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practical criticism

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In the general sense, the kind of criticism that analyses specific literary works, either as a deliberate application of a previously elaborated theory or as a supposedly non-theoretical investigation. More specifically, the term is applied to an academic procedure devised by the critic I. A. Richards at Cambridge University in the 1920s and illustrated in his book Practical Criticism (1929). In this exercise, students are asked to analyse a short poem without any information about its authorship, date, or circumstances of composition, thus forcing them to attend to the ‘words on the page’ rather than refer to biographical and historical contexts. This discipline, enthusiastically adopted by the Cambridge school, became a standard model of rigorous criticism in British universities, and its style of ‘close reading’ influenced the New Criticism in America. See also explication.

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I. A. Richards (1893—1979) literary scholar and educationist