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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Jane Austen's Allusions to Love's Labour's Lost in _Emma_: Part Three

Elissa Schiff wrote the following in Janeites: “So this was, essentially, a closet play - designed for a small group who would know the references and people referred to. Further, it was almost unactable because of [the] rapidity with which verbiage had to be delivered. So it quickly became one of those plays not, then never put on - and essentially fell out of the Shakespearean canon in people's minds. Remember - there were no great compendia editions of Shakespeare with full explanatory notes until, really the end of the 19th century.”

For another scholarly point of view, here are some excerpts on these very same topics from the Introduction to Love’s Labour’s Lost in the 1988 Bantam Classics edition of “Shakespeare: Three Early Comedies”.

First, re the quality of the play’s structure:

“The unresolved ending, in which no marriages take place and in which the Princess’s territorial claims to Aquitaine are left unsettled, should be regarded not as unfinished but as highly imaginative and indeed indispensable. The title after all assures us that ‘love’s labors” will be lost and the Princess affirms the principle of “form confounded.”

And this is a rebuttal to the theory that LLL was a topical satire:

"Equally inconclusive are theories that the play was a topical satire written for a special audience, or that it was a comparatively late play of Shakespeare’s ‘lyric’ period, 1594-5…..[Bevington then argues for a half page _against_ dating the play after 1589, when the alleged topical references would apply]…”

And now comes a description of LLL vis a vis Shakespeare’s other plays, that sounds as if it could be a description of _Emma_ vis a vis JA’s other novels:

“The world of LLL, as compared with that of most of Shakespeare’s comedies, is not only uneventful but is remarkably unthreatened by danger or evil. The characters themselves are menaced by nothing worse than themselves and stand to lose nothing more serious than their dignity. In such an artificial world, however, the preservation of one’s self-esteems assumes undue importance…”

And here is the scholar’s opinion about _performance_ of LLL:

“Clearly LLL, so daunting in the study, can be one of Shakespeare’s most vital comedies onstage. A character in GB Shaw’s Misalliance observes…,’Yes it reads well, but it doesn’t act well.’ LLL is just the opposite: it may not always read well, but it can work delightfully in the theater. The wordplay, so apt to seem tedious as one reads, becomes charmingly adolescent and zany in performance. The play revels in disguises, in masques, in misdirected letters. It choreographs its big scenes with an eye to stage picture in a way that must have been especially attractive on the scenery free Elizabethan stage….LLL contains what is probably Shakespeare’s first play within a play…Theatrical self-reflexivity encourages Shakespeare’s audience to reflect on levels of illusion and on the issue of what constitutes good dramatic art. LLL’s insistence on its own artifice helps to keep that artifice from cloying the appetite. The play is a confection, one that rewards good acting and never seems to grow old.”

But who wrote this Introduction anyway?

Well, for those who care about such things, David Bevington is “Phyllis Fay Horton Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus Department of English & Department of Comparative Literature” at the U. of Chicago.And here’s what he says at his webpage: “I have finished updating the 29-volume paperback edition of all of Shakespeare's works that I did for Bantam Books back in 1988.”

Now that is a nice irony, in light of the recent discussion about edition of all of Shakespeare’s works in Jane Austen’s day.

And finally here is Bevington’s latest news:

“I am one of three senior editors of a forthcoming Cambridge edition of The Works of Ben Jonson, scheduled for 2011. I am currently working on a book on the history of Hamlet from sources and original text to modern-day productions and critical reception.”

Cheers, ARNIE

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