Dougald Hine

English literature

In my second week at university, I defected from Politics, Philosophy and Economics to English Literature and Language - although it feels like I've been straddling the two worlds ever since. I wasn't a disciplined student, but some things stuck.

I was lucky to be taught by the late AD Nuttall. Reading Shakespeare the Thinker (2007) takes me back to his fascinatingly digressive tutorials. He could analyse a text forensically and tell big stories about the history of ideas - what's more, and this is surprisingly rare in the study of English literature, he wrote wonderfully. Also recommended is his Dead from the Waist Down: Scholars and Scholarship in Literature and the Popular Imagination (2003). Among other things, it contains his reflections on the changing world of academia as he approached the end of a distinguished career.

Ted Hughes was a literary great in his own right. He also wrote some extraordinary literary criticism, the kind of wild thinking that you're not meant to commit to paper. Where Nuttall finds Shakespeare the philosopher, Hughes' Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being (1992) casts him as shaman, his plays a magical operation performed on English consciousness in a moment of great cultural disruption. The argument is as outlandish as this summary makes it sound, yet it is also a brilliant study of the way in which great writers work with the power of myth.