Monday, February 6, 2017

Will and Jane

The Shirt by the author

“But Shakespeare one gets acquainted with without knowing how. It is a part of an Englishman's constitution. His thoughts and beauties are so spread abroad that one touches them everywhere; one is intimate with him by instinct. No man of any brain can open at a good part of one of his plays without falling into the flow of his meaning immediately.” Mansfield Park chapter 34

There is something so appealing about Jane Austen writing about William Shakespeare. It just seems so right. These two icons truly dominate English literature, especially for people who were not English lit majors.  Jane Austen was certainly familiar with Shakespeare, and we find the bard mentioned by name five times in four of the six novels: Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Emma and Mansfield Park (twice).

In Northanger Abbey we find that Shakespeare along with Pope, Gray, and Thompson formed the basis of Catherine Morland’s education. In Sense and Sensibility Marianne’s belief that Willoughby will return in weeks rather than months to finish reading Hamlet gives Elinor some hope for the future of that relationship. We learn in Emma that Shakespeare’s comment on the course of true love would have been heavily annotated at Hartsfield. Finally, Henry Crawford almost wins his case after reading Shakespeare aloud before Fanny (or maybe not).

Clearly Will and Jane should be brought together and a recent exhibition at the Folger Library did just that. The exhibit, titled Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity, carefully examines parallels in the success of both authors. From the exhibit’s website:

“Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity takes a close look at these two celebrated authors’ literary afterlives—and finds some surprising parallels. For both, adaptations and parodies in different eras helped popularize their work and make it more approachable (think Shakespeare Undead and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies).” (1)

Janeites attending the 2016 AGM in Washington D.C. had the opportunity to visit this exhibit and I was fortunate to be among them.  Please see my previous post JASNA Goes toWashington D.C. for some additional pictures from the exhibit.

Now JASNA Central and Western NY is pleased to have one of the curators of that exhibit speak at our February meeting.  Professor Kristina Staub is a Professor of English and Director of the Literary and Cultural Studies Program at Carnegie Mellon University where she teaches courses in Gender Studies, Feminist Cultural Studies, Performance Studies, and early modern British literature and culture. Her book, Divided Fictions, is a feminist look at the novelist Frances Burney. She is currently working on a book studying “weird” performances of Shakespeare’s work in the eighteenth century along with co-curating the Will and Jane exhibit with Janine Barchas. Her talk should give us a fascinating look into the connections between Jane Austen and William Shakespeare, and we might learn more about the Shirt.

Please join us for what should be a lively and informative afternoon. The event details are below:

Event:    “Jane Austen at the Folger Shakespeare Library”  by Prof. Kristina Staub
Where:  Community Room, Barnes and Noble, Pittsford NY
When:    February 18, at 1 pm

1. I saw Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It actually was pretty good.

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