Edith Layton/Incidental Shakespeare

Edith Layton's False Angel

In Edith Layton's False Angel, the anti-heroine loses the man she is angling for because she cannot read the manuscript of Blake's Book of Moonlight, but the hero, rescued from her clutches, discovers that the insights and opinions on Shakespeare which she has been quoting, actually originate with the heroine. In turn he comforts her for her unfashionable dark beauty not with the predictable sonnet, of which she says "It's a nice bit of verse, but although it's the opposite of what he intended, I've always considered it lowering to the dark lady's spirits," but with a quotation from her favorite character, Mercutio, "He's already dead: with a white wench's black eye" (219). In these cases, Shakespeare's texts help to establish both an individual hero or heroine's depth of character, but also his or her suitability as the match to a comparably literate mate.

Layton herself notes that the Shakespearean references may elude her readers but are satisfying for her:

The romance author's involvement in Shakespeare need not be so obvious that it functions as a central part of the narrative--as with some of the actress novels. Instead such references can be meaningful as incidental Shakespeare, a kind of cultural shorthand which either invokes particular features in his works or perhaps even revises those features.

Indeed, Layton's The Game of Love does use Shakespeare more extensively and more obviously than the other two books in the series. The hero, Arden Lyons, not only embodies the opening epigram from A Midsummer Night's Dream that "a lion among ladies is a most dreadful thing" (5) in his fears about his size and roughness, he also is inspired to liken his lady to the pearl in the Ethiope's ear from Romeo and Juliet and challenge an army deserter with Falstaff's words from 1 Henry IV. The latter is particularly provocative since the deserter from Wellington's army offers enthusiastic agreement with Falstaff's debunking of honor, only for Lyons to reveal the context and insist that Shakespeare was undermining Falstaff's position.

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