Interpreting texts in their historical and societal contexts means to look at a piece of writing, such as a poem, novel, or play, and to understand how the context of the time period in which it was written affects the content and meaning of the text. This involves looking at the political, economic, and cultural environment in which the text was created, in order to better understand the motivations and goals of the author.
For example, the work of William Shakespeare was written during the Elizabethan era in England, a period of intense religious and social upheaval, colonization, and scientific exploration. Shakespeare's works, such as Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet, reflect the values and concerns of the Elizabethan era, such as loyalty to the monarch and the consequences of breaking social conventions.
Shakespeare's works also reflect the changing social and political landscape of the time, such as the rise of the middle class, the spread of Protestantism, and the increased power of the monarchy. By looking at the historical context of Shakespeare's works, we gain an understanding of the values, beliefs, and motivations of the people of the Elizabethan era.
For example, in Shakespeare's play Macbeth, ambition is a major theme. This ambition is reflective of the Elizabethan era, as the English people were driven by the desire for power and social advancement. The play also reflects the tension between loyalty to a monarch and individual ambition, which was a major issue of the time. Additionally, themes of fate and superstition are present in the play, which reflects the Elizabethan era's belief in a higher power and its influence on human affairs. By looking at the historical context of the work, we gain an understanding of the values, beliefs, and motivations of the people of the Elizabethan era.
Close reading is an approach to reading and analyzing a text that focuses on the details of the text in order to uncover its meaning. Close reading involves breaking down the text sentence by sentence, or even word by word, to look for patterns, symbols, and meanings that might not be immediately obvious. For example, if you are reading a poem, you might look for repeated words or images, or the way certain words are used in the poem. You might also look for the use of metaphor, simile, alliteration, and other literary devices to gain an understanding of the poem’s message.
Exploring a text through a variety of critical lenses can help you gain a deeper understanding of the text. For example, a feminist lens might allow you to examine the text from a feminist perspective, looking for how gender is portrayed, how women are portrayed, and how power dynamics between men and women play out in the text. A Marxist lens might allow you to look for how class and economics are portrayed in the text. An ecological lens might allow you to look for how the environment is portrayed in the text. By exploring the text through a variety of lenses, you can gain a richer and more nuanced understanding of the text. For example, if you were to read William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet through a feminist lens, you might look for how Juliet’s choices are limited by the expectations of her society, or how her relationship with Romeo challenges traditional notions of gender and power dynamics.