The Fairy Way of Writing: Shakespeare to Tolkien
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In The Fairy Way of Writing, Kevin Pask seeks to explain the origins and popularity of enchantment in Shakespeare’s plays. Writers John Dryden and Joseph Addison originated the phrase "fairy way of writing" to define the concept of an English creative imagination founded on a synthesis of high literary culture and the popular culture of tales and superstitions. Beginning with Chaucer, Johnson, Dryden, and Milton, Pask argues that the fairy way of writing not only sets the stage for the fairy tale, the Gothic novel, and children’s literature but also informs genres beyond the English canon, including painting, twentieth-century fantasy fiction, and French fairy tales.
In addition to English writers and visual artists such as Pope, Blake, and Keats, who were directly engaged with Shakespearean fantasy, Pask also examines fairy tales, letters, and paintings by the French writers Madame d'Aulnoy, Charles Perrault, Madame de Sévigné, and the Swiss-born artist Johann Heinrich Füssli (Fuseli).
The Fairy Way of Writing alters the traditional sense of English literary history and of Shakespeare’s singular place in it, insisting on the importance of often-overlooked literary and visual works. It recovers a distinctive aspect of English literary culture from across the entire early modern era and beyond, one that has been studied in the context of individual periods and writers but is only now explored in relation to the history of European nationalism and the creation of the modern literary system.
both Prospero and Caliban. In the place of Jonson’s “concupiscence,” Shakespeare’s authority now appears to sanction the discourse of a natural sexuality. Maus observes that for Dryden “Shakespeare, not Prospero, is the ultimate patriarchalist authority figure, embodying the monarch, the father, the artist, and the magician all at once.”33 The prologue is the first instance in the critical tradition in which Prospero is conflated with his creator: Caliban’s Masque 53 But Shakespear’s Magick
self-contained autonomy of the dramatic experience. This is especially true of Fuseli and William Blake, who mobilized the Shakespearean supernatural for a form of representation that seems to inaugurate a modern formation of fantasy. Educated in Zurich by central intellectual figures in the Sturm und Drang and loosely connected with Herder’s circle before settling permanently in London in 1779, Fuseli played a significant role in the Shakespeare Gallery and was the first artist to be widely
hand; both arms raised; landscape, &c.”23 Stuart Sillars notices the clear eroticism of the scene but interprets the Titania in the light of Reynolds’s painting of Dido.24 This reading tends to elide the scene’s comic eroticism, which no doubt appealed to the early collectors of the print. If the background of Titania and Bottom is now difficult to discern in the painting itself, it is readily visible in the engraved prints, which are numerous. The Folger Shakespeare Library possesses six
of Puck. “A Very fairy” George Romney (1734–1802) consistently engaged Shakespearean subjects, especially the supernatural elements of Shakespeare, throughout his career and was perhaps a moving force behind the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery.26 Late in his career, he entered an extensive engagement with the figure of Titania as an emblem of female sexuality. Romney was licensed by the fairy sexuality that seems to have permeated the visual—and literary—representations of the period. One
Milton, are driven into neglect by frantic novels, sickly and stupid German Tragedies, and deluges of idle and extravagant stories in verse.6 Wordsworth and Peacock both reject popular sensationalism, but Wordsworth insists upon his own, properly experimental, methodology of approaching sensation. Anticipating later critiques of mass culture, Wordsworth views the entertainments of an urban and industrial class as sensationalist exploitation. More than a century later, Walter Benjamin’s great