The concept “New Historicism” was coined by Stephen Greenblatt in 1982. It aims to explain how a culture’s various forms of expression (such as literature, religion, ritual) make up a society and endorse its values at specific historical times. New Historicism denies that these forms of expression have anything more than “anthropological” significance, but should be interpreted in the contexts of politics and institutional power, class and gender conditions, and the economic forces of production and imperialism.
THE POINT IS TO REVEAL HOW LITERATURE EITHER CONSPIRES WITH THE FORCES OF OPPRESSION OR SUBVERTS THEM. NEW HISTORICISM IS HIGHLY INTERDISCIPLINARY CRITICISM …
It juxtaposes literature with other, often surprising, texts — scientific, medical, legal, theological, and so forth — and turns Shakespeare into an interactive jigsaw piece in Elizabethan and Jacobean culture.
The effect is to erode Shakespeare’s exceptional status by drawing historical analogies and incorporating him into his society. An example is the “appropriation” of Shakespeare’s theatrical troupe by James I, which made them the “King’s Men”.
THIS IS READ BY NEW HISTORICISTS AS IF IT REVEALS UNDERLYING ATTITUDES TO THE MONARCH’S POWER AND HOW TO JUSTIFY IT. BUT THERE IS SCANT HISTORICAL EVIDENCE FOR THIS.
Shakespeare’s subsequent plays are then assumed to explore these regal “ideologies”. The most interesting question here perhaps is whether Shakespeare is always able to reveal the assumptions implicit in his society.