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What are some traits and assumptions of "formalist" literary criticism?

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“Formalist” criticism, as the term implies, is chiefly concerned with the “form” of a literary work rather than with its “content.” In other words, formalists tend to be more concerned with how a work is written than with what it “says.” They are the first to insist, however, that “form” and “content” cannot really be separated. To take a trivial example, the phrase “let’s eat grandma!” is significantly different in meaning from the phrase “let’s eat, grandma!” merely because of the addition of a single comma.  This example aptly illustrates that main formalist claim that any detail of the phrasing of a text, no matter how apparently small, can significantly affect the meaning of the text.


A more important example involves the famous line from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet in which the title character refers to his “too too _____ flesh.”  Which word should fill the blank?  As Amanda Mabillard notes,

Many scholars ask whether Shakespeare intended...

(The entire section contains 517 words.)

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