Critical Essay Examples

Critical Essay

A critical essay is an essay that critiques a literary or artistic work. In a critical essay, the writer is not only offering an interpretation of a text or artistic piece, but is also evaluating it.

A critical essay can address the various literary devices or components used in a text, or evaluate the structure of a text. Typically, critical essays attempt to avoid bias and personal opinion; instead, the writer focuses on supporting critical and analytical discussion of a literary or artistic work by focusing on textual evidence to support the argument.

Examples of Critical Essay:

This excerpt is taken from a critical essay on the writings of John Dewey:

Dewey's thoughts on the structure of the curriculum at the elementary and secondary levels in "As Concerns the Elementary School" (1901) and "Current Problems in Secondary Education" (1902) must be read in the context of the larger debate surrounding curriculum at the turn of the 20th century. On the one hand, those who held a traditional view advocated for a set, classical curriculum focused on fundamental knowledge, like the "three R's" (Dewey, 1901, p. 266). On the other hand, "reformers" were arguing in the "field of theory" that education should focus on the child, the child's experiences, and how a child naturally learns (Dewey, 1901, p. 260). Dewey, who rather than taking sides liked to integrate seemingly contradictory ideas (Kleibard, 2004), saw the problem as not of two diametrically opposed versions of curriculum; rather, he saw the issue as one of misalignment between the new role of the school in the changing society and the traditional elements of the school system: "The real conflict is not between a certain group of studies, the three R's . . . and other studies representing the personal development of the child, but between our professed ends and the means we are using to realize those ends . . . if the old bottles will not hold the new wine, it is conceivable that we should blame neither the bottles nor the wine" (Dewey, 1901, pp. 277, 279).

This excerpt is from Charles Lamb's 1811 essay "On the Tragedies of Shakespeare, Considered with Reference to their Fitness for Stage Representation":

The character of Hamlet is perhaps that by which, since the days of Betterton, a succession of popular performers have had the greatest ambition to distinguish themselves. The length of the part may be one of their reasons. But for the character itself, we find it in a play, and therefore we judge it a fit subject of dramatic representation. The play itself abounds in maxims and reflections beyond any other, and therefore we consider it as a proper vehicle for conveying moral instruction. But Hamlet himself-what does he suffer meanwhile by being dragged forth as a public schoolmaster,[101] to give lectures to the crowd! Why, nine parts in ten of what Hamlet does, are transactions between himself and his moral sense, they are the effusions of his solitary musings, which he retires to holes and corners and the most sequestered parts of the palace to pour forth; or rather, they are the silent meditations with which his bosom is bursting, reduced to words for the sake of the reader, who must else remain ignorant of what is passing there. These profound sorrows, these light-and-noise-abhorring ruminations, which the tongue scarce dares utter to deaf walls and chambers, how can they be represented by a gesticulating actor, who comes and mouths them out before an audience, making four hundred people his confidants at once? I say not that it is the fault of the actor so to do; he must pronounce them ore rotundo, he must accompany them with his eye, he must insinuate them into his auditory by some trick of eye, tone, or gesture, or he fails. He must be thinking all the while of his appearance, because he knows that all the while the spectators are judging of it. And this is the way to represent the shy, negligent, retiring Hamlet.

It is true that there is no other mode of conveying a vast quantity of thought and feeling to a great portion of the audience, who otherwise would never earn it for themselves by reading, and the intellectual acquisition gained this way may, for aught I know, be inestimable; but I am not arguing that Hamlet should not be acted, but how much Hamlet is made another thing by being acted.

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