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Beyond New Historicism Marlowes unnatural histories and the melancholy properties of the stage Drew Milne The tradition of the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the minds of the living 1 There is no document of culture which is not at the same time a document of barbarism And just as such a document is not free from barbarism barbarism also taints the process of transmission 2 Recent critical discussions of Elizabethan drama above all of Shakespeare have centred around new historicism a trend consolidated in critical anthologies3 New historicism is characterised by an interest in the historicity of texts and the textuality of history and by affinities with theoretical projects concerned with power identity and the construction of subject positions Despite important political differences new historicism has been linked with what has become known as cultural materialism4 Many of the political differences stem from the uneasy relation of new historicism and of cultural materialism to the Marxist conception of history or historical materialism differences which this essay seeks to accentuate Raymond Williams is often claimed as a major precursor of cultural materialism but interest in institutions discursive practices and subject positions suggests the different legacy of Althussers attack on humanism and the influence of Foucault New historicism by contrast shows scant regard for Marxism while being especially indebted to Foucaults version of Nietzsches will to power and perspectival historicism despite important critiques of Foucaults work5 The Althusserian approach is more overtly committed to the possibility of political change but tends towards a similarly theoreticist even formalist reduction of history The possibility of resisting power and the power of ideology marks the decisive conflict in these different assimilations of history to culture New historicism lost in proliferating examples of contingent but seemingly inescapable discourses of power seems at best to expand the archive of wry smiles at the ruses of history and power As an academic guise in which
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