Been thinking about Shakespeare a lot lately, thanks to rewatching for the third or fourth time the entire three-season series "Slings and Arrows." If you have not seen it, make haste to Netflix or iTunes, because you are in for a treat.
Slings and Arrows is set in a fictional Canadian Shakespeare festival and is all about the alchemy of storytelling and theatre and the best and worst of human behavior. It's hilarious, touching, brilliantly written, and makes the language of Shakespeare, the subtext, the structure, all of it, come to life in a way I have never seen before. Here's a little taste:
Jane Austen (and all roads lead to Austen), whose deep and often comic insights into the highs and lows of human behavior led George Henry Lewes (and, according to him, Thomas Macaulay) to call her "a prose Shakespeare," clearly had an intimate knowledge of the Bard; even seemingly passing references to his works in her novels are fraught with subtext.
Consider Mrs. Dashwood's mentioning to Marianne that the family will defer finishing its reading of Hamlet till Willoughby's return, a return that will not come, and which will lead Marianne into an Ophelia-like attempt at self-destruction.
Or the teasing way in which Catherine Morland of Northanger Abbey is introduced as a girl of little learning but who has amassed a store of useful information from her reading. For example:...from Shakespeare she gained a great store of information - amongst the rest, that
---------"Trifles light as air,That
"Are, to the jealous, confirmation strong,
"As proofs of Holy Writ."
"The poor beetle, which we tread upon,And that a young woman in love always looks
"In corporal sufferance feels a pang as great
"As when a giant dies."
"like Patience on a monument
"Smiling at Grief."
Although Northanger Abbey is a comedy, none of these quotes is lightly chosen. Catherine will be both the object of jealousy and see her brother suffer from it, is deeply compassionate towards those who are suffering, and will be forced to find reserves of patience to endure the wait for the object of her own affections.
Did I ever say Northanger Abbey is Austen's most underrated novel?