Looking for an Argument: Critical Encounters with the New Approaches to the Criticism of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries

Looking for an Argument: Critical Encounters with the New Approaches to the Criticism of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries

Looking for an Argument: Critical Encounters with the New Approaches to the Criticism of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries

Looking for an Argument: Critical Encounters with the New Approaches to the Criticism of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries

Synopsis

This book collects a number of Richard Levin's essays, beginning with his well-known "PMLA article of 1988 on "Feminist Thematics and Shakespearean Tragedy" and continuing through the 1990s, that examine and evaluate some of the most important aspects of the new critical approaches to the interpretation of the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries--principally the New Historicism, feminism, and revisionist versions of Marxism and Freudianism. In these essays he is looking not only for rational arguments "in these approaches, but also for a rational argument "with their practitioners, and therefore he reprints several of the responses that these essays have elicited (including the "PMLA Forum letter signed by twenty-four people who objected to "Feminist Thematics") along with his answers to them, which contribute to this critique of the present state of the discourse in this field.

Excerpt

This book collects a number of my essays published in the late 1980S and 1990s that set out to examine significant aspects of what are usually called the new approaches to the criticism of Shakespeare and his contemporaries that came into prominence in the British and American academy around 1980—principally the New Historicism, feminism, and several revised versions of Marxism and Freudianism. It may seem somewhat strange to refer to these approaches as “new,” since they have now been with us for over twenty years (earlier versions of Marxism and Freudianism, of course, go back much farther), and have achieved a kind of hegemony and even orthodoxy in our most prestigious literature departments. I cannot think of another neutral term, however, that includes all of them and registers the universal recognition that when they emerged upon the scene they constituted a radical departure, even a revolution, replacing the formalist approach (then known as “the New Criticism”) that had dominated the field since the 1940s, as I explain in “Historicizing.”

I should make it clear at the outset that my attitude toward many aspects of these new approaches is highly skeptical and, in the words of Iago, “nothing if not critical.” That in itself is certainly not unique. During this same period a number of people have criticized some of these approaches, including M. H. Abrams, David Aers, James Battersby, Harold Bloom, Lynda Boose, Graham Bradshaw, William Cain, Frank Cioffi, Frederick Crews, Natalie Zemon Davis, Morris Dickstein, Denis Donoghue, Nancy Easterlin, Teresa Ebert, John Ellis, Diana Fuss, Gerald Graff, Wendell Harris, Leonard Jackson, Lisa Jardine, Laurence Lerner, Tom McAlindon, Kathleen McLuskie, Toril Moi, Barbara Mowat, Martin Mueller, Martha Nussbaum, Edward Pechter, Raymond Tallis, Brian Vickers, Naomi Weisstein, and René Wellek, among others. in fact, I cite many of them in these essays in support of my own views. But I could not possibly agree with all of them, because they come from a number of different positions . . .

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