Susan Carroll's The Lady Who Hated Shakespeare

In The Lady Who Hated Shakespeare, Mr. Renwick's quotations from Shakespeare are not as extensive and even his daughter accounts them boring. Initially he seems entirely isolated by his Shakespearean frame of reference. For example, his responses to the hero's first encounter/assault on his daughter are Shakespearean quotations which lead her, not surprisingly, to meditate on how little her father cares about her. The reason she hates the bard, of course, is that he seems to have cost her her father's love.

Having moved them to a small house in Stratford, he also reads Shakespeare's plays to her obsessively every evening, but habit becomes a kind of torture: "She loved her Papa dearly, but his reading voice lacked all expression. He recited the lines in such a dreary monotone that even the impassioned love scenes between the Queen of the Nile and her Roman swain sounded like the grimmest of Sunday sermons" (42). His emergence from the emotional isolation after her second wife's death is also marked by Shakespeare, as he quotes King Lear in response to find his daughter who has nearly been strangled. Delia's reaction is predictable: "She had nearly been killed . . . And Papa. He had not said a word except . . . except Shakespeare!" (172). She scarcely relents in her anger after the hero scolds her: "Think of how your father reads Shakespeare, so expressionless. Yet the way he spoke those lines from Lear tonight! Good God, Delia, he showed his love for you in the only way he know how" (177). Shakespeare's language shifts in this speech from the obstacle between father and daughter to the means he uses to express his love.

Nonetheless the father does invite the appropriate prospective bridegroom to meet his daughter. Though his choice is based in part on Miles's similar interest in Shakespeare, his choice proves sound. In the process, Carroll's novel uses Shakespeare even more thoroughly as the obstacle to union since what initially disqualifies Miles in Cordelia's eyes is his tendency to quote Shakespeare to her. In fact, when he tries to apologize for their first meeting, he fails because he quotes Petruchio from Taming at an inopportune moment and she recognizes--and objects--to the comment: "Miles groaned. 'Damme, it just slipped out. I was not even thinking of the context. Believe me, I in no way intended to imply that you are like Shakespeare's Kate'"(34).

Even so, the early part of the narrative is closely tied to The Taming of the Shrew with a trace of Much Ado about Nothing. Because of Delia's complaint about the scratchiness of his mustache, he, like Benedict, shaves so the heroine need not "lie in the woolen." The echoes of Taming are evenly divided between Delia and Miles. She decides he is to be punished for displacing her from her bedroom and secretes endless insects in the bedding and closets to insure a sleepless night. He retaliates by presenting her with an inedible tart at tea. The three bull frogs who emerge from her unusually active pastry ruin both the meal and her social standing because her companions at tea blame her for the prank. Thus Delia keeps Miles from his rest as Petruchio refuses to let Kate sleep, while Miles denies Delia food by sabotaging her pastry. Despite this apparent even-handedness, Delia, not Miles, experiences a social ostracism comparable to Kate's, and only as a result of Miles's joke on her.

In addition to the plot elements which mimic Shakespeare's plots and the deplorable tendency of the hero to think, if not speak, lines from Shakespeare in response to his beloved, the novel culminates in a Shakespearean performance, an amateur production of Othello, Though radically revised by a character (presented as officious and troublesome) who objects to husband's strangling their wives, the performance lives up to nineteenth-century manipulations of the Shakespearean text while in effect authorizing our current investment in the "authentic text."

Although the body of the novel reworks The Taming of the Shrew, the amateur Othello staged at the end allows Delia to step in as Desdemona, restoring the radically bowdlerized text because she recalls her father's endless reading. Even as she apparently opposes revision of the play, she also gets caught in the murderous plot against the young woman whom she understudies and nearly strangled. Carroll's use of Othello, like Mary Balogh's, acknowledges the romantic obstacle in that play, murderous, violent jealousy, as a staple of the romance genre's creation of the dangerous Alpha male.

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