William Empson
William Empson
Born 1906

Yokefleet Hall, Yorkshire

Relevant Work Seven Types of Ambiguity


Biography Edit

  • English literary critic and poet
  • Focused on the close reading of literary works, a practice fundamental to New Criticism
  • Wrote Seven Types of Ambiguity, published in 1930, when he was only 22 years old.
  • Known for his witty, forthright writing style
  • Regarded as part of the movement that generated the New Critics, especially in regard to the emphasis on irony in Cleanth Brooks' work.

Seven Types of Ambiguity Edit

Background and Historical Context Edit

Seven Types of Ambiguity "led a generation of critics in both England and America toward close verbal analysis, especially of lyric poetry. The methods developed were then extended by others to drama and prose fiction" (Critical Theory Since Plato, 3rd Edition).

Key Words and Terms Edit

Ambiguity - (as pertains to course reading): Where a detail is effective in several ways at once; "an indecision as to what you mean, an intention to mean several things, a probability that one or other or both of two things have been meant, and the fact that a statement has several meanings" (897)

Onomatopoeia - "the formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named" (Google dictionary).

Synaesthesia - "one of the senses is described in terms of, or compared with, one of the others" (900).

Key Quotations Edit

"I propose to use the word in an extended sense, and shall think relevant to my subject any verbal nuance, however slight, which gives room for alternative reactions in the same piece of language." (Critical Theory Since Plato, 3rd Edition, 895)

"The fundamental situation, whether it deserves to be called ambiguous or not, is that a word or a grammatical structure is effective in several ways at once" (Critical Theory, 895)

"The grace, the pathos, the 'sheer song' of the couplet is given by an enforced subtlety of intonation, from the difficulty of saying it so as to bring out all the implications....This last some hint as to why these devices belong to poetry rather than to prose, or indeed why poetry seems different from prose" (Critical Theory, 907).

"The reason, then, that ambiguity is more elaborate in poetry than in prose,...seems to be that the presence of metro and rhyme, admittedly irrelevant to the straightforward process of conveying a statement, makes it seem sensible to diverge from the colloquial order of statement, and so imply several colloquial orders from which the statement has diverged" (Critical Theory, 908).

"...there is no single mode of correspondence; ...very similar devices of sound may correspond effectively to very different meanings" (Critical Theory, 900).

Discussion Edit

Major Criticism and Reception Edit

Related Works Edit

References Edit

Empson, William. Seven Types of AmbiguityCritical Theory since Plato, edited by Hazard Adams and Leroy Searle, 3rd ed., Thomson Wadsworth, 2004.