Literary and Critical Theory Terence Hawkes
Evelyn Gajowski, Gary Lindeburg
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 July 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 July 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190221911-0119


Terence Hawkes (b. 13 May 1932, d. 16 January 2014) revolutionized the disciplines of Shakespeare studies and English studies, including the way both are taught in the British academy, during the late twentieth century and the early twenty-first century. Professor of English at the University of Cardiff in Wales, he was a Shakespeare scholar, literary theorist, and literary critic extraordinaire. His work is equally marked by intellectual rigor, adventurousness, and incisive wit. He wrote, edited, and published eleven books throughout the course of his career, most of them devoted to Shakespeare. He earned his doctoral degree at Cardiff University in 1955. Following teaching stints at SUNY (State University of New York), Buffalo, in the United States during 1957–1959 and at the University of Aberwystwyth, Wales, during 1960–1961, he spent the bulk of his teaching career at Cardiff University (1961–1999). Later in his career, he is best known for having spearheaded a theoretical and critical approach to interpreting Shakespeare’s texts known as presentism. Presentism is built on the premise of recognizing the audience member’s, the reader’s, and the critic’s “situatedness” in the present moment, rather than occluding that fact. Presentism can be viewed as existing in theoretical tension with new historicism, especially its investment in the past, specifically, early modern England. However, presentism and new historicism share common ground to the extent that both take into consideration the relationship between text and context—whether that context is the twenty-first century or early modernity. Earlier in his career, Hawkes is best known for his part in transforming the discipline of English studies, more broadly construed. He advanced the influx of French thought of theorists such as Derrida and Foucault within the British academy through his own publications and his general editorship of two influential academic publishers’ series, New Accents and Accents on Shakespeare, both for Routledge, and an academic journal, Textual Practice. To this end, and in collaboration with colleagues Catherine Belsey, Christopher Norris, and Chris Weedon, Hawkes co-founded the Centre for Cultural and Critical Theory at the University of Cardiff. He was also instrumental in founding the British Shakespeare Association and its journal, Shakespeare.

General Overviews

Fascinating Rhythms: Shakespeare, Theory, Culture, and the Legacy of Terence Hawkes, a collection of essays edited by John Drakakis, was published by Routledge in 2023. Several articles and chapters also pay tribute to his scholarly accomplishments and influence. Drakakis 2016 (cited under Shakespeare Studies) provides an overview of Hawkes’s publications with an emphasis on the significance of one of his monographs, Meaning by Shakespeare, in which he articulates presentist thought. Belsey 2015 offers a tribute to Hawkes, specifically his role in introducing French poststructuralist theory into the United Kingdom. Grady 2014 provides an overview of Hawkes’s work in developing presentism as a productive theory and practice for understanding Shakespeare’s texts. In a doctoral dissertation, Jelic 2016 also analyzes and summarizes Hawkes’s significance as a presentist theorist and critic of Shakespeare.

  • Belsey, Catherine. “Turning Point: The legacy of Terence Hawkes.” Textual Practice 29 (2015): 1–8.

    DOI: 10.1080/0950236X.2014.993525

    A tribute to Hawkes by his co-founder and subsequent editor of the journal, Textual Practice, and his colleague at the University of Cardiff. Addresses the significance of the historical moment—the turn to French poststructuralisttheories and the new meanings that they open up in texts. Contextualizes the journal’s beginnings amid the conservative political climate of Margaret Thatcher’s United Kingdom.

  • Drakakis, John. “Introduction: In Memory of Professor Terence (‘Terry’) Hawkes.” In Special Issue: Radical Shakespeare: In Memory of Terry Hawkes (1932–2014). Edited by Graham Holderness and Richard Wilson. Critical Survey 26 (2014): 2–5.

    DOI: 10.3167/cs.2014.260302

    Reviews Hawkes’s publication history, emphasizes the radical nature of his work, and teases out the evolving sense of presentism in his work. Considers his monographs, from Shakespeare and the Reason, Hawkes 2002a, Hawkes 2002b, Hawkes 2002c, Hawkes 2002d, Hawkes 2002e, Hawkes 2002f, Hawkes 2002g, and Hawkes 2002h. Focuses on Meaning by Shakespeare, Hawkes 1992a, Hawkes 1992b, Hawkes 1992c, Hawkes 1992d, Hawkes 1992e, Hawkes 1992f, and Hawkes 1992g. Asks “what do we mean by Shakespeare?” with the emphasis falling alternatively on what, we, mean, by, and Shakespeare/“Shakespeare.”

  • Grady, Hugh. “Terence Hawkes and Presentism.” In Special Issue: Radical Shakespeare: In Memory of Terry Hawkes (1932–2014). Edited by Graham Holderness and Richard Wilson. Critical Survey 26 (2014): 6–14.

    Equal parts critical theory and eulogy for a personal friend and mentor. Addresses Hawkes’s pioneering work in developing presentist theory. Traces his work from the publication of Structuralism and Semiotics through the publication of That Shakespeherian Rag. Personal insights and anecdotes add depth to the understanding of Hawkes’s approach to Shakespeare and shed light on the development of his views of perpetually changing sets of meanings that audience members and readers construct in texts.

  • Jelic, Zorica. “Presentism as a Contemporary Hermeneutical Approach and Presentist Interpretations of William Shakespeare’s Tragedies.” Doctoral diss., University of Belgrade, 2016.

    Defines and explains presentist theory and criticism. Elucidates and foregrounds the significant contributions of Hawkes, in addition to those of Hugh Grady, Ewan Fernie, and Evelyn Gajowski, to the development of presentist thought within the discipline of Shakespeare studies. Particularly interested in the positivist/anti-positivist theoretical conflict between new historicists and presentists.

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