Shakespeare Now: The Function of Presentism at the Critical Time

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Abstract

Presentism styles itself a distinctive critical approach to literary texts, characterized by heightened self-critical awareness. It sees itself as complementing (rather than competing with) historicism. Its main proponents – Hugh Grady and Terence Hawkes – are Shakespearean scholars, and in several recent works, including a recent anthology (Presentist Shakespeares), they elaborate and showcase their approach. This essay argues that the likes of Grady and Hawkes have failed to face up to the simple consideration that ‘presentism’ means a species of error, or it means nothing. They have also failed to square up, satisfactorily, against what is evidently their real target: namely, post-Theory approaches to Shakespeare. (David Kastan is a target, but his name is really more a convenient marker for the target zone, due to the title of his book: Shakespeare after Theory.) Presentism is, in effect, oblique apologetics for Theory, but fails to say anything in its defense.

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