his critical genius to bear on modern writers; Using Biography, for instance, contains papers on Henry Fielding's The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling as well as the poetry of Yeats and Eliot and Joyce's Ulysses.


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