Introduction to Critical Interpretations

Critical Interpretations or the act of critically interpreting literature is the process of a deep written explanation about a book or a piece of literature.  Any work of literature can be critically interpreted, although in the literary world it usually focuses on the work of a renowned author such as Shakespeare, Wilde, or Kafka.  You might say it is the act of elucidation or explication of a piece of literature is what a critical interpretation is rather than a review or even critique.  The difference between a critique and a critical interpretation is that a critique criticizes or praises a piece of art or music or literature.  A review is a synopsis followed by a critique.

For example, take Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.” A critical interpretation or analysis of the play would delve into character study, Victorian society, and the way the author presents his work.  A review would generally give a brief synopsis of the plot and a critique as to whether the play was successful or not.  For example, the leading character, Jack Worthing is portrayed as a responsible guardian to Cecily Cardew – the granddaughter of Jack’s adoptive father.  Yet, Jack makes up a story about having a brother named, Ernest, who is really Jack’s black sheep alter ego.  We ask, why does Jack need to do this?  The play shows that rather than uncomplicate his life with an inexhaustible alter ego, the existence of Ernest ultimately complicates it.  Harold Bloom calls “The Importance of Being Earnest” as the best comedic play since Shakespeare’s farcical play, Twelfth Night.   According to Jack’s surrogate, Algernon,

My experience of life is that whenever one tells a lie one is corroborated on every side.  When one tells the truth one is left in a very lonely and painful position, and no one believes a word one says.

This rule of Wilde’s is seen to unravel once Algernon appears at the Lady Bracknell’s residence, introducing himself as the fictional Ernest. Here, Bloom compares Algernon to Falstaff, “who has a negative relationship to the world of elegance, but Wilde (who loved Falstaff) seems to have divided Falstaff between Lady Bracknell (language) and Algernon (appetite).  This was in regards to the scene about the missing cucumber sandwiches and Algernon’s obsession with eating.

Bloom continues to delve into the characters in “The Importance of Being Earnest” succinctly, quoting Wilde’s explanation about the play’s philosophy:

“that we should treat all trivial things very seriously, and all the serious things in life with sincere and studied triviality.”

This brings us back to Algernon’s enormous interest in food: “I hate people who are not serious about meals.  It is so shallow of them.”

Bloom indulges the reader to determine whether one should recognize the play as farce, nonsense, or a play about morality.  Bloom urges the reader to view the play in all three ways, because everyone in the play is selfish; Gwendolyn proudly remarks that they never change except in their affections, and are all serious liars.

This was at best a brief introduction to critical interpretations.  I hope you will find Bloom’s books much more deserving.

“Introduction to Critical Interpretations” was rewritten by Brenne Meirowitz.  Copyright Brenne Meirowitz 2014.  All rights reserved.


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