Most critics and anthologists of the new historicism cite the year 1980 as the beginning of new historicism as a theory and critical practice. There is good evidence to support this — namely the publication of Stephen Greenblatt’s Renaissance Self-Fashioning, and of Louis Montrose’s essay ‘Eliza, Queene of Shepheardes’, both of which are seminal works in the elaboration of new historicist methods of analysis.1 Both works seem to announce the chief characteristics of new historicism as it would develop and grow in the years following 1980. Where Greenblatt writes in his introduction to Renaissance Self-Fashioning, ‘the written word is self-consciously embedded in specific communities, life situations, structures of power’ (Greenblatt 1980, 7), Montrose demonstrates this point in his examination of the role of the pastoral literary form in mediating power relations, and argues ‘that the symbolic mediation of social relationships was a central function of Elizabethan pastoral forms, and that social relationships are, intrinsically, relations of power’ (Montrose in Veeser 1994, 88). Both see literature as inseparable from other forms of representation, and that modes of power function ‘without regard for a sharp distinction between literature and social life’ (Greenblatt 1980, 3). Both critics cite anthropologists as prevalent influences on their work — Greenblatt citing Clifford Geertz and Montrose citing Abner Cohen — and follow the argument that culture fashions the subjectivity of human beings. Greenblatt’s project is a broad analysis of instances and modes of self-fashioning, not just individuals fashioning themselves but of how Renaissance culture fashioned itself.
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- New Historicism: Representations of History and Power
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