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 Sevigne, and the Swiss-born artist Johann Heinrich Fussli (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.