Brett Weidman’s Literary Manifesto: A Reflection on Criticism

During my time in English 220 I was stunned by the sheer number of possible ways of analyzing any given text. Though they are all extremely valid ways of examining what a text actually means and can all be used effectively there are some critical techniques that really resonated with me, most notably New Criticism and New Historicism. I find it ironic that these are the two techniques that I found myself gravitating to the most because they are functionally and ideologically opposite of one another.

What struck me as so useful about New Criticism is the lack of required “materials” to analyze a given text, all you need is the text itself, everything else is useless and it would be irresponsible to use them in an analysis. It’s refreshing to view the text as the paramount self-contained authority on itself rather than looking at some complex web of interwoven influence. New Criticism cuts away a lot of “fluff” and I feel that it really gets down to what a text really means. You don’t have to worry about the effects of other works or the authors intention has on the text, you only have to worry about the meaning you find within the words themselves. It is a straightforward, yet deeply analytical, method that I believe is one of the best ways to critique and examine a literary work.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, I think that New Historicism is also extremely useful as a method of looking at a text. Greenblatt made a great point when he questioned whether we could truly draw the line between “literature” and “non-literature” because nothing is ever written in a vacuum, there are always outside factors that contribute to the way a work is written, or add new depths of meaning to a work. I believe that New Historical criticism adds both depth and breadth of meaning to a text by making it truly the part of a larger system rather than an entity floating in literary “space”.

I guess that the true point of learning and analyzing all of these different methods is using them to examine texts, and I definitely plan on doing that not only in an academic setting but when reading for enjoyment. Since beginning this course my reading skill have technically improved a great deal and I think it’s an important thing when reading any work to look for a deeper meaning rather than just what is blatantly in the text. One of my dream jobs is to also be a book reviewer, if not professionally, then at least on a blog or on another media, and this class has really enabled me to do a comprehensive and professional review of a work of either prose or poetry which is a skill that I now value greatly.

Villainy, villainy, villainy!: Textual Criticism of Othello

Title page of the first quarto (1622)

When reading Othello it is hard to believe that the words that are on the page may the words that William Shakespeare originally wrote, but this may be the case. For experts there are two texts that are seen as the tests that may define what Shakespeare truly meant Othello to be. One of them is the earliest text of Othello, published in 1622 and the other is the second printing, a folio that was a collection of Shakespeare plays that was published a year later in 1623. It is the differences between these two texts as copy texts that form the basis of the controversy over the true text of Othello.

One of the most overlooked differences between these texts is the method of printing and binding used in the two texts. The first was a quarto, which is a binding method that in which the original sheet of paper is folded into quarters, creating eight pages and making the book smaller and rectangular. The second was a folio, which is a binding method in which the original paper is folded in half creating four pages and creating a larger book. Though this seems subtle this could possibly have changed the way the text was laid out including line length and the way the lines are arranged. Also the quarto would have been much longer due to the smaller page size and thus things may have been excised to keep the book to a reasonable length. As these factors affect the way that the text is read and were all deliberate choices, it is important that they not be ignored when textually criticizing Othello.

Another difference between the two possible seminal copy texts is probably the most important, the word choice itself. The second printing in 1623 had one hundred and sixty line not contained in the original quarto; also it lacked thirteen lines or partial lines present in the first printing. This is a significant amount of text not matter how you look at it, and it all gets back down to the important question; “Which one is Shakespeare’s writing?” Due to the vagaries of history it isn’t known whether the folio printing was an actual revision by Shakespeare or a third party revision which could completely change the meaning of the text. One of these most interesting textual differences is Act 5 Scene 2 Line 357 which is Othello’s final monologue before committing suicide. Our text is based on the first folio which uses the word Indian, as in savage or uncivilized while the quarto text used Iudean, meaning unbeliever or infidel. This single word change influences how Othello can be seen as perceiving himself in the end, as either an ignorant savage or an infidel and would have an influence on a psychoanalytic reading of the character of Othello in these moments before his suicide.

Taken as a whole these facts serve to show that textual criticism, though subtle, is something important to take into account especially when a text as old as Othello. Though it may never be proven whether the quarto or the folio should be used as a copy text, they both remain valid writings of Othello and can be interpreted in a myriad of ways.


Shakespeare, William, G. Blakemore Evans, and J. J. M. Tobin. The Riverside Shakespeare. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. Print.

Shakespeare, William, and Kim F. Hall. Othello, the Moor of Venice: Texts and Contexts. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007. Print.

Stanza Excercise- Musings of an Oak

Musings of an Oak

How can it be that ones so small,

and briefly blooming in the mind of loam

can rise with will, and climb, not fall

beyond their roots, eyes full, to roam

with those still few who came before,

paths of the soul most rarely seen

through silent wood and crashing shore.

To further truths.

And then return with deeper eyes

to stand where their first steps were tred

amidst grey walls beneath my boughs

I see again their verdant blooms

with richer tones, and sharper edges.



In my poem Musings of an Oak, there are many literary elements that give insight into the meaning of the poem. One of the first aspects of the poem that allow for a deeper reading is the structural elements of the poem. Musings of an Oak begins with the form of an English sonnet but at line eight the poem shifts into free verse. In this poem this change of structure serves to show the observed transition point in the maturation of the students from wide eye innocence to a deeper wisdom. Another structural facet that facilitates a deeper reading is the use of distinctly shorter lines.  Lines eight and fourteen are both distinctly shorter than the other lines of the poem, emphasizing their importance to the larger poetic meaning. In this case it shows the importance of the students’ journeys to find truth and deeper wisdom while also highlighting the overall theme of growth in the work itself. Though the structural elements together give a better understanding of the meaning of the work as a whole, other literary devices are essential in understanding Musings of an Oak.

In addition to structural elements extended metaphor was used to add a deeper meaning to Musings of an Oak. Throughout the poem the students that the narrator sees are compared to blooming flowers. This gave comparison gave a different impression of the students than what otherwise could have been achieved. This metaphor gave to the students observed a sense of fleeting vibrancy, of a brief period of time experienced to the fullest. This idea is what I believe encapsulates the college experience, especially when narrator describing the students lives for hundreds of years. The idea of the students being blooming flowers also ties into the poem’s overarching theme of growth and development as plants are one of the most poignant literary symbols of growth. This idea of growth as a theme of the work is reinforced by the diction of the poem itself.

The diction in Musings of an Oak is also crucial to the understanding of the poem. Many of the words used in the poem are purposefully botanic, evoking the thoughts and images of growth and maturation that are essential to an understanding of this poem. The use of these words also serves to reinforce the fact that the narrator of the poem is itself a plant, and as such it uses these words because they fall within its paradigm. For the narrator that is the only way it can explain what it is witnessing through terms that it understands.