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Stephen Greenblatt

(b. 1943)


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(1943–)

Americanliterary critic, specialist in Shakespeare and Renaissance studies, and one of the founders of New Historicism. Born in Boston and educated at Yale and Cambridge, where he worked with Raymond Williams. Greenblatt taught for nearly 30 years at the University of California, Berkeley and is now based at Harvard. He first used the term New Historicism (which would in due course be taken up as the name of a movement) in his 1982 book The Power of Forms in the English Renaissance to describe his way of connecting the literary text to its historical context with a view to using that as a means of interpreting it and understanding it. For Greenblatt, the text must always be seen as arising out of the material of its time: ideas, stories, concepts, do not just fall from the sky, he insists, but have a definite (albeit not necessarily knowable) origin. His reputation had already been established with his previous book Renaissance Self-Fashioning, which introduced an idea that Michel Foucault admitted to finding useful in his theorization of the care for the self. Self-fashioning, the conscious construction of one's self, both interior and exterior, is in many respects the key to Greenblatt's entire oeuvre: his most famous work, the New York Times bestseller Will in the World: How Shakespeare became Shakespeare (2004), takes this idea to its logical limits. Greenblatt's work has been highly influential, particularly in postcolonial literary studies, which has an obvious sympathy with his historical approach to interpretation. However, his work is also viewed by many as anti-theoretical and not all that congenial to critical theory.

Further Reading:

C. Gallagher and S. Greenblatt Practicing New Historicism (2000).M. Robson Stephen Greenblatt (2007).

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.


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