There several perspectives a person might use to analyze a literary work, especially one of Shakespeare’s.
Gibson outlines the perspectives and defines them as follows:
Feminism: A fairly new perspective concerned with a “women’s view” about gender equality in roles of institutions such as religion, politics, work, etc.
Psychoanalysis: Is preoccupied with love, hate, dreams, fantasy, and confusion. Seeks to make distinctions between the explicit and implicit meanings of a script. Psychoanalytics have a field day with Hamlet.
Structuralism: Derived from a particular view of language, located in the theories of linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. A structuralist approach to a Shakespeare play assumes that certain structures or systems govern or explain each play. Example, a genre such as comedy is a structural category, because its literary and dramatic concepts strongly influence how a particular play is written, what its topic will be, how it will end, and how it is likely to be performed. Measure for Measure provides structuralists with a headache.
Deconstruction: Is derived from one of structuralism’s assumptions about language, that it is a ‘system with no positive terms.’ In other words, no word or thing has meaning in itself, but derives meaning from the relationships it has within the structure of language. Meaning is always deferred, never absolute. Deconstructionists look at what is missing from a Shakespeare play rather than focusing on the meaning of what is there.
New Historicism: Is mainly concerned with the conditions of Shakespeare’s own time, and environment. It sees the plays and theatre of that time as strongly influenced by, and reflecting, contemporary politics, economic, and ideological conditions. Claims that Shakespeare’s plays are ‘centrally and repeatedly concerned with the production and containment of disorder.’
Cultural Materialism: Argues that culture and materialism, are always related. Shakespeare cannot be understood without reference to the economic and plitical system of his age, and that of our own. Says that studying Shakespeare is a political activity because Shakespeare is not separate from other social practices, but is shaped by politics, ideology, and economics.
Textual and Critical Scholarship: Shows how Shakespeare texts have been constructed over the centuries. because every edition is a different one, no script has the coherence and stability it appears to claim. Claims that all interpretations are to some extent shaped by ideology and focuses on the social class of the critics and the particular circumstances of the time at which they wrote.
Reception Theory: Sees reading as a creative, constructive process. It emphasizes the reader’s active role in ‘making’ any text or script, and therefore epitomizes those teaching practices which stress personal response. Readers are not passive,but actively make some sense out of what they read.
Obviously, each perspective has its advantages and disadvantages, some more than others. There is something to be said for the various perspectives, especially in teaching Shakespeare, but for the average enjoyer/reader of Shakespeare, they are not necessary. Basic familiarity is nice, and will probably be helpful in allowing the reader to gain multiple views of a play, but for the perspectives to be useful at all, the reader must first decide which perspective he or she agrees with and will stick to.
King Lear is a play particularly well-suited to various perspectives. Not only do all the characters have individual ‘perspectives’ on life, the play itself could easily be interpreted several ways through several perspectives.