The New Critics and their many heirs today – most of whom saucily and misleadingly claim to have superseded their great predecessors – are united around the proposition that a poem is a rhetorical structure that must be read as if it contains within its text the key to its interpretation. Therefore they consider it to be illegitimate to augment the reading of any stand-alone poem with information that originates outside the poem. To go beyond the bare text is regarded as an impertinence. We readers are allowed only the help of a crib that augments our “cultural literacy.” For instance, in Shakespeare’s time, the word “doubt” meant something akin to fear, and the word “fear” meant something akin to doubt. We cannot be expected to know this, and to be told it merely enables us to acquire the lexicon that Shakespeare’s readers all possessed.Open PDF
For several years I have taught a course titled The Anthropology of Evil. I chose the term “anthropology,” not to indicate a restriction to the study of evil among primitive tribes, but rather to widen the lens to take in every relevant discipline: history, philosophy, theology, psychology, sociology, and current events.