One of the methods of beginning a new historicist analysis, preferred by Stephen Greenblatt, is to recount an anecdote which contains a microcosmic image of the power relations which the critic seeks to elaborate in relation to the main texts of discussion. The anecdote has acquired a special place in new historicist analysis because it enables the critic to ‘discover’ in minute pieces of text the larger structures and operations of power, and to show how power extends its operations from minute anecdotes to the more complex and intricate texts and material practices embedded in a particular society or culture.1 The anecdote chosen usually belongs to a genre of documents or practices more firmly grounded in the actual or historical — travel narratives, penal documents, historical testimonies, confessional narratives, etc. — than the fictional or dramatic texts which the critic will proceed to analyse. They serve to base the critical interpretations of literary texts, which will follow later in new historicist analyses, in the discourse of truth. In other words, they serve to remind us that there is more at stake in discussions of Shakespeare or Dickens than the reputation of a writer. New historicists are intimating, in using these historical anecdotes, that history is only that which is written, and that what is at stake in the interpretations of literary texts, in circulation with documents and texts of all kinds, is the nature of history and power.
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