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Critical Approaches to Literature

(Examples refer to Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress,” a poem you read and discussed last year !efore you read t"rou#" t"ese descriptions, reread t"e poem at t"e end of t"is "andout $ % Traditional Approaches & T"e wor' of literature ta'es a (ac' seat to (ac'#round material !io#rap"y, "istory, or some ot"er (ranc" of learnin# is emp"asi)ed more t"an t"e text T"is approac" was once t"e dominant met"od of teac"in# literature* now it is re#arded as (ein# outdated T"e +ew Critics “revolutioni)ed t"e study of literature” (y movin# t"e focus of literature to t"e text itself (%,$ Adept readers and teac"ers com(ine t"e two approac"es T"ere are two types of traditional approac"es, namely "istorical(io#rap"ical and moral-p"ilosop"ical a T"e historical-biographical approac" “sees a literary wor', c"iefly, if not exclusively, as a reflection of its aut"or’s life and times or t"e life and times of t"e c"aracters in t"e wor'” (..$ ( T"e moral-philosophical approac" asserts “t"at t"e lar#er function of literature is to teac" morality and to prove p"ilosop"ical issues /0t1 interpret/s1 literature wit"in a context of t"e p"ilosop"ical t"ou#"t of a period or #roup” (.2$ c An additional traditional approac" is t"e textual approach w"ere(y one verifies t"e aut"enticity of t"e text Traditional Approaches to “To His Coy Mistress”: Historical-Biographical Marvell’s allusion to 3ree' myt"olo#y, courtly love, and t"e !i(le, "is spea'er’s lo#ical ar#ument, and t"e playful tone in w"ic" t"ey are presented can all (e explained (y t"e fat t"at Marvell was t"e educated son of an An#lican priest w"o received a classical education t"at focused on classical modes of t"ou#"t, literature, and lo#ic T"e openin# section of t"e poem presents a spea'er w"o woos "is lady in accordance wit" t"e conventions of courtly love T"e poet alludes to !i(lical events (+oa"’s flood, t"e conversion of t"e 4ews, 4os"ua’s (attle a#ainst t"e Amorites$ and myt"olo#ical (“Time’s win#ed c"ariot,” 5ronos devourin# "is c"ildren, 6eus’ tryst wit" Alcmene$ t"rou#"out t"e poem He also utili)es metap"ysical conceits (“My ve#eta(le love s"all #row”$ (787.$ Moral- hilosophical Approach Morally and p"ilosop"ically, t"e poem is a carpe diem poem t"at ur#es t"e coy lady to “sei)e t"e day” (7.$ T"e poem also reflects t"e political and reli#ious mood of t"e seventeent" century9 “T"e seventeent" century, it s"ould (e remem(ered, was not only a period of intense reli#ious and political stru##le, (ut a period of revolutionary scientific and p"ilosop"ical t"ou#"t / 1 3iven t"is 'ind of intellectual milieu, readers may easily see "ow t"e poem mi#"t (e interpreted as t"e impassioned utterance of a man w"o "as "ost anyt"in# resem(lin# a reli#ious or p"ilosop"ical view of life” as illustrated (y t"e spea'er’s pessimism, focus on p"ysical and sensual pleasure, and "is assessment of t"e personified Time as a tormentor and foe (77$ Textual Approach

t"e conscious and t"e unconscious 0n fact. repeated details. (alances and tensions. dramatic structure. a conservatism related to classical values.” (ut at one time it was (elieved to (e anot"er spellin# of “#lue” and was even su##ested to mean “lew. t"eme. The !ormalist Approach & T"is approac" utili)es a close readin# of t"e text t"at examines structure. someone con=ectured t"at t"e word “dew” was appropriated.” for t"e spea'er (ases "is ar#ument upon a condition t"at does not actually exist. t"e (elief “/t1"at most of t"e individual’s mental processes are unconscious is/ 1 Areud’s first ma=or premise” (%. or t"e social and economic implications of t"e literary wor'” (<%$ +ew Critics ur#e readers and teac"ers to examine “what t"e wor' says and how it says it as insepara(le issues” (<%$ !ormalist Approach to “To His Coy Mistress” T"e poem presents a series of ima#es and words t"at create t"e motif of space and time in t"e poem.<$ . specific words and lines. Areud divides mental activity into two areas. an alteration t"at met wit" muc" approval and w"ic" "as (een accepted in practically every edition of t"e text since t"en (. voice. w"ile t"e yout"ful "ue . “/t1"e +ew Critics sou#"t precision and structural ti#"tness in t"e literary wor'* t"ey favored a style and tone t"at tended toward irony* t"ey insisted on t"e presence wit"in t"e wor' of everyt"in# necessary for its analysis* and t"ey called for an end to a concern (y critics and teac"ers of En#lis" wit" matters outside t"e wor' itself & t"e life of t"e aut"or. s"ape. contexts. ima#es. of man’s pleasure ("edonism$ and of salvation in an afterlife (traditional C"ristianity$ 0n t"is way Marvell includes in one s"ort poem t"e ran#e (etween man’s lust and man’s p"ilosop"y” (@7$ T"e first line of t"e poem presents t"e space and time motif (9Had we (ut world enou#" and time”$ and also sets up t"e su(=unctive situation t"at “#ives t"e w"ole poem its meanin#. and t"e ri#orous and analytical readin# of literary texts” (<8$ 0n addition. as indicated (y t"e words “Had we” (@. a preference for ritual.:ri#inally t"e wor' “#lew” was used in place of t"e word “dew” in t"e followin# couplet9 +ow t"erefore.its on t"y s'in li'e mornin# due “3lew” is a dialectical variation of “#low.<$ His second ma=or premise asserts “t"at all "uman (e"avior is motivated ultimately (y . interrelations"ips. irony. t"e ideal of a society t"at encoura#es order and tradition. etc to discover w"at “contri(utes to t"e uni>ueness of t"e wor'” and creates its meanin# (. t"e "istory of t"e times.?$ Meanin# emer#es from t"e text itself. sounds. of eternity. interplay.<$ 0n t"e ei#"teent" century. t"e importance of strict attention to form.i#mund Areud and "is followers !asically.$ T"e poem’s playful use of overstatement and its som(er fear of destruction “are all (ased on t"e feelin# of t"e spea'er t"at "e is (ound (y t"e dimensions of space and time” (@. w"ic" refers to “p"ilosop"ical consideration of time.” w"ic" is a dialectical variation of “warmt"” (.$ 7 The sychological Approach & T"is approac" is most closely associated wit" t"e t"eories of . point of view. r"yt"ms and r"ymes. sym(ols. denotation and connotations. paradox. not from any sort of (ac'#round or outside information T"is met"od of analysis “appeared only wit" t"e rise in t"e %@78s of w"at came to (e called t"e +ew Criticism” (<8$ 0deas “s"ared and promoted /(y t"e +ew Critics1 included literature viewed as an or#anic tradition.

deat". t"e spea'er’s use of overt sexual ima#ery continues as "is lust (ecomes “instant fires” and mere “sport ” +onet"eless. t"e s"ift in tone t"at occurs in t"e second stan)a ma'es t"e spea'er’s o(=ective far more overt and explicit T"e sexual metap"or implied in t"e lady’s va#inal “mar(le vault” lead in turn to t"e “coarse” su##estiveness of t"e spea'er’s lastin# love (%2%$ 0n t"e final stan)a. and p"ysical extinction” and t"at nature’s laws cannot (e circumvented (%. on t"e ot"er "and. asocial. t"e e#o. protects society T"e supere#o is t"e “morality principle” (%7%$ 0t is one’s morality. or morale restraint” (%78$ T"e e#o is w"at is #enerally identified as t"e conscious mind and is 'nown as t"e “reality principle” (%78$ T"e e#o “re#ulates t"e instinctual drives of t"e id so t"at t"ey may (e released in nondestructive (e"avioral patterns” (%78$ T"e id protects t"e individual T"e supere#o.?$ +onet"eless. and amoral 0ts function is to #ratify our instincts for pleasure wit"out re#ard for social conventions. many of our desires and memories are repressed (t"at is. it is important to note t"at “every people "as its own distinctive myt"olo#y t"at may (e reflected in le#end.<$ Areud also identifies t"ree psyc"ic )ones. one’s sense of ri#"t and wron#. and one’s drive to strive for perfection “Actin# eit"er directly or t"rou#" t"e e#o. wit" almost uncanny force. and t"e :edipal instinct” (%7%$ sychological Approach to “To His Coy Mistress” “To His Coy Mistress” is a very sensual poem T"e openin# of t"e poem ena(les t"e spea'er to present "is lustful desires in a su(tle manner t"at "e "opes will appeal to "is lady’s romantic nature However. t"e sue of t"e sun arc"etype in t"e t"ird stan)a su##ests t"e possi(ility of an escape from “cyclical time”* “t"e sun of t"e Csoul’ and Cinstant fires’ /in t"e final stan)a present1 ima#es not of deat" (ut of life and creative ener#y. and ideolo#y” (%?8$ +onet"eless. myt" is “universal.?$ T"e first stan)a presents t"e ironic (elief t"at lovers cannot love one anot"er for an eternity t"rou#" t"e use of t"e su(=unctive “Had we” of t"e first line T"e second stan)a uses t"e desert arc"etype to contrast wit" t"e #arden arc"etype of t"e first stan)a’s “ve#eta(le love” (y su##estin# t"at naturalistic time leads to “decay.@$ 0t is lawless.w"at we would call sexuality” (%. le#al et"ics. dramatic and universal "uman reactions” (y identifyin# arc"etypes and arc"etypal patters t"at can (e traced wit"in texts across time and across cultures (%2@$ However. w"ic" are . and t"e supere#o “pTp"e id is entirely unconscious and / 1 only a small portion of t"e e#o and t"e supere#o is conscious” (%. suc" as overt a##ression.@$ T"e id is also 'nown as t"e “pleasure principle” (%. actively excluded from conscious awareness$” (%.$ B Mythological and Archetypal Approaches & C”T"e myt" critics is concerned to see' our t"ose mysterious elements t"at inform certain literary wor's and t"at elicit.” and arc"etypes are “universal sym(ols” (%?8$ Archetypal Approach to “To His Coy Mistress" To interpret t"e poem merely as a clever or immoral love poem does not do =ustice to t"e deeper meanin# of Marvell’s text !ecause t"e time motif runs t"rou#"out t"e poem.<$ “His t"ird ma=or premise is t"at (ecause of t"e powerful social ta(oos attac"ed to certain sexual impulses. sexual passions. t"e supere#o serves to repress or in"i(it t"e drives of t"e id. immortality emer#es as one of its additional motifs 0mmortality also represents “a fundamental motif in myt"” (%. fol'lore. to (loc' off and t"rust (ac' into t"e unconscious t"ose impulses toward pleasure t"at society re#ards as unaccepta(le. t"e spea'er insists t"at t"e destruction of "is (eloved’s purity will lead to a state of “desperate ecstasy” rat"er t"an destruction @%2. namely t"e id.

Marvell utili)es “a cluster of ima#es c"ar#ed wit" myt"ic si#nificance” in "is poem (%. and to examine social. pu(lic policy studies. and postcolonial studies9 t"ose fields t"at focus on social and cultural forces t"at eit"er create community or cause division and alienation (.fused wit" t"e sp"ere (“Det us roll our stren#t" and allE :ur sweetness up into one (all”$.%2$ T"e ima#e of t"e woman as a “mar(le vault” furt"ers t"e assault motif (y comparin# "er to a (esie#ed fortress Many of t"e poem’s ima#es are violent in nature. and psyc"osexual contexts of literature nad literary criticism Aeminist critics t"erefore study sexual.tudents could “/examine1 t"e interrelations"ips (etween race. cultural. #ender studies. studies of race and et"nicity. one must 'eep in mind t"at “To His Coy Mistress” presents very sop"isticated c"aracters w"o live in a very sop"isticated world T"e in#enuity of t"e text itself lies in its “/parodyin#1 of t"e courtly love tradition” and its satiri)ation of (ot" t"e lady’s refusals and t"e spea'er’s “fear of t"e feminine” (. t"e arc"etype of primal w"oleness and fulfillment” (%. (ut t"is power represents a “ne#ative” power t"at stems from t"e a(sence of assent (. and literature” w"ile en#a#in# in t"is sort of literary analysis (. social. t"is approac" “is concerned wit" t"e mar#inali)ation of all women9 t"at is. to promote discovery and reevaluation of literature (y women.%?$ T"e poems’ metap"ysical conceits “/depict1 t"e secondary status of t"e female (ody” in t"at only t"e woman’s (ody will rot and decay (.” and t"e poet portrays t"e lovers as metap"orical “(irds of prey” (.. popular culture.$ !eminist Approach to “To His Coy Mistress” T"e coy mistress of Marvell’s poem is (asically assaulted t"rou#"out t"e poem and runs t"e ris' of “(ein# Cdevoured’ (y "er amorous lover and (y time itself” (. w"ic" leads to “effectively dismem(erin# "er identity into discrete sexual o(=ects” (. ant"ropolo#y.%?$ T"e fact t"at t"e woman remains silent and t"erefore lac's a voice t"rou#"out t"e poem also emer#es as si#nificant facet of t"e poem :n t"e ot"er "and. one can also re#ard t"e woman’s mar#inali)ation as an indication of "er dormant power.B8$ 0t ur#es t"e reader to ma'e personal connections wit" a text “t"at >uestion ine>ualities wit"in power structures” and to examine a text in terms of all t"e aspects of a #iven . for s"e is “#oddessli'e” and t"e spea'er does appear to fear "is coy mistress on some level (.?$ :verall. t"e woman "as t"e power to refuse "er pursuer’s sexual advances. sociolo#y.$ 2 !eminist Approaches & 0n t"e most #eneral terms. and political issues once t"ou#"t to (e Coutside’ t"e study of literature” (%@. “feminist critics #enerally a#ree t"at t"eir #oals are to expose patriarc"al premises and resultin# pre=udices. wit" t"eir (ein# rele#ated to a secondary position” in a male-dominated society” (%@?$ 0t contains political and social aspects."e represents an o(=ect of prey in t"e sense t"at "er lover reduces "er to a set of (ody parts. popular culture studies.7@$ Cultural studies is a very diverse approac" 0t is composed of elements of Marxism. new "istoricism. "er soul will “catc" fire.$ ? Cultural #tudies & T"is approac" analy)es texts from t"e perspective of #ender and race . t"e media. a fact t"at differentiates t"is approac" from many ot"er critical approac"es More specifically.%.%?$ . #ender. ur(an studies. film t"eory.%?$ After all.%?$ However. feminism. for worms will penetrate t"e spea'er’s (eloved.

$ T"e poem omits any reference to t"e cultural condition of seventeent"-century life or of t"e very real conse>uences of t"is union. t"e poem relies on usin# t"e woman’s intellect as a means of persuasion in t"e "ope t"at a confluence of "er “t"ou#"ts” wit" t"e spea'er’s can lead to a more p"ysical union (..?$ T"e spea'er assumes t"at "is lady possesses t"e intelli#ence needed to #rasp t"e “details and allusions” of poetic convention =ust as t"e poet predicts t"at t"e reader will ma'e t"e same connections After all. "is poem parodies t"ese conventions “only in order to satiri)e t"em and to ma'e li#"t of t"e real proposal at "and” (. for t"e poet does not reveal "is privile#ed social status or t"e disease t"at could ensue from a sexual encounter or t"at prevailed in "is society All in all.B%$ 0t see's to connect texts to all of t"e aspects of a reader’s life and to ma'e t"em reali)e t"at literature is not created in a vacuum (...?$ However.$ Cultural #tudies Approach to “To His Coy Mistress” T"e poem ec"oes “t"e conventional Ccarpe diem’ t"eme from Horace” and models a variety “of earlier or contemporaneous examples of /t"e1 love poem” (. t"e “real world is / 1 t"orou#"ly a(sent from t"e poem” (.B..<$ FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF ..society (.

!ut t"irty t"ousand to t"e rest* An a#e at least to every part. lady. if you please. +ow let us sport us w"ile we may* And now. and all :ur sweetness. were no crime Ge would sit down and t"in' w"ic" way To wal'. And your >uaint "onour turn to dust. T"an lan#uis" in "is slow-c"appHd power Det us roll all our stren#t".“To His Coy Mistress” by Andre$ Mar%ell Had we (ut world enou#". t"ou#" we cannot ma'e our sun . yet we will ma'e "im run . refuse Till t"e conversion of t"e 4ews My ve#eta(le love s"ould #row Iaster t"an empires. li'e amHrous (irds of prey. And w"ile t"y willin# soul transpires At every pore wit" instant fires. up into one (all* And tear our pleasures wit" rou#" strife T"orou#" t"e iron #ates of life T"us. !ut none 0 t"in' do t"ere em(race +ow t"erefore. and pass our lon# loveHs day* T"ou (y t"e 0ndian 3an#esH side . you deserve t"is state."ouldst ru(ies find* 0 (y t"e tide :f Hum(er would complain 0 would Dove you ten years (efore t"e Alood* And you s"ould. lady. and time. and on t"y fore"ead #a)e* Two "undred to adore eac" (reast. And into as"es all my lust T"e #raveHs a fine and private place. T"is coyness. w"ile t"e yout"ful "ue . +or would 0 love at lower rate !ut at my (ac' 0 always "ear TimeHs win#ed c"ariot "urryin# near* And yonder all (efore us lie Jeserts of vast eternity T"y (eauty s"all no more (e found.tand still. s"all sound My ec"oin# son#* t"en worms s"all try T"at lon# preservHd vir#inity. Kat"er at once our time devour.its on t"y s'in li'e mornin# dew. and more slow An "undred years s"ould #o to praise T"ine eyes. +or. And t"e last a#e s"ould s"ow your "eart Aor. in t"y mar(le vault.

%@@@ . Gilfred D .Gor' Cited 3uerin. et al A Hand(oo' of Critical Approac"es to Diterature Bt" ed :xford9 :xford LM.