A-level English/Wise Children/Allusions to Shakespeare

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Importance of Shakespeare in 'Wise Children'[edit | edit source]

Shakespeare is seen to be important to the Hazard dynasty, as it is Shakespeare that is perpetuating it. The way that the novel's characters' lives are almost guided by Shakespeare is another example of magical realism. Shakespeare has had the quote, "It's a wise child that knows its own father" accredited to him, however it has also been accredited to Homer and Mark Twain.

Shakespeare is presented in "Wise Children" as “high culture”. It is the culture of Melchior who comes from the right side of the tracks. However there is a blurring between this high and low culture, as Dora is able to quote Shakespearean lines.

Carter changes the plot when borrowing from some of Shakespeare’s plays. For example, Tiffany rejects Tristram whereas Hero chooses Claudio. But then perhaps this is expected from a feminist writer, as throughout Wise Children the female characters are always the most dominant.

Melchior’s obsession with Shakespeare can be seen in the way that he refers to Dora and Nora as “Peaseblossom! Mustardseed!” Melchior is portrayed as obsessed with his acting; this causes Lady A to make her dramatic speech accusing Melchior of leaving her womb empty. Angela Carter makes several more references to Shakespeare

  • "Shakespeare was a kind of God for him" – A quote about Ranulph (Melchior's father)
  • "Shakespeare, to whom our family owed so much"

Throughout the novel, there are numerous references to the works of William Shakespeare. Carter attempted to provide reference to every Shakespeare play however did not manage it completely:

Twelfth Night[edit | edit source]

  • What You Will, the West End show, which Melchior Hazard appears, is an alternative title for Shakespeare's play Twelfth Night.
  • Estella is described as playing Viola

"She worked the provincial circuits, Juliet, Rosalind, Viola, Portia..."

  • The triple marriage in the third chapter is an allusion to the triple marriage at the end of Twelfth Night.

Much Ado About Nothing[edit | edit source]

  • Estella 'A Star Danced' Hazard is a reference to a line in the Shakespearean play Much Ado About Nothing where Beatrice says:

"No, sure, my lord, my mother cried; but then there was a star danced, and under that was I born. Cousins, God give you joy!"

Estella is also described as playing the character of Beatrice.

There is a parallel with Much Ado About Nothing as Hero is hidden believed to be dead like Tiffany.

  • A lot of disguise and deception occurs within the novel (the Chance sisters swapping perfumes to disguise each other as the other, Genghis Khan's first wife assuming the guise of Dora)
  • Carter explores tragedy through comedy (e.g. pedophilia with Lewis Carroll, miscarriages on stage, domestic violence with Nora)

Hamlet[edit | edit source]

  • Another Shakespearean reference is the house, which Dora and Nora live in at 49, Bard Road, Brixton, London. Dora also muses whether or not a parcel should be delivered to “2b or not 2b” a version of Hamlet’s often quoted line “To be or not to be”. There is also a misquotation of this line when My Lady Margarine is mocked saying "To butter or not to butter"

There is a parallel between the Shakespearean play Hamlet and Tiffany’s shaming on the game show ‘Lashings of Lolly’. She appears mad and delusional like the character Ophelia. Ophelia carries flowers and sings just like Tiffany does. Ophelia drowns which is how it is suggested that Tiffany has died.

There is a parallel with Hamlet as Melchior has multiple marriages like Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother

Saskia tries to poison Melchior at his 100th party via the cake. Poison is a key tool in Shakespearean literature as a means of killing off the king or important person. Claudius poisons King Hamlet, and tries to poison the younger Hamlet. This attempt is successful. What is particularly significant is that in the final scenes, the poison intended for Hamlet kills Gertrude, Claudius's wife and sister. Saskia almost poisons Tristram, highlighting the previously hinted-at incestuous relationship between them. In Wise Children, the Hazard family are portrayed as an illegitimate royalty (for example, the paste board crown echoes the fakeness of their royalty), which is why the poison is unsuccessful. In all Shakespearean tragedy involving the poisoning of a king or lord, they are always successful, but as Melchior isn't real royalty - the attempt on his life is unsuccessful. A kind of echo to Shakespearian cliche-ism.

Melchior quotes Claudius with his line “pretty, pretty lady,” when he covers Tiffany on Lashings of Lolly.

Othello[edit | edit source]

There is also a parallel with the Shakespearean play Othello when Ranulph kills himself, his wife Estella and Cassius Booth. This mirrors the plot of Othello. Othello believes that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio. When Othello is performed by the Hazards, Iago is played by Cassius Booth. Ranulph shoots Cassius before killing Estella and turning the gun on himself mirroring Othello’s suicide. Ranulph cannot separate life from art.

A Midsummer Night's Dream[edit | edit source]

Chapter 3 focuses on a film version of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' .The reworking of A Midsummer Night's Dream is more one of atmosphere rather than one of plot.

Romeo and Juliet[edit | edit source]

Old Nanny is presented as the nurse in 'Romeo and Juliet' during chapter five.

Melchior is playing Romeo when Grandma Chance finds him. He refuses to acknowledge paternity of Dora and Nora.

Merchant of Venice[edit | edit source]

  • Estella Hazard is described as playing Portia

"Here she is as Juliet, as Portia, as Beatrice"

  • She is also mentioned acting in "the casket scene" (Merchant of Venice) and the "sleepwalking scene" (Macbeth)
  • The title of the play "Wise Children" is a reference to the Merchant of Venice (Act 2 Sc 2) when Launcelot says:

"it is a wise father that knows his own child."

Shakespeare was changing a line of Homer's Odyssey: "My mother," answered Telemachus, "tells me I am son to Ulysses, but it is a wise child that knows his own father."

A Winter's Tale[edit | edit source]

Estella made her debut as Mamillius in 'A Winter's Tale’, which is described as "somewhat pedantic"

Saskia quotes the line "which some call natures bastards" when insulting Dora and Nora.

Julius Caesar[edit | edit source]

Melchior in old age "Your could hardly tell his Brutus (Julius Caesar) from his Antony" (Antony and Cleopatra").

Antony and Cleopatra[edit | edit source]

Melchior in old age "Your could hardly tell his Brutus (Julius Caesar) from his Antony" (Antony and Cleopatra").

Dora says that Tristram is the 'last gasp of the Imperial Hazard Dynasty that bestrode the British theatre like a colossus for a century and a half', similar to how Anthony is described in Anthony and Cleopatra.

Macbeth[edit | edit source]

There is a parallel with Macbeth, Saskia is witch-like. Dora describes her as a witch on several occasions

My Lady Margarine is like Lady Macbeth because she is the driving force behind her husband (e.g. forcing him to appear on TV)

Ranulph Hazard says "Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow" on a wax cylinder

Peregrine Hazard says 'Birnam Wood... Is just now creeping up on Dunsinane' when he takes Dora and Nora to see Melchior.

King Lear[edit | edit source]

There is a parallel with King Lear as this play focuses on sibling rivalry, the good daughter is rejected and there is mistreatment of parents. Both Ranulph and Melchior marry their ‘Cordelia’. Melchior can be seen as King Lear and Saskia and Imogen as Regan and Goneril as they reject him.

Ranulph is quoted acting in King Lear when he says "Be your tears wet?"

Melchior is introduced as the 'Prince of players!' and told to 'reclaim his crown.' a reference to King Lear.

Tiffany also bears a resemblance to King Lear when she appears on Tristram's gameshow. She says "You only lent it to me! Nothing was mine, not ever!", and strips off her shirt, an allusion to King Lear's revelation after his downfall during which he realises that if he lost his kingdom so easily it couldn't have really been his, and so he strips himself of all clothing in order to rid himself of his temporary material possessions.

As You Like It[edit | edit source]

‘One Man in his Time…’ is a quote from 'As You Like It'.

Dora and Nora stay in a hotel called the Forest of Arden, which is described as being ever so 'As You Like It'.

Estella is described as playing Rosalind "She worked the provincial circuits, Juliet, Rosalind, Viola, Portia..."

Henry V[edit | edit source]

Cry God for Harry, England and St George!' when entering Melchior's 100th Birthday party.

Richard III[edit | edit source]

Melchior is described as becoming Richard III when he gets angry trying to get his crown from Peregrine

Measure for Measure[edit | edit source]

Dora says during 'The Dream' that they would perform the substitute bride bit in 'Measure for Measure' and 'All's Well that Ends Well'

All's Well That Ends Well[edit | edit source]

Dora says during 'The Dream' that they would perform the substitute bride bit in 'Measure for Measure' and 'All's Well that Ends Well'

Richard II[edit | edit source]

Dora keeps a picture of Melchior as Richard II in her drawers.

Coriolanus[edit | edit source]

"I spotted Coriolanus stoutly buggering Banquo's ghost" - At the Christmas Party.

Henry IV, Part I[edit | edit source]

Dora paraphrases the quote Shakespeare, discretion is the better part of valour. This originates from Henry IV where Falstaff says: 'The better part of valour is discretion; in the which better part I have saved my life.'

Henry IV, Part Two[edit | edit source]

As if, when the young King meets up again with Jack Falstaff in Henry IV, Part Two, he doesn't send him packing but digs him in the ribs, says, "I have a job for you!".

Perry is very similar to Falstaff, with his Red hair, weight and his jocular character. Falstaff appears in Henry 1V parts 1 and 2 and the Merry Wives of Windsor (when he 'comes back from the dead', like Perry)

A Comedy of Errors[edit | edit source]

A Comedy of Errors contains two sets of twins - one high-born and one-low born.

Timon of Athens[edit | edit source]

“Timon, Caesar, John of Gaunt” – Dora lists the Shakespearean roles appropriate for older men.

The Tempest[edit | edit source]

When filming 'The Dream' Dora says: "Water!, water, everywhere! Did he think it was the bloody Tempest?"

"bound for oblivion nor leave a wrack behind" - line from the Tempest...describing Dora's attitude towards life and death

On Ranulph and Estella falling in love: “the stuff that dreams are made of”. cf “Such stuff as dreams are made on” – Prospero

The Taming of the Shrew[edit | edit source]

Angela Carter quotes the song "Brush Up on Your Shakespeare" by Cole Porter – This is a song taken from the musical Kiss Me Kate based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.

The Merry Wives of Windsor[edit | edit source]

Perry is very similar to Falstaff, who appears in the Merry Wives of Windsor.

Sonnets[edit | edit source]

Saskia and Imogen are described as "The darling buds of may" (Sonnet 18) conveying their legitimacy.

The Sonnet 'O Mistress Mine' is quoted.

General[edit | edit source]

Dora and Nora are born on April 23 which as well as being Melchior's birthday is Shakespeare's birthday.

The novel Wise Children is also presented in five chapters like a Shakespearean play with five acts. Wise Children also blends comedy and tragedy in a way that can be seen in Shakespearean plays e.g. Much Ado About Nothing. Wise children could be seen as a parody of the Shakespearean tragedy.

The opening chapter, like in the first Act of a Shakesperian play, introduces all the characters and sets the scene. On the other hand, the final chapter offers resolution, redemption and ties up any loose ends.

Some names are almost speaking names (My Lady Margarine, Wheelchair, Pretty Kitty). These were often used in Shakesperian plays, and makes the characters more memorable.

Using pre-existing characters practically lifted from Shakespeare's plays she can almost paint her own characters in short hand.

In the final chapter of the novel, Dora Chance gives Gorgeous George a £20 note with Shakespeare's face on the back of it; symbolising the end of the novel and Carter's main focus that the plot is based on the character's lives around Shakespeare