Not for the classification of 'ambiguity' into seven subtypes which is possibly arbitrary. I found it very difficult to distinguish between the different types and wondered why Empson had bothered.
But it is a classic for the deep empathy that Empson shows with at least some types of poetry. For example, he claims with authority that Shakespeare more or less invented the second type of ambiguity by using the device of taking two nouns and throwing them together as in 'the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune'. But, you may holler, slings and arrows are more or less the same thing. Shakey is just doubling the image (either slings or arrows would have done) for intensification. OK, but sometimes Shakey goes a bit further: 'As when, by night and negligence, the fire/ Is spied in populous cities': night and negligence are not the same and neither enable spying!
So for this reason I enjoyed the book. The classification still seems arbitrary and potentially spurious to me. But there were other gems:
- Richard Paget Human Sound theory: "while 'huge' moves the tongue back from the teeth so as to make as large a space as it can, 'wee' moves the tongue near to the teeth so as to leave as small as space as it can". (p 14)
- "A dramatic situation is always heightened by breaking off the dialogue to look out of the window, especially is some kind of Pathetic Fallacy is to be observed outside." (p 19)
- "the ornamental use of false antithesis, which places words as if in opposition to one another without saying in virtue of what they are to be opposed." (p 22)
- "the process of understanding one's friends must always be riddled with such indecisions and the machinery of such hypocrisy; people, often, cannot have done both of two things, but they must have been prepared in some way to have done either; whichever they did, they will still have lingering in their minds th way they would have preserved their self-respect if they had acted differently; they are only to be understood by bearing both possibilities in mind." (p 44)
- "In many languages new forms for expressing the negative have been introduced, because the olfd form being unstressed becomes progressively harder to hear. Hence the French pas etc and the English do with the negative." (p 206 footnote)
An interesting read which needs updating. October 2016; 256 pages