During the last two decades, new critical schools of Shakespeare scholarship have emerged, each with its own ideology, each convinced that all other approaches are deficient. This controversial book argues that in attempting to appropriate Shakespeare for their own purposes, these schools omit and misrepresent Shakespeare's text-and thus distort it.
Brian Vickers describes the iconoclastic attitudes emerging in French criticism of the 1960s that continue to influence literary theory: that language cannot reliably represent reality; that literature cannot represent life; that since no definitive reading is possible, all interpretation is misinterpretation. Vickers shows that these positions have been refuted, and he brings together work in philosophy, linguistics, and literary theory to rehabilitate language and literature. He then surveys the main conflicting schools in Shakespearean and other current literary criticism-deconstructionism, feminism, new historicism, cultural materialism, and psychoanalytic, Marxist, and Christian interpretations-describing the theoretical basis of each school, both in its own words and in those of its critics. Evaluating the resulting interpretations of Shakespeare, he shows that each is biased and fragmentary in its own way. The epilogue considers two related issues: the attempt of current literary theory to present itself as a coherent system while at the same time wishing to evade accountability; and the way in which different schools "demonize" their rivals, thus adding an intolerant tone to much recent criticism.