Austen & Shakespeare

The thing about scholarship and motherhood is that even though you might be researching the connections between the work of William Shakespeare and Jane Austen, the reality is that when the family gets sick…that’s the end of it. Now that all the sickies are in bed, I can share some of what I’ve learned.

I would also like to reiterate here something Sarah said upon embarking on this blog: We are probably not going to say anything new or even say it better than it has been said before. That couldn’t be truer than on this subject. There has been a lot of serious scholarship done on both Shakespeare and Austen (obviously) and also the connections between the two. I became curious about what has been said after finishing the passage in Mansfield Park set in the garden wilderness of Sotherton where there is a very Shakespearean amount of entrances and exits, motives and cross-purposes. Then, of course, the novel progresses into the realm of theater itself (at which time Shakespeare is mentioned directly many times).

I was not disappointed in my research when online I ran across the introduction to a criticism by Rachel Wifall called “Jane Austen and William Shakespeare Twin Icons?” that goes deeper into specific Shakespeare/Austen connections. Interestingly, Mansfield Park is indeed the Austen novel most known for its references to and echoes of Shakespeare’s work. Again, because the characters themselves attempt to put on a play and talk about plays, but also because it is a novel about acting, both on the stage and off (theater perhaps being the best antithesis to the heroine Fanny Price. Oh, and when Edmund’s principles cave under the chance to act opposite Mary Crawford, he goes beyond boring and becomes, really, a leading man that is very hard to like. That’s why there are no TEAM EDMUND shirts. Yet I digress.)

Other delightful observations included the way the courtship of Darcy and Elizabeth in Pride & Prejudice mirrors Benedick and Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing AND that plot echoes of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night can be found in Emma.

Also, there is a small group of actors that appear in the adaptations of both the works of Shakespeare and Austen, as well as films about them (Emma Thompson immediately coming to mind, as well as Colin Firth who was in Shakespeare in Love).

Aside from interesting comparisons, much has been said of Shakespeare and Austen being masters of the same caliber, and also the way in which their work has survived and flourished over time in the same ways, for many of the same reasons.

I’m very excited to think about Emma and Twelfth Night, but first I aim to tackle the claim put forth in the movie, The Jane Austen Book Club, that Fanny Price was Austen’s favorite.