What is meant by historical and biographical approaches?

1 Answer | Add Yours

lmetcalf's profile pic

lmetcalf | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted on

There are many "lenses" through which to consider a literary text.  Whenever we read, we are evaluating what we read through a lens, whether we are aware of it, or not.  When we read something (poem, short story, novel, drama, or even non-fictional writing) through a biographical lens, or from a biographical perspective, then we are taking into significant consideration the life and the times of the author and looking to see how those elements are related to the work or revealed in the work.  This kind of reading is related to an historical reading where the history of the time period is considered.  With historical readings, we could consider the history of the setting of a work separate from the historical time period of the author who wrote the work.  So a modern novel, written about a time in the past, could still be read through a historical lens.

The biographical approach works better for some authors than others.  For example, the works of Charles Dickens are considered to reflect very strongly the time period in which he was writing, and several of the novels reflect Dickens's own experiences as a child and young adult.  Shakespeare, on the other hand, is nearly impossible to read this way.  We know next to nothing about Shakespeare's personal life.  We have little way to connect the man himself to the works.  We are able to do an historical reading of Shakespeare's works because we can look to see how the Renaissance time period of England is reflected in the attitudes and behavior of his characters, or we can read to see how Shakespeare depicts an historical time period, such as ancient Rome in Julius Caesar or early England in Henry IV.

In order to do a biographical reading of a piece of literature you will need to research the author's life and look for ways in which his or her life is reflected in the piece.  In order to do an historical reading, you will need to research the time period of the setting of the novel, and then determine what the story reveals about its time and place in history.  To do a historical-biographical reading, you must research the personal life and the historical time period of the author to determine what ends up being reflected in the literature.  All of these approaches to reading aid in expanding our understanding of the significance of what we read

We’ve answered 317,907 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question