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New Historicism

What do you understand to be distinctive (and specifically new historicist) about New Historicist approaches to literature?

This question asks us two things. Firstly, it asks us what is distinctive about the New Historicist approaches to literature, so this implies explaining the New Historicist approach carefully and thoroughly. It also asks what is particularly new about the New Historicist approach to literature. This implies that the Old Historicist approach needs to be compared with the new. The Historicist approach to literature was prior to a style called ‘The New Criticism’, which is post ‘New Historicist’. This ‘New Criticism’ therefore also needs some explaining. I will refer to the texts that I have been reading during this module in order to give examples of these different types of criticism.

Historicist criticism is generally considered as a type of criticism that was used in the period prior to the 1940’s. It was characterised by its attention to the era or historical surroundings that the piece of work was written in. Historical criticism looks for the truth about the past in the text and the information it provides about the people and events that it describes in their historical context. A good example of this is V. H. Stanton's historical criticism of the gospel of Mark in order to clarify its background.

The assumption that this type of criticism makes is that history is a ‘knowable’ organised set of events. As we all know, history is complicated beyond belief. It is always hard to try and figure out what has really happened and be positive about it in any historical research. Historicism assumes that history somehow influences the literature that is produced at the time and therefore the piece can be understood from merely studying the surroundings of the author of the piece. People who assumed that a work was merely a reflection of the authorâ

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