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Kate Rumbold analyzes the function of quotations from William Shakespeare in the novels of Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, Sarah Fielding, Laurence Sterne, Ann Radcliffe, Jane Austen, and others. Stating in her introduction that "Shakespeare appears in the mid-century novel chiefly through direct quotation, most often delivered by character[s]," Rumbold argues that critics usually judge the significance of these quotations either by the "sustained, thematic resonance" they evoke with "the original" Shakespeare play or as a sign of the novelist's literary cultivation—as "outward emanations of the texts that inhabit the author's mind" (6–7). The aim of her book, by contrast, is to show that the importance of these quotations lies "not [in] the original context of the borrowed words, but [in] the act of quotation itself" (7), which becomes a "sophisticated tool for characterization" (8). Rumbold begins by disputing "the story of the eighteenth-century 'rise' of Shakespeare" (5), contending that his reputation was still in flux, just as the novel's reputation as a valid form of literature was not yet fully recognized. Rumbold complicates these two narratives of progress—the rise of the novel and the rise of Shakespeare—and argues that they inform one another: "Shakespeare and the eighteenth-century novel mutually construct each other as morally and emotionally valuable, and help to establish each other as dominant cultural forms" (4).
Chapter 2, "Quotation Culture," lays a thorough groundwork for this argument, as Rumbold tracks the developing practice of "quotation by character" (17) from the late seventeenth century and catalogues the different literary and cultural sources that may have influenced its manifestations in the mid-eighteenth-century novel: "printed plays, anthologies, the spiritual autobiography, periodicals, performances and polite conversation" (16). The deftness with which Rumbold handles the wide net she casts offers an early indication of her book's success, displaying what her subsequent chapters also showcase: a comprehensive knowledge of her subject, a sensitivity to the dynamics of intertextuality, and a nuanced approach to the implications of cultural cross-over between literature, popular entertainment, and social practices.
The central chapters are particularly strong. Chapter 3, "Shakespeare's Novel Authority," argues that the fictional characters who quote Shakespeare invest him with moral and emotional authority by doing so. They [End Page 692] treat the words of his plays "as his own insightful utterances," thereby "embody[ing]" him as "a personal advisor" with whom they feel a "direct, emotional relationship" (51–56). Novelists turn his words of wisdom into "precepts" (70) by showing how their characters perceive these words to be a means of insight into their own personal circumstances. Rumbold persuasively argues that eighteenth-century novelists both benefit Shakespeare's reputation by, and derive benefit from, portraying him as "advisory, insightful, even morally searching" (68): "In a genre concerned with proving its own foundation in truth and nature," Rumbold concludes, "the novelists praise Shakespeare's knowledge of human nature, and are praised in turn for theirs" (75). In chapter 4, "Theatrical Shakespeare," Rumbold tackles the complex issues of politeness versus sincerity and outward behaviour versus inner nature in her consideration of the theatre, performance, and character. She asserts that, even as eighteenth-century novelists "reclaim and rehabilitate Shakespeare's theatricality" to "align themselves with … naturalistic forms of acting" (93), their characters' quotations sometimes introduce into their narratives "the disruptive power" (99) of the theatre, an intensity that "escapes the physical restrictions of the auditorium" (103) to "open up imaginary vistas in the mind of the reader" (99). The virtuoso close readings that underpin the book are especially impressive in this chapter, as Rumbold ties together an eye-witness account describing David Garrick's famous performance as Hamlet, an essay on elocution, and passages of Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy (1759) to demonstrate how eighteenth-century novelists make dual use of Shakespeare's theatricality: they draw on the mimetic realism of staged Shakespeare as a method of characterization, but they also use...