Michelle Martin's The Hampshire Hoyden



The most elaborate appropriation and reinterpretation I have discovered so far is Michelle Martin's reworking of the plot of Much Ado about Nothing in The Hampshire Hoyen. The novel combines almost all the features I have analyzed so far: the lovers, Kate and Theo, discover their compatibility through challenging each other with Shakespearean quotations; they attend Romeo and Juliet at the theatre together though neither enjoys that particular play; and they even become actors as a play-within-the-novel is used to unveil and disgrace the pair who have plunged the plot into the slandered maid tale from Much Ado in remarkably faithful terms.

The beginning of this novel is riddled with funny and appropriately witty Shakespearean quotations used as one upspersonship between Kate Glyn and Theo Blake. Although at first he identifies himself as a Hamlet figure because of his continous mourning for the brother who left heir, he is lifted from melancholy by Kate Glyn's ability to match him, quotation for quotation. Her resistence to matrimony and his melancholy merge and emerge in frequent quotation wars:

However, Lord Blake does not get the last quoted word or rarely does, even when using Richard II's speeches to detail his desire NOT to be Marquis. In fact he soon finds that he feels "downright cheerful--morning, noon, and night. He had shed Hamlet's mantle without remorse to reveal ... Puck?"(125-26). Shakespeare even becomes the mechanism for his understanding of the change Kate Glyn's wit has brought about.

The pair are so thoroughly identified with Beatrice and Benedict in their distaste for marriage and social niceties that their Shakespearean battle moves easily to center stage. It is easy to overlook the lovely (though intelligent) Georgina whom Kate is reluctantly chaperoning for the London season and who falls instantly in love with the Sir William Atherton, freshly returned from the wars. The easy mutual affection and prompt, apparently trouble-free courtship and engagement seems merely the background to Kate's and Theo's more lively and tension-fraught interactions; in fact, Georgina and William seem merely a pleasant backdrop until Kate's former betrothed who is pursuing Georgina and Theo's would-be fiancee decide to stage Georgina's betrayal of William before her "bedroom" window and smash the engagement. As the overt Shakespearean references disappear from the dialogue, the plot of Much Ado moves to center stage. The shaming of Georgina at her betrothal ball is a public defamation particularly painful in the Regency context.

As the novel makes use of its specific historical situation to stage both importance of virginal reputation and the wideranging social consequences of such a shaming, The Hamphire Hoyden also reworks the alliance between the lovers's friends, Kate and Theo, who work together to uncover the truth about how William was fooled. Theo commits himself to Kate's cause though not as overtly as Benedict's promise to challenge Claudio to a duel. Rather than being tricked into love, the pair discover that they are more than just compatible verbal sparring partners in the context of the highly emotional situation surrounding the collapse of their friends' betrothal. Martin extends the time it takes the two to uncover and obtain proof of Lord Faulkland's perfidy in order to develop their alliance.

Reinterpretation enters more fully into the novel as Martin devotes considerable time to playing out the reactions of Hero/Georgina and to the difficulties and horror of Claudio/William's ultimate realization that he has been tricked into ruining his life and the life of the woman he loves: As Joan Wolf's Fool's Masquerade teases out at greater length Orsino/Diccon's transformation from master to a boy to lover of a woman, so Michelle Martin works through in extended detail both William's and Georgina's dilemma, ultimately staging their reunion not as the abrupt substitution at the wedding in Shakespeare's play but as the slower healing of serious wounds to trust. William in fact feels he can only beg that she not hate him for what he has done; Georgina's ultimate willingness to forgive him derives in part from Kate's explanation of the violence and shameful public quality of his denunciation:

Also unlike Shakespeare's play, the principals here do not wait till tomorrow "to devise brave punishments" for the slanderers; instead, Martin draws in the play device from Hamlet. Suitably at the Prince's reception which everyone including Lady Priscilla and Lord Falkland attend, Kate and Theo stage the conspiracy between those two as an entertainment which duly provokes Falkland to reveal his guilt and both he and Lady Priscilla to experience even worse social shame and ostracism than they imposed on Georgina.

Two elements then contribute to Martin's adoption and revision of Much Ado. First, after appropriating the slander and mistaken rejection as well in keeping with romance novel conventions, Martin elaborates the reactions of both the slandered maid and the tricked lover, developing their rapprochement on the basis of the violence of his rejection as the measure that he still loved her despite the proof that she humiliated and betrayed him. Second, the revelation and comparable public shaming of the villains becomes an important part of the reinstatement of Georgina's reputation and her reunion with William.

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