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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Another clever literary allusion that clever (Julian) Fellowes hid in plain sight in Downton Abbey



 As those who follow me know, I’ve been claiming for over a year now that Thomas Barrow is the Iago of Downton Abbey, Iago of course being the Machiavellian villain of Shakespeare’s Othello. Today, another, related allusion just popped out at me, after simmering in my subconscious for who knows how long.

So….I’m thinking of another famous work of literature which, like Downton Abbey, has all of the following elements:

A “king” with three daughters and no son
A good man named “Tom” who is an outsider and yet very loyal to the patriarch
A young tormented man who constantly causes chaos in the kingdom
An idealistic daughter who falls in love with “Tom”
A selfish daughter who is indifferent to her sister’s suffering
A loyal subject of the “king” who gets “pilloried”
An ancient kingdom in jeopardy of getting split up.

Which is it? I am sure everyone reading this with even a passing acquaintance with literature already guessed the answer after the first two clues---of course, it’s Shakespeare’s King Lear! Yes, Downton Abbey fans, the very clever Julian Fellowes has managed to sneak yet another clever literary allusion into his so-called faux-artistic “soap opera”, and to elude detection by nearly all of its multitude of fans for nearly 5 years.

Here’s my quick summary of these parallel characters, I hope some of you will jump in and help me sharpen this summary still further, and spot other parallels—I bet there must be several sly allusions to King Lear scattered through the first five seasons, and at least one of them will (I predict) have been uttered by Violet Crawley!:

Robert Crawley as King Lear---he is arrogant, finds it difficult to adjust to his loss of control over a domain his forefathers ruled without opposition for generations.

Tom Branson as Edgar (aka Poor Tom), who is an outsider at court, and who is cast out of favor but who remains intensely loyal to the king.

Thomas Barrow as Edmund, the bitter talented young man who wants revenge on all those who have treated him as less than human because of his status, and who operates by turning others into his puppets to do his mischief for him.

Sybil Crawley as Cordelia, the idealistic daughter who courageously flouts her father’s authority, and then tragically dies—but recall Nahum Tate’s 18th Century Bowdlerization of Shakespeare’s play, in which Cordelia actually survives and marries “Tom”.

Mary Crawley as Regan, the selfish daughter who is indifferent and even contemptuous of one of her sisters.

Bates as Gloucester, the faithful courtier to the king, who is blunt spoken and fearless, and who is publicly punished for crimes he did not commit, but remains loyal.

And finally we have a “kingdom” that is danger of being split up into pieces, as the “king” listens to “Tom’s” plans for subdividing the ancestral realm.

My parting question is, “Who is the Fool of Downton Abbey?”—(that’s not a trick question, I really can’t think of who it is).

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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