Academic journal article Shakespeare Studies

Terza Rima for Terry (Meaning by Hawkes)

Academic journal article Shakespeare Studies

Terza Rima for Terry (Meaning by Hawkes)

Article excerpt

Note

TERRY HAWKES was my mentor, colleague in Cardiff, good friend, and regular Saturday-night drinking companion for more than three decades, so his death in January 2014 left me wishing we had remained more closely in touch during the past few years. When Diana Henderson asked me to write something for this commemorative number of Shakespeare Studies I had two main reasons for choosing what might seem the quaint or distinctly eighteenth-century genre of verse-essay or verse-epistle. One was our last exchange of emails when Terry had said some typically acute and generous things about previous ventures of mine in a similar mode. The second was my feeling that the style and ethos of that period were close to what Terry most enjoyed about living in the crossover zone between academe, literary journalism, and critical theory where the gloves were apt to come off (at any rate in print) and a ready wit would often do vital service alongside critical acumen and depth of scholarship. He wouldn't have wanted solemn proceedings so I tried to evoke--rather than match or imitate--something of Terry's own cheerfully irreverent, unfailingly good--humored, verbally inventive, at times polemically hardhitting but never less than genial and magnanimous spirit.

The main topic is of course "theory" and the large--indeed central--role he played in propagating new ideas about literature, criticism, and culture through his editorship, from the early 1980s on, of the New Accents book series and the journal Textual Practice. The poem also talks a lot about Terry's truly groundbreaking essays in Shakespeare criticism, his frequent run-ins with hostile (anti theory) reviewers and respondents, and his expert deployment of cultural-materialist readings as a natural extension of adversarial class politics within and beyond the academy. (1) These went along with his singular gift--or creative flair--for approaching issues of Shakespeare interpretation via some ingeniously reconstructed set of historical and/or personal circumstances as they bore on some particular scholar-critic at some especially salient or critical point in a play's reception history. Terry's essay on Dover Wilson's notably overdetermined relationship to Hamlet was (I think) the first of these exhilarating ventures and, for my money, the most inspirational, so it figures as the main point of reference here. (2)

What the poem tries to do in a more general way is make the case that opponents of literary theory--some teachers of creative writing among them--are getting it wrong when they posit a kind of inbuilt antagonism between it and the processes, whatever these may be, involved in writing poetry or fiction. One way to challenge that idea is to point out how many students at various levels choose to do both and manage to combine them with no signs of stress or cognitive/creative dissonance. Another--more prominent here--is the sheer self-evidence of literary as well as intellectual creativity in a critic/theorist like Terry and others who looked to literary theory as offering a welcome release from the strictures of mainstream academic discourse. Debunking the more arrogant or self-serving claims of creative writers was undoubtedly one of Terry's favorite pastimes and very likely has something to do with the kinds of ambivalence or creative-critical tension--if not the full-scale Bloomian "anxiety"--plainly legible in critics like Geoffrey Hartman and the Yale acolytes of deconstruction. (3) However, in Terry's case the creativity expressed itself far more directly and with no such agonized quasi-Freudian detours, displacements, or sublimations. Scholarship and criticism were creative activities for him and he did more than anyone since William Empson to show that writing about Shakespeare had better be criticism as "answerable style"--in Hartman's well-chosen phrase--if it was to have any claim on our receptive-responsive powers.

Anyway, I hope that some of this will come across in the poem which I dedicate not only to Terry's memory but also to that other eminent Shakespearean, John Drakakis. …

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