Covert appropriations of Shakespeare: three case studies

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Author: James Hirsh
Date: Winter 2007
From: Papers on Language & Literature(Vol. 43, Issue 1)
Publisher: Southern Illinois University
Document Type: Essay
Length: 6,981 words
Lexile Measure: 1470L

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Some artists have constructed new works or major elements of new works from raw materials provided by Shakespeare but have redeployed these materials in such a way that the appropriation, despite its significant contribution to the creation of the new work, is disguised. Among the ways an appropriation may be disguised are the following: the source material may be redeployed in a context radically different from the original context; superficial features of the material may be radically altered; one appropriation may be obscured by a less significant but more conspicuous appropriation of other material. Any or several of a variety of factors may contribute to a writer's reluctance to acknowledge an appropriation. For example, a writer may fear that awareness of an appropriation by a reader or playgoer would distract attention from or undermine the artist's intentions in the new work. Harold Bloom has argued that a writer suffering from anxiety of influence may prefer not to call attention to the writer's indebtedness to a precursor. The present essay will explore three examples of significant but covert appropriations of Shakespearean material. (1)

The following exchange occurs early in King Lear:

KING LEAR:  Which of you shall we say doth love us most
            Our eldest-born, speak first.
GONERIL:    Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter,
            Dearer than eyesight, space, and liberty,
            Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare,
            No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honor;
            As much as child e'er lov'd, or father found:
            A love that makes breath poor, and speech unable:
            Beyond all manner of so much I love you.
            (1.1.51-61, italics added)

Compare Goneril's response with the following poem:

            How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
            I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
            My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
            For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
            I love thee to the level of everyday's
            Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
            I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
            I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
            I love thee with the passion put to use
            In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
            I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
            With my lost saints,--I love thee with the breath,
            Smiles, tears, of all my life!--and, if God choose,
            I shall but love thee better after death. (italics added)

Sonnet 43 of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese (probably written in 1846, published in 1850, and here quoted from Selected Poems 237) was evidently inspired by Goneril's speech. (2) The speaker of the sonnet is implicitly responding to a question posed by the addressee (How dost thou love me?) that paraphrases the question posed by Lear. The sonnet contains elements that specifically resemble elements in Goneril's speech.

Goneril                            Sonnet 43
I love you                         I love thee / I love thee
eyesight                           sight
space                              depth and breadth and height
eyesight, space, and liberty       depth and breadth and height
liberty                            freely
No less than life                  all my life
with grace, health, beauty, honor  with the breath, / Smiles, tears
grace                              Grace
child                              childhood's
A love that makes breath poor      I love thee with the breath
I love you                         I ... love thee

Furthermore, most of these elements occur in the same sequence in the speech and the sonnet. Browning's sonnet occupies twice as many iambic pentameter lines as Goneril's speech, and some elements in the sonnet seem to be expansions of elements in the speech. The words "depth and breadth and height" that occur in the second line of the sonnet specify the three dimensions of physical "space" mentioned in the second line of Goneril's speech. The similes "as men strive for Right" and "as they turn from Praise" in the middle of the sonnet specify components of "honor" mentioned in the middle line of the speech. Instead of the single "with" phrase followed by four objects that occurs in Goneril's speech, Browning's poem contains five "with" phrases, each with its own object or set of objects. The two occurrences of the clause "I love you" in the speech expand to nine "I love thee" clauses in the sonnet. (How often will the speaker say "I love thee"? Let me count the times.) The overall form of both the speech and the sonnet is a catalogue of ways the speaker loves the addressee, a catalogue consisting largely of abstractions. The speech is framed with simple declarations of love--the first line and the last line contain the words "I love you." The sonnet is similarly framed--each of the first two lines contains the words "I love thee" and the last line contains the words "I shall but love thee." An element understandably absent from Goneril's declaration of filial love is conspicuous by its absence from Browning's poem. Although the actual addressee of Browning's sonnet was her suitor Robert Browning, her poem is devoid of sensuality. There are differences between the speech and the poem. Browning was not plagiarizing Shakespeare; she was using the speech as raw material to produce something new and different.

Browning's use of Goneril's speech displays both insight and artistic daring. She had the insight to recognize that, although Goneril is lying, her declaration of love is eloquent. Many critics have been deaf to the eloquence of Goneril's speech because they know that she is insincere, but Shakespeare frequently dramatized the sad fact that liars can be eloquent. In this case he set up a contrast between Goneril's declaration and Regan's, the latter of which contains a series of glaring Freudian slips. Ineptly trying to conceal the fact that she is interested only in winning a big chunk of British real estate as a reward, she asks Lear to "prize" her and speaks of her "deed" of love (l.1.70, 71). Embedded in her expression of love is her real attitude toward her father: "I profess / Myself an enemy" (72-73). Goneril's speech is every bit as insincere as Regan's, but unlike her sibling, Goneril is an adept liar. (3) Goneril's assertions do not reflect her own attitude toward her father but do foreshadow in specific ways the actual extent of the love of other characters for Lear. Lear is quite literally "Dearer than eyesight" to Gloucester, whose eyesight is taken from him for trying to help the old king. Lear is "Dearer than ... space, and liberty" to Kent, whose efforts to serve Lear land him in the stocks. Lear is loved "No less than life" by Cordelia, who sacrifices her life in an effort to rescue him. Cordelia's love eventually does make her "breath poor." Lear asks, "Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life, / And thou no breath at all?" (5.3.307-08). Cordelia loves Lear "As much as child e'er lov'd." In describing her love for her father, Cordelia paraphrases assertions already made by her sister:

GONERIL:   I love [...] more than words can wield the matter
           A love that makes breath poor, and speech unable. (1.1.55,
CORDELIA:  I am sure my love's
           More ponderous than my tongue. (77-78)

Another piece of evidence suggests that Goneril's speech was designed to be eloquent. Shakespeare could have inserted before Goneril's declaration the aside in which Cordelia expresses her intention to "be silent" (62). Instead, Cordelia does not express this intention until after she hears what her sister has to say. Shakespeare thereby implies that, in addition to being motivated by a principled disinclination to participate in a public love contest, Cordelia's decision to "be silent" may be partly motivated by sibling rivalry: she may feel unable to outdo her sister's eloquence. Not only did Browning realize that Goneril's speech is eloquent, but she had the artistic daring to use elements of a speech by a hypocritical and despicable character as raw materials for her own expression of genuine love. This was not the first time that Browning appropriated Goneril's speech to express sincere esteem. In a letter dated 23 Dec 1842, she praised a friend's gardener as "a very singular young man .. & of a kind of singularity which is as 'rich' as 'rare'" (Mitford 2: 129). Her use of quotation marks indicates that she was consciously alluding to Goneril's speech. It is unlikely that she was unconscious of the more numerous and profound connections between the same speech and one of her own poems.

Being a great poet himself, Robert Browning probably appreciated Elizabeth's artistic wit and daring in creating a genuine love poem addressed to himself out of materials supplied by a contemptible character. But it is unlikely that Elizabeth intended general readers of her poem to make the connection. Many readers would become distracted by this curious feature of the poem's creation. They would either be baffled by the connection or wonder if it was a sly hint that the speaker of the poem was meant to be as insincere as Goneril. This explains why Browning did not employ extended verbatim phrases from the speech. She appropriated materials from the speech but disguised her source.

Browning was often effusive in her admiration for Shakespeare's genius: "our Shakespeare passes to the presidency unquestioned, as the greatest artist in the world" (The Book of the Poet in Complete Works 6: 272). The phrase "our Shakespeare," which she used on numerous occasions, (4) is ambiguous. It may mean that Shakespeare is a member of "our" nation or "our" species, but it may also mean that his works have become "our" property, to be used as we see fit. That Browning could use a possessive pronoun to express ownership by right of being an artist is suggested by the following passage in a letter to Robert Browning (25 May 1845): "I quote again from your Shakespeare to you who are a dramatic poet" (R. Browning and Barrett, 1: 79). Browning's deep immersion in Shakespeare's works is borne out by her correspondence. Her letters to a single correspondent, Mary Russell Mitford, contain over two hundred allusions to Shakespeare (see Mitford). In an 1841 letter, she confessed to a desire to see Shakespeare "with his hose ungartered" (15 July, Mitford 1: 234). Browning imagined herself in a situation strangely analogous to that of Ophelia when Hamlet shows up in her private chamber with his stockings "Ungart'red" (2.1.77).

A connection between the opening scene of Lear and "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways" was eerily foreshadowed by the following passage from an 1836 letter from Browning to Mitford: "how can I thank you enough? Let me be silent, & love you!" (29 Sept 1836, Mitford 1: 17). This passage both anticipates the famous opening line of Browning's sonnet and paraphrases part of Cordelia's aside--"Love, and be silent"--that immediately follows the speech by Goneril that is appropriated in the sonnet. In Sonnet 13 of Sonnets of the Portuguese Browning again paraphrased Cordelia:

      And wilt thou have me fashion into speech
      The love I bear thee [...]
      Nay, let the silence of my womanhood
      Commend my woman-love [...]. (1-2, 9-10)

This sonnet in which Browning paraphrased one of Lear's daughters balances Sonnet 43, in which she paraphrased another.

It is likely that Browning was drawn to both Goneril and Cordelia because of similarities between them and herself. Like Goneril, Browning was the "eldest-born" of a domineering father. He forbad Elizabeth to marry, and so she was forced to elope with Robert Browning. A letter from Elizabeth to Robert that described a confrontation with her father could serve as Cordelia's account of the opening scene of Lear: "words have been said that I cannot easily forget, nor remember without pain. [...] I was treated [...] as an undutiful daughter. [...] he washed his hands of me altogether. [...] my spirits sink altogether at the thought of leaving England so" (25 Sept 1845, R. Browning and Barrett 1: 211).

It is not surprising that in one sonnet written during this period Elizabeth paraphrased Cordelia and that in another she paraphrased Goneril. Each may have represented for her a pole of her ambivalent feelings toward her father. She strived to forgive her father and to maintain respect and love for him in the self-sacrificing manner of Cordelia. But when she wrote "How do I love thee?" her suppressed bitterness found an indirect outlet. Browning appropriated an insincere but eloquent expression of love for a domineering father to create a sincere expression of love for a husband with whom she had to elope in order to escape a domineering father. Browning covertly released suppressed resentment toward her father at the same time she overtly expressed love for the man who carried her away from her father. (5)

Browning's appropriation of Goneril's speech was disguised by red herrings. Browning entitled the sequence in which the poem appears Sonnets from the Portuguese, as if the poems had non-English sources. Another factor in the obscuring of Browning's appropriation of King Lear is the more obvious superficial connection with Shakespeare's sonnets. Even though Browning did not employ a Shakespearean rhyme scheme for this sonnet, any sonnet in English invites comparison with Shakespeare's sonnets. Sandra Donaldson cites numerous nineteenth-century and twentieth-century commentators who have compared Sonnets from the Portuguese to Shakespeare's sonnets. Another Shakespearean red herring is Browning's use of the word "thee." "Thee" was still a common, everyday second-person pronoun in Shakespeare's day. By Browning's day, "thee" had become an archaism, still familiar in large part because of its occurrence in many famous passages from Shakespeare's works. Browning thus directed a reader toward Shakespeare with an archaic word associated with Shakespeare but away from Goneril's speech, which uses the pronoun "you." By using the pronoun "thee" and by beginning her sonnet with a question, Browning specifically reminded readers of Shakespeare's Sonnet 18, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" Browning showed witty ingenuity in overlaying her profound use of one Shakespearean source with other Shakespearean associations that would distract attention from her primary source.

Browning was touchy on the subject of literary originality. A passing comment by Mitford that originality was no longer possible provoked a vehement response that Browning herself described as a "long sermon":

  What! I am never original--Tennyson is not original--nobody is
  original now! [...] "So she sets up to be original--does she?--this
  modest EBB"! [...] And yet she acknowledges freely that any single
  poem of hers which was to her conviction, not original [...]--such a
  poem I [w.sup.d] destroy willingly, gladly, righteously, & never look
  back upon its ashes. (14 Jan 1843, Mitford 2: 158-59)

At a later point in this "sermon," Shakespeare enters as a paragon of originality: "But my hope & belief are, that to be 'original' is as possible & not harder now, than in the first days of creation--& that every writer who is at once true enough & strong enough to express his own individuality, is original as Shakespeare was" (2: 159). Browning's assertion of originality is not undermined by her appropriation of Goneril's speech to create Sonnet 43. It was a daringly original idea to use materials provided by an insincere, despicable character to create a sincere expression of love.

Although Browning's poetry was the subject of considerable commentary in the nineteenth century and "How do I love thee?" is her most famous poem, the earliest published reference to the appropriation that I have been able to locate, a passing comment by William Andrews Clark, did not appear until 1927--seventy-seven years after the poem was first published (ix-x). Apparently unaware of Clark's comment, Robert B. Heilman noted a few similarities between the poem and Goneril's speech in 1945. Whether or not Browning anticipated that a reader who noticed the appropriation would convict the poem of guilt by association, Heilman dismissed both expressions of love as inept. Neither Clark nor Heilman discussed what is astounding about the appropriation: that Elizabeth Barrett Browning's famous love sonnet, a poem addressed to her beloved suitor and future husband, was inspired by a hypocritical speech of a character later denounced by Lear as a "Degenerate bastard" (1.4.254).

Huckleberry Finn (1884), Samuel Clemens's most admired work, contains a number of explicit or obvious appropriations of Shakespearean material. In Chapter 20 the Duke proposes a performance for the local rubes of selected passages and episodes from Shakespeare's plays. He attempts to recite the "To be, or not to be" speech but delivers an incoherent jumble of phrases from Hamlet, Macbeth, and Richard III. In Chapter 24 the Duke dresses Jim as King Lear. Most readers will recall Romeo and Juliet when they read about Harney Shepherdson and Sophia Grangerford, young lovers from feuding families.

But the novel also contains numerous covert appropriations of Shakespearean materials. The strangest and most significant of these involves the episode generally regarded as Clemens's highest artistic achievement, Huck's account (in Chapter 31) of his decision to go to hell rather than to betray Jim, a runaway slave. This account is an anthology of paraphrases of passages from the "prayer scene" (3.3) of Hamlet.

CLAUDIUS:  Pray can I not,
           Though inclination be as sharp as will. (lines 38-39)
HUCK:      I about made up my mind to pray. [...] But the words wouldn't
           come. (page 269)
CLAUDIUS:  And, like a man to double business bound,
           I stand in pause where I shall first begin. (41-42)
HUCK:      I knowed very well why they wouldn't come ... it was
           because I was playing double. (269)
CLAUDIUS:  Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens
           To wash [this hand] white as snow? [...]
           then I'll look up. (45-46, 50)
HUCK:      I felt good and all washed clean of sin ... and I knowed I
           could pray, now. (269)
CLAUDIUS:  I am still possess'd
           Of those effects for which I did the murther. (53-54)
HUCK:      I was letting on to give up sin, but ... I was holding on to
           the biggest one of all. (269)
CLAUDIUS:  'tis not so above:
           There is no shuffling, there the action lies
           In his true nature, and we ourselves compell'd,
           Even to the teeth and forehead of our faults,
           To give in evidence. (60-64)
HUCK:      my wickedness was being watched all the time from up there
           in heaven [...] there's One that's always on the lookout
           [...] It warn't no use to try to hide it from Him. (268-69)
CLAUDIUS:  Bow, stubborn knees [...]. (70)
HUCK:      So I kneeled down. (269)
CLAUDIUS:  My words fly up, my thoughts remain below:
           Words without thoughts never to heaven go. (97-98)
HUCK:      I was trying to make my mouth say I would do the right thing
           [...] but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie. [...] You
           can't pray a lie. (269)
CLAUDIUS:  Words without thoughts never to heaven go. (98)
HUCK:      All right, then, I'll go to hell. (271)

In each case the character (1) is tormented by a guilty conscience, (2) attempts to reform, (3) expresses a belief that a reform must be wholly sincere because (4) heavenly powers will know if the reform is dishonest or half-hearted, (5) feels as if he is engaged in "double" dealing, (6) suffers because he is strongly pulled opposite directions, (7) momentarily feels hope and the possibility of a cleansing of the sin, (8) tries to pray, (9) kneels, but (10) finally acknowledges an inability to reform sincerely, and (11) expresses resignation in terms of Christian eschatology. Huck's final resolution to "go to hell" corresponds to Claudius's final recognition that his words and, by implication, his soul will "never to heaven go." (6) The prayer scene is so familiar and these connections are so numerous and so specific that it is unlikely the appropriation was unconscious.

What makes this appropriation strange and obscures the connection despite the numerous similarities are the radical differences between the characters, their situations, and the dialects in which they express themselves. Huck Finn is a poor, ill-educated, outcast child growing up in Missouri in the nineteenth century, speaks a backwoods dialect, and is one of the most beloved figures in literary history. Readers are intended to rejoice in his decision to help Jim escape even though Huck believes he will go to hell as a result. Huck's innate goodness overcomes the social indoctrination that justifies slavery on moral and religious grounds. The character whose struggle with his conscience provided the raw material for Huck's struggle is the King of Denmark, a Machiavellian politician, a murderer, and a speaker of highly sophisticated blank verse. Playgoers are intended to disapprove of his failure to follow his conscience. Clemens had the insight to recognize that Claudius's attempt to reform in 3.3, though transitory, is earnest and heartfelt. Clemens also had the artistic daring to fashion the moral struggle of a character meant to be admirable out of passages spoken by a character guilty of a heinous crime.

Clemens made contradictory assertions about his literary indebtedness. At one extreme Clemens declared, "the most valuable capital [...] in the building of novels is personal experience. [...] I don't know anything about books" (Letters 2: 543). (7) At the other extreme he confided, "I would not wonder if I am the worst literary thief in the world" (23 Nov 1875, Twain and Howells 1: 112). Clemens also exhibited contradictory attitudes toward Shakespeare. He was capable of bardolatry--"there is wholesome refreshment for both mind and heart in an occasional climb among the pomps of the intellectual snow-summits built by Shakespeare" (8)--and he appropriated Shakespearean materials throughout his career. (9) But a number of his writings, often beneath a facetious surface, reveal envy or antipathy. Clemens created parodies and sketches that cut Shakespeare down to size. In one pastiche, he inserted into Hamlet a new character, an American book salesman who denigrates the manner of speech of the Shakespearean characters: "It's the most unnatural stuff! why, it ain't human talk; nobody that ever lived, ever talked the way they do. Even the flunkies can't say the simplest thing the way a human being would say it. [...] Lord, I get mighty tired of this everlasting spechifying." (10) In "1601," a sketch set in the court of Queen Elizabeth, "Shaxpur" refuses to acknowledge that he farted. Shaxpur also exhibits literary envy and competitiveness, emotions now associated with anxiety of influence. When another writer becomes the topic of conversation, "Shaxpur did fidget to discharge some venom of sarcasm" because he is one of those people who "having a specialtie, and admiring it in themselves, be jealous when a neighbour doth essaye it." (11) Clemens projected onto Shakespeare an emotion evident in his own attitude toward Shakespeare, in his creation of parodies, sketches, and episodes that hold Shakespeare up to ridicule, including his creation of the contemptible figure of Shaxpur in this very sketch. Near the end of his life Clemens published an essay in which he denied Shakespeare's authorship of the works attributed to him. (12) What better revenge on an author who provoked one's lifelong anxiety of influence than to deprive that author of authorship?

It is unlikely that Clemens intended readers to make a connection between Huck's moral crisis and that of Claudius. The recognition of a connection between Huck and a Machiavellian murderer might have confused readers and undermined the profound sympathy Clemens was trying to generate for his main character at this point in the novel. The connection is obscured by the radical change in context and language and by the overt Shakespearean allusions elsewhere in the novel, which serve as red herrings. If Clemens intended to obscure the appropriation, his strategy succeeded for 85 years despite the fact that during this period Huckleberry Finn was subjected to intense critical scrutiny. The earliest published reference to the connection between Huck and Claudius that I have been able to locate was made in 1971 by James L. Roberts, who merely mentioned in passing that Huck in this episode "is a takeoff on Hamlet's Claudius" (58). Clyde Wade in 1984 (1-4) and Anthony J. Berret in 1985 (204) mentioned a few of the similarities explained above. Concerned simply with establishing that Hamlet 3.3 was a source for Chapter 31 of Huckleberry Finn, Wade and Berret each focused only on similarities between the two episodes and thus inadvertently created the misleading impression that the passage in Huckleberry Finn is a simple, straightforward imitation of Claudius's speech rather than a radical inversion. (13)

Shakespeare was an imposing presence in the life of Eugene O'Neill even before O'Neill became a dramatist himself. O'Neill's father, a prominent actor, was vain about his performances in Shakespearean roles and often quoted Shakespeare to his sons. As a boy O'Neill tried to impress his father by memorizing and reciting the entire part of Macbeth, but his father complained that the recitation lacked appropriate emotion. O'Neill incorporated these details in his autobiographical play Long Day's Journey into Night. Although at times O'Neill seems to have gone out of his way to make his works as superficially unlike Shakespeare's as possible (which would, paradoxically, constitute a profound kind of influence), he often appropriated Shakespearean material, as amply documented by Normand Berlin. After a production of Strange Interlude was harshly condemned by reviewers, O'Neill wrote to George Jean Nathan, "One critic got real peeved because I had so obviously imitated Shakespeare--which is the finest compliment I have ever got" (Selected Letters 358). In a conversation reported by a tavern crony, O'Neill expressed skepticism about the possibility of literary originality: "Everything has been said before. There's nothing new to write about." (14)

In Long Day's Journey into Night (completed in 1941, first produced and published, posthumously, in 1956), O'Neill's most admired work, he came to terms not only with the members of his family but with Shakespeare. Shakespeare is actually on stage more than any of the four Tyrones. The entire play is set in the living room of the summer house of the Tyrones, which is described in the opening stage direction. At the center of the rear wall of the set "is a small bookcase, with a picture of Shakespeare above it" (11). The play contains numerous explicit allusions to Shakespeare, including verbatim quotations.

At the outset of the final episode of the play, James Tyrone and his two sons, Jamie and Edmund, are on stage when James's wife Mary enters exhibiting signs that she has lost her struggle against drug addiction. A startling number of specific features of this episode resemble elements of 5.1 of Macbeth. (1) This is the last appearance of Mary in Long Day's Journey, and 5.1 is the last appearance of Lady Macbeth. (2) Lady Macbeth is described as sleepwalking by the Waiting-Gentlewoman and the Doctor, and the episode has long been designated "the sleepwalking scene." A stage direction in Long Day's Journey informs the actress playing Mary and readers of the play that she "moves like a sleepwalker" (174). (3) Each sleepwalker is oblivious to the presence of the other characters on stage. (4) Each sleepwalker talks to herself, and her words are overheard by the other characters. (5) In each case the speaker's isolation from other characters on stage in the current circumstance exemplifies the speaker's more general isolation from others. After the murder of Duncan, Lady Macbeth's relationship with Macbeth, the one person with whom she was close, deteriorated, so Lady Macbeth was cut off from others even before her insanity radically isolates her. Mary's current state of drug-induced oblivion is dramatized not as a temporary relapse but as a decisive failure in her long-term battle against an addiction that isolates her from her loved ones. (6) In each case the sleepwalker relives past experiences. (7) In each case the eavesdroppers express pity for the sleepwalker. (8) In each case the eavesdroppers regard the sleepwalker as at least partly responsible for her own suffering. (9) In each case the sleepwalker becomes fixated on her hands. Lady Macbeth obsessively rubs her hands, which she imagines are stained with blood: "What, will these hands ne'er be clean?" (5.1.43). At one point during Mary's soliloquy occurs the following stage direction: "She lifts her hands to examine them with a frightened puzzlement" (171). Imagining herself back in her convent school and puzzled by the aged appearance of her hands, Mary decides to seek out Sister Martha: "She'll give me something to rub on my hands" (171). (10) In each case the real or imagined condition of the speaker's hands is an emblem for her loss of innocence. (11) In each case the sleepwalker's affliction seems beyond cure. This appropriation is shocking. Lady Macbeth is one of the most notorious villains in world drama, whereas, as O'Neill himself indicated, the character of Mary is a portrait of his own mother.

O'Neill distracted playgoers' attention from this shocking appropriation, however, by supplying at the very outset of the episode a red herring, an explicit allusion to a different Shakespearean character. At the entrance of Mary, Jamie speaks as if he were reading a hypothetical stage direction in Hamlet: "The Mad Scene. Enter Ophelia!" (170). On the surface this is another of Jamie's bitter sarcasms. Ophelia is an innocent, young, unmarried woman, while Mary is a drug-addicted mother of two grown sons. An ironic parallel shortly emerges. In her drug-induced state Mary imagines that she is once again a young woman with the intention of joining a nunnery--as Ophelia is urged to do by Hamlet. But significant non-ironic parallels also emerge. Each female character is in an abnormal state of mind to which she has fled from a reality too painful to bear, and each is profoundly pitiable.

O'Neill's complex attitude toward his mother is suggested by the two superimposed Shakespearean appropriations that contributed to this episode in his portrayal of his mother in Long Day's Journey. He loved and pitied his mother but apparently held her partly responsible for her inability to overcome her addiction and for the pain her condition caused her family. (15) The two appropriations do not form a simple dichotomy, innocence versus guilt. O'Neill had the insight to realize that Shakespeare's portrait of Lady Macbeth is significantly complicated by the sleepwalking scene. Early in the play she is a cold-blooded criminal, but in her last appearance she is shown as suffering intensely and as vulnerable. Even though the episode explicitly reminds playgoers of her guilt, her suffering should arouse some pity. She is both guilty and pitiable. By explicitly comparing Mary to the vulnerable, pitiable, and almost completely innocent Ophelia and covertly appropriating features of an episode depicting a character who is guilty but vulnerable and pitiable, O'Neill came to terms with his complex attitude toward his mother.

O'Neill knew, however, that an overt comparison between Lady Macbeth and a character based on his mother would be considered flagrantly disrespectful and unfilial, and he may even have regarded it in this way himself. When Jamie compares his mother to Ophelia, Edmund "slaps Jamie across the mouth with the back of his hand," and Tyrone says, "Good boy, Edmund. The dirty blackguard! His own mother!" (170). If a comparison of Mary to the innocent and pathetic Ophelia could arouse outrage, how much more outrageous would be an association of O'Neill's mother with Lady Macbeth. It is thus understandable that O'Neill would try to distract attention from this appropriation by including an explicit comparison to a different Shakespearean character. According to Normand Berlin, "when O'Neill read aloud the manuscript of Long Day's Journey to Katina Paxinou, the great Greek actress, when she visited his home, he made a mistake and read 'The Mad Scene: Enter Lady Macbeth' instead of 'Enter Ophelia' ("O'Neill's Shakespeare" 8). If O'Neill was reading the play, the substitution of "Lady Macbeth" for "Ophelia" is less likely a Freudian slip than a sly revelation to one theatrical colleague in private that Lady Macbeth was a more important model for Mary in the scene than Ophelia. Anxiety produced by the appropriation of Lady Macbeth in the construction of a portrait of his mother, an appropriation that, if noticed by others, might be construed as an insult and betrayal, would have compounded the anxiety of influence that O'Neill may have felt about appropriating material from the most admired dramatist of all time. (16)

Even though Long Day's Journey was the subject of intense critical scrutiny from the moment of its appearance, the first published reference to this appropriation (Berlin, "O'Neill's Shakespeare" 8) did not occur until 1989. Berlin devoted only a paragraph to the appropriation, mentioned only a few of the connections explained above, and did not consider the profound implications of the fact that O'Neill based a portrait of his own mother on Lady Macbeth. Berlin treated the appropriation simply as a straightforward imitation. (17)

These three cases of appropriation have quite a few noteworthy similarities. (1) Each involves a work or an episode that is generally regarded as the author's highest artistic achievement. (2) In the course of his or her life, each appropriator exhibited a profound admiration for Shakespeare and some anxiety of influence. (3) When Browning sought a model for a sincere, eloquent expression of love, when Clemens sought a model for a moral struggle, and when O'Neill sought a model for a poignant character, they did not round up the usual suspects. In each case they located an unlikely model in a Shakespearean villain. This suggests something about the artistic procedures of Shakespeare on the one hand and those of the three appropriators on the other. What it says about Shakespeare is that his villains are complex. Despite her villainy, Goneril is capable of eloquence. Despite his villainy, Claudius experiences a genuine moral struggle. Despite her villainy, Lady Macbeth is overwhelmed by remorse, suffers intensely, and becomes vulnerable and pitiable. Rather than "misreading" a Shakespeare text, (18) each appropriator had the insight to recognize an incongruous element in the portrait of a Shakespearean villain. (4) Browning, Clemens, and O'Neill had the artistic daring to appropriate what they needed from superficially incongruous sources. (5) In each case the appropriation involves a large number of specific, substantive resemblances. (6) Even though in each case the appropriator redeployed Shakespearean material in a radically different context, the primary motivation behind the appropriation was probably not an impulse to do battle with a precursor, "to talk back to Shakespeare," (19) although this may have been an important secondary factor. It is unlikely, for example, that Clemens first decided to revise the prayer scene of Hamlet and then invented a moral crisis for Huck in order to accomplish this. It is more likely that in each of these cases the appropriator was primarily concerned with constructing a sincere speaker or an admirable character or a sympathetic character and then realized that a certain passage in Shakespeare could be appropriated to serve this purpose. This appropriation may well have triggered the appropriator's anxiety of influence, but Harold Bloom overstated the case, perhaps for rhetorical effect, when he argued that each literary work is first and foremost a struggle with an earlier work. (7) In none of the cases did the appropriator acknowledge the appropriation. None of the new works includes explicit references to the source or extended verbatim quotations. (8) All three appropriators took steps, furthermore, to obscure the appropriations by including Shakespearean red herrings, explicit or obvious allusions to other Shakespearean material. (9) In each case the appropriator chose to obscure the appropriation presumably because of a fear that a reader's awareness that the new poetic speaker or the new character was based on a Shakespearean villain would undermine the primary goal of the new poem or episode, to create a sincere speaker or an admirable character or a pitiable character. At least in the case of Browning this fear was warranted. Heilman used the evidence of the appropriation as ammunition in his denigration of her poem. (10) In each case the tactic of disguising of the appropriation worked, at least for a while. Even though each work was the subject of considerable commentary from the moment of its initial publication, the earliest published comment on the appropriation did not occur until many years later. (11) In each case commentators on the appropriation have treated the appropriation as a simple imitation and have thereby obscured the artistic daring of the appropriator, who modeled a sincere speaker, or an admirable character, or a pitiable character on a Shakespearean villain.

The multiple similarities among these cases of appropriation are particularly striking in light of the fact that, although each of the passages appropriated occurs in a play, only one of the appropriators was a dramatist. In The Anxiety of Influence Bloom gave the impression that influence operates mainly within generic bounds; the book is subtitled A Theory of Poetry. But in two of the cases examined here influence overflowed generic barriers. It is also noteworthy that two of these appropriators were male and one female, that two were American and one English, and that one appropriator wrote in the mid nineteenth century, another in the late nineteenth century, and the third in the twentieth century. At least some important features of the psychology and methodology of appropriation have been shared by poets, novelists, and dramatists, by male and female artists, and by artists living in diverse cultural contexts. (20)

Different approaches to a given phenomenon--different perspectives, methods of analysis, terminology, and so on--produce different conclusions. The terms "imitation" and "influence" confer a position of power and authority on the earlier artist and suggest that the later artist is a passive recipient. In contrast, the term "appropriation" suggests that the later artist, like either an unscrupulous capitalist or a dashing Robin Hood, boldly takes something away from a precursor unable to defend his property. Each of these approaches can yield interesting results, and yet in isolation each can be misleading. In regard to the cases discussed here, each later artist exhibited some anxiety of influence, and yet the daring unacknowledged employment of Shakespearean material in a superficially incongruous context probably also generated what might be called the guilty pleasure of covert appropriation.


Bab, Julius. "As Europe Sees America's Foremost Playwright." 1931. Rpt. in O'Neill and His Plays: Four Decades of Criticism. Ed. Oscar Cargill, N. Bryllion Fagin, and William J. Fisher. New York: New York UP, 1961. 347-52.

Berlin, Normand. "O'Neill's Shakespeare." The Eugene O'Neill Review 13 (1989): 5-13.

______. O'Neill's Shakespeare. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1993.

Berret, Anthony J. "The Influence of Hamlet on Huckleberry Finn." American Literary Realism, 1870-1910 18 (1985): 196-207.

______. Mark Twain and Shakespeare: A Cultural Legacy. Latham, MD: UP of America, 1993.

Bloom, Harold. The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry. London: Oxford UP, 1973.

______. A Map of Misreading. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1975.

Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. The Complete Works. Ed. Charlotte Porter and Helen A. Clarke. 6 vols. 1900. Rpt. New York: AMS, 1973.

______. The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Mary Russell Mitford, 1836-1854. Ed. Meredith B. Raymond and Mary Rose Sullivan. 3 vols. Winfield, KS: Armstrong Browning Library of Baylor U, 1983.

______. Selected Poems. Ed. Margaret Foster. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1988.

Browning, Elizabeth Barrett, and Robert Browning. Letters of the Brownings to George Barrett. Ed. Paul Landis. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1958.

Browning, Robert, and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett. The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, 1845-1846. Ed. Elvan Kintner. 2 vols. Cambridge, MA: Belknap P of Harvard UP, 1969.

Clark, William Andrews. "Some Observations." Sonnets from the Portuguese. By Elizabeth Barrett Browning. San Francisco: John Henry Nash, 1927. vi-xiv.

Clemens. See Twain.

Donaldson, Sandra. Elizabeth Barrett Browning: An Annotated Bibliography of the Commentary and Criticism, 1826-1990. New York: Hall, 1993.

Gelb, Arthur, and Barbara Gelb. O'Neill. Rev. ed. New York: Harper, 1974.

Heilman, Robert B. "E. B. Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese, XLIII." Explicator 4.1 (Oct. 1945): item 3.

Hirsh, James. Shakespeare and the History of Soliloquies. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2003.

O'Neill, Eugene. Long Day's Journey into Night. New Haven: Yale UP, 1956.

______. Selected Letters of Eugene O'Neill. Ed. Travis Bogard and Jackson R. Bryer. New Haven: Yale UP, 1988.

Roberts, James L. Twain's Huckleberry Finn. 1971. Rpt. as an eBook. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Boulder, CO: Net Library, 2000.

Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. 2nd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.

Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Ed. Victor Fischer and Lin Salamo. Berkeley: U of California P, 2001.

______. The Complete Essays of Mark Twain. Ed. Charles Neider. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1963.

______. Mark Twain's Letters. Ed. Albert Bigelow Paine. 2 vols. 1917. Rpt. New York: AMS, 1975.

______. Mark Twain's Satires and Burlesques. Ed. Franklin R. Rogers. Berkeley: U of California P, 1967.

______. The Outrageous Mark Twain: Some Lesser Known But Extraordinary Works. Ed. Charles Neider. New York: Doubleday, 1987.

Twain, Mark, and William Dean Howells. Mark Twain-Howells Letters: The Correspondence of Samuel L. Clemens and William Dean Howells, 1872-1910. Ed. Henry Nash Smith and William M. Gibson. 2 vols. Cambridge, MA: Belknap P of Harvard UP, 1960.

Wade, Clyde. "'You Can't Pray a Lie': A Possible Shakespearean Influence on Huck Finn." Comments on Literature 2 (supplement to Comments on Etymology 13 [1984]): 1-4.

JAMES HIRSH has written The Structure of Shakespearean Scenes (Yale UP) and Shakespeare and the History of Soliloquies (Fairleigh Dickinson UP). The latter won the 2004 South Atlantic Modern Language Association Book Award. He has published essays in Shakespeare Quarterly, Modern Language Quarterly, and elsewhere. He is a Professor of English at Georgia State University.

(1) This essay is a revised version of a paper contributed to the seminar on "Appropriations of Shakespeare" at the 2004 International Shakespeare Conference in Stratford-upon-Avon. I am grateful for feedback I received from Douglas Lanier, Robert Weimann, Virginia Mason Vaughan, Christy Desmet, and other members of the seminar. For a sampling of the extensive commentary on appropriation in general and on the appropriation of Shakespeare's works in particular, see the items by or edited by Berlin, Berret, Bloom, Christy Desmet and Robert Sawyer(Eds. Shakespeare and Appropriation. London: Routledge, 1999), Hirsh, Jean I. Marsden(The Appropriation of Shakespeare: Post-Renaissance Reconstructions of the Works and the Myth. New York: St. Martin's P, 1991), Marianne Novy (Ed. Women's Re-Visions of Shakespeare: On the Responses of Dickinson, Woolf, Rich, H. D., and Others. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1990), and Martha Tuck Rozett (Talking Back to Shakespeare. Newark: U of Delaware P, 1994).

(2) Although Elizabeth Barrett did not acquire the name Browning until 1846, I will generally refer to her by her married name.

(3) Some critics and performers have recognized that Goneril is an adept liar. In Peter Brook's film of the play, for example, Irene Worth speaks the passage with apparent sincerity (King Lear. With Paul Scofield and Irene Worth. Great Britain: Athena-Laterna Films, 1971).

(4) See, for example, letters dated 14 Dec 1836, 15 July 1841, and 18 July 1842 (Mitford 1: 22, 234; and 2: 5).

(5) Elizabeth quoted King Lear in two letters to Robert during their courtship, a courtship memorialized in the Sonnets from the Portuguese. See letters dated 11 Jan 1845 and 25 May 1845 (R. Browning and Barrett 1: 5, 79).

(6) I explore many of Clemens's other Shakespearean appropriations in "Samuel Clemens and the Ghost of Shakespeare" (Studies in the Novel 24 [1992]:251-72).

(7) This passage occurs in a fragment of an 1891 draft of a letter to an unidentified correspondent.

(8) "About Play-Acting," (1898), Complete Essays 207.

(9) For many examples, see my "Samuel Clemens and the Ghost of Shakespeare" (note 6 above). See also Berret.

(10) "Burlesque Hamlet," Satires 69-70. Clemens began but abandoned work on this burlesque of Hamlet in 1881, while he was also in the midst of writing Huckleberry Finn.

(11) "1601 or Conversation as It Was by the Social Fireside in the Time of the Tudors" (written 1876), Outrageous 57.

(12) "Is Shakespeare Dead?" (1909), Complete Essays 407-54.

(13) In Mark Twain and Shakespeare: A Cultural Legacy (Latham, MD: UP of America, 1993), Berret did not add to the account of this particular appropriation that he provided in his earlier article.

(14) This remark was made to Terry Carlin (Gelb and Gelb 353).

(15) This mixture of intense emotions is exhibited by characters in the play. Edmund, Jamie, and James Tyrone all love Mary, and all suffer painful disappointment that she succumbs to her addiction.

(16) In Shakespeare and the History of Soliloquies (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2003), I explore other features of this episode, including O'Neill's use of the Shakespearean device of self-addressed speech in contrast to his use of interior monologues in Strange Interlude (see 317-19). Long Day's Journey was not the only play by O'Neill to be influenced by Macbeth. Commentators have often noted similarities between that play and The Emperor Jones (see, for example, Bab 350).

(17) In O'Neill's Shakespeare Berlin did not add to the brief discussion of the appropriation included in his article of the same title.

(18) In A Map of Misreading, Harold Bloom argued that in order to create a new poem a poet engages in "misreading" a poem by a precursor poet.

(19) For examples of appropriations that do have this as a primary goal, see Rozett (note 1 above).

(20) That male and female appropriators share some features of psychology and methodology does not mean that there may not also be some features that are gender-specific. In a letter to her brother Elizabeth Barrett proudly reported a favorable response to her survey of literary history, The Book of the Poet: "Mr. Boyd wrote to me to say in the midst of great approbation, that of the whole passage about Shakespeare, nobody can find the least sign of it being written 'by a female.' It is impossible to help exulting in the compliment" (11 Sept 1842, George Barrett 86). In forming her sense of her relationship to Shakespeare, Browning encountered an obstacle not faced by male writers of the period. Perspectives on Shakespeare by women writers are explored in Novy (note 1 above).

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A160422637