One of the preferred methods of beginning a New Historicist reading is the depiction of a scene or piece of writing which yields a microcosmic image of what the critic seeks to elaborate in relation to the main text of discussion. So Stephen Greenblatt begins ‘Invisible Bullets’, his acclaimed article named after the false understandings that American Indians had of the ways in which Europeans were destroying them (believing that the smallpox which was obliterating them was in fact the invisible bullets of the Europeans), with a story of how red spots on the face of the dying mathematician, Thomas Harriot, were falsely believed to be proof of revenge from God for Harriot’s alleged atheism. Whether Harriot was an atheist or not we have no way of knowing, for, as Greenblatt reminds us, ‘[t]he historical evidence, of course, is unreliable’ (Greenblatt, in Wilson and Dutton 1992, 84).1 In its first published form the article also began with the story of an Italian miller tried of heresy by the Inquisition who, having finally renounced his atheist views, was allowed to return to life in his village, albeit branded as heretic, but on returning to his atheist views was then burned at the stake.
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