Jessica Danielle Powell's English 170W Blog
The Long Development of a Short Story.
Hovering Annotations/New Critics View on the Shakespeare Sponnet
Posted on October 19th, 2011 at 6:41 pm by Jessica Danielle Powell and

Okay so this is what I did. I went through the interpretation and I noted what a New Critic would say…it looks long but its just the interpretation with my inserted notes =]

The theme of mortality is continued, with the same items of earthly longevity and stability quoted as in the preceding sonnet – brass, stone (towers), earth, and the all hungry but mortal ocean.

A New Critic wouldn’t agree with how this interpreter got to the theme because in the beginning of this sentence the interpreter says the word “continued”. Further on into the interpretation of this sonnet the interpreter makes reference to the same poem in another form. The number one rule of a new critic is “arriving at the correct interpretation of a text – using – for the most part the text itself” (Bressler 53). I can see the New Critic now thinking, “Continued? What do you mean continued? This is a complete piece of work on its own! What continuation are you talking about?” The last step in the New Critic’s process is to examine text, allusions, symbols, structural patterns, tone, relationships where tension may arise, and then, only then will you be able to come to the theme and how it resolves tensions within the poem. Although the new critic would have an issue with how the interpreter got to the theme they would agree that there is a theme, and that this interpreter did not come to the correct theme because of the method they used to obtain it.

1. Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
brass, stone, are the paradigms of long lasting substances. earth and boundless sea are also long lasting and superior in that they are of near boundless extent. These are all things which ought by their nature to be capable of holding out against mortality.
New Critic says: GOOD JOB! [Use of Step 1 and 3]
Here, the interpreter is demonstrating Step 1 and Step 3 in the process of New Criticism. The words brass, stone, earth, and sea are being recognized for their denotative and connotative definitions. In order to come to a correct interpretation of what the text means, a new critic believes that the diction of the poem should be examined for all definitions. A new critic would agree with the interpreters choice to interweave the connotative and denotative definitions of brass, stone, earth, and sea to come to a conclusion that they are “of near boundless extent”. Step 3 is demonstrated by analyzing the symbols [brass, stone, earth, and sea] to show that they represent things that are able to go against time and last beyond it.

2. But sad mortality o’ersways their power,
sad mortality = mortality which causes sadness; solemn, ugly, hideous mortality.
o’ersways their power = has greater power than they have. ‘To exercise sway over’ is to rule over. The term is not much used nowadays in this sense (OED.n.5.) but is found in such phrases as ‘to hold sway over’. to oversway is to be superior to one who already holds sway.
New Critic says: GOOD JOB! [Use of Step 1]
Again, the interpreter is examining the diction of the text by defining “sad mortality” denotatively (mortality which causes sadness) and connotatively (solemn, ugly, hideous mortality), and in addition examines the etymological roots of “o’ersways” which helps to understand how it is used in the context of the poem.

3. How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
rage is used in two previous sonnets in a similar context, to exemplify the blind fury of Time’s destructiveness.
And barren rage of death’s eternal cold? 13.
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage; 64.
It is suggestive of the madness of an unreasoning tyrant, or the irrationality of someone who has gone berserk.
A New Critic says: NO!
Although the interpreter may be correct, he used an examination of the same words in a different poem and used that examination to define the same words in the poem he is working with. That previous sentence was a tongue twister but in order to come to valid examination of the text’s diction (Step 1) you have to use the text you are working with and not others.
The interpreter used the connotative definitions of the same words in a different poem and applied it to this one.
* The interpreter, pretty much, copied and pasted the definitions of the same words from a different poem into the interpretation of this poem.

hold a plea – hear a plea, as in a court of law, where an action might be advanced for a stay of execution. SB thinks it is a misapplied term, the precise meaning being ‘”to try an action” – i.e. to have jurisdiction, to be judge’ (SB p.246.n.3.) OED 1.b. does indeed give the definition ‘to try an action’ with various examples, e.g.
1570–6 Lambarde Peramb. Kent (1826) 182 Having a court…in which they hold plea of all causes and actions, reall and personall, civill and criminall.
But one suspects that the meaning is the more general one of sustaining or defending a plea, which the average layman might take it to be. OED also gives under “hold” (3.d.) the meaning: “To sustain, bear, endure, ‘stand’ (some treatment)”. with the following examples:
1606 W. Crawshaw Romish Forgeries Aija, If the matter will not hold plea, and if my proofe be not substantiall. 1607 Shakes. Cor. iii. ii. 80 Now humble as the ripest Mulberry, That will not hold the handling.
The fact that the first example contains the phrase ‘hold plea’ works in favour of taking a more general sense of the phrase, rather than the restricted one given as OED.1.b. The imagery is that of a timorous subject defending an action before an enraged and absolute judge who is clearly not going to take any notice of the plea offered.

A New Critic says: Almost there…
Here, the interpreter provides the denotative definition of the phrase “hold a plea” and also gives us its etymological roots. It’s good that the interpreter provided the denotative definition of the phrase but went too far when giving outside examples. In Bressler’s “Russian Formalism and New Criticism” he states “readers will be able to justify their interpretations of a text with information gleaned from the text alone”. Here the reader, who is now the interpreter is using information outside of the text to make sense of what’s inside of the text itself.

4. Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
action – the legal terminology continues. The legal action undertaken by beauty to prevent destruction is no more effective than a flower attempting to stop the march of time. The metaphor ranges beyond the merely legalistic, and sets up the image of the flower being trampled by the boot of the tyrant.

A New Critic says: Good [Use of Steps 1 and 3]
The interpreter takes into consideration the denotative and connotative definition of action and analyzes the metaphor within the text. In addition he relates it to the phrase in the previous line “hold a plea” to show a continuation of legal terminology.

5. O! how shall summer’s honey breath hold out,
summer’s honey breath = the balmy, perfumed breezes of summer, the scent of flowers.
hold out – an echo of hold a plea above.

A new Critic says: Good [Use of Step 1 and 4]
Here the interpreter states the connotative and denotative definitions of the poems diction. In reference to step 4, the interpreter noted how the poet echoes the tone and definition of the phrase “hold a plea”.

6. Against the wrackful siege of battering days,
wrackful – bringing devastation, wreckage and ruin. Full of such disasters. Based on the word wrack, meaning ruin and devastation (OED.n.1.2.a.) An alternative spelling perhaps to wreckful (although OED does not give it as such).
the wrackful siege of battering days – the image is of siege warfare, and the battering ram, which was a large beam of wood swung with great violence against the gates of a city to batter them down . The end of a successful siege (from the attackers’ point of view) was the capture and destruction of the city.

New Critic Says: Excellent [Use of Step 1 and 3]
The interpreter gives us the connotative and denotative definition of “wreckful”. He also analyzes the image of “the wreckful siege of battering days”. By doing these two things alone and in their own context a New Critic would be happy.

7. When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
rocks impregnable – i.e. they are impregnable to any human agency, but time can overpower them. impregnable – unassailable. A word often applied to fortresses and other strong military defence points.

New Critic says: On point.
This interpreter executes step one excellently by considering the denotations and connotations of the words in order to bring meaning to the phrase “rocks impregnable”.

8. Nor gates of steel so strong but Time decays?
gates of steel – the defence of a walled city. Shakespeare describes Troy’s gates in Troilus and Cressida:
………Priam’s six-gated city,
Dardan, and Tymbria, Helias, Chetas, Troien,
And Antenorides, with massy staples
And corresponsive and fulfilling bolts,
Sperr up the sons of Troy. TC.Pr.15-17.
They protect the inhabitants for the interim but are no defence against the ravages of time.
but Time decays – but even them Time causes to decay. Decay is not normally a transitive verb, and here it is left uncertain as to how Time achieves its end of universal decay.

New Critic says: Good job but you went too far when you started talking about Troy’s Gates.
Again the interpreter executes step one flawlessly but goes too far when he talks about the gates of Troy. If the interpreter had to explain that only using the text in front of him he couldn’t because nowhere in the text does it mention “The Gates of Troy”. The interpreter references to “Time’s” denotative meaning and intertwines that with how it is connotatively used in the poem to cause decay.

9. O fearful meditation! where, alack,
fearful – to be feared, causing fear. The fearful meditation is that which has already been stated, and the fears which are about to be stated.

A new Critic would say: Good Job
The interpreter used the connotation and denotation to come to a valid conclusion about an idea in the poem.

10. Shall Time’s best jewel from Time’s chest lie hid?
Time’s best jewel – the most precious thing in the world; the beloved youth.
Time’s chest = the treasure chest in which Time stores all the things it steals. A coffin.

A New Critic Would say: Best Execution of Step 1
The interpreter beautifully interweaves the connotation and denotation of time, jewel, and chest to evaluate the poems ideas.

11. Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
The hand/foot imagery suggests the possibility of a) tripping up Time as it speeds on its way; b) the helplessness of a hand raised in a useless and abandoned attempt to stop a far stronger and swifter adversary.

New Critic says: Awesome!
The interpreter here is noticing the imagery which is a crucial step in interpretation according to the New Critic.

12. Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
spoil = spoliation, despoilment, disfigurement. SB defends the Q reading of who his spoil or beauty can forbid. He takes it to mean ‘Who can deny Time the enjoyment of his loot (spoil) and who can forbid the youth to be beautiful?’ (SB.p.247.n.12).

New Critic says: You had me at the beginning…
The interpreter is on the right track when he considers the connotation and denotation but was wrong when he makes reference to another text .

13. O! none, unless this miracle have might,
O none – this is the answer to the two questions posed in lines 11-12. No answer is given to the first question of lines 9-10, where … shall time’s best jewel from time’s chest lie hid? But in a sense all three questions are answered, if we allow the miracle that the jewel may be hidden in the lines of this (and other) sonnets, that the poet will hold back the swift foot of time, and that the despoliation of beauty will be made good by the descriptions of his beauty to be found in these verses.

New Critic says: Why do you keep doing this to my craft?
The interpreter is beginning to look at tensions between certain lines and see answers to questions. He notes how other lines answer questions posed in the text previously. But YET AGAIN he talks about other sonnets…and messes everything up.

14. That in black ink my love may still shine bright.
my love = you, the beloved youth; my love for you. The blackness of the ink opposed to the shining brightness of the youth described in the sonnets is part of the miracle of his preservation.

New Critic Says: Finally, at least you ended on a good note…oh wait never mind.
The interpreter deals with only the text here, giving recognition to the connotative and denotative value of the 14th line. The interpreter takes what he has learned about this text and validates it by using other texts, which in a new critic’s eye devalues EVERYTHING.

Overall the interpreter demonstrated the use of Steps 1-3 throughout his whole interpretations which hardly reflects everything a new critic would agree with. The interpreter often uses outside sources to validate the text and that’s something a new critic would not agree with on any level.
The interpreter starts on a good note and ends on a bad one.

Line 8: Nor gates of steel so strong but time decays?

Nor gates of steel so strong but time decays?

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Link Here | October 20, 2011,

You got it. You can also try just doing part of the sentence to focus on specific words.

  Kevin L. Ferguson |

Link Here | October 11, 2015,

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