Here is an introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory from:

Hall, Donald E., Literary and Cultural Theory.  Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 2001 

Basic overall principles: 

1.   After carefully considering your options, choose a text, topic, and methodology to which you can devote yourself enthusiastically. 

2.  Acquaint yourself thoroughly with your text. 

3.  Reflect on several methodological possibilities and choose a methodology appropriate for the text under consideration. 

4.  Understand your methodology’s strengths and weaknesses as well as its basic principles. 

5. Provide ample textual evidence to support analysis and interpretive claims. 

6.  Use your methodology consistently as you construct a thesis and organize your analysis. 

7.  Always consider your readers and their needs as you write and revise.  Remember, finally, that no methodology explains a text completely or definitively.

For another perspective on Literary Criticism, try this link:
http://www.captiveape.com/criticism.html 

...now, here are some methodologies from the Hall's book:

The New Criticism and Formalist Analysis 

Key Principals: 

1.  The aesthetic experience is unique, powerful, and significant. 
2.  Literature has formal aspects that distinguish it clearly from other types of expression. 
3.  Literature can be successfully divided into genres. 
4.  Literary analysis has its own specific interests, focuses, and, of course, terminology that differentiate it from the fields of history, psychology, and sociology. 
5.   Literature has meaning(s) beyond the “intent” and biography of the author. 
6.  Close reading and an attention to form, language, and detail are key to a discussion of literature’s qualities, themes, and functions. 

(more here: http://130.179.92.25/Arnason_DE/New_Criticism.html)

Reader Response Analysis 

Key Principals: 

1.  The “meaning” of a text is not wholly intrinsic to the text. 
2.  The reading experience may be intensely private and subjective.  Carefully and thoroughly investigating the roots of differing, even wildly variant, responses and interpretations can be an important critical exercise. 
3.  Texts often presuppose an “ideal” reader, while a “real” reader has his or her own idiosyncratic background, context, expectations, and interpretive strategies. 
4.   The investigations suggested above may lead to research in psychology, social history, gender studies, or other fields. 
5.  As readers proceed through a text, they make choices and engage in interpretive processes that may be traced and analyzed. 
6.  The success of reader-response analysis depends largely on the sophistication of the critic’s meta-theoretical approach to the reading process and the quality of the evidence presented to support any conclusions or generalizations.  

Marxist and Materialist Analysis 

Key principals:  

1.   An attention to the material conditions of life and a critical engagement with our attitudes about those conditions are essential for achieving positive social change.
2.  The traditional social structure of classes, within and around texts, is built on the oppression of workers.
3.  Social classes, within and around texts, ultimately have conflicting interests, even if they share certain beliefs at the present time. 
4.  Literary and other cultural texts are ideological in background, form and function. 
5.  The production and consumption of texts reflects class ideologies. 
6.  Representations within texts reflect class ideologies. 
7.  The production, consumption, and content of literary and cultural criticism is also ideological in nature. 
8.  A key role of the critic is to elucidate textual and extratextual ideologies and thereby to further class awareness and positive social change. 

Psychoanalytic analysis 

Key principals: 

1.  Human activity is not reducible to conscious intent.
2.  While biology may have some part to play in the development of human psychology, environment also has a role.
3.  Individuals move through developmental stages early in life, and traumas or experiences during that process may have a lasting effect on personality. 
4.  The psychology of authors has an impact on literart and other forms of cultural representation. 
5.  Characters in texts may also have a complex psychology. 
6.  Literary and other cultural texts may have a psychological impact on readers or meet a psychological need in them. 
7.  It is unlikely that any one theory can ever fully capture the complexity of human psychology and development, which can vary widely across cultures, classes, genders, sexual orientations, and familial and other personal contexts. 
8.  Thus the literary or cultural critic, like the psychoanalyst, must be very careful to avoid “imposing” meanings on a given story or text. 

Structuralism and Semiotic Analysis 

Key principals: 

1.  Language structures our perception of the world around us. 
2.  Language is understandable as a system of signs; furthermore, signs function as a language. 
3.  A given sign is densely interconnected with other signs. 
4.  Signs are understandable synchronically 
5.  Signs are understandable diachronically 
6.  Literature and literary representatives are manifestations of sign systems and provide occasions for their study. 
7.  No sign is ever fully understandable or capturable. 

Decnstruction and Post-Structuralist Analysis 

Key principles: 

1.  There is no transcendental signified.
2.  Although relationships among signs account for contextual meanings, those relationships are never fixed or fully knowable. 
3.  Texts betray traces of their own instability. 
4.  There is nothing outside of the text.
5.  The deployment of power is polyvalent, as are all forms of signification. 
6.  Cultural and literary criticism is a form of signification. 

Feminist Analysis 

Key principles: 

1.  Language, institutions, and social power structures have reflected patriarchal interests throughout much of history; and this has had a profound impact on women’s ability to express themselves and the quality of their daily lives. 
2.  Yet at the same time, women have resisted and subverted patriarchal oppression in a variety of ways. 
3.  This combination of patriarchal oppression and women’s resistance to it is apparent in many literary and other cultural texts. 
4.  For some feminists, the most important way to resist patriarchy is to challenge laws and other institutional barriers to women’s equality. 
5.  For more essentialist feminists, resistance often means focusing on differences between men and women as well as ensuring the social valuation and expression of the latter’s unique abilities. 
6.  For feminists interested in issues of race and ethnicity, both sexism and racism demand analysis in literary and other cultural texts. 
7.  For materialist feminists, resistance to patriarchy must include thorough questioning of the class system as well as the gender system. 
8.  For post-structuralist feminists, man/woman is a hierarchical binary that may be challenged through intense critical scrutiny.  This may include an exploration of prelinguistic experiences of essential femininity or attention to gender “performance.” 

Gay/Lesbian/Queer Analysis 

Key principles:

1. Even though sexuality is often considered a highly private matter, it is thoroughly connected to our social existence. 
2.  Negative social attitudes about expressions of sexual desire between members of the same sex have had a profound impact on many individuals’ public and private lives. 
3.  Yet social attitudes about sexuality have changed dramatically over time. 
4. Social attitudes about sexuality have differed significantly for men and women. 
5.  Social attitudes about sexuality have differed significantly across cultures, regions, classes, and ethnic groups. 
6.  All notions of “normality”—sexual, gender-related, and otherwise—are appropriate subjects for critique and historical investigation. 
7.  Social attitudes about sexuality resonate through literary and other cultural texts. 
8.  Social attitudes about sexuality may be discernable in the themes of literary and other cultural texts. 
9.  Social attitudes about sexuality may be discernable in the characterizations present in literary and other cultural texts. 
10.  Explorations of the interrelationship of sexuality and textuality may draw on different theories, such as those concerning class, race, psychology, and form, and as well as those of post-structuralism and the New Historicism. 

Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Analysis 

Key principles: 

1.  Categories of race and ethnicity have been used in ways that have empowered and oppressed. 
2.  This differentiation of peoples,  is reflected in and reinforced by languages and metaphor. 
3.  This differentiation of peoples, as well as forces of economic greed and expansionism, are also reflected in a centuries-long history of imperialism and colonialization. 
4.  This differentiation of peoples and its political consequences are reflected not only in the literary and other forms of representation but also in our very notion of literature. 
5.  Thus an understanding of textual reflections of racism and ethnocentrism demands an attention to the cultural history and belief systems of the social group(s) being portrayed and discussed. 
6.  The analysis of racism and ethnocentrism in texts from the past may have relevance to the ways we live our lives today. 
7.  Textual analysts of race, ethnicity, and post-coloniality can serve as a starting point for positive forms of social change in the future. 

The New Historicism and Pluralistic Cultural Analysis 

Key principles: 

1.  History is not linearly progressive and is not reducible to the activities of prominent individuals. 
2.  The mundane activities and conditions of everyday life can tell us much about the belief systems of a time period. 
3.  Literary and other cultural texts are connected in complex ways to the time period in which they were created.  Systems of social power are both reflected in and reinforced by such texts.
4.  Many different types of cultural texts can reflect and advance social interests. 
5.  A synthetic methodology or pluralistic approach still requires both precision and unity. 
6.  Many of the above rules apply equally to interpreters of literary texts and to the interpretations they generate. 
7.  Therefore no reading of a literary or other cultural text is definitive. 

Ecological Analysis 

Better known as "Ecocriticism." This is the new kid on the block. Check out the following links and write your own "Key principles."

Here is an introduction from:

The Ecocriticism Reader
by Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm (editors)
University of Georgia Press, 1996

"What then is ecocriticism? Simply put, ecocriticism is the study of the relationship between literature and the physical environment. Just as feminist criticism examines language and literature from a gender-conscious perspective, and Marxist criticism brings an awareness of modes of production and economic class to its reading of texts, ecocriticism takes an earth-centered approach to literary studies.


" Ecocritics and theorists ask questions like the following: How is nature represented in this sonnet? What role does the physical setting play in the plot of this novel? Are the values expressed in this play consistent with ecological wisdom? How do our metaphors of the land influence the way we treat it? How can we characterize nature writing as a genre? In addition to race, class, and gender, should place become a new critical category? Do men write about nature differently than women do? In what ways has literacy itself affected humankind's relationship to the natural world? How has the concept of wilderness changed over time? In what ways and to what effect is the environmental crisis seeping into contemporary literature and popular culture? What view of nature informs U.S. Government reports, corporate advertising, and televised nature documentaries, and to what rhetorical effect? What bearing might the science of ecology have on literary studies? How is science itself open to literary analysis?"

-- Cheryll Glotfelty, from the Introduction

A further introduction is here:

http://www.asle.umn.edu/archive/intro/intro.html

More resources here:

http://www.iyume.com/english/ecolinks.htm

http://tarver.mercer.edu/weblinks/humanities/creative_writing.html  

urban legends: 

http://www.snopes.com/snopes.asp