Style: Essays on Renaissance and Restoration Language and Culture in Memory of Harriet Hawkins

By Allen Michie; Eric Buckley | Go to book overview

Preface

THE FIRST WORDS OF HARRIETT HAWKINS’S FIRST BOOK ARE A QUOTAtion from John Dryden:

The purity of phrase, the clearness of conception and expression, the
boldness maintained to majesty, the significancy and sound of words,
not strained into bombast, but justly elevated; in short, those very words
and thoughts, which cannot be changed, but for the worse, must of ne-
cessity escape our transient view upon the theatre; and yet without all
these a play may take. For if either the story move us, or the actor help
the lameness of it with his performance, or now and then a glittering
beam of wit or passion strike through the obscurity of the poem, any
of these are sufficient to effect a present liking, but not to fix a lasting
admiration; for nothing but truth can long continue; and time is the
surest judge of truth.1

For Dryden, as for Hawkins, “truth” is something that emerges from an ongoing dialectic. In two of her major works, Likenesses of Truth in Elizabethan and Restoration Drama and The Devil’s Party: Critical Counter-Interpretations of Shakespearian Drama, Hawkins argues that “truth” is no less the sole property of bald, humorless, and limpid sermonizing as it is the property of ornate, witty, and obtuse poetry or prose. A “glittering beam of wit of passion” is often all it takes to transform obscurity into clarity, but “lasting admiration” is something that cannot be purchased cheaply by “purity of phrase” or “boldness maintained to majesty.” Perhaps Hawkins used Dryden’s words from “An Essay on Dramatic Poesy” to set the tone for her book, and by extension the remainder of her career, to illustrate how true style is in the service of, and is in turn served by, a verdict of lasting worth. This is the difference between “style” and its lesser cousin, “fashion.” Both are cultural constructions, both can be vessels for “truth,” but, as both Dryden and Hawkins make clear, they have significantly different relationships to time. The essays in this volume are all written in honor of Hawkins as evidence of her own lasting worth and continuing influence on Renaissance and Restoration studies. But

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