Terence Hawkes

Terence Hawkes taught English at Cardiff University for many years. He was the general editor of the Accents on Shakespeare series, and his books include Structuralism and Semiotics (1977), Meaning by Shakespeare (1992) and Shakespeare in the Present (2002). He died in 2014.

Putting on Some English: Eagleton’s Rise

Terence Hawkes, 7 February 2002

In the United States, ‘English’ can mean ‘spin’: a deliberate turn put on a ball by striking it so that it swerves. It’s a subtle epithet, perhaps recording a canny colonial take on the larger distortions inseparable from imperial rule. But the truth is that as the English invented ‘Great Britain’ and then began the process of large-scale...

Until recently, the notion that the academic subject called ‘English’ had any sort of history would have seemed rather odd. Hadn’t it always just, well, existed? Surely, at his Stratford grammar school, the lad Shakespeare mugged up his Chaucer, if not the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads and Pride and Prejudice like the rest of us? How otherwise could he have written plays full of ‘characters’ who, as all O and A-level candidates know, endlessly, remorselessly, ‘develop’? Admittedly, Stephen Potter’s The Muse in Chains had offered to blow the gaff in 1937. But pell-mell postwar expansion, to say nothing of Potter’s decline into a chronicler of comfy national foibles, soon settled its hash. ‘English’ seemed to be just there: as natural as Syrup of Figs or Marmite, and as volcanically cleansing or as briskly bracing as either to the costive national soul. Gloomy siftings of the details of the subject’s invention could be dismissed as further evidence of a crisis whose other barely distinguishable symptoms were marijuana, acne and the vapourisings of feckless French fumisterie.‘

Lore and Ordure: Jonson and digestion

Terence Hawkes, 21 May 1998

In 1616, the year in which Shakespeare died, Ben Jonson became the first English dramatist to publish a collected edition of his own plays. No doubt The Workes of Beniamin Jonson, a folio volume of more than a thousand pages, brought a sharp satisfaction to its author. The indignities of an earlier career as a bricklayer could scarcely have been more roundly redeemed. Only the malice of a contemporary wit,

Hamlet calls death the ‘undiscovered country’, but perhaps the deftness of that description masks a fatal insouciance. True, it isn’t really possible for us to ‘discover’ extinction in the sense of gaining actual experience of the phenomenon. But, as Michael Neill points out, human beings do imagine dying and in the process they inevitably invent a notion of death capable of matching their presuppositions. To that extent, death could be said to be something that each society discovers for itself. As a result, nobody just dies. The icy hand may descend everywhere and indiscriminately, but it does so in specific cultural and historical contexts. In all communities, a high degree of political and economic mediation invariably attends the event which is usually also intensely ritualised. The result, as Neill compellingly argues, is that though all animals die, only human beings ‘suffer death’ in the form of a subjugation to imperatives moulded by their own collective imaginations. And if death is culturally determined, it is also historically specific and thus altogether a more complicated matter than Hamlet allows. Certainly, the Renaissance ‘crisis’ about death, which is at the centre of Neill’s concern, is a quarry worthy of the spry, meticulous scholarship he brings to its pursuit. Webster wasn’t the only Early Modern British dramatist to be much possessed by the topic. In fact, a good deal of Renaissance tragedy could be seen as an instrument by which that culture set out to discover and map new meaning for death.‘

Making = Taking

Terence Hawkes, 31 July 1997

By 1945, a quarter of the aeroplanes visible on Japanese military airfields were dummies. Despite a Goon Show suggestion to the contrary, the Allied air forces did not respond by dropping dummy bombs on them, although the energy of Hillel Schwartz’s argument almost persuades you that they might have done. We belong, his thesis runs, to a ‘culture of the copy’ in which an overt admiration for originality, authenticity, the unique, the one-off finds itself systematically undermined by a covert commitment to reproduction, duplication, the simulated and the subsequent.


Frank Kermode, 11 February 1993

Faithful readers of this journal will remember Terence Hawkes’s article ‘Bardbiz’, if only because it provoked, between March 1990 and September 1991, one of the most protracted...

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