Language and Literature . Pre 19th Century Literary Studies

Event of Style in Shakespeare’s Sonnets

The concept of the ‘event’ has accumulated around it a somewhat varied stream of interventions in contemporary philosophy and literary theory. In The Event of Style in Literature (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) I tried to think of the event in relation to the concept of style, looking in particular at the work of Jacques Derrida, Maurice Blanchot and Hans Georg Gadamer. In this context, the poetry of Paul Celan, with its penchant for interruption, singularity and resistance to simple thematisation provided a space for the thinking of style as an anarchic, anachronic and non-teleocratic event which arises from my reading of Derrida, Blanchot and Gadamer.

In ‘The Event of Style in Shakespeare’s Sonnets’ (Oxford Literary Review Volume 37.1 ) I try to see whether the ideas developed in the monograph can also work in the reading of Shakespeare. This seemed like a valid question to ask because Shakespearean studies have for a long time been dominated by the authorship question that returns discussions of style in Shakespeare, repeatedly, to the idea of an identifying signature. Style in Shakespeare studies is often read teleocratically, in terms of what it reveals about the writing and dating of the plays. Shakespeare's Sonnets

In trying to think of how style in Shakespeare can work through a paradoxical dynamic of appropriation and disappropriation through a largely Derridian perspective, I picked up on the fine work on the subject by Nicholas Royle and others but sought to extend the discussion by focusing specifically on the sonnets and, more precisely, a few selected poems from the Rival Poet series, chosen because of their constant thematic interest in style and poetic authorship.

With respect to the sonnets, it is somewhat difficult to be innovative in the shadow of a giant like Joel Fineman, who in his seminal work, Shakespeare’s Perjured Eye (University of California Press, 1986) anticipates many of the concerns of poststructuralist theory without explicitly using its language. What I wrote, then, could only be an extension or intensification of these diverse influences into a close reading of the event of style in the sonnets, where I found always already at work a deconstruction—a putting under erasure—of the discourses of property that characterise recent discussions of Shakespeare’s style.

Mario Aquilina is a lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Malta, where he lectures on literary theory, style, rhetoric, writing and electronic literature. Aquilina is the author of the monograph, The Event of Style in Literature (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) as well as several book chapters and papers on Shakespeare, Blanchot and Derrida. Aquilina is an Assistant Editor for the journal, CounterText, published by Edinburgh University Press, and a member of the Editorial Board of Palgrave Communications.

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