The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018


Representation: Generally speaking, the use of one thing to stand for another through some signifying medium. A representation of an event is not the event itself but rather a statement about or rendition of that event. An artistic representation is an image or likeness of something created or captured through a medium such as language, paint, stone, or film.

New historicists use the term representation to refer to the symbolic constructions of a given society in a specific era. These constructions are predominantly but not exclusively verbal; for instance, the placing of a criminal on public view in “the stocks” could be viewed as a representation of the New England Puritan belief in the communal implications of individual sin and the consequent importance of public penance. New historicists view representations as instruments that maintain the status of the dominant class by reflecting and propagating the culture’s prevailing ideologies and power relations.

FURTHER EXAMPLES: William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet (1602) and the coronation of Queen Elizabeth I may both be referred to as Renaissance representations — the former verbal, the latter nonverbal — because they served as elaborate, highly figurative, and powerfully significant (re)statements of their culture’s predominant ideological thinking about power and hierarchy, gender and primogeniture, and law and order.

Contemporary singers such as Beyoncé (Beyoncé Knowles-Carter), Lady Gaga (Stefani Germanotta), and Rihanna (Robyn Rihanna Fenty) have been discussed in terms of their representations of women, female sexuality, and feminism; Lady Gaga has used her style of dress and her music videos to critique the representation of women and of gender.