Approaches to different interpretations

Drawing upon critical theory

AO5 – Explore literary texts informed by different interpretations.

The exploration could involve:

  • engagement with published critical opinion
  • reference to wider critical theory
  • responding to specific critical quotations (including question focuses); sometimes these might be paraphrased rather than used in their original form
  • debating possible alternative ideas about texts and multiple readings of them - including your own
  • debating potential changes of meaning when quotations are taken in isolation or considered as part of the wider text
  • consideration of different interpretations across time so there is the opportunity to engage with a critical tradition
  • different productions of drama texts might present different interpretations of characters and situations.

Instead of quoting individual critics, you could draw upon your knowledge and understanding of critical theory to demonstrate different interpretations of your texts.

Cultural, political and aesthetic movements might be used as a lens through which to view your text.

There are many different ways of integrating critical theory into your work. This task demonstrates one possible way.

Caution: as with all critical discussion, it is wise to be tentative and avoid broad assertion such as ‘all Marxists thought that…’. Accuracy is also important and you need a clear grasp of the literary theories which you are using.

Read the following comment on the relationship between Ophelia and male characters in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet and discuss its approach to AO5.

Feminists would be outraged at Polonius’ treatment of his daughter. Feminists believe that women should not be ruled by men so the quotation ‘I shall obey you, my lord’ would be seen as oppressive. The verb ‘obey’ shows subjugation of the female and the reference to her own father as ‘my lord’ demonstrates a hierarchy.

Now read the following comment from another candidate on the same relationship. How does this differ from the previous one?

A feminist reading of the relationship between Ophelia might detect evidence of male oppression in Ophelia’s language. ‘I shall obey you, my lord’ suggests the absolute authority of the male and a willingness on the female’s part to be passive. On the other hand, a 17th Century audience might detect no more than polite custom or familial duty in Ophelia’s words.

Now have go at writing your own comment on an aspect of your text that links with a critical theory.