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Shakespeare and Clarissa: 'General Nature', Genre and Sexuality

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Martin Scofield, University of Kent

I. Universality and Difference

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Most critics in the eighteenth century, unlike academic critics today, were confident of at least one assumption about great literature: that the truths it embodied were universal and that, in the words of Dr Johnson in his Preface to Shakespeare, 'Nothing can please many and please long but just representations of general nature.' It is a view which depends of course on even more basic assumptions—that there is such an entity as 'general nature' (or at least that the category is useful); and that in turn there is such an entity (or meaningful category) as 'human nature'—a certain intrinsic 'humanness' which remains in some way constant despite variations from country to country and race to race, and despite the changes in behaviour over time. But while it might be agreed that there are some constant factors in human behaviour (without which it is difficult to see how we could respond to the literature of the past at all), the notion of a 'human nature' (whether as an essence, a useful category or some kind of shadowy ideal), has become (notoriously) in recent years almost impossible to use. It is probably fair to say that some such view lay behind nearly all literary criticism from Johnson's time (and indeed before) to our own. Questioned or rejected as these ideas have been by the various forms of deconstruction, post-structuralism, new historicism and the like, literary criticism has, again notoriously, become uncertain of its foundations and has looked about for new ones. The stress has been put on relativism, on the notion that cultural values change, and on the idea that every age reads past works of literature not just differently (this was always conceded) but radically differently, not even always in 'the spirit that the author writ' (another eighteenth-century maxim, this time Pope's) but sometimes against that spirit, in readings that dissect, analyse, recreate in the image of the critic's own time. The stress has been put not on an 'unchanging human nature' but rather on the idea that human nature does change, and that literature is important above all because it both records and contributes to that process of change.

In the case of Richardson, eighteenth-century admirers were virtually united in the kind of praise they accorded him, and this praise had two main formulations: that he embodied universal truths, and that he was like Shakespeare. 'Of Nature bora, by Shakespeare got' was the first line of a poem on Richardson by David Garrick; Dr Johnson for his part described Richardson as 'a writer similar in genius to Shakespeare, being acquainted with the innermost recesses of the heart' ('the heart' being a kind of constant, like 'human nature') and as having 'an absolute command of the passions, so as to be able to affect his readers as himself is affected';1 and he also asserted that there were 'few sentiments [in the sense of thoughts or reflections] that may not be traced up to Homer, Shakespeare or Richardson'.2 The trio of great names, widely separated by history, is itself a good example of the universalizing and trans-historical view of literary value. In 1813, again, The Monthly Magazine called Richardson 'the Shakespeare of Romance'.3

The tradition of comparing Richardson and Shakespeare has continued into our own day. There are a few dissenting voices like that of Walter Allen who compared Fielding with Shakespeare, and Richardson with Milton. But Mark Kinkead-Weekes put the comparison strongly when he wrote: 'The great invention of Clarissa can indeed be seen as the discovery of how to use comedy to probe tragedy . . . What is significant is that the probing of tragedy by comedy is as centrally "Shakespeare" as the depth of characterization and the mastery of human nature that were the distinguishing features of Shakespeare for the eighteenth century.'4 This introduces the idea of mixing the genres; and Kinkead-Weekes's whole book, entitled Samuel Richardson: Dramatic Novelist, puts its emphasis (as in Henry James's famous advice to the novelist, 'Dramatize, dramatize!') on Richardson's dramatic powers of immediacy of presentation, dialogue, and of writing 'to the moment' (the feature of epistolary convention where the character is writing of events immediately after they have happened or even as they happen). He also emphasized the Shakespearian quality of Richardson's exploration of character and his overall moral vision: 'Richardson was, I think, the first novelist to merit comparison with Shakespeare in both the power to explore "free" characters, and the struggle to comprehend and make the centre hold against the strongest challenge he could mount.'5 ('Centre' here has a Jamesian sense of 'central moral view').

I shall return to these questions of moral vision in relation to the two writers; but I want also to consider the possibility of other kinds of comparisons than the ones illustrated above. What of the differences of genre between a novel of several volumes and over a million words and a play of some two to three thousand lines which lasts three hours on the stage? What of the differences between an art of immediate presentation designed to be embodied by actors, and an art of drama mediated through the epistolary convention and the convention of an 'editorial' author who arranges this correspondence and who guides the reader through it? What, above all, of the differences between a self-confessedly didactic novelist and an 'invisible' playwright who, as Johnson said, 'seems to write without any moral purpose'?

IL Genre: Tragedy Versus Comedy

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Clarissa is a tragedy that might have been made a comedy. There is of course a great deal of wit and humour in the novel, and the situation and tone are not so very different, at least in its earlier stages, from Richardson's earlier novel Pamela where the heroine resists the seductive wiles of Mr Β and the novel moves to the comic conclusion of marriage. Some contemporary readers of the earlier parts of Clarissa expressed to Richardson their hopes that the novel would end happily. Richardson's most energetic correspondent, Lady Bradshaig, wrote with earnest entreaties that he would not be so hard-hearted as to let Clarissa die. Richardson replied: 'I would not think of leaving my heroine short of Heaven.'6 The reply reinforces the idea that Richardson's religious and didactic intention was a large part of the pressure that led the novel towards tragedy. He clearly developed a conception in which Clarissa would remain true to an absolute principle of integrity and virtue despite an emotional attraction to Lovelace, and Lovelace would remain true to a principle of Nature as opposed to morality (rather like Shakespeare's Edmund), to the principle of male sexual licence and domination, in spite of the sensitivity and intelligence which could see and admire Clarissa's own moral intelligence and virtue. 'Thou Nature art my goddess', says Edmund, and Lovelace speaks of his hopes of the Triumph of Nature over Principle. But Lovelace can feel intense remorse, and even Edmund tries to countermand the order for Cordelia's murder.

Richardson's drama of male sexuality, female virtue and parental and social prohibition suggests comparisons with Shakespeare, but not so much in the realm of tragedy as in comedy. It is not an exaggeration to say that Shakespeare characteristically treats sexuality (particularly if we confine ourselves to the subject of love before marriage) in terms of comedy rather than tragedy, and in ways which question assumptions (as in Richardson) of sexual polarity. In As You Like It Rosalind is banished by her wicked uncle with only Celia for an ally (as Anna Howe is to Clarissa), and teaches Orlando how to woo her by adopting a male disguise that seems to suggest a playing down of the absolute differences of male and female roles and of the absolute opposition of male and female sexuality. This mitigation of absolute sexual polarity also occurs in Twelfth Night where Orsino falls in love with Viola by way of being initially attracted to her as a young man; whereas his possessive and fantastical passion for Olivia evaporates into an absurd destructiveness parodic of Othello's (and close to Lovelace's) in his lines at Act 5.1.115-17:

Why should I not, had I the heart to do it,
Like to th' Egyptian thief, at point of death
Kill what I love;

and Olivia comes to love Sebastian by way of her love for his disguised twin sister. (The convections of disguise and mistaken identity are simply used as compressions or figurations of these processes). In Much Ado About Nothing one half of the plot turns on the question of Hero's chastity, but Don John's plot is exposed, and the brutality and arrogance of Claudio's violent spurning of his bride is also exposed and repented of (an arrogant moralism not unlike that of James Harlowe at his sister's supposed 'fall').

Shakespeare, then, tends to view the problems of premarital love and sexuality in a comic rather than tragic light, as amenable to the human and reconciling conventions of the genre. His 'sexual' tragedies tend to focus on marital relations: in Othello the jealous rage of the supposedly wronged husband; in Antony and Cleopatra the confusions and conflicting and self-destroying aims and ambitions of a mature man and woman both thwarted and exalted by their relationship. None of Shakespeare's tragedies centres, as Richardson's does, on the chastity, or more exclusively the virginity, of an unmarried woman. The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet arises from the 'fate' enjoined on them by their feuding families and an additional element of chance or accident. The question of Juliet's 'virtue' hardly arises. In this and in the ways we have already noted, it is of all Shakespeare's tragedies the one closest to comedy (although several other tragedies are intensified and made complex by their comic elements and even by the sense that they often seem to arise out of 'a comic matrix').7 It is the lightness, the volatility, the youthfulness of Romeo and Juliet that gives the tragedy its unique romanticism and sadness.

But it is in Measure for Measure, a Shakespearian comedy which comes perhaps closest to tragedy, that we find the most suggestive parallels and contrasts with Clarissa. Angelo's character is of course very different to Lovelace's: the icily repressed puritan governor as opposed to the irresponsible aristocratic rake. But in his sudden passion for Isabella, in particular his sexual attraction to her virtue, he shows responses akin to Lovelace's. Perhaps too, as has been suggested, Richardson half recalls some of Angelo's phrases in the language he gives to Lovelace.8 When, for example, Lovelace is writing to Belford about the maid-servant Dorcas's fidelity to his 'bad cause', he notes: 'The vicious are as bad as they can be; and do the devil's work without looking after; while he is continually spreading snares for the others; and, like a skilful angler, suiting his baits to the fish he angles for.' (III, 247);9 which recalls Angelo: Ό cunning enemy, that, to catch a saint, / With saints dost bait thy hook!' (Measure for Measure 2.2.185-6). Again, when Belford is meditating (to Lovelace) on his own and Lovelace's past follies he uses language which recalls Isabella's rebukes to Angelo:

Lords of the creation! Who can forbear indignant laughter! When we see not one of the individuals of that creation (his perpetual eccentric self excepted) but acts within his own natural and original appointments: and all the time, proud and vain as the conceited wretch is of fancied and self-dependent excellence, he is obliged not only for the ornaments, but for the necessaries of life . . . to all the other creatures; strutting with his blood and spirit in his veins, and with their plumage on his back: for what has he of his own, but his very mischievous, monkey-like, bad nature?

(IV, 8)

Isabella is terser and more concentratedly metaphoric (as we would expect of Shakespeare's creation) but has the same combination of scorn for man's godlike pretensions, with the imagery of dress and animals:

But man, proud man,
Dressed in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he's most assured,
His glassy essence, like an angry ape
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As makes the angels weep . . .


It is perhaps characteristic of Shakespeare that his most serious study of a man who is, in effect, a would-be rapist, is the study of a repressed puritan rather than of a rake. There are very few rapists in Shakespeare's plays: the only other obvious examples are Cloten in Cymbeline, who is a spoilt fool, and Demetrius and Chiron in Titus Andronicus, who are just princely thugs. There are also few or no brilliantly rakish seducer-villains in Shakespeare (perhaps surprisingly). Iachimo in Cymbeline comes closest to Lovelace in his wit and style and command of language, and an unscrupulous viciousness which does not even have the mitigating elements of Lovelace's genuine recognition and admiration of virtue. He also has Lovelace's witty but cynical assumption that women always have a simpering sexual awareness beneath a show of modesty: 'No need but of the most delicate hints to them . . . Like so many musical instruments, touch but a single wire, and the dear souls are sensible all over' (III, 63)—(reminiscent of Pope in its combination of 'Every woman is at heart a rake' with 'The spider's touch, how infinitely fine! / Feels in each thread and lives along the line': Richardson has among his powers a vividly poetic feeling for language). It is also like Iachimo's sly observation (invention?) of Imogen's reading of 'the tale of Tereus': 'Here the leafs turned down / Where Philomel gave up' (Cymbeline, 2.2.45-5). Mercutio might, in a story other than Romeo and Juliet, have fulfilled Lovelace's role—he has the wit, the passion, the crude but virile sexual language. It has of course been suggested that one reason (apart from plot) he is killed half way through the play may be that his presence would have been fatal to the atmosphere of high romantic love. But Mercutio as we know him never shows the final sexual ruthlessness of a Lovelace, and we feel he would have too much honour and honesty to stoop to Lovelace's underhand violence and deception (and perhaps too much self-knowledge to be lured by a Clarissa's virtue).

A more apt and suggestive comparison with Lovelace, from Shakespeare's plays, is Lucio in Measure for Measure. Lucio is a gentleman (if not an aristocrat like Lovelace), and proud of his class status. He also has the sensitivity to recognize, even be awed by, Isabella's virtue ('I hold thee as a thing enskied and sainted'). At the same time he is sexually loose in his habits, frequenting prostitutes and despising them at the same time, so that his finally having to marry Kate Keepdown is to him as bad as 'pressing to death, whipping and hanging'. He has less wit and passion than Lovelace, but Lovelace shares his combination of snobbish hauteur towards and complicity with the low-life characters he exploits. In reflecting to Belford on women's love of praise he recalls a 'well-dressed, handsome girl' laughing at and enjoying the praises of a chimney sweep in the streets: 'Egad, girl, thought I, I despise thee as a Lovelace: but were I the chimney sweeper, and could only contrive to get into thy presence, my life to my virtue, I would have thee.' Lovelace has not, it appears, habitually gone with prostitutes in the past, but part of his degradation in the novel is his increasingly being drawn into the world of Mrs Sinclair and her women, a world which, he has (perhaps) for a long time inhabited in a moral sense.

But for a full sense of Lovelace's 'Shakespearian' qualities we have to turn to more impressive figures than Lucio—or rather, figures at once more impressive and more disturbing. There is something of Hamlet in Lovelace's love of plotting: 'Had I been a military hero, I should have made gunpowder useless; for I should have blown up all my adversaries by dint of stratagem, turning their own devices upon them (II, 55). Compare Hamlet's ''tis the sport to have the enginer / Hoist with his own petard'. There is something of Iago in his sophistries ('She did deceive her father, marrying you' Othello 3.3.209') and in his basic attitude to female sexual virtue (Iago: 'Blessed fig's end! The wine she drinks is made of grapes'); and his subtle self-justifications, almost self-deceptions (Iago: 'And what's he then that says I play the villain, / When this advice to Cassio is free, I give, and honest'; Lovelace: 'But ingenuousness was ever a signal part of my character'). This last is less of a perversion of the truth than in Iago's case, but there is something of the same sophistry or self-deception of claiming frankness or sincerity because an action could be construed as a good one and also because they both admit their true motives to themselves. Finally there is something of Edmund in Lovelace's sexual virility, wit and courage. The vigour of Edmund's first soliloquy in which he proclaims himself one of those

Who in the lusty stealth of nature take
More composition and fierce quality
Than doth within a dull, stale, tirèd bed
Go to th' creating a whole tribe of fops
Got 'tween a sleep and wake.

(The Tragedy of King Lear 1.2.11-15)

—and the sexual punning of his dialogue with Goneril ('Yours in the ranks of death') find a parallel in the vividness of Lovelace's language: 'Now fire, now ice, my soul is continually upon the hiss, as I may say' (II, 432) and in the sometimes fantastic inventiveness of his metaphors, which also have a touch of Hotspur in them, of Ben Jonson's characters, and of Milton's Satan 'snuffing the wide air':

This it is to have leisure on my hands! What a matchless plotter thy friend! Stand by and let me swell!—I am already as big as an elephant, and ten times wiser!—mightier too by far! Have I not reason to snuff the moon with my proboscis?

(II, 114)

That the poetic force of Lovelace's language can call up so many Shakespearian and other echoes suggests something of the extraordinary complexity of his character. But because he is a character in an eighteenth-century epistolary novel with a didactic and religious intention, he cannot become either a tragic hero like Hamlet, or a tragic villain like Iago or Edmund.10 Rather he is degraded from his full potential and complexity rather as Milton's Satan is degraded from great heroic individualist to a shape-changer and finally a hissing serpent. Nor, because Richardson is determined to avoid a comic resolution, and determined not to 'think of leaving my heroine short of heaven', is Lovelace allowed the chance to reform of the sexual sinner of comedy, like Lucio in Measure for Measure, or (closer to Lovelace's own crime—and strength of character) Angelo in the same play.

They say best men are moulded out of faults,
And, for the most, become much more the better
For being a little bad. So may my husband.


So says Mariana, pleading for Angelo's life: but the charities possible in tragi-comedy are not possible either in tragedy (which Clarissa almost is) or in the religiously didactic epistolary novel. Even Caliban, who tried to rape Miranda, is pardoned at the end of The Tempest, and allowed to 'sue for grace'. And in Pericles the young lord (close in class and type to Lovelace) is allowed to be abashed and chastened by Mariana's innocence: such is the benevolent vision of Shakespeare's late romances.11

A dramatic and even Shakespearian inspiration, but also the constraints of genre and of history, are felt too in the creation of the character of Clarissa. Clarissa is not a pallid Victorian heroine: she has an intelligence and moral strength which put her in a class apart from either the pathos of the 'fallen woman' like George Eliot's Hetty Sorel or the wilful egoism of the nearly erring Rosamund Vincy. And her moral reasoning and prolonged effort at virtue and sincerity is allowed fuller play than that of a more substantial woman than either of the above, who dies tragically for love, Maggie Tulliver in Mill on the Floss. She also has a power of speech and repartee which one critic has likened to that of the Restoration female wits: her snubbing of Solmes has been compared with Millamant's snubbing of Sir Wilful (in The Way of the World) and she has been seen as combining the innocence of Margery Pinchwife with the trenchancy of Mrs Alithea (in The Country Wife).12 Her retorts to her brother, though of course more serious and painful, are reminiscent of Ophelia's lively resistance to Laertes's possessive warnings about her honour.

But we cannot imagine Clarissa talking and joking with the freedom of a Rosalind with Orlando or still less of a Helena with Parolles. Gentlemen and ladies of the early seventeenth century (if we can see Shakespeare as the ideal representative of it) found it much easier to be liberal in matters of talk about sex than Richardson and the post-puritan eighteenth century, with its tension-producing combination of aristocratic and gentlemanly licence and middle-class respectability. At the dinner at Mrs Sinclair's with Lovelace and his three friends (as Belford reports it) Clarissa shames the company by quoting Cowley against 'florid talk' and showing her displeasure by her eye, 'Not poorly, like the generality of her sex affecting ignorance of meanings too obvious to be concealed; but so resenting, as to show each impudent laugher the offence given to, and taken by, a purity, that had mistaken its way, when it fell into such a company' (II, 486). Clarissa is not prudish here but she is stern: as a figure intended to be exemplary she has to be so. The novel, as a great representative work of the mid-eighteenth century, carries the burden of new sexual and social anxieties.

On a more tragic level, Clarissa can echo Hamlet's language, as when she writes of how her doubts, perplexities and hopes 'each getting the victory by turns, harrow up my soul between them' (II, 9). On another occasion, after learning that her father has said he would 'kneel for her, if nothing else will do, to prevail upon her to oblige me', she reacts with the poignant compassion of Cordelia before the broken figure of her father in Act 4 Scene 6 of King Lear (Ό look upon me, sir,/ And hold your hands in benediction o'er me. / You must not kneel.')

A father to KNEEL to his child! There would not have been any bearing of that! What I should have done in such a case I know not. Death would have been much more welcome to me than such a sight, on such an occasion, in behalf of a man so very, very disgustful to me! But I had deserved annihilation had I suffered my father to kneel in vain.

(II, 166)

But again the pathos is at one remove in the novel, a matter of the heroine's inward reflection. Clarissa's father never kneels, either in emotional blackmail or in Lear's pathetic contrition; and Clarissa never risks the step of fully resisting her father and of giving herself to Lovelace, which would have led either to marriage, or to a different kind of tragedy. Clarissa, showing a restraint characteristic of the more refined and polite eighteenth century, is about the refraining from action and the turning away from life, as opposed to the Shakespearian commitment which risks all and suffers the full sharpness of tragedy as a result. And while it might seem at first glance grudging to deny Clarissa the courage of risk-taking (since, after all, someone might say, she did run away with Lovelace), Richardson's punctilious care in pointing out that she was tricked into running away almost takes this particular moment of courage away from her as he endeavours to guard her against the criticisms of his most prudent and censorious (and largely female) readers.

III. The Uses of Quotation

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One measure both of the responsiveness of Richardson to Shakespearian suggestions and of the gap between the two authors' imaginations and between their two historical periods can be seen in Richardson's use of Shakespearian quotation. In the case of Lovelace the use is generally ironic (ironic and critical on the part of Richardson), in a way that points to the potentially tragic division in Lovelace's nature. There is the case for instance of his famous quotation of Ferdinand's speech about Miranda (The Tempest, 3.1.39-48):

Full many a lady
I've eyed with best regard; and many a time
Th'harmony of their tongues hath into bondage
Brought my too diligent ear. For sev'ral virtues
Have I liked sev'ral women. Never any
With so full a soul, but some defect in her
Did quarrel with the noblest grace she ow'd,
And put it to the foil. But SHE!—O SHE!
So perfect and so peerless is created,
Of every creature's best.

(Quotation as in Richardson, 1.150). The irony arises from the way this shows Lovelace's sensitivity and genuine wonder at Clarissa, qualities that are nevertheless, as we know, not held with complete sincerity. Even the emphasis on 'sev'ral' may suggest Lovelace's complacent self-regard for his own conquests. The idealizing love of Ferdinand is quickly seen in Lovelace's case to involve a dangerous temptation: 'All that's excellent in her sex is in this lady! Until by MATRIMONIAL or EQUAL intimacies, I have found her less than angel, it is impossible to think any other's (which is rather like the temptation Isabella's purity presents to Angelo). There is a different kind of irony, again, in Lovelace's quotation from Othello a few pages earlier: 'Thou wilt say I rave. And so I do: "Perdition catch my soul, but I do love her." Else could I bear the implacable revilings of her implacable family? Else could I basely creep about—not her proud father's house—but his paddock and garden walls?' There is not only irony (potentially tragic, as it is tragic in Othello's case) in the fact that perdition does catch his soul, but also in the contrast of his scheming and calculating desire to dominate and the half-posturing of his epistolary style, with Othello's genuine rapture.

At other times Lovelace's Shakespearian quotations simply give an added depth and subtlety to his character. In vol. IV letter x, estimating the possibility of Clarissa committing suicide he imagines that she must reason with herself in the terms of Claudio's great speech on death ('Ay but to die and go we know not where') which he quotes in full. It gives an added sense of his cultivation and poetic judgement, but it may also register the irony of his lack of reflection that Clarissa would hardly have been content with such a non-Christian objection and fear of death (though we might also recall how the pious Dr Johnson would be heard muttering the lines to himself in his later years). In vol. π letter cx (425-6) there is a subtler and more chilling use of Shakespearian quotation when Lovelace, writing to Belford about how he gloats over the idea of conquering Clarissa, adapts Hector's speech to Achilles in Troilus and Cressida (4.7.137-40)

Henceforth, O watchful fair one, guard thee well:
For I'll not kill thee There! nor There! nor There!
But, by the zone that circles Venus' waist,
I'll kill thee everywhere.

The arrogant brutality of Hector, already in Shakespeare a deeply ironic and sceptical treatment of Trojan heroism, is evoked to show the arrogant destructiveness, the almost self-confessed misogyny of Lovelace's obsession with Clarissa, and its self-dramatizing panache.

Clarissa alludes less to Shakespeare, but her memories of the poet's words are still significant, and what is more are less calculated, more spontaneous and, as one would expect, reflect both her taste and her virtue. We have already seen how she uses Hamlet's phrase 'harrow up my soul' (II.9),—though as if inadvertently, and without explicit self-conscious quotation in the pressure of rendering her feelings about her loss of her reputation and her 'cruel doubts and perplexities' after fleeing with Lovelace. But the most notable instance of her (again 'involuntary') quotation of Shakespeare comes in her delirious jottings when she regains consciousness after her rape. Richardson uses Clarissa's derangement to explore the hidden elements in her mind, and the episode has been described as 'the first honest attempt to deal with the unconscious since Lear and Ophelia'.13 But while it is doubtless honest, one wonders if it succeeds artistically. The episode seems to me, indeed, to mark one of the limits of Richardson's imagination and to suggest a dimension that, unlike Shakespeare, he cannot fully achieve.

In letter XXXIII in volume III, Lovelace writes to Belford, transcribing some papers, some torn or scratched through, which Clarissa has written as soon as she has recovered enough physically from the rape. This itself might seem a rather awkward aspect of the epistolary technique which Richardson is forced to use: it is difficult to imagine Lovelace copying out these indictments of himself; and the only reasons he gives are that he does it for 'the novelty of the thing', and to 'show thee how her mind works now that she is in this whimsical way.' Paper VII takes a more oblique, even 'literary' form: it is a kind of poetic declamation against Lovelace, with echoes of Twelfth Night and the Sonnets ('Thou eating canker worm, that preyest upon the opening bud, and turnest the damask rose into livid yellowness'). In all this the device of the papers seems especially awkward, the rhetoric is formal in a limiting way, and the literary echoes only increase our sense of artificiality. In paper X Clarissa has written down (and Lovelace transcribes) a collection of quotations, including two from Hamlet: the Ghost's 'I could a tale unfold / Would harrow up thy soul', and Hamlet's (in adapted form)

—Oh! you have done an act
That blots the face and blush of modesty;
Takes off the rose
From the fair forehead of an innocent Love
And makes a blister there.

It is notable that Clarissa (and Richardson) takes a speech directed against female lust to apply to Lovelace: a Freudian might doubtless say it suggests an unconscious guilt on Clarissa's part. But this would be straining the meaning: it hardly has that effect. And the main reaction I think we have to this passage, on reflection, is to feel the awkwardness of the stratagem for revealing Clarissa's inner life. And it calls up comparisons—the power of the direct Shakespearian presentation of passion and madness in Hamlet, or Ophelia or Lear—which can only make Richardson's attempt look extremely limited.

Much more telling is letter xxxv, where Lovelace describes the first meeting with Clarissa after the rape, where a genuinely novelistic drama is again possible. Clarissa's dignity and scathing contempt of Lovelace, and the latter's vain, stammered attempts at self-excuse are powerfully done, and the rhetoric seems justified by the intensity of the dramatic situation. Where Richardson can present the dramatic but formal and always 'polite' exchanges of protagonists, he can achieve considerable power. But the inner revelation of real soliloquy and the poetry of madness or derangement eludes him. And this is surely a measure of the limitation of the age: the tensions produced by a considerable permissiveness of sexual behaviour among the aristocratic classes on one hand and an anxiety about sexual licence, a middle-class propriety which inherits many of the puritan traits of repressiveness, give rise to a novel which explores just this theme, but whose technique is limited precisely by the constraints and anxieties it explores.

Richardson's concern to avoid what he called 'the horrid' also betrays this inhibition. Writing to Lady Bradshaigh, and in the course of defending himself against charges of hardheartedness and cruelty and defending his decision not to give the novel a happy ending, he distinguishes between 'Acts of Terror and Warning' and 'Acts of Horror', and says that 'the catastrophe of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet may truly be called "horrid" '.14 He quotes in particular Juliet's speech before taking the potion, with its fears of waking in the burial vault of the Capulets 'Where bloody Tybalt, yet but green in earth, / Lies festering in his shroud' etc. Richardson seems to disparage this, for he calls this 'truly horrid', and says he hopes he has avoided all Rant, Horror, indecent images and inflaming descriptions. Again it can be said that his fear of offending his genteel lady readers constitutes a limitation.

IV. Letters and Sexuality

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Despite its capacity for drama in Richardson's hands, the epistolary novel suffers from the limitation of presenting action at two removes: it is mediated both through the mind of the author and through the imagined mind of the letter-writer. The former mediation is that of any literature, though drama, and particularly drama seen on the stage, gives the greatest illusion of its absence. Performed drama presents, as it were, the living, suffering body; whereas the epistolary novel presents that body mediated through two levels of reflection. And what both Richardson and his protagonist Lovelace say about letters confirms this sense that the letter (at least as a means of communication rather than as a novelistic technique) denies the body. Richardson suggests that communication through letters is purer, less interrupted by accident, than ordinary conversation:

This correspondence is, indeed, the cement of friendship; it is friendship avowed under hand and seal: friendship upon bond, as I may say; more pure, yet more ardent, and less broken in upon, than personal conversation can be even amongst the most pure, because of the deliberation it allows, from the very preparation to, and action of writing.

The phrase 'even amongst the most pure' suggests particularly an element of puritanism behind this. And he goes on a few lines later:

Who then shall decline the converse of the pen? The pen that makes distance, presence; and brings back to sweet remembrance all the delights of presence; which makes even presence but body, while absence becomes the soul;15

The spiritualizing tendency of this, the sense of an escape from the physical, receives a more explicitly sexual connotation in a later remark in the same letter when the young lady to whom Richardson is writing is advised to write principally to her own sex 'since ours is hardly ever void of design, and makes correspondence dangerous'. Even at the safe physical distance implied by letter-writing the designs of men had to be closely watched.

This suggestion makes even more pointed the connection between the above letter and one of Lovelace's. He is telling Belford of a conversation with Clarissa about letter-writing, where he is trying to get Clarissa to let him read letters between her and Miss Howe:

I proceeded therefore—That I loved letter-writing, as I had more than once told her, above all species of writing; it was writing from the heart (without the fetters prescribed by method or study), as the very word correspondence implied. Not the heart only; the soul was in it. Nothing of body, when friend writes to friend; the mind impelling sovereignly the vassal fingers. It was, in short, friendship recorded; friendship given under hand and seal; demonstrating that the parties were under no apprehension of changing from time or accident, when they so liberally gave testimonies, which would always be ready, on failure or infidelity, to be turned against them.


The phrase 'The mind impelling sovereignly the vassal fingers' suggests the domination of body by the will, the (male) intellect, the exact opposite of Eliot's phrase about 'the intellect at the tips of the senses'.16 Here the senses are at the tip of the manipulating intellect. The 'design' of men's letters, which Richardson talks about in his own letter, is of course preeminently the quality of many of Lovelace's reported letters (though not, as I shall argue below, many of his printed letters), particularly those at the end of volume 1 where he is persuading Clarissa to agree to meet him in the summer house and elope with him (an agreement she subsequently tries in a further letter to revoke, but he deliberately fails to collect the letter); or where he persuades her to go to Mrs Sinclair's.

Letters in Shakespeare's plays also (doubtless partly because of the demands of the genre, and their use generally as part of the plot where they are items on which action will turn) have more often the character of agents of design than that of free disinterested communications of friendship. Indeed, letters in Shakespeare are more often than not extremely, untrustworthy or at least problematic—either because they are intended to trick or deceive, or because they are self-deceiving, or because they give bad advice or advice which the recipient is unwilling to take. (It has been said that nowhere in Shakespeare's plays is advice shown as doing any good: bad advice is followed and good advice is ignored.) In the comedies letters are used to show the affectation or pretension of the sender (Don Armado to Jaquenetta in Love's Labour's Lost or Orlando in As You Like It); or (as forged letters) to deceive and expose a recipient (Malvolio in Twelfth Night). The letter as a statement 'avowed under hand and seal' or 'upon hand' (to use Richardson's terms) is in Shakespeare something that is more often than not turned against the writer, either because it is intercepted by a hostile party (as the Duke intercepts Valentine's letter in The Two Gentlemen of Verona), or because it is read in a way that mocks the sender (as Rosalind does with Phoebe's letter in As You Like It).

In the history plays and tragedies letters often have a malign or negative part to play in the plot. The letter in 2.4 of 1 Henry IV which warns Hotspur against his undertaking against the King is condemned as that of a 'frosty-spirited rogue', and the advice is (fatally) not taken. The cool reasoning of a letter is not suited to Hotspur's fiery spirit. The letters to Brutus (as if coming from Rome itself) lead Brutus to promise an action which results in failure and death. The letter of Cressida to Troilus in Act 5 comes after Troilus has seen Cressida's infidelity with Diomedes, and is condemned as 'Words, words, mere words, no matter from the heart.' Edmund's forged letter in King Lear brings about Edgar's alienation from his father: Goneril's to Edmund, intercepted by Edgar, reveals a further dimension of her corruption. Macbeth first tells Lady Macbeth of the witches' prophecies in a letter which does not state any criminal intention, but which might darkly seem to prompt Lady Macbeth's more ready ruthlessness ('Lay it to thy heart'). Letters are also vulnerable to delay (a turning point in the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet), crucial ambiguity (as in the order by Edmund of Edward II's death in Marlowe's play), destruction (as in Julia's tearing up of Proteus's letter in The Two Gentlemen of Verona) and ambiguity of author or addressee (as in Valentine's writing a letter as if from Julia, which she then gives to him, in the same play). Letters can be torn up into their constituent letters, as Julia does, and the names detached out of anger (Julia's towards her own name) or a kind of sentimental fetishism (as Julia does with the phrase 'love-wounded Proteus': 'my bosom as a bed / Shall lodge thee'.) In short, letters in Shakespeare's plays are distinctly slippery and malleable entities, more often the cause of misunderstandings and failures of communication than 'pure' or 'ardent' or displaying 'the force of friendship'.

Might one not suggest that Shakespeare's use of letters is symptomatic of an age more sceptical about writing and written correspondence than was the mid eighteenth century (when, too, writers first began to write private letters with an eye to eventual publication)? At any rate, Shakespeare's most articulate hero, Hamlet, is awkward in his letter to Ophelia; and, partly perhaps because 'presence' is such a vital matter for drama (the presence of a speaking subject), one cannot imagine any of Shakespeare's characters expressing the view of letters that Lovelace does. For in Shakespeare's plays, indeed, the general fate of letters suggests rather the pressures of 'time and accident', the vulnerability or unreliability of epistolary 'friendship given under hand and seal', and the proneness of letters 'to be turned against' their senders or recipients. They are rarely the embodiments of sincerity.17

Returning to Richardson we can say that a paradoxical feature of most of Lovelace's letters is that they are sincere. None of his 'designing' letters to Clarissa (with the exception of four letters after the rape, urging her to marry him (vol. III letters LIV, LV, LVI and LX are given directly, but are reported to Anna Howe and others by Clarissa herself, with her comments and criticisms, and sometimes of course her innocent credulities. So Lovelace as an epistolary plotter is not given predominance. Rather we see him most fully in his open and undesigning letters to Belford, where paradoxically we see his sincerity, and his powers of description. And in these letters, physicality, the 'body' that he tells Clarissa is excluded from letters can be allowed fully through Lovelace's powers, as it were, of a novelist, so we get something like the marvellously grotesque description of Mrs Sinclair (vol. III, pp. 194-5): or the vivid Lawrentian (and Chaucerian) sense of animal life in letter XIX of vol. II (pp. 67-8) where Lovelace describes a farmyard scene as an illustration of lovers' conferring and receiving obligations:

A strutting rascal of a cock have I beheld chuck, chuck, chuck, chucking his mistress to him, when he has found a single barley-corn, taking it up with his bill, and letting it drop five or six times, still repeating his chucking invitation; and when two or three of his feathered ladies strive who shall be the first for it [O Jack! a cock is a grand signor of a bird] he directs the bill of the foremost to it; and, when she has got the dirty pearl, he struts over her with an erected crest, and with an exulting chuck—a chuck-aw-aw-w, circling round her with dropped wings, sweeping the dust in humble courtship; while the obliged she, half-shy, half-willing, by her cowering tail, prepared wings, yet seemingly affrighted eyes, and contracted neck, lets one see that she knows the barley-corn was not all he called her for.

The life of the novel lies in its narrative drama and physical presentation (of which this is a small but vivid instance). But the moral message of the novel is the denial of this kind of life. Clarissa's letters only possess this dramatic power in volume I, before her elopement with Lovelace (particularly in those letters where she recounts the struggle with her family and the drama of her resistance to Solmes). In resisting her father and resisting Solmes's overtures she is resisting in the name of life, in the name of her own nature as a woman, and her letters have a corresponding passion. After her elopement with Lovelace she is forced to deny passion in the name of her sense of honour, and her letters become correspondingly a matter of moral and religious reflection, where they are not simply recounting facts. And the epistolary convention becomes in these instances a means of reflecting on moral questions rather than presenting drama. As a result, for the modern reader, the closing volume becomes the most difficult to read: the capacity of the epistolary form for moral disquisition takes over and quenches the drama.

It is difficult not to feel, in fact, that Richardson the artist is of Lovelace's party without knowing it; and that it is Richardson the moralist who takes over after the rape has been committed, and who has to take over then. One can go further, and say that after her elopement with Lovelace it is impossible not to feel that a certain over-delicacy and concern with mere reputation marks Clarissa's responses after her 'elopement'. In saying this I am aware that I am in the end running in the face of Richardson's whole intention—which is that Clarissa should stand for a moral principle, and stand for it in as human, self-doubting and passionate a way as possible. Lovelace is presented ultimately as tyrannical and ruthless. Had Clarissa submitted to him, the result might have been a different kind of tragedy. It might in fact have been more genuinely tragic in a Shakespearian sense—where tragedy means the following through of passionate impulse and meeting the consequences. The analogies in Shakespeare are not very close, but Romeo and Juliet or Antony and Cleopatra would I suppose be the closest. Tolstoy's Anna Karenina would be closer still: Anna is married, of course; and Vronsky is not a rake. But Anna's defiance of respectability is almost as great as Clarissa's might have been; and a certain destructiveness in Vronsky is brought out in the horse-racing scene. In Shakespeare, as I've suggested, Measure for Measure is in some ways a closer parallel of the resistance of virtuous virginity to brutal compulsion: but, with great significance for the Shakespearian vision, Shakespeare allows the problem to be explored via the genre of comedy. Angelo is allowed to avoid the worst consequences of his acts, and Isabella is allowed to learn a more human virtue.

V. Rape, Writing and Morality

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Shakespeare treats the subject of rape in any full way only in two works, and his way of doing so is significant both in relation to letters and genre and to the broader moral and historical questions I am exploring. When, in The Rape of Lucrece, the heroine has to communicate the news of her shame to her husband Collatine, she simply writes asking him to come to her. She dares not write down the cause of her grief in case he does not believe in her innocence, and waits until she can 'prove' it by suicide. She also feels that she can make her sincerity more apparent if she tells him what has happened to his face: 'she would not blot the letter / With words, till action might become them better.' And the poet comments:

To see sad sights moves more than hear them told,
For then the eye interprets to the ear
The heavy motion that it doth behold,
When every part a part of woe doth bear.
'Tis but a part of sorrow that we hear;
Deep sounds make lesser noise than shallow fords,
And sorrow ebbs, being blown with wind of words.


It is, one might say, almost a statement of the dramatist's credo, a belief in the greater emotional power of live drama as against the drama of reflective prose—or the novel. Where in any novel, one might ask, is the force of grief so powerfully rendered as it is, say, in the rendering of Lear's grief at the death of Cordelia, with its poignant physical touches, and the added effect, only possible on the stage, of the silent anguish and helplessness of the onlookers, Kent, Albany and Edgar?

It may be, too, that the horror of rape is especially incommunicable in written or even spoken words. At the climax of her narration to Collatine Lucrece cannot bring herself to complete her story. She manages to 'throw forth Tarquín's name', and then

'He, he,' she says—
But more than he her poor tongue could not speak,
Till after many accents and delays,
Untimely breathings, sick and short essays,
She utters this: 'He, he, fair lords, 'tis he
That guides this hand to give this wound to me.'


And her final statement (like Othello's) is completed not by words alone but by an action: 'Even here she sheathed in her harmless breast / A harmful knife, that thence her soul unsheathed', (where the language suggests paradoxically sexual overtones). The final revelation of her 'confession' is also the action of her suicide, and she does not have to live to face the shame of her husband's response to her words. Richardson, by contrast, is hard put to find a mode in which to render Clarissa's narration of her ordeal, and her reaction to it. The moral difference between the two heroines is of course that Lucrece kills herself and Clarissa explicitly rejects this course of action. Lovelace makes the contrast with Lucrece himself in III.220 ('no Lucretia-like vengeance upon herself in her thought'); and Clarissa herself in her rambling letter to Lovelace after the rape begins to make a vengeful comparison of Lovelace and Tarquín but suppresses it: 'A less complicated villainy cost a Tarquin—but I forget what I would say again—.' (II.212).18

Shakespeare's poem, though, is not one of the finest examples of his art. The harsh story is treated with a kind of brittle rhetorical distancing, with several set pieces of declamation. One feels that Shakespeare is happier artistically speaking, with the resolutions of comedy (in Measure for Measure or Cymbeline or Pericles) in dealing with this particular crime—resolutions which of course allow its avoidance. His only other tragic treatment of rape is in Titus Andr'onicus, that example of Senecan horror-mongering, where the violence is so extreme and the verbal response to it so coldly rhetorical, that one feels that it is an exercise in the stylization of horror, rather than a profound attempt to understand it humanely and morally.

But in terms of what one might call the iconography of rape Titus Andronicus has some very significant features. Like her mythological prototype Philomel, Lavinia is horribly dismembered by having her tongue cut out. The victim of rape is deprived of a voice with which to speak of her crime. But Philomel tells her story by way of art—by weaving it into a tapestry which she can show to her sister Procne. Lavinia, in a horrific variation, is deprived of hands as well as tongue: she cannot weave her story—nor can she write. She can only indicate what has happened to her by turning to the classic story of Philomel herself, in Ovid's Metamorphoses: she turns to the art of the past. There is a structural similarity here to the way in which Clarissa, in her first distracted writings after her violation turns partly to quotation (from Hamlet, among other sources) to render her deepest feelings. Beyond that Lavinia, to indicate the culprits, has to take Marcus's staff in her mouth and write in the sand 'Stuprum—Chiron—Demetrius.' This agonizing moment is perhaps too appalling for an aesthetic response: but structurally one can again see a significance which has its parallels in Clarissa (parallels which would of course have been far from the mind of Richardson, with his expressed distaste for the 'horrid'): the painfully hampered writing, and the recourse to Latin to make bearable the writing of the crime, are symbolically akin to Clarissa's less dreadful predicament, her fragmented and distorted writing and her inability to do more than hint at the crime that she has suffered. Despite the vast differences in degree of horror, circumstance, tone and decorum, the two writers' treatments of the crime show marked structural and symbolic similarities. But Shakespeare, perhaps ultimately without the deepest artistic conviction, chooses the mode of Senecan horror, while Richardson in a politer eighteenth century not only avoids the 'horrid' but has chosen a genre where the still horrifying facts can be—as far as possible—de-sensationalized and controlled, mediated through the triple screen of letter within letter within 'editorial' (or authorial) overview. Despite (or perhaps because of) its lack of sensationalistic power his is, in this instance, the more humane rendering.

There are two further points of comparison between Clarissa and The Rape of Lucrece, which relate to social history and politics. By submitting to her rape to avoid death with dishonour—Tarquín threatens that he will kill her and then say he found her sleeping with her servant—Lucrèce is able then to tell her kinsmen of the crime, and the result is that Tarquín is overthrown and with him the institution of Roman kingship. The real Lucretia therefore became a type of republican heroine, although Shakespeare only mentions the change 'from kings to consuls' in his 'Argument'. Clarissa, while not concerned with national politics, is also part of a profound shift of values in which a more morally sensitive and responsible middle class asserted its morality against an aristocratic code. (Beaumarchais' The Marriage of Figaro 1784, translated in 1785, is another manifestation of the same shift.)

But an even more significant moral difference lies in the fact that in these great representative stories of the struggle between female chastity and male will, Lucrece is protecting her chastity as a married woman and (as importantly) her husband's honour, whereas Clarissa is defending her virgin chastity and her own honour. Lucrece, in a way difficult to understand for a modern reader, laments the fact that she can no longer be regarded as a 'loyal wife': 'Of that type hath Tarquín rifled me'. She also talks of 'The stainèd taste of violated troth', which raises some complex moral questions: if she was forced to submit to Tarquín to save her own life and honour, and her husband's honour, how can this be seen as the violation of her troth? Shakespeare is following a Roman ethic, which was presumably felt to have some validity for his own time, where a wife's chastity was important above all because of her husband's honour rather than her own, and where any sexual violation involves some sense of guilt on the part of the woman. Lucrece can even speak of 'My life's foul deed'. Clarissa on the other hand has become a more independent moral agent, whose own honour and, more than this, whose Christian salvation, are paramount. In her case too it is virtually sexuality itself which is the great threat. She has to guard herself against her attraction to Lovelace. The preservation of the unmarried woman's virginity has become the central moral and social question of what is perhaps the greatest and most representative of eighteenth-century novels. In Shakespeare, the story of Lucrece is not one of the great achievements of his oeuvre, but he follows the Roman story and emphasis and its concern with married chastity. Elsewhere (as we have seen) his treatment of sexual morality is more various, less a matter of stark moral contrasts, and virgin chastity (while being taken very seriously in The Tempest and elsewhere) is never the focus of tragic conflict.

VI. Conclusions

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Social and cultural historians differ markedly in their interpretations of the changes in moral attitude towards sex and marriage that took place between Shakespeare's age and Richardson's, depending partly on what kind of evidence they choose to look at. Lawrence Stone, drawing on a very wide range of social documents (though less on literary sources, apart from diaries) comes to the conclusion that sexual attitudes among the upper classes between 1500 and 1800 passed through four approximate stages: a phase of moderate toleration until the end of the sixteenth century; a phase of repressiveness that began around 1570 and lasted until about 1660; a phase of 'permissiveness, even licence' from 1660 to around 1770; and from 1770 for the next century and more a new wave of repression that coincided with the growth of evangelicalism. This would put Shakespeare at a point of transition between a phase of toleration and one of repressiveness, and Richardson, similarly, at a point towards the end of a phase of licence and before the beginnings of a new phase of repression. Both writers appear to be located at particular points of tension which provide a dynamic for their art.19

At the same time each writer drew, of course, on traditions which preceded their own ages: Shakespeare on a rich and complex mixture of classical literature and history, Tudor historiography, sophisticated literary predecessors, popular dramatic tradition, folk festival; Richardson more narrowly on late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century puritan writing, Restoration drama, predecessors in the novel like Defoe, and, as I have tried to show, Shakespeare himself.

Out of these pressures and influences—in conjunction with what one has to recognize as the ultimately mysterious element of unique creativity in the writers themselves—come the distinctively different visions of sexuality. Both writers are, of course, preoccupied with the conflict of licence and law, body and spirit, as, probably, are the writers of any age. But Shakespeare puts the emphasis either on tolerant comic resolution (as in Measure for Measure, or The Winter's Tale) or tragedy in which there is no element of religious martyrdom or consolation.20 Richardson in contrast either writes a comedy like Pamela in which the emphasis is didactically on Virtue Rewarded, or a type of tragedy like Clarissa where again the issue is presented as a stark confrontation of opposites (predatory masculine will against a religious virtue intensely concerned with propriety) and in which a clear religious didactic intention is stronger than a more Shakespearian sense of tragedy which emphasizes the essentially human intractability, waste and loss.

It is also notable how exclusively in his two major novels Richardson focuses on sexuality, and sexuality as a moral struggle; whereas for Shakespeare it is part (albeit an often dark and agonized part) of a wider vision. Rita Goldberg sees Clarissa as centrally representative of eighteenth-century sexual morality:

It is almost as if the exertion of the will against an immovable identity in each individual woman provides the moral energy for a whole social world.21

Later she comments: 'Of the seven deadly sins the eighteenth century finds lust the deadliest.' In the light of Stone's accounts of the permissiveness of the eighteenth century up to about 1770 and indeed in the light of Boswell's diaries and even Tom Jones this may seem a sweeping and questionable statement. But if applied to the kind of moral and intellectual world and tradition in which Richardson moved it does not seem inapposite. Richardson's major novels, especially Clarissa, are posited on the central idea that sexual desire is a great threat to society and civilization, and must be tamed by rigorous social and religious laws. Shakespeare's world is less anxious, more various, with a greater sense of the varieties of sexuality and its mysterious metamorphoses and resolutions as well as its tragic intractabilities. Against Goldberg's comment on the eighteenth-century moralists' view of lust we may set Claudio's 'Sure, it is no sin; / Or of the deadly seven it is the least.' It is not that Shakespeare is more 'permissive' than Richardson: his plays are full of the darkest sense of the destructiveness of uncontrolled sexuality; and in the last plays (The Tempest and The Winter's Tale in particular) there is a strong emphasis on the importance of marriage in rendering sexual relations moral and chaste. But his plays as a whole give us a complexity which is beyond Richardson's, a breadth of view far richer than the moral simplicities of Pamela or even the acute polarities of Clarissa with its 'dark and sometimes luxuriant dallyings with the beauties of death'.22 Richardson may have rightly been seen by eighteenth-century readers as the modern writer who came closest in art and understanding to Shakespeare. Today we are more aware of the differences. But the thrill of recognition that we can get from reading writers as differently constituted, historically, as Richardson and Shakespeare, suggests that their work is more than just a record of change and difference. If we can only see where we differ from the past, and where past periods differ from each other, those differences lose their power to provoke and challenge us.


1 Sir John Hawkins, Life of Samuel Johnson (2nd edn) (London, 1787), p. 214n., quoted in Samuel Richardson: a Biography, T. C. Duncan Eaves and Ben D. Kimpel (Oxford, 1971), p. 388.

2Ibid., p. 588.

3 Cited in Mark Kinkead-Weekes, Samuel Richardson, Dramatic Novelist (London, 1973), p. 396.

4Ibid., p. 451.

5Ibid., p. 456.

6The Selected Letters of Samuel Richardson, ed. J. Carroll (Oxford, 1964), p. 104.

7 See Susan Snyder, The Comic Matrix of Shakespeare's Tragedies (Princeton, 1979).

8 E.g. by Valerie Grosvenor Myer, Samuel Richardson: Passion and Prudence (London, 1986), chapter 7.

9 Quotations from Clarissa are taken from the Everyman edition (London, 1967, vol. 1, 1976 vols. II-IV).

10 In the striking BBC Television adaptation of 1991 the tragic possibilities of Lovelace's role were interestingly and effectively increased by intensifying his remorse and by having him die in a duel with his friend Belford, rather than challenged abroad by Clarissa's cousin Col. Mordern. Given the elements of moral sensitivity in Lovelace and Belford's persistent championing of Clarissa in the novel, this was a convincing adaptation. But it moved the story away from its status as an exemplary hagiography of Clarissa and towards something more like a Shakespearian tragedy.

11 Shakespeare nowhere, however, essays the difficult dramatic situation of having an actual seducer, still less a rapist, marry his victim. Other dramatists in the period 1594-1625 were more daring (or foolhardy). In The Queen of Corinth by John Fletcher, the rapist marries the victim, who has also subsequently taken the place of a second potential victim (a version of the 'bed-trick'). The two women face the rapist at the end of the play (in some ways like Mariana and Isabella) one asking for leniency and marriage and the other for his death. When the second case is revealed as a substitution, the way is free to allow the heroine to marry him. There was an indication in the first Act that the heroine/victim was originally in love with the rapist, and he with her. And the rapist is urged on by friends against his better judgement at the beginning and is bitterly repentant and (like Angelo) begs for death at the end. But the psychology of the heroine is difficult to credit, especially when she begs for marriage immediately after the rape, when the rapist is masked and therefore at that point unknown to her, and when he has also used accomplices. Nor is there any exploration of general moral issues as in Measure for Measure. For a discussion of this and other examples from the period, see Suzanne Gossett, ' "Best men are moulded out of faults": Marrying the Rapist in Jacobean Drama', English Language Review, 14 (1984), 305-27.

12 James Grantham Turner, 'Lovelace and the Paradoxes of Liberation', in Samuel Richardson: Tercentenary Essays, ed. M. A. Doody and P. Sabor (Cambridge, 1989), 70-88.

13 Mark Kinkead-Weekes, Samuel Richardson, Dramatic Novelist (London, 1973), p. 231.

14Selected Letters, p. 104.

15Ibid. p. 65; quoted in Terry Eagleton, The Rape of Clarissa (Oxford, 1982), pp. 43-4.

16 'Philip Massinger', Selected Essays (London, 1966), pp. 209-10. Laura Fasick points out that Richardson exemplifies in Clarissa a sense of the moral sensibility of the body itself as opposed to Lovelace's cold detached manipulation of the body by the mind, 'Sentiment, authority and the female body in the novels of Samuel Richardson', Essays in Literature, 5: 19 (Fall, 1992), 193-203.

17 It should be pointed out, however, that this function of letters in Shakespeare's plays contrasts with the humanist tradition of letter-writing, as in Erasmus, where the potential authenticity of letters is stressed, together with—in terms very similar to Richardson's quoted above—their ability to make the absent present. See Lisa Jardine, 'Reading and the technology of textual affect: Erasmus's familar letters and Shakespeare's King Lear', in Reading Shakespeare Historically (London, 1996), pp. 78-97.

18 Ian Donaldson in The Rapes of Lucretia: a Myth and its Transformations (Oxford, 1982), also points out that Lovelace cites Lucretia again towards the end of the novel in conversation with Lord M and his cousins, saying that if a lady destroys herself by grief or by the dagger as Lucretia did, 'Is there more than one fault the man's and is not the other hers?' Lovelace's tone is insufferable, but Donaldson does come to the conclusion that 'it would be possible also to say that Clarissa loses the will to live' and that Richardson 'may seem too easily to accept the notion . . . that rape "is a fate worse than death".'

19 Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England, 1500-1800 (London, 1977). More recent research also suggests that attitudes to sexual morality (e.g. in the Church Courts) became stricter in the first decades of the seventeenth century. See Martin Ingram, Church Courts, Sex and Marriage in England 1570-1640 (Cambridge, 1987), which throws an interesting light on Measure for Measure.

20 Recent, particularly feminist, criticism and theoretical practice has, of course, questioned the degree of resolution in the comedies, particularly Measure for Measure: see e.g. Carol T. Neely, Broken Nuptials in Shakespeare's Plays (New Haven and London, 1985), pp. 101-2. The comedy of Measure for Measure certainly leaves a lot of problems unanswered, but a 'reconciling' reading or production still seems to me possible to make convincing, particularly in the light of the expectations of the genre.

21 Rita Goldberg, Sex and Englightenment: Women in Richardson and Diderot (Cambridge, 1984), pp. 68-9.

22 Donaldson, The Rapes of Lucretia, p. 82.

Source: "Shakespeare and Clarissa: 'General Nature', Genre and Sexuality," in Shakespeare Survey: An Annual Survey of Shakespearian Study and Production, Vol. 51, 1998, pp. 27-43.

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Sexuality in Shakespeare


Shakespeare And Classical Civilization

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