Academic journal article Shakespeare Studies

The Critical Process of Terence Hawkes

Academic journal article Shakespeare Studies

The Critical Process of Terence Hawkes

Article excerpt

I

THERE ARE FEW Shakespearean scholars of the post-Second World War generation who can match the range, the adventurousness, and the exciting unpredictability of Terence Hawkes. His academic journey began within the comparatively orthodox framework of an edition of selections from Coleridge's writings on Shakespeare in the Penguin Shakespeare Library in 1959, followed in 1964 by a major contribution both to Shakespeare criticism and the history of ideas in his book Shakespeare and the Reason. The range of Hawkes's interests was beginning to emerge by the early 1970s when he was the European editor for the journal Language and Style, and was evidenced in his short book in the original Critical Idiom series on Metaphor (1972). In 1973 he published Shakespeare's Talking Animals, a groundbreaking book that was well in advance of its time, and that launched a series of connections between the "historical" Shakespeare and what was then current popular culture. The full extent of that range was to emerge some five years later when he edited the volume on Twentieth Century Interpretations of "Macbeth" (1977), selecting relevant essays from the 1930s to the 1970s. In the same year the four initial volumes in the New Accents series, including his own Structuralism and Semiotics (1977), appeared. There were clear signs in the Introduction to the Macbeth collection, and more so in Shakespeare's Talking Animals, that Hawkes was uneasy with the dominant tradition of Shakespeare scholarship, and with the state of Literary Studies more generally. But his general editorship of the New Accents series and his commitment to presenting, in accessible form and for the first time, new linguistic and literary models that owed much to European "theory" served to change significantly the trajectory of literary studies--in British higher education and beyond. At the same time, Terence Hawkes was well on the way to becoming an accomplished jazz drummer, an interest and an expertise that was to filter into his own scholarly practice as the boundaries between academic disciplines and popular culture were beginning to dissolve.

That Shakespeherian Rag, published in 1986, borrows its title from T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land (1922) which itself conflates two temporally distinct articulations of popular culture--Shakespeare and popular music--as part of the fabric of a canonical modernist text. Eliot's backward glance to a heavily mythologized organic Renaissance culture is historicist insofar as it seeks consolation for the fragmentations of the present in the shards of the past that return as symptoms of a now defunct hierarchy. Hawkes's "essays," written at various stages during the early years of the government of Margaret Thatcher, are subtitled: "essays on a critical process," and refuse the ethos implied in the nostalgia of The Waste Land. Indeed, they embrace the "present" in a dynamic dialogue with the "past" and in ways that foreground the shaping "process" of the critic as deeply and consciously enmeshed in what is ostensibly his object of inquiry. The first essay, "Playhouse--Workhouse," initially situates the critic in a quotidian reality, in a manner that later became characteristic of Hawkes's general approach:

   I am eating fish and chips in Stratford-upon-Avon. To be precise, I
   am doing so while leaning on a lock-gate at the point where the
   Stratford canal flows into the river Avon. Slightly to my left is
   the Royal Shakespeare Theatre where I have just attended a
   performance of The Tempest. Slightly to my right is a fish-and-chip
   shop. (1)

This unusually candid positioning is the point of convergence of a number of forces: "canal [Culture] ... river [Nature] ... the Royal Shakespeare Theatre ... fish-and-chip shop [Englishness]" open onto a terrain of constitutive differences whose "broad and potent distinctions" the observant critic simply "fails to allay." (2) The arresting stubbornness of these contiguous discursive frames, their capacity to resist an easy narrative homogenization, appears to be a consequence of their being an inseparable part of a larger, variegated but identifiably historical, context that functions to expand meaning. …

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