6 junio, 2024

Literary commentary: what it is, structure, how to do it, function and examples

What is literary commentary?

He literary commentary is one that is made around a work of literature. The purpose of this is to analyze the work beyond the words that can be seen with the naked eye. For example, you can write a comment on how the plot of a novel reveals the social situation of a time, or how the author’s life is evidenced in the text.

The commentary can be based on a single element of the work or the general features can be analyzed. The choice will depend on the person writing the comment.

A literary commentary differs from other types of commentary in that the literary one limits the analysis to the work and considers it a universe in itself, addressing only the elements that can be found in it. However, despite the subjectivity, it is an analysis based on a personal reading but based on the work itself.

Structure of the literary commentary

Like any other written text, the comment must present:

– An introduction in which the thesis or idea to be developed is specified.

– A development in which the work is commented, analyzed and criticized.

– A conclusion in which the most important elements of the comment can be summarized and affirm or refute the thesis.

How to make a literary comment?

Before making a literary commentary, it is essential to understand the work to be analyzed. For this, it must be read carefully more than once, underlining the relevant ideas and the characteristics of the work that call our attention.

Once this phase is finished, the specific topic to work on is decided and a text plan is made, which is a general sketch of the commentary.


The literary comments consist of three parts: introduction, development and conclusion. In the introduction, the general data of the work to be analyzed must be presented: title, year of publication and author. A brief biography of the author can be included in this part, although it is not necessary.

At the end of the introduction, it should close with the proposal, which includes the specific topic to be analyzed. For example, if you want to make a comment about the language used, you should mark this.


Transition phrases should be included between the introduction and the development, so that the text flows naturally.

In this part, quotes from the work that support the thesis of the commentary should be included. It should be noted that the quote is not enough, but it must be explained. An opinion can be included, as long as it is justified logically and in the text.


Finally, the text closes with the conclusion. This should not be a repetition of what has already been said in the comment, but rather a way of reinforcing the most important points of what we have written.

In the event that the thesis has been proven to be correct in the commentary, it will be reaffirmed through the conclusion. If the thesis has been proven to be wrong, then it will be refuted in the conclusion.

Function of the literary commentary

– The primary function of a literary commentary is to develop a critical analysis of a work.

– It often helps to understand it better.

– Relates the work to its historical and literary context.

– Serves as a pedagogical tool to teach students how to evaluate and analyze a literary work critically and objectively.

Examples of Literary Comments

«When You Are Old» by William Butler Yeats

When you’re old and gray and sleepy

Nod by the fire, take this book

and read it dreaming with a soft look

that your eyes had, and with their deep shadows;

and how many your moments of joyful grace they loved,

and your beauty, with false or sincere love,

but only one loved the pilgrim soul in you,

and loved the afflictions of your changing face;

and leaning next to burning bars,

she whispers, somewhat embarrassed, how did love go

to pass over the high mountains

and his face hid an endless number of stars.


In the poem «When you are old» (1895) by William Butler Yeats, the central theme is love. This is evidenced through the use of language and literary images.

These two elements are combined to create a work that represents the nostalgia and depression that a lost love generates. (Thesis: language and literary images).


The poem begins by presenting the image of an old woman “old and gray-haired, and sleepy”, who sits near the fire remembering “the soft gaze” that her eyes once had.

This woman picks up the book with Yeats’s poem and reminisces about how beautiful she once was. This scene gives strength to the poem, because it establishes the tone and atmosphere that will reign in the rest of the work: old age, lost love and memories. (Inclusion of citations).

Likewise, Yeats uses a series of symbols to convey the message. One of the first symbols he uses is the fire in the fireplace.

Fire is bright and full of life, but in the end it will burn out and end in ash. The hidden meaning behind this is that nothing lasts forever. As it happens with fire, the woman will also disappear eventually (Development of the thesis).

The fact that the woman whispers sadly how the love left, indicates that she rejected this love, so the fire can also represent the desire to revive this passion that has already ended.

Other symbols present in the poem are the high mountains and the stars in the firmament. These two elements reaffirm the unattainable quality of the old woman’s love.

This lady can hold a Yeats book and remember what it felt like to love, but her love object is no longer within her reach. (Development of the thesis).

Language plays a very important role. The poem is written in the second person singular, which gives it a touch of intimacy and sadness as well, as if the narrator’s voice knows the consequences of this woman’s decisions and hopes that she would have acted differently. (Development of the thesis)

The verbs are in the imperative (“take this book and read it dreaming with the soft look your eyes had”), which establish a link between Yeats and the old lady, which lasts through the passage of time. (Development of the thesis, inclusion of citations)


This poem by Yeats is an example of how to integrate images and languages ​​to convey strong emotions in readers.

The use of suggestive figures (symbols) instead of more direct messages gives the work a cryptic quality that is pleasing. (Reaffirmation of the thesis)

Macbethby William Shakespeare (sample commentary and analysis)

It is one of the best-known tragedies of the English playwright. The plot revolves around the psychological and physical damage that ambition generates in human beings, who seek power for its own sake. It is a work of extraordinary validity.

The work is divided into 5 acts, written in verse. Macbeth and Banquo are generals in the army under the King of Scotland, Duncan. Some witches predict that Macbeth will be made Baron of Cawdor, and that he will end up being King of Scotland, and that Banquo will be the father of future kings.

Before long, Macbeth was created a baron, and from there both Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth, begin to feel tempted by the future.

Driven by this idea, they assassinate King Duncan, who is visiting their castle. This causes the king’s sons to flee, and while Macbeth shows some signs of repentance, he seizes power and begins to remove all obstacles. Banquo’s turn came, whom Macbeth managed to kill, but not his son Fleance, who was able to flee.

Macbeth begins to feel haunted by the spirit of Banquo, and decides to consult the witches. They tell him that someone not born of a woman will be the only one capable of seizing power from him, and to beware of Macduff, Baron of Fife, who has joined the army that Malcolm, the son of the murdered King Duncan, is assembling in England.

Lady Macbeth, meanwhile, begins to lose her mind, and ends up dying. In Act IV, Malcolm runs through Birnam Forest and attacks. In the battle, Macbeth discovers that when Malcolm was born his mother was already dead, so he was not born of a woman but of a corpse.

The prophecy is fulfilled, Malcolm kills Macbeth and retakes his father’s throne. Banquo, for his part, was considered a relative of James I of England, and this prediction is also fulfilled.

Shakespeare was an expert at placing his characters in the midst of conflicts between good and evil, and shows the transformation of an honest person into someone mad with power and ambition, capable of murder to achieve his plans.

Which, in tragic terms, means that these characters are unable to face their destiny and destroy themselves, victims of their own passions.


How to write a Literary Commentary. Retrieved from wikihow.com
Literary criticism. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org
Literary Analysis Retrieved from roanestate.edu

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