New historicism and cultural materialism
in Beginning theory (fourth edition)
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New historicism envisages and practises a mode of study in which literary and non-literary texts are given equal weight and constantly inform or interrogate each other. It is resolutely anti-establishment, always implicitly on the side of liberal ideals of personal freedom and accepting and celebrating all forms of difference and 'deviance'. This chapter describes the critical activities of new historicists and presents an example of new historicism. Cultural materialism combines an attention to historical context, theoretical method, political commitment, and textual analysis. It is often linked in discussion with new historicism, its American counterpart. Political Shakespeare explains some of the differences between the two movements. STOP and THINK sections in the chapter provide the reader with some ‘hands-on’ experience with the subject discussed. It presents Terence Hawkes's essay 'Telmah' as an example of an informal variant of cultural materialism.

Beginning theory (fourth edition)

An introduction to literary and cultural theory


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