In their "Otherness," Shakespeare's plays also, paradoxically, normalize the erotics of several of these novels. When Deanna James's Miranda, at sixteen, falls in love with "Shreve Catherwood," her seduction is deeply intertwined with his efforts to cast her as Juliet, whose extreme youth masks what amounts to the statutory rape of Miranda. Jack Frazier's destructive jealousy in Christmas Belleis both explained and defused by Isabella's revision of Desdemona's narrative. The Hamlet narrative and revision of Ophelia's madness functions as the major plot device over and over again, using either the impulse to revenge or the intimations of madness as the obstacles separating the lovers. Perhaps more striking, the most patriarchal of characters--those who chronically quote Shakespeare as either authority or mere speech--become enablers of the romance, even if the novels also include Shakespeare-like obstacles (a mysterious ghost like Lucinda, for example). The obstacles to union are configured as Shakespearean, "Other" yet surmountable, tied to historical context yet invoked and revised even there.

References to Shakespeare also serve an essential anglophilia evident in the regency and the English historical. The measure of this fascination lies in the attention paid to historical detail by both readers and authors.The rigid hierarchies of the British aristocracy are all the more essential to fantasies of hierarchies subverted or used to the heroine's advantage. In this context, Shakespearean references signal challenges posed to the male-dominated social order.

For example, Isabella Gellee's revision of Desdemona's passive submission to patriarchal authority ultimately enables the unthinkable marriage between an actress and a peer of the realm. Miss Grimsley's flouting of the patriarchal restrictions of Oxford not only allows her to refute (however silently) beliefs about the limitations of women's minds but also paves the way for her marriage to Lord Chesney. Heyer's Venetia explicitly revises Shakespeare as SHE proposes to her beloved rake: "I warn you, love, that if you cast me out I shall build a willow cabin at your gates--and very likely die of an inflammation of the lungs, for November is not the month for building willow cabins!" (Heyer 288). Both Rosencrantz from The Greatest Lover in England and Miranda in Acts of Passion usurp the central role of Hamlet and work through loss, madness, mourning and revenge very differently, replacing the icon of Western male subjectivity with a female perspective and romantic union as the goal. And the list goes on, as revising or using Shakespeare becomes a symptom of the feminine challenge to patriarchal structures of these genres, overt structures which are therefore more readily recognized if not defeated.

The fact that patriarchy remains intact and even the most intrepid heroine comes up against that reality gives the manipulations of Shakespearean references peculiar resonance. After all, if the plots and characters of Shakespeare's plays can be so readily adapted to the conventions of the romance, how different can the highest of high culture be from the much-scorned, nearly entirely female endeavors of romance? Just as significant, if Shakespeare's texts can be used against each other and invoked to serve temporary female power, perhaps the male dominated systems which these historical novels record can be eroded and manipulated from within. Actually the persistence of patriarchy which many critics take to be the greatest danger and most pernicious fantasy that the romance offers seems to me its most realistic representation. Certainly regency and historical novels acknowledge more openly than we do that we are all, male and female, still implicated in patriarchy.


Introduction / Reference List by Play / Return to: Incidental Shakespeare