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New Historicism: AP Literature

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Anjana Shenoy

on 16 December 2013

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Transcript of New Historicism: AP Literature

What is New Historicism?
The Other Ideologies
Historical Criticism:

New Historicism in the Hunger Games
New Historicism in Hamlet
Hamlet's REAL Relationship With Gertrude and The Revenge Tragedy: Part 1
New Historicism: Hamlet

A New Perspective
Shakespeare was greatly influenced by the occurrences of his time period and he is known to have been "ardently devoted" to the court and the Queen. The Queen was pleased with the countless phrases he inserted in his plays to please her.
The following New Historicist applications to Hamlet will give not only textual evidence but historical evidence as well.
In Renaissance England, the revenge tragedy was a common genre of plays. Revenge Tragedies have certain common conventions:
Marital bed = Important Symbol
Male must punish female
Only husbands/lovers can kill women
Feigned Madness of the person who wishes to take revenge
Establishing central, just control
Bloody Final Action
Hamlet's Relationship With Gertrude and the Revenge Tragedy: Part 2
New Historicists suggest that Gertrude's relationship with Hamlet is not as much psychoanalytic, feminist, or Marxist relationship as much as an ideological one, representing the ideas of the revenge tragedy. Hamlet is continually obsessed with Gertrude's "spoiled bed" and his need to make it chaste again. Only her true husband, King Hamlet can do that though. However, King Hamlet is a ghost that does not seem to affect Gertrude. Young Hamlet has no control over Gertrude, however, he seeks to establish that power. He wants the power that Claudius, the authority, claims to hold over Gertrude.
Hamlet's relationship with Gertrude and The Revenge Tragedy: Part 3
Hamlet's madness is feigned in order to show Gertrude his "mad craft", his deep desire to establish justice or rather what he thinks is justice. He wants the throne for himself, replacing Claudius' position with himself. Hamlet, in the end, seeks to revenge his mother and himself rather than his father. Claudius, Gertrude's husband kills her and Hamlet immediately shouts "Treason!" Hamlet no longer supports the Ghost, which as psychoanalysts imply, is merely a dream of Hamlet's. The final action, even, is bloody, as Laertes fights to injure and Hamlet kills Claudius with the rapier.
Coddon's Hamlet
Coddon discusses a Hamlet, who is apparently a projection of the second earl of Essex, Robert Deveraux, who courted the Queen Elizabeth. She relates ambition with madness, using the Renaissance England definition of madness. She suggests that Hamlet/Essex saw the world in an individualistic way, which she refers to as subjectivity, and Hamlet's/Essex's desire for control. Hamlet's madness is feigned to cover his intentions to overthrow the political system and disrupt the balance of power.
Coddon even says, "madness is an instrument of social and political disorder".
Coddon's Hamlet Cont.
The struggle between Essex/Hamlet and Queen Elizabeth/Gertrude is not a struggle between two individuals, but a struggles between "subjectivity and power". Hamlet/Essex succumb to mad ambition, however, they reestablish themselves with their last words.
More History: Essex had been falling out of the queen's favor since 1597, having led a disastrous military expedition to Ireland. He had been Queen Elizabeth's former favorite, however, his ambition led to his treason.
While New Historicism is neither fully developed nor fully defined yet, it is essentially a theory, which states that works
be studied alongside their historical context (the history being learned not as background knowledge, but as another text). It focuses on cultural and political movements of the time and treats the work as a cultural or political act itself, rather than just a reflection of culture and politics of the time.
Believes history is background information that is needed to appreciate the work
Thinks about what events or works tell us about what happened in history
Believes an objective view of history can be given
Focused on facts and events
Believes literature reflects history
Believes history moves in a progressive, linear way
Analyzes literature by comparing it with not only the time it was created, but with the present too
Allows people to look at a work in the viewpoint of the time it was created and in the changed viewpoint of today
Focuses on individuals, lower-class, and minorities
History and Influences of New Historicism
New Historicist Ideas
1920s-1950s: New Criticism emerges, leading to the decline of historical critics
1970s-1980s: New Historicism emerges and influences fields of study (i.e. Renaissance Studies)
Foucauldian New Historicism
Michel Foucault's philosophies were an important contribution to the redefining of historicism (though there were many more influences to the literary theory)
He was mainly influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche
Believed power was not oppressive, but "positive and productive"
Believed changes happen not from the revolution of people throughout history, but from people's ideas at the time
Believed all events are the result of multiple causes
Believed it was very challenging for someone to critically view cultures that they are involved in
Because New Historicism is so recent, it has been influenced by many other literary theories, including feminism, deconstruction, Marxism, psychoanalysis, old historicism, and New Criticism.
New Historicism came into practice at around the same time as Cultural Materialism (considered a branch of New Historicism), so they share many influences
The history at the time of a work should be studied just as much as the work itself for full understanding
Works aren't just reflections of politics and cultures - they are acts of history themselves
Works have been shaped by history and shape history
Power never remains in a single entity - it cannot be contained
It moves through trade, people, works of art, and even language
"What is the New Historicism" by Ross C. Murfin (in Hamlet book)
"New Historical and Cultural Criticism" (packet)
"The Influence of Postmodernism"
"New Historicism and Cultural Materialism"
"New Historicism, Literary Theories (1980s-present)
"New Historicism"

Cultural Materialism:
New Criticism:
Focuses on text alone without any historical background
New Historicist Ideas Cont.
Literature cannot be completely comprehended without knowing the social, cultural, and political influences of the era and location
All historical accounts have bias
History does not move in a linear, progressive way - it is a complex series of changes that act in the interest of humans at that point in time, not necessarily "better" or "worse" than previous points in history
What New Historicists Ask to Relate POWER to a Text
Power involves the exchange of goods, people, and ideas, making history NONLINEAR. What is the hierarchy of power suggested by the text?
How does POWER affect the plot of the text and the characters themselves?
How does the authority attempt to maintain their overarching power?
What threatens to topple the BALANCE OF POWER in the text?
A Little Overview
The Hunger Games is a popular dystopian, science-fiction novel written by American author Suzanne Collins. Actually, it’s the first of a trilogy.
It takes place in a the post-apocalyptic world of North America, in an area called Panem. It’s centuries after us, where there are 13 Districts, where each district is known for its contribution to the nation, such as coal or masonry or fishing. They are all under the control of the Capitol, a rich, highly-advanced metropolis that make up only around 1% of the nation.
The protagonist is 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives in District 12.
In the actual Hunger Games event, each year, a girl and a boy from each district, ages 12-18, are chosen through a lottery held by the Capitol to participate. Why?
To fight.
It’s a televised battle to the death, thought up by the Capitol and enjoyed by the Capitol.
To control the population
and not face another apocalyptic disaster.

Relation to New Historicism
In New Historicism, it’s important to note that the author is almost always affected by the time period and culture he/she grew up or wrote in.
WHO’S THE AUTHOR? Suzanne Collins.
The Hunger Games’ author was definitely inspired by her childhood, her experiences, and her environment. She grew up in the 1960’s and 70’s. That was the American era of segregation. Tons of revolts and rebellions, fights for equality. Feminism had been rising since Rosie the Riveter and WWII. The working class was getting exploited. Her father had left for the Vietnam War during this time. Hippies were rising for peace. The population disapproved of the war. The youth (teens) of America felt more empowered.
Her fear and worry for her dad’s death transferred into her book, where Katniss, the TEEN, lead FEMALE character has a DEAD FATHER (her only family consists of her MOTHER and SISTER) and leads a REBELLION of all districts, or WORKING CLASSES, against the Capitol, or Panem’s GOVERNMENT, in a search for EQUALITY and PEACE.

What Else Inspired Collins?
Television: The author was supposedly surfing through channels and saw people competing in a reality TV show on one and some footage on the invasion of Iraq in another. She says the two channels began to “blur in this very unsettling way.”
Katniss = modern-day female Theseus
Hunger Games event = technologically-enhanced gladiator games (Colosseum/ arena)
NAMES: Cinna (Katniss’ stylist): conspirator against Caesar
Portia: protagonist of Shakespeare’s The Merchant in Venice. She’s bound by a lottery, too.
Brutus – GREEK
Octavia, Cato – ROMAN
Panem – a mechanism of influential power over the Roman mass. “Panem et Circensus” = bread and circuses.” Was the formula for the well-being of the population and a political strategy that offered tons of luxuries and pleasures – including gladiators.

In Relation To Our Current Events
This is, ultimately, a book of survival, oppression, the OUTCOME of the technological, democratic age that we live in, and how it could all go TERRIBLY WRONG.
This dystopian novel focuses on how the past was so much better than the present.
Technology is used in the Capitol in an exploited, violent way. The deaths in the Hunger Games battle are broadcasted for everyone in Panem to see.
Why doesn’t the Capitol just have people act it out?It’s a psychological problem. People in a consumer/capitalist economy desire more for the meaning BEHIND the image rather than what is actually IS. Especially if the consumers are the Capitolists themselves.
The government?The Capitol makes up a little more than 1% of Panem and 42% of its wealth. Our ratio in America is more or less the same. Plus, democracy is gone and all of the districts are pretty poor.

Current Events Cont.
The society in the Hunger Games shows society in the future as one that goes backwards in its loss of democracy and gross misuse of reality television.
DEBATE: The ethics of technology
Stark contrast in its usage. The Capitol utilizes most of it for the exploitation of the districts, while all 13 other districts struggle in inequality and poverty. Collins tries to show us a futuristic, exaggerated form of America.
The Capitol system does not reward the brave and the hardworking. It offers no opportunities for betterment. Instead, people must sacrifice their lives for others. It’s a society run by death and fear.
Like what the PSYCHOANALYSIS group said, people are strangely obsessed with death. Suzanne Collins wrote a book oscillating around death and destruction in order to target… humans. Humans obsessed with the interesting concept of death.
Whereas Marxism focuses on literature’s economic base and how humans are affected by class structure, new historicism views it through power, a power that extends through society in general in no specific hierarchical value.

Power In The Hunger Games
Michael Foucault’s emphasis on power illustrates the difference between Marxism and New Historicism:
The Marxist group honed in on class power struggles and the limited amount of it distributed throughout society.
In New Historicism, there is less of a hierarchical structure in.. everything. There is no high or low culture, no high or low form of power.
Power, in its scattered form, is diffused throughout all of society.

Karin S. Coddon, "Such Strange Desygns":Madness, Subjectivity, and Treason in Hamlet and Elizabethan Culture
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