Victorian Appropriations of Shakespeare: George Eliot, A.C. Swinburne, Robert Browning, and Charles Dickens

Victorian Appropriations of Shakespeare: George Eliot, A.C. Swinburne, Robert Browning, and Charles Dickens

Victorian Appropriations of Shakespeare: George Eliot, A.C. Swinburne, Robert Browning, and Charles Dickens

Victorian Appropriations of Shakespeare: George Eliot, A.C. Swinburne, Robert Browning, and Charles Dickens

Synopsis

"Although many would contend that Shakespeare is generally employed as a conservative symbol, this book suggests instead that Shakespeare can be appropriated by both dominant and marginal groups. Sawyer provocatively argues that a single cultural context may produce diametrically opposed readings of the playwright, so at the same time that Shakespeare's cultural status may be used to subvert traditional ideas of politics and letters in George Eliot and A. C. Swinburne, it may also be used to promote more conservative policies and literary interpretations in other writers such as Robert Browning and Charles Dickens. By focusing on four important authors in the mid-Victorian period working in three different genres, this book illustrates how Shakespeare's authority continued to affect many authors during a time in history where a society is redefining itself in terms of gender, culture, subjectivity, and the family. More importantly, this work demonstrates how these nineteenth-century authors anticipate and influence contemporary interpretations of Shakespeare." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

In the first critical essay published on Shakespeare (1664), Margaret Cavendish, the Duchess of Newcastle, attempted to defend Shakespeare from neoclassical “Dispraise.” Proclaiming that Shakespeare's “Eloquence” diffused itself “upon all Subjects” and arguing that Shakespeare's “Wit and Language” were overwhelming, “so much he had above others,” Cavendish concluded “that those, who Writ after him, were Forced to Borrow of him, or rather to Steal from him.” The Duchess ends her critique by adding that although she “could mention Divers Places, that others of our famous Poets have Borrow'd or Stol'n” from Shakespeare, she decides instead to leave it to those that “Read his Playes, and others, to find them out” (Cavendish 1997, 13).

Two hundred years after Cavendish's pronouncement, Shakespearean “borrowing” and cultural influence reached its summit during the Victorian period. Agreeing with Gary Taylor, who argues that “Shakespeare's reputation peaked in the reign of Queen Victoria” (Taylor 1999, 197), I take up Cavendish's challenge by examining the appropriation of Shakespeare's plays in the middle-Victorian period, roughly 1850 through the early 1880s. Concentrating on the “famous Poets” who have “Borrow'd or Stol'n” from Shakespeare, I focus on the “Divers Places” where George Eliot, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Robert Browning, and Charles Dickens draw upon Shakespeare in their own work.

These thirty-some years also mark an important transition in English culture and politics. In 1866, the same year that Swinburne published his first volume of poetry, the Hyde Park riots signaled a serious uprising against the limited enfranchisement. These demonstrations culminated in the passing of the Second Reform Bill in 1867, a bill that gave the vote to virtually all middle-class males as well as to most town workers. With the passage of the first Married Women's Property Act in 1870, a movement championed by George Eliot, significant changes for women also began to occur.

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