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New Historicism

Renaissance Self-Fashioning, Shakespearean Negotiations

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: New from Tartary to Frank O'connor

The term was coined by Stephen Greenblatt to describe a development in American literary scholarship and criticism which sought to combine the acquisitions of contemporary theory with a return to a historical perspective felt to have been too long and too carelessly abandoned by the New Criticism and its descendants. Walter Benjamin is a (remote) predecessor, and Michel Foucault is a powerful influence. The most distinguished early work in New Historicism, characteristically mingling close reading with an attention to historical details often neglected by historians, was done in Renaissance studies, notably in Greenblatt's own Renaissance Self-Fashioning (1980) and Shakespearean Negotiations (1988), but there have also been impressive and well-grounded arguments by Marjorie Levin, Jerome McGann, and others, inviting major revisions of Romanticism. New Historicism shares much terrain with its British cousin Cultural Materialism but remains rather more aloof politically, less dedicated to particular programmes of social or cultural change. See also Marxist literary criticism and Williams, Raymond.

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