Con-texts in Context

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From Francis Barker and Peter Hulme’s essay “Nymphs and Reapers Heavily Vanish: The Discursive Con-texts of The Tempest” from Donald Keesey’s Contexts for Criticism:


“In order to speak of the Shakespearean text as an historical utterance, it is necessary to read it with and within series of con-texts. These cont-texts are the precondition of the plays’ historical and political signification, although literary criticism has operated systematically to close down that signification by a continual process of occlusion” (444).


I thought this term was really interesting because it makes a lot of sense to me, for really strange reasons.  First, “con” in Spanish means “with,” so I can remember that this word means historical and political texts that go along with the original text.  I also think of pros and cons, so here, con would mean the negative aspects, or the texts that do not seem to support the original text.  This is the definition of the word really- any cultural, political, or historical texts that would be existing in conjunction (here it is again) with the original story that may or may not support the cultural, political, and historical messages within the text itself.  I think this concept alone from this essay has helped me to better understand new historicism.  


See what others have to say about Barker and Hulme’s essay.


Derek Tickle said:

Once again we are shown how literature represents history and politics. I like how you gave us some translation in Spanish because they shows us how literature is not only in English, but in many languages. This then lends way into how issues of translation can present a problem. The quote when it mentioned that "literary criticism has operated systematically" (Barker 444) presents how literary criticism can form how a culture sees a text. Let's take a movie and how it gets critical attention. If we hear a lot of bad news about a movie, then, most likely, we will not see it. The word-of-mouth has a lot of power and presents society with many meanings. This then can be related to how literature is seen from a culture or society.

Yes, Erica, this is something that helped me in understanding this essay as well. This is my presentation essay for class and I found New Historicism interesting. Basically I see it as--though there can be many different interpretations to a text, without all the facts concerning the text and the history of the text then these interpretations can be wrong. I know the word wrong is not one that we want to use in literary criticism, but sometimes it definitly has its place. And if a critic does not know enough about the history and tries to attach his own views to a particular text then he can be wrong.

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