Jane Austen and “Banal Shakespeare”
Abstract

While critics have long acknowledged Jane Austen’s literary debt to William Shakespeare, little attention has been paid to her infrequent use of direct quotations from his work. Perhaps because these instances of quotation are so rare, most critics who take note of them classify them as purely ironic: Austen quotes the Bard as a means by which to satirize the eighteenth-century vogue for Shakespeare epigrams, mocking other writers who ineptly or inaptly cite well-worn passages in a transparent bid for artistic legitimacy. While true to a certain extent, this conclusion does not do justice to Austen’s admiration of Shakespeare nor to the range of her sophisticated irony. Opening up such a critical standpoint in this article, I closely examine instances of direct quotations from Shakespeare in Austen’s novels and argue that Austen does not simply mock those writers who misuse Shakespeare; her quotations also reinvigorate his most clichéd aphorisms and demonstrate both their continuing relevance and her own keen understanding of their complex original contexts.


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