that summarizes the "Shakespeare, Cultural Materialism and New Historicism" by Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield.

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Aspect of Cultural Materialism
(summarizing the section “History versus the human condition”)
Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield, in their essay Shakespeare, Cultural Materialism and the New Historicism, talk about the meaning and understanding of the term Cultural Materialism during the various ages of England, tracing its trajectory from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century.
Cultural Materialism, as a critical theory, was first coined by the left-wing literary critic Raymond Williams who viewed culture as a “productive process”, part of the means of production. By this, he implied that our culture comes from our material life and not the social one. Culture is a way of life and belongs to everybody and not just to the elite. This was in stark contrast to the views of Mathew Arnold who propagated the idea of “high” culture i.e. culture is only “high” culture and that forms of art constitute this “high” culture. Literature becomes one of the most significant forms therefore.
What can be inferred from the essay is that fact that the new critics introduced rigorous critical analysis of literary texts which became a part of liberal humanism. The subsequent reaction to new criticism brought about new perspective to the text. Literature is not to be privileged but is among many cultural parts. Cultural materialists threw light upon what literature is, how it is to be studied or taught, and why it is studied. This brings us to another concept which is the idealist literary criticism which believes in man’s essential nature which is primarily unchanged. Thus, literature becomes a representation of universal truths and about transcendental human condition. Idealism emphasizes that ideas come not from matter but from some other supreme power which governs us, which is often understood to be God or religion. Opposing this stands the materialist criticism which endorses the belief that matter is basic; ideas come out of matter and not vice-versa. This criticism therefore required that we read social conditions and literature together.
The authors then talk about the monological approach to new historical scholarship which might be defined as the belief that at one time in history, a dominant ideology is endorsed by the majority. This was blatantly refuted by Marxism. Dollimore and Sinfield give the example of E.M.W. Tillyard’s The Elizabethan World Picture in explaining the discrepancies which existed in the concept of monological approach. They observe that Tillyard was mistaken in the sense that he falsified history by giving it unity in the name of “the collective mind of the people”. One cannot really dictate what the collective mind of the people was just by their history at one point in time as history too is a subjective concept. Tillyard’s picture was not shared by all because of its didactic stress on order. He seems to be ideologically legitimize an existing social order which is not what the materialists encourage. . Raymond Williams uses three terms in the effect of refuting this approach- dominant, residual and emergent. The residual is sometimes in opposition to the dominant but at other times is often a part of it. Tillyard’s world picture might be seen as the dominant ideology. Where there are these three terms from Williams, there will exist cultures best described as subordinate, repressed and marginal.
Scientific reasoning gives rise to a secular understanding of the world, and not how people understood it in terms of God. This is a kind of emergent thought. There is constant dialectics in the dominant, residual and emergent. Thus, one cannot go very far with the monological approach to historical scholarship.
A very important conclusion which then comes out from the above discussion is that culture is never a unity. Things always exist when they are conflicted.
Then they talk about sermons and how they can be looked at as part of an ideological control and as part of a challenge to authorities. Following this, the ways of deploying the concept of ideology is discussed in length. One way which is of significance to material criticism is the cultural connection between signification and legitimation. There are layers to this method. Beginning with the simplest to understand- the dominant class of the society will legitimate the social order or the status quo through their beliefs, practices and institutions. It does this through representation of the sectional interests as universal ones. The second aspect is that through this smart legitimation, the dominant class “naturalizes” the existing social order. This in turn makes the marginalized believe in the historical inevitability. However, contradictions arise from within but are presented as subversive and alien to the society. Theatre is an important institution in the process of legitimation. Plays were designed to teach obedience to the King. On the other hand, it had the capability and in some plays the courage to demystify authority. Primarily, new theatre brought down the King to the human level which decreased the gap between him and ordinary people. The connection between theatre, theatrical representation and politics might have inspired rebellion. Therefore, these plays were banned.
The constant emphasis on universal interests, quoting society as a “reflection of the natural order of things” made it clear that these concerns were central to the age of Shakespeare. History was considered as a “lawful development leading up to and justifying the present”. Dollimore and Sinfield actually managed to present a breakthrough in the materialist criticism through the much explained theories and concepts of cultural materialism.

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