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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Complex Hidden Allusion to Shakespeare’s As You Like It in Jane Austen’s Emma



In May 2007-- in only my fourth post ever in this blog---I revealed publicly for the first time a word game Jane Austen had played in Emma which had never previously been noticed by any Janeite for 191 years:


Here’s the relevant part of what I wrote then:

[Mrs. Elton speaking] “That's quite unnecessary; I see Jane every day: -- but AS YOU LIKE. IT is to be a morning scheme, you know, Knightley; quite a simple thing...."
So what was Jane Austen doing here? It might be a natural reaction to see it as a cutesy, clever, covert allusion to the title of a Shakespeare play. But all my experience tells me that, funny and clever as it is, to put that title into Mrs. Elton's mouth, this is more. First, it is a clue to tell the reader who detects it that it would be worthwhile to give some thought as to how and why Jane Austen herself may have alluded to As You Like It in Emma. I have, and I think you will find that a rewarding exercise.
But second, and more significant, I think, it is a metafictional message to the reader from Jane Austen herself (who does indeed "see Jane every day"....in the mirror!), in which she is alerting the reader that in interpreting much of the mysterious action of the novel, it can be read straight, taking the text at face value, or it can be read slightly askew, using the clues and hints in the novel as wormholes into the secret subtext of the novel. Read it this way or that....as you like it!”  END QUOTE

Since then, I have subsequently mentioned this word game a number of times in this blog, and also in various Austen online discussion groups, as well as in my public presentations about Jane Fairfax’s concealed pregnancy in Emma.

In particular, in the following 2010 post of mine…


…I wrote the following:

“And if you think about it, Mr. Elton's charades are VERY resonant with the hero [of As You Like It] Orlando leaving lovesick poems on trees in the Forest of Arden for Rosalind to find; PLUS Mr. Elton's lover, Miss Hawkins (to whom he surely sent his charades as well, right?) repeatedly shows us that she just loves to affect the false persona of the simple rustic girl, even though she is a hard-edged girl from that bustling slaving town, Bristol. What better way for JA to spoof Mrs. Elton's disingenuousness than by a covert reference to exactly the role she is playing in the story!”

Now, I am back with a further extension of this discovery, which I recently came up with while continuing my more or less endless exploration of the myriad ways in which Jane Austen alluded to Shakespeare in her novels. Specifically, I was revisiting my earlier sense that Mr. Elton was a kind of Regency Era Orlando, a lovesick poet in the form of the charade, and I wondered whether Emma’s answer to the charade, “courtship” , might have some nontrivial significance in As You Like It.

It turns out that I thereby hit an allusive jackpot, because the word “court”, referring to a royal entourage, but also the word “courtship” referring to romantic wooing, are both repeatedly spoken by a variety of characters in the play---in serious mode by Duke Senior and Duke Frederic and their nieces/daughters, and in absurdist foolish mode by Touchstone and Corin. If you read all the examples, too long to quote here, you’ll find that there is no question that JA had, in part, chosen to give Emma that answer, in order to point readers to that theme in As You Like It.

Two strikingly parallel passages in Emma and As You Like It, however, particularly caught my eye, and I will explain why after first quoting them:

ROSALIND: “I have been told so of many: but indeed an old religious uncle of mine taught me to speak, who was in his youth an inland man; one that knew COURTSHIP too well, for there he fell in love. I have heard him read many lectures against it, and I thank God I am not a woman, to be touched with so many giddy offences as he hath generally taxed their whole sex withal.”

MRS. ELTON: “"Very true, Mr. Weston, perfectly true. It is just what I used to say to a certain gentleman in company in the days of COURTSHIP, when, because things did not go quite right, did not proceed with all the rapidity which suited his feelings, he was apt to be in despair, and exclaim that he was sure at this rate it would be May before Hymen's saffron robe would be put on for us.”

Now, what caught my eye in addition to the use of the word “courtship” in both of these short speeches was all of the following:

ONE: Both passages are spoken by a young woman in retrospection, referring to an earlier time when she was spoken to by a man close to her about courtship.

TWO: The “old religious uncle” of Rosalind who “read many lectures against” falling in love reminds us immediately of Mr. Woodhouse with his violent, unswerving aversion to the institution of marriage, and his endless refrain of “Poor Miss Taylor” and “Poor Isabella” to “tax” the female sex for the “giddy offence” of marrying!

THREE: I have previously revealed in another earlier blog post….


…the following discovery of mine with respect to Mr. Elton’s “courtship” charade in  Emma:

“In her article, Colleen [Sheehan] made the sensible inference that the acrostic on "Lamb" was there to point to _Charles_ Lamb, the author of the satirical poem which JA was pointing to, which has as its punch line "the Prince of Whales". And that is certainly correct. But that was when I realized _another_ meaning of that acrostic, as it relates to the shadow story of _Emma_, which is Mr. Elton's charade must be the same acrostic that was given to Miss Hawkins!
I then combined that insight with my earlier guess that Frank Churchill was the puppy who gave that acrostic to Miss Hawkins, and deduced that Frank Churchill must therefore be _both_ the puppy, and also the unnamed friend of Mr. Elton who gives Mr. Elton that charade/acrostic to deliver to Emma!
So, the second charade is the acrostic, Frank is both the unnamed puppy and Mr. Elton's unnamed friend. This is Occam's Razor in duplicate---two mysteries explained by one answer! Everything ties together in an incredibly neat bow, and, more important, the implications of this discovery shed crucial light on the shadow story of Emma.
I then combined that insight with my earlier guess that Frank Churchill was the puppy who gave that acrostic to Miss Hawkins, and deduced that Frank Churchill must therefore be _both_ the puppy, and also the unnamed friend of Mr. Elton who gives Mr. Elton that charade/acrostic to deliver to Emma!
So, the second charade is the acrostic, Frank is both the unnamed puppy and Mr. Elton's unnamed friend. This is Occam's Razor in duplicate---two mysteries explained by one answer! Everything ties together in an incredibly neat bow, and, more important, the implications of this discovery shed crucial light on the shadow story of Emma.”

So, Mrs. Elton’s “courtship” speech is connected to the charade/acrostic which Frank gave to Mrs. Elton, during his “courtship” of her which ended unsatisfactorily, from her point of view, to put it mildly!

And now, I have set the stage for the latest discovery I’ve made, which only adds to the overwhelming evidence I’ve previously laid out, for Jane Austen having extensively alluded to As You Like It in Emma, in particular going so far as to hide the title of Shakespeare’s play in plain sight in the text of Emma.

If you read Mrs. Elton’s little speech about “the days of COURTSHIP”, quoted above, do you see anything else in it that might further point to As You Like It?  (pause here if you want to try to figure it out yourself before reading further):

……

……

……

……

Here’s the phrase that might have struck you as a bit out of place in an Austen novel, but very much in place in a Shakespeare play:

“…he was sure at this rate it would be May before HYMEN’S saffron robe would be put on for us.”

I remembered from prior readings of As You Like It that there was a hasty marrying off of all four couples in short order at the end, and I dimly recalled that there was some mythological aura in that scene, but imagine my delight when I searched for “Hymen” in Shakespeare’s plays, and, out of only nine plays that had any mention of Hymen, the one with the most elaborate reference to Hymen was….(you guessed it!)…As You Like It, in that very same final scene!!!!. Here is the part involving Hymen:

Enter HYMEN, ROSALIND, and CELIA
Still Music

HYMEN Then is there mirth in heaven,
When earthly things made even
Atone together.
Good duke, receive thy daughter
Hymen from heaven brought her,
Yea, brought her hither,
That thou mightst join her hand with his
Whose heart within his bosom is.

ROSALIND [To DUKE SENIOR] To you I give myself, for I am yours.
[To ORLANDO] To you I give myself, for I am yours.

DUKE SENIOR If there be truth in sight, you are my daughter.

ORLANDO If there be truth in sight, you are my Rosalind.

PHEBE If sight and shape be true,
Why then, my love adieu!

ROSALIND I'll have no father, if you be not he:
I'll have no husband, if you be not he:
Nor ne'er wed woman, if you be not she.

HYMEN Peace, ho! I bar confusion:
'Tis I must make conclusion
Of these most strange events:
Here's eight that must take hands
To join in Hymen's bands,
If truth holds true contents.
You and you no cross shall part:
You and you are heart in heart
You to his love must accord,
Or have a woman to your lord:
You and you are sure together,
As the winter to foul weather.
Whiles a wedlock-hymn we sing,
Feed yourselves with questioning;
That reason wonder may diminish,
How thus we met, and these things finish.
SONG.
Wedding is great Juno's crown:
O blessed bond of board and bed!
'Tis Hymen peoples every town;
High wedlock then be honoured:
Honour, high honour and renown,
To Hymen, god of every town!

So, I don’t think I need to go further in arguing that it is no accident that Mrs. Elton of all characters in Emma is the one to make a veiled reference to the mega-wedding ceremony at the end of As You Like It, just as she is the one who makes an explicit, indeed a memorable reference to the mega-wedding ceremony at the end of Emma:

“The wedding was very much like other weddings, where the parties have no taste for finery or parade; and Mrs. Elton, from the particulars detailed by her husband, thought it all extremely shabby, and very inferior to her own.—"Very little white satin, very few lace veils; a most pitiful business!—Selina would stare when she heard of it."

In other words, “Saffron’s robes” were too shabby for Mrs. Elton’s taste, whereas Hymen herself was not so critical of the ceremony in the enchanted Forest of Arden. 

So….is there anyone who has read this post all the way through who wishes to make the argument that Jane Austen did not pervasively and significantly allude to As You Like It, including most of all the hidden title of the play spoken by….who else?....Mrs. Elton!

To any such person, I can only say that I am in complete disagreement with you, but, if that’s the way you want to read Jane Austen, then….as you like it!  ;)

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter 

P.S added Feb. 14, 2013 at 9:38 am EST:

Check out my followup post that unpacks an additional wonderful aspect of the above:

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2013/02/lionel-trillings-massive-trojan-horse.html
 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Arnie,

I am not at all surprised to think of Austen using As You Like It as a source for Emma. Hymen is a good link.

Diane