Seven Types of Ambiguity


William Empson studied under I. A. Richards at Cambridge and became one of the most influential literary critics and important poets of his generation. Empson's ideas in seminal works like Seven Types of Ambiguity and The Structure of Complex Words shaped the course of critical thinking far beyond the 1930's. In Seven Types of Ambiguity William Empson views Texts containing moments in which meaning is not clear, when interpretation is questioned.  It was one of the most influential critical conceptions of the 20th century and was a key foundation work in the formation of the New Criticism school. The book is organized around seven types of ambiguity that Empson finds in the poetry he criticizes. Empson reads poetry as an exploration of conflicts within the author.

  •    The first type of ambiguity is the metaphor, that is, when two things are said to be alike which have different properties. This concept is similar to that of metaphysical conceit.
William Empson
  •    Two or more meanings are resolved into one. Empson characterizes this as using two different metaphors at once.
  •    Two ideas that are connected through context can be given in one word simultaneously.
  •    Two or more meanings that do not agree but combine to make clear a complicated state of mind in the author.
  •   When the author discovers his idea in the act of writing. Empson describes a simile that lies halfway between two statements made by the author.
  •    When a statement says nothing and the readers are forced to invent a statement of their own, most likely in conflict with that of the author.
  •    Two words that within context are opposites that expose a fundamental division in the author's mind.
    Ref:  1. A SHORT BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF ENGLISH LITERATURE
    BY JOHN. W. COUSIN
        2. RHETORIC AND THE STUDY OF LITERATURE BY ALFRED M. HITCHCOCK
            3. Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults



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