William Empson Essays On Shakespeare

William Empson Essays On Shakespeare-28
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.

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.

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For example, the universal recognition of the difficulty and complexity (indeed, ambiguity) of Shakespeare's "Sonnet 94" ("They that have power…") in light of the preceding and following sonnets is traceable to Empson's sophisticated analysis of the sonnet in Some Versions of Pastoral.

Empson's study of "Sonnet 94" goes some way towards explaining the high esteem in which the sonnet is now held (now reckoned as among the finest sonnets in the collection), as well as the technique of criticism and interpretation.

Ramsey, expressed regret at Empson's decision to pursue English rather than Mathematics, a discipline for which Empson showed great talent; and I. Richards, the director of studies in English, recalled the genesis of Empson's first major work, Seven Types of Ambiguity, composed when Empson was not yet 22 and published when he was 24: At about his third visit he brought up the games of interpretation which Laura Riding and Robert Graves had been playing [in A Survey of Modernist Poetry, 1927] with the unpunctuated form of "The expense of spirit in a waste of shame." Taking the sonnet as a conjurer takes his hat, he produced an endless swarm of lively rabbits from it and ended by "You could do that with any poetry, couldn't you?

" This was a Godsend to a Director of Studies, so I said, "You'd better go off and do it, hadn't you?

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).

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.

Already, the heat of Empson's political views find their way into these lines, though perhaps even here there is nothing more ideological than an ordinary sense of fairness or justice.

He goes on to deliver his political verdict with a subtle, although astute, psychological suggestion: Many people, without being communists, have been irritated by the complacence in the massive calm of the poem, and this seems partly because they feel there is a cheat in the implied politics; the "bourgeois" themselves do not like literature to have too much "bourgeois ideology." Despite the overtly political issues grappled with in these passages, Empson is as sensitive to the moral dimension, producing an astute interpretation of the poetic achievement of Gray.

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