So, you may be wondering, “Shakespeare? On an Austen blog?” Yes, dear readers. Shakespeare on an Austen blog. (For many, this may be no surprise to you.)
The inspiration came when I read April is Shakespeare’s birthday (April 23) month (which seems apropos since April is also National Poetry Month) and remembering I wrote about Will+Jane, an exhibit sponsored by the Folger Shakespeare Library, last year. In support of the exhibit, the Library wrote several articles on topics like collecting Shakespeare and Austen and adaptations and fan fiction*.
Austen read and knew Shakespeare very well and used his plays as jumping off points for plots and characters such as direct use such works as in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure in Sense and Sensibility and the hodgepodge of influences in Mansfield Park. Stephen Derry writes, “Edmund Bertram declares that ‘one is familiar with Shakespeare in a degree … from one’s earliest years. His celebrated passages are quoted by every body … we all talk Shakespeare, use his similes, and describe with his descriptions.'”
Austen’s keen insight and use of Shakespeare’s works gives Austen readers an opportunity to know his work without having read his work directly. Austen often indirectly quotes Shakespeare as a critique and satire of the 18th and early 19th centuries as much as Shakespeare’s himself did much the same for the 16th and 17th centuries giving Austen and Shakespeare some common parallels in their works.
If you’ve not read Shakespeare, a good way to get introduced to him, other than Jane, of course, is to check out modern movie adaptations of his work. I’m especially in love with 10 Things I Hate About You, a 1999 adaptation of Taming of the Shrew, starring Heath Ledger as Patrick Verona (Petruchio). A fun series, Shakespeare Re-Told, retells Much Ado About Nothing, MacBeth (starring a future ex-husband of mine, James McAvoy), The Taming of the Shrew (starring Shirley Henderson and Rufus Sewell), and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (starring Bill Paterson and Imelda Staunton) in contemporary settings. There is something hilariously delightful as Sewell spending most of the time in ladies clothes.
(Aside: I had the great pleasure to tour of The Globe Theatre on a trip to London a few years back as well as the Jane Austen Centre in Bath and Basildon Park, Netherfield in the 2005 adaptation of Pride & Prejudice, on a separate trip to the UK. My husband and I are heading to DC next month to see the Folger Shakespeare Library and I’m pretty excited.)
*My favorite Austen fanfiction is Doctor Who/Jane Austen cross-over. Jane makes an appearance in the Doctor Who episode Frostfire. Himself makes also makes an appearance in the Doctor Who episode The Shakespeare Code.