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Panorama of Words & A Semantic Theory

How many meanings you think a word can have in a piece of literature? Well of course by now you would have guessed that a word used in a piece of literature gives a meaning, on one hand, and on the other hand its suggestion. Former gives us the literal meaning of the word and the latter represents 'interpretation under certain circumstances'. Or, you might say, 'the second meaning' which evolves from the 'network of expressions' of the literary work. Explains S. H. Olsen in The Struture of Literary Understanding.

"Fool."

Let's analyse this disgusting word (or not?) in a given context.

But thought's the slave of life, and time's fool;

And time, that makes survey of all the world,

Must have a stop. O, I could prophesy,

But that the earthly and cold hand of death

Lies on my tongue.
(1 Henry IV V, iv, 81)

Empson, in his The Structure of Complex Words, beautifully explains "the way in which the word 'fool' [in the preceding example] works, displaying not only the single meaning required by the immediate context, but also those meanings implicit in the word which fit the greater context of the play". To quote Empson:


'Hotspur means chiefly that life is cheated by time, because our apparently great opportunities all end in death; but this might be a comfort, since the same end would come even if he were not defeated. Life is made ridiculous by time; we are clowns because our pretensions make such a contrast with our end. But if time keeps us as clowns we in our turn mock at time; we criticise it, and know better. There was room here for a prophecy; he dies still ready to gibe [taunt] at the House of Lancaster.'


After analysing this paragraph, how different interpretations have you come accross of a single word fool in a little poem by Shakepeare? Interpreting possible suggestions that can be boxed is the job of a critic.
Back to my original question: How many different meaning gives Empson in his The Structure of Complex Words, p. 121? Following:

"1. person who is (a) stupid ( = mocked, brash, inexperienced, childish, duped, loved and pitied as a dependent)
(b) simpleminded
(c) lacking 'common sense'
2. clown, professional jester and mocker
3. knave, obstinately and viciously stupid person (Biblical)
4. weakminded or idiotic person."

Thus, now we can appreciate truly that literature is aesthetic by its features; such vastness and density it enjoys, which is well beyond the capacity of routine-use of language. Literature, I call it, the jewel of language.

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