The key to analyzing the paradoxical position that Shakespeare occupies as both obstacle and enabler of union in American romance lies in the particular subgenres where Shakespeare most frequently appears: the historical (James, Dodd, Garwood) and the regency which is a still more specialized kind of historical (Heyer, Carroll, Balogh, Laden, Wolf, Martin, Ewing, Layton, Kelly, Porter, etc.). Critics and writers who analyze the appeal of these novels inevitably focus on subgenres and argue that particular conventions and audience expectations prove essential to understanding the psychological and social significance of different genres within romance.

For example, in "Mass Market Romance: Pornography for Women is Different," Ann Barr Snitnow addresses Harlequin romances particularly. A combination of the extensive readership and the consistent plot elements authorize Snitnow's assessment of novels "too pallid to shape consciousness but [which] feed certain regressive elements in the female experience," namely the moment of erotic and personal power which (presumably) occurs during courtship (247). Krentz and Barlow bear out Snitnow's analysis in their defense of the spectacular romance's conventionality; both its predictable plot elements and its deliberate writing style serve to invoke feminine archetypes and community as the ultimate values. As Kathleen Gilles Seidel puts it, "The first function of the setting of a romance novel is to be Other, to transport the reader somewhere else. The setting often provides the reader with the first and clearest signal that fantasy follows" (207).

The "Other" setting of the historical and regency novels is a context that is overtly, even aggressively patriarchal in its double standards and its policing of female virtue. The regency offers patriarchally dominant men who are then subdued and matched by women who effectively subvert masculine control over their lives and marital choices. However, the patriarchal system remains intact so that Shakespeare's position within the distinctive conventions becomes an important register of resistence.

The historical romance and regencies have comparable codes. For example, both use historical distance as their reproduction of the exotic or the Other. In these novels, Shakespeare becomes one marker of this exotic historical difference. Shakespeare as a participant marks out the distance in Elizabethan historicals like those of Dodd and James. His plays and their performance become key referents for the regencies from Heyer to Martin because of the intense revival of Shakespeare's plays from Garrick in the late 1700's through the Victorian period. As an indicator of historical difference, Shakespeare proves especially useful since he is both familiar and "Other," sufficiently available in common usage that readers will recognize him, sufficiently "historical" that readers can readily take his works as part of the past rather than the present.


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