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New Criticism

Name given to a style of criticism advocated by a group of academics writing in the first half of the 20th century. New Criticism, like Formalism, tended to consider texts as autonomous and “closed,” meaning that everything that is needed to understand a work is present within it. The reader does not need outside sources, such as the author’s biography, to fully understand a text; while New Critics did not completely discount the relevance of the author, background, or possible sources of the work, they did insist that those types of knowledge had very little bearing on the work’s merit as literature. Like Formalist critics, New Critics focused their attention on the variety and degree of certain literary devices, specifically metaphor, irony, tension, and paradox. The New Critics emphasized “close reading” as a way to engage with a text, and paid close attention to the interactions between form and meaning. Important New Critics included Allan Tate, Robert Penn Warren, John Crowe Ransom, Cleanth Brooks, William Empson, and F.R. Leavis. William K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley coined the term “intentional fallacy”; other terms associated with New Criticism include “affective fallacy,” “heresy of paraphrase,” and “ambiguity.”

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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