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Monday, April 14, 2014

The Answer to My Latest Jane Austen Riddle: Another Shakespeare Play Hiding in Plain Sight in Persuasion



Last week, I posed another Jane Austen riddle for your delectation:

“What is the single, famous, hidden allusive source which unites all of the following, seemingly mostly unrelated FIFTEEN story elements in Persuasion?:
1 In Chapter 15, the clock with its "SILVER SOUNDS" which alerts that Cousin Elliot has been visiting a long while.
2 Mr. Shepherd as advisor to Sir Walter.
3 All the pens (Sir Walter’s, Wentworth’s and Anne’s).
4 David Lodge's character Morris Zapp and his famous opinion about Anne’s intense experience when Wentworth pulls the nephew from Anne’s back.
5 Louisa Musgrove’s near-death experience.
6 Benwick’s extreme grief for Fanny Hargrove followed by his inconstant over-rapid shift of affection to Louisa.
7 Benwick being called just the right one to fetch the surgeon for Louisa .
8 NURSE Rooke, Mrs. Smith’s (imaginary) friend.
9 The APOTHECARY Mr. Robinson who treats Anne’s nephew’s shoulder.
10 Mrs. Croft being a long while with the MANTUAmaker in the cancelled chapters, as a key part of Admiral Croft and Sophy acting as secret matchmakers for Anne and Wentworth.
11 Anne’s family and Lady Russell discouraging her from marrying Wentworth 8 years earlier.
12Anne’s secret pining for Wentworth not recognized by her family, feelings she tried to BANISH but failed when she saw him again.
13 Harville’s and Anne’s debate re INCONSTANCY in real life & as depicted in literature.
The answer that unites the above 13 story points also reveals the more obscurely coded meaning in these two excerpts in Persuasion:
“…[Mary] was not easy till she had talked Charles into driving her over on an early day…”.
“This was the letter, directed to "Charles Smith, Esq. Tunbridge Wells," and dated from London, as far back as July, 1803…”    END QUOTE

Now I am ready to reveal the identity of that allusive source, which, as I also said, shares with Persuasion a uniquely strong reputation as being intensely romantic, and which my Subject Line today also tells you is a Shakespeare play.

But first, for those who want to produce the answer yourself, just Google the following seven search terms (which are all taken from the above clues, except for the last search term, which I recognized after posting the clues) together, and YOU will get yourself!:

MANTUA “SILVER SOUNDS” BANISH APOTHECARY NURSE HAZEL-NUT INCONSTANT

When I Google those search terms as a group, I get only six “hits”—the last two are for Persuasion, as makes perfect sense given that all the clues I gave relate to Persuasion, but the first four are for……

….
….
….

ROMEO & JULIET   (which of course is the answer to my riddle!!!)  --henceforth I will call it “R&J”.


Now I will VERY briefly run through all those clues again, this time with a brief explanation for how each one connects not only to Persuasion, but also to R&J, Shakespeare’s intense romtrag:

1 In Chapter 15, the clock with its "SILVER SOUNDS" which alerts that Cousin Elliot has been visiting a long while:  The image of “silver sounds” occurs several times in various forms in R&J. Austen scholars who have been mystified as to the significance of this cryptic quotation in Persuasion need be mystified no more as to its primary source, nor as to its meaning.  I.e., this is JA winking at a parallel between the mercenary motivation behind strong Capulet family pressure on Juliet to marry Paris, and the mercenary motivation behind strong Elliot family pressure on Anne to marry Cousin Elliot.

2 Mr. Shepherd as advisor to Sir Walter: This one derives directly from the answer to #1, above. As some members of Shakespeare's audience at a performance of R&J would surely have recalled, Spenser used 'silver sound' in The Shepheardes Calender (1579), also in regard to a lover’s unrequited pining.

3 All the pens in Persuasion (Sir Walter’s, Wentworth’s and Anne’s):  I have often posted about JA’s sexual puns on the word “pen”, and I am also far from the first to point to the phallic resonance of Wentworth’s “pen” which drops, and the debate about who holds the “pen”, etc., in Persuasion, and also, e.g., in Darcy’s preference to “mend”  his “own pen”, despite Caroline’s offer to do it for him.
Well, R&J ALSO has an amazing sexual pun on “pen” in a similar masturbatory sense when we first hear, in Act 1, Scene 1, about Romeo pining away for Rosaline before he meets Juliet:

Many a morning hath he there been seen,
With tears augmenting the fresh morning dew.
Adding to clouds more clouds with his deep sighs;
But all so soon as the all-cheering sun
Should in the furthest east begin to draw
The shady curtains from Aurora's bed,
Away from the light steals home my heavy son,
AND PRIVATE IN HIS CHAMBER PENS HIMSELF
Shuts up his windows, locks far daylight out
And makes himself an artificial night:
Black and portentous must this humour prove,
Unless good counsel may the cause remove.

And as if it were necessary to establish Shakespeare’s witty sexual innuendo, we also have, very soon thereafter, a related phallic pun in the bawdy exchange among Mercutio, Romeo, and the Nurse:

MERCUTIO  God ye good den, fair gentlewoman.
NURSE    Is it good den?
MERCUTIO ‘Tis no less, I tell you, for the BAWDY HAND of the DIAL is now upon the PRICK of noon.
NURSE     Out upon you! what a man are you!
ROMEO   One, gentlewoman, that God hath made for himself TO MAR.
NURSE   By my troth, it is well said; 'for himself to mar,' quoth a'?...

Indeed, that sexual pun was well said by Shakespeare, and was well noted and emulated by JA! And perhaps the “silver sounds” (#1, above) of the CLOCK in Persuasion are connected to this pun as well.

4 David Lodge's character Morris Zapp and his famous opinion about Anne’s intense experience when Wentworth pulls the nephew from Anne’s back:  Apropos the above passage from R&J when Romeo masturbates in his chamber, read this passage from Lodge’s novel about the fictional professor’s opinion that Anne similarly achieves that same result that Romeo privately obtained, although in a very different setting: “...she found herself in the state of being released from him..Before she realized that Captain Wentworth had done it....he was resolutely borne away……Her sensations on the discovery made her perfectly speechless. She could not even thank him. She could only hang over little Charles with the most disordered feelings. How about that?" he concluded reverently. "If that isn't an orgasm, what is it?" He looked up into three flabbergasted faces. The internal telephone rang. . . .

5 Louisa Musgrove’s near-death experience: I hardly need explain the parallel between Louisa’s appearing to be dead (and, some including myself have suggested, pretending to be dead) after her fall from the steps at the Cobb, on the one hand, and Juliet’s appearing to be dead after taking Friar Laurence’s special potion. Just think about the frenzied grief of the observers in both Persuasion and R&J!. What is most astonishing to me is that no scholar before me has ever drawn this parallel, even though these are both (obviously) extremely famous scenes. A master writer like JA with complete control over the reader’s point of view, and making her readers believe that Louisa’s fall is accidental and her injury real, could artfully conceal a parallel that otherwise would have been obvious.

6 Benwick’s extreme grief for Fanny Hargrove followed by his inconstant over-rapid shift of affection to Louisa:  Do I even need to explain the Austenian parallel to the love-sick Romeo, who initially pines away for unrequited love for Rosaline, only to IMMEDIATELY drop Rosaline for Juliet when he first sees her? That’s Benwick, who initially pines (with grief) for Fanny Harville until he becomes the man of the hour after Louisa’s fall, and then, BOOM!, he is in love with, and then marries, Louisa, in two figurative blinks of an eye.

7 Benwick being called just the right one to fetch the surgeon for Louisa:  A surgeon is a medical man, just as is an apothecary, so how slyly fitting it is, given the parallel that the immediately preceding clue established between Louisa-Benwick and Juliet-Romeo, for Benwick to fetch a surgeon to save Louisa’s life, just as Romeo gets powerful poison from an apothecary which he winds up taking when he does NOT recognize that Juliet is not really dead!

8 NURSE Rooke, Mrs. Smith’s (imaginary) friend: Just think about the parallels between Juliet’s nurse and Mrs. Smith’s Nurse Rooke—they both are intimate, influential attendants to their respective female charges, and are both also connected to the local community.

9 The APOTHECARY Mr. Robinson who treats Anne’s nephew’s shoulder:  You can deduce that I included this clue, because of the decisive role played by the apothecary in R&J, as the purveyor of the poison to Romeo.

10 Mrs. Croft being a long while with the MANTUAmaker in the cancelled chapters, as a key part of Admiral Croft and Sophy acting as secret matchmakers for Anne and Wentworth: I now believe that JA included this seemingly random detail about Mrs. Croft’s absence from her salon, because it winks at Mantua, the city to which Romeo is banished, and also where he procures poison from the apothecary. Look at this passage and think about how Romeo is, in effect, IMPRISONED in Mantua: “[Anne] probably, in the observations of the next ten minutes, saw something to suspect--& tho' it was hardly possible for a woman of [Mrs. Croft’s] description to wish the MANTUAmaker had IMPRISONED her longer, she might be very likely wishing for some excuse to run about the house, some storm to break the windows above, or a summons to the Admiral's Shoemaker below.”

11 Anne’s family and Lady Russell discouraging her from marrying Wentworth 8 years earlier: This clue also needs no explanation, I think, as R&J and Persuasion might just be the two most famous examples from English literature of where the family of the female end of a romantic couple does everything to prevent her marrying the man she loves.

12 Anne’s secret pining for Wentworth not recognized by her family, feelings she tried to BANISH but failed when she saw him again: And similarly, think about how Juliet pines for Romeo, and never for a moment wavers in her love for him—sound suspiciously like Anne Elliot, too?

13 Harville’s and Anne’s debate re INCONSTANCY in real life & as depicted in literature:  And do I need to explain about the theme of constancy in R&J? Harville might well have mentioned Romeo as a prime example from literature of a man whose constancy to Juliet never wavers, even though (as suggested above) Anne might well have countered with that same character, Romeo, and his extreme INconstancy to Rosaline!

14 And let me insert here about the “Hazelnut”—all Janeites know about Wentworth’s preference for a “firm “ hazelnut----well, how about these verses from Mercutio’s famous description of Queen Mab:

Her chariot is AN EMPTY HAZEL-NUT
Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,
Time out o' mind the fairies' coachmakers.

15& 16 And now I conclude with two bits of textual wordplay in Persuasion which, given that the above clues have firmly established the allusion to R&J, become plausible as additional winks by JA:

 “…[Mary] was not easy till she had talked Charles into driving her o VER ON A n early day…”.

That would therefore be VERONA which of course is where the main action of R&J takes place!

“This was the letter, directed to "Charles Smith, Esq. Tunbridge Wells," and dated from London, as far back as July, 1803…”   

And finally, if we listen for the silver sound (so to speak) of that last date, it becomes “JULY EIGHT een o three” or “JULY EIGHT…”  or…………………JULIET!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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