One school of literary criticism is biographical criticism. What are some of its characteristics and assumptions?
Biographical criticism assumes that knowledge of an author’s life is important to knowledge of an author’s work. It assumes that the more we know about the author’s ideas, beliefs, and personality, the better we can interpret his/her work. Thus biographical critics tend to search for any and every bit of evidence that might help illuminate where, how, and with whom the writer lived and the persons with whom the writer most often interacted. Especially important to biographical critics is the discovery of any other written works by the author, as well as any testimony about the writer from people with whom s/he was in close contact. In short, any kind of information about the author’s life tends to be valued by biographical critics, who try to piece together all the parts of the biographical puzzle and offer justifiable interpretations of the data. These interpretations, of course, often differ greatly from one critic to another, and it is partly in the hope of supporting, challenging, or supplanting previous interpretations that biographical critics are always searching for – and hoping to find – some new piece of evidence.
A good example of biographical criticism involves Ben Jonson, the great contemporary and friendly rival of William Shakespeare. In the last few decades many new biographical data concerning Jonson have been discovered, including works of his that were previously unknown, signed books from his library that had not previously been located, and, in one remarkable recent case, a long...
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