Cultural Materialist Criticism in Shakespeare’s King Lear, The Tempest, and Henry IV

Abdel-Mageed, Elham Gamal 


The objective of this thesis is twofold; first, it seeks to present a detailed survey of one of the recent and significant approaches to literary criticism and cultural studies, i.e. cultural materialist criticism. Second, this thesis offers readings of some of William Shakespeare's plays adopting the cultural materialist method of analysis. Hence, Chapter One "An Introduction to Cultural Materialist Criticism" traces the development of the approach from its anthropological origin, Raymond Williams' use of the term in literary criticism and its subsequent development by Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield who propose a framework comprising historical context, theoretical method, political commitment and textual analysis. The chapter sheds light on the weaknesses and strengths of the approach, and it finds out three main trends within its reading of Shakespeare's plays: feminist, colonial and historicist respectively. Chapter Two "A Feminist Reading of Shakespeare's King Lear" proposes to deal with Lear as the emblem of the deterioration of patriarchal power. This feminist reading analyzes the contradictions within the ideology of patriarchy such as Lear's ideological dependence on the God-given principle of hierarchy and obedience, his division of his kingdom willingly, his lack of self-knowledge, etc. The chapter traces such representations of subversion as the struggle between feudalism and capitalism and the relationship between Lear and his daughters. The chapter shows Shakespeare's aspiration towards an egalitarian society, and it thus subverts the view that Shakespeare is a patriarchal bard. The premise that Shakespeare does not consolidate the legitimacy of the discourse of colonialism is tackled in Chapter Three "A ColonialReading of Shakespeare's The Tempest". This reading traces the subversion of the hegemony and ideology of the colonizer due to his shortcomings. The chapter reveals how Prospero utilizes the stereotypical image of the other, displacement, education and language in order to consolidate his hegemony. The chapter traces sites of resistance in the text emphasizing on Caliban. This analysis indicates that The Tempest fails to deliver the ideological dimension of containment and instead it stresses the contradictions which subvert the hegemony of the colonizer. Chapter Four "A Historicist Reading of Shakespeare's Henry IV, Parts I and II" argues that Shakespeare's treatment of history is an indictment of monarchy rather than a praise of it. Hence, this historicist reading regards history as a discursive construct and as a series of subversive processes. The chapter deals with Henry IV's use of such consolidating processes as force, fraud and the exercise of foreign wars. Besides, the chapter analyzes the dramatization of subversion as represented by the struggle between monarchy and nobility, the dramatic representation of Falstaff, and the emergent power of Prince Harry. The thesis has resulted in some general findings which assert that a cultural materialist reading regards Shakespeare's plays as an instrument of subversion. Hence, this approach re-reads his plays from a new perspective stressing their dynamic ability to produce cultural change rather than the perpetuation of the status quo.

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Keywords Cultural materialist criticism;A feminist reading;A colonial reading;A historicist reading
Issue Date 2009
Publisher Master Degree of Teacher Preparation in Arts - Dept. of English - Faculty of Education - Ain Shams University - [Grade: Excellent]

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