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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Jane Austen's Allusions to Love's Labour's Lost in _Emma_

In Janeites, Elissa Schiff just wrote: "It is with Othello, Antony and Cleopatra, Lear, and The Tempest that we have strong, strong allusive ties to JA's Emma. And these, as you note, are all plays JA would likely have been quite familiar with, unlike Love's Labour's Lost (LLL), which she never read/saw performed, that was suggested last year."

To refresh memory, last October, Elissa, in followup to a Shakespeare/Austen quiz I had just posed to the group, which she had answered......

....posed a Shakespeare/Austen quiz of her own listing the following plot elements, sounding suspiciously like those of _Emma_...

Five pairs of romantic attachments including a "secret" engagement,
An elaborately planned-for picnic,
An elderly father,
Letters read aloud,
A musical instrument,

The education of main character through romantic errors, a character associated with representing the essence of Chivalry, a major theme of the need for women to be more independent and to look out for their own interests.

... and then giving the trick answer, LLL.

But then Elissa, to my surprise, claimed that this was _not_ an intentional allusion by JA to LLL! I disagreed at the time, pointing out that I had been, and remained, certain that LLL was an allusive source for JA. At the time, I also wrote the following:

"In 5 minutes on Google Books, I found an 1806 edition of Shakespeare's plays with the full text of Love's Labour's Lost right there with no discussion of its being a lost play. And the 1793 multivolume set lists it as one of the plays, and if I could see all 12 volumes online, I'd bet that the full text of the play is in that one as well--which has prefaces by Johnson, Malone and other very famous Shakespeare editors."

Before I amplify on my claim of a specific allusion to LLL in _Emma_, though, I should first rebut Elissa's argument that JA would only have been interested in, and alluded to, the greatest of Shakespeare's plays, because somehow the plays which are generally critically considered to be second or even third-rate would have been beneath her.

I strenuously disagree on two counts. First, the verdict is clearly in from hundreds of scholarly books and articles, that JA alluded, in her novels, to a very very _wide_ swath of literature, from the greatest to the trashiest, and everything in between. JA never limited herself only to the great, she made allusive use of everything, high and low. Just, by the way, as did Shakespeare, Joyce and many of the other greatest allusive writers of all time.

And second, a reason unique to Shakespeare---in my opinion, JA saw Shakespeare not only as separate plays, but also as a unified whole, a dramatic "Bible" with remarkably similar (and I believe not coincidental) structural parallels to the actual Bible--the First Folio is divided into large categories, just as is the Bible, and if we include the Sonnets in the mix, we have the counterparts to the Psalms and other poetic portions of the Bible.

But, my point is that this overall unity of Shakespeare (which was most brilliantly argued 60 years ago by Harold Goddard) is not merely structural, it is also thematic, and, just as in JA's fiction, the same themes and character types are presented over and over and over again, but always distinct from each other, due to the inventive genius of Shakespeare and JA. So, I claim, JA would have considered LLL as an _integral_ part of that whole, regardless of her judgment as to the relative merits of the 37 plays.

Having made that general statement, I will now briefly illustrate why I believe JA intentionally alluded to LLL in _Emma_, by giving you the following sampler (by no means exhaustive) of _additional_ allusive elements in LLL which :

(a) the characters and actions of Costard and Don Armado in LLL were in certain interesting ways transplanted into Mr. Elton and Frank Churchill in _Emma_, including, most interestingly, the MISdelivery by a messenger of love missives to ladies.

(b) the _ending_ of LLL, in which the sudden and offstage death of the King unexpectedly puts the kibosh on officializing the romantic pairings that are on the verge of occurring at the end of the play, causing a need for an extended mourning period to elapse first. This is a kind of "deus ex machina" which is echoed distinctly by the sudden and offstage death of Mrs. Churchill, which _also_ results in a delay (which I claim is a permanent one) in the marriage of Frank and Jane.

(c) the following speech in LLL 1.1 by Dumaine as he signs the pledge of self-denial in order, as the _King_ (of Navarre) puts it, to "_BATE_ [Time's] scythe's keen edge", i.e., to gain immortality via fame, is suspiciously echoed in the second charade in _Emma_ , especially in the context of the rest of the elaborate allusion to LLL in _Emma_:

"He throws upon the gross world's baser _slaves_,
To love, to wealth, to pomp, I pine and die,
With all these living in philosophy."

"My first displays the _wealth_ and _pomp_ of _kings_.....Lord of the earth and sea, he bends a _slave_"

(d) The following line in the charade in _Emma_: "Thy ready wit the word will soon supply, May its approval beam in that soft eye!" is suspiciously resonant of the following speech by Berowne in that same scene 1.1 in LLL, where he is the only one who is complaining that maybe the King's plan for enlightenment via self-denial is not such a great plan:

As, painfully to pore upon a book,
To seek the light of truth, while truth the while
Doth falsely blind the eyesight of his look.
Light seeking light doth light of light beguile:
So, ere you find where light in darkness lies,
Your light grows dark by losing of your eyes.
Study me how to please the eye indeed
By fixing it upon a _fairer eye_,
Who dazzling so, that eye shall be his heed
And give him light that it was blinded by.

And this is also echoed later in LLL 5.2

Berowne: (Aside to Moth) Once to behold, rogue.
Moth: Once to behold with your sun-beamed eyes,---with your sun beamed eyes---

(e) [this one is connected to the recent thread about dark skinned characters in Shakespeare, Christy's list did not include the following]

In LLL 4.3, the King of Navarre mocks Berowne's rhapsodizing praises of Rosaline's "fair cheek", saying "By heaven, thy love is black as ebony", and Dumaine then chimes in with the king with "To look like her are chimney sweepers black", triggering more raillery directed at Berowne about Rosaline. "Chimney sweeper" is the official answer to Garrick's Riddle which is partially quoted in Ch. 9 of _Emma_.

(f) In LLL 5.2, we learn that Dumaine has made a gift of a _glove_ to Katharine...

Cheers, ARNIE

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