What is Literary Criticism and How Do I Write a Paper of This Nature?

At its very basic definition, literary criticism is a written evaluation of a work of literature that attempts to enlighten a reader about the underlying meaning of the text, whether it is a play, poem, short story, or novel.


In this type of paper a writer is forming an academic argument. As the writer you are arguing that your interpretation of the text is a valid - not the only interpretation - in an attempt to aid the reader in “seeing” the text in a new light or from a different perspective that perhaps may be different from their own.  


Your audience is made up of academics, scholars, literary critics, professors, and students (who are academics, scholars, and literary critics). You should assume that they have read the text and are familiar with its contents. Because of this you would never merely retell the story because your audience is already familiar with it. This would also conflict with the purpose of this type of paper. You are to discuss underlying meaning, not retell the events of the story.

Because your audience is a scholarly one, your paper must be presented in a formal manner. You should use high diction and avoid first person, personal pronouns, and contractions.


The focus of your paper should be what you feel is an important idea or theme found in the work.  You should take a New Historical approach.  Since you are examining plays, you may also wish to examine various historical aspects of the actual performance. This will require outside research.  See the library's library databases.

You may not use sources from the World Wide Web (internet).