New Historicism is a form of literary theory that focuses on the relation between literature and history (and which is more complex than I wish to explain here). It was developed by scholars such as Stephen Greenblatt and Louis Montrose.

According to the Wikipedia article about New Historicism,

Harold Bloom criticizes the new historicism for reducing literature to a footnote of history, and for not paying attention to the details involved in analyzing literature.[citation needed]

This claim requires a citation. The oldest version of that Wikipedia article that mentions Harold Bloom dates from 1 December 2009, when the wording was as follows:

Some complaints (including those of Harold Bloom) sometimes made about New Historicism are that it seems to reduce literature to a footnote of history.

This statement has no source either, but what is striking compared to the newer version is that this criticism is no longer directly attributed to Harold Bloom. Searching for other sources that attribute this criticism to Harold Bloom shows that some people simply copied the statement from Wikipedia (or the other way around?). So did Harold Bloom ever criticise New Historicism in this way? If yes, where? Or does the criticism come from a different source?

  • 1
    I don't have an answer to your question, but I do want to praise you for knowing to use the article history feature in understanding Wikipedia's treatment of the subject. (Sometimes that reveals more about a subject than what any one version says.)
    – llywrch
    Commented Jun 29, 2020 at 15:15
  • @llywrch I have edited articles on the English, Dutch, German and French versions of Wikipedia, so I've been aware of that feature for quite some time :-)
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Jun 29, 2020 at 15:19
  • I'm surprised our paths haven't crossed there yet. Anway, my point was to alert people to this feature. IMHO, far too many simply look at the latest version of an article for "all" the information Wikipedia has & stop there.
    – llywrch
    Commented Jun 29, 2020 at 15:27

2 Answers 2


Harold Bloom certainly criticised New Historicism. In his book The Western Canon, he said:

Whatever the convictions of our current New Historicists, for whom Shakespeare is only a signifier for the social energies of the English Renaissance, Shakespeare for hundreds of millions who are not white Europeans is a signifier for their own pathos, their own sense of identity with the characters that Shakespeare fleshed out by his language.

and he frequently referred disparagingly to New Historicists as "resenters", or more specifically as one of the "six branches of the School of Resentment: Feminists, Marxists, Lacanians, New Historicists, Deconstructionists, Semioticians."

I found this via the article "The Neglect of the Author in New Historicism" by Patricia Ana Marquez, which says:

In his introduction to The Western Canon (1994), Harold Bloom writes a controversial polemic against New Historicists. His work attempts to map the influence of writers belonging to the Western “canon,” showing that every great writer has been influenced by a writer preceding him or her. The “canon” is in jeopardy according to Bloom, and he writes that he finds it “absurd and regrettable” that an author like Shakespeare is critiqued through a New Historical lens, reducing him to the “‘social energies’ of the English Renaissance” (3). Bloom perceives this reduction with disdain because Shakespeare, arguably the most influential writer in the English language, has been aesthetically lumped into comparability with less significant writers. One of the reasons, according to Bloom, is due to a trend in schools to discard aesthetics. In trying to “expand the canon” by including all forms of literature previously neglected in history, scholars have instead destroyed the canon (7).

His description of New Historicism in the above-quoted paragraph may be paraphrased as reducing literature to a footnote of history - "Shakespeare is only a signifier for the social energies of the English Renaissance" - but the exact phrase "footnote of history" does not appear. Searching through the full text of some of his books such as The Western Canon and The Anxiety of Influence does not give any results for this exact phrase, nor does it appear in a Google Books search in any of his books. I couldn't track down any original source for this phrase in reference to New Historicism; it may have been coined by whoever wrote that Wikipedia page, since everywhere I can find on the internet that mentions both "New Historicism" and "footnote of history" looks as though it's sourced or copied from that same Wikipedia page.


The promotion of the Western Canon is one worthy of ones intellectual development. However, to look critically at the value of different points of view is marginal at best. The general purpose of a liberal education is to be opened-minded with respect to differences is a value whereby one can learn more about oneself. One and admire the fact that Dr. Bloom made a career of further marginalizing the so-called others, or at one point he was consider as an other must take a fresh look at all positions worthy of our attention and see the quality of ones best judgement.

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