Monday, March 7, 2011

New Historicism

Hamlet is said to be a play that is universal; it’s understood by most and interpreted by many. Critics of Hamlet have even been applying “approaches to literature” to the text. To give you an idea, these critical approaches include: anthropological, archetypal, biographical, formalist, marxist, mythological, narratological, new criticism, new historicism, post-structuralism, psychoanalytic, reader response, semiotics, social, and structuralism. The perspectives are vast, but I’m going to narrow this post down to new historicism.

I initially thought that any historic approach to literature would involve crosschecking which parts of the book are historically correct. I was wrong. New historicism is not about looking up facts; it’s about what a text can reveal about the time it was set or the time in which it was written.

For Hamlet, the new historic critical approach reveals information about what it was like to be an actor, typical burial ceremonies, traditional royal succession, power structure, views of ghosts, and more. Culture is key.

No "history" can be truly objective or comprehensive because history is constantly written and rewritten. The writing of history is based on interpretation, and all interpretations are valid. Any piece of literature is valuable. That’s what I like about the new historic approach to literature…it’s an equalizer for all texts.

Similarly to my previous posts that say words should all be treated equally, for new historic critics, texts should be treated equally.

Being able to compare how Hamlet was received in the Elizabethan era and how it is read now, readers can more easily notice their own biases. The way audiences and readers respond to Hamlet is constantly changing because literature is shaped by culture and culture can be shaped by literature. The same interconnection can be applied to individual words. Words and text go in and out of use, but their existence demonstrates their importance at some point in time.

Here is a helpful link that applies multiple approaches to Hamlet.

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