Monday, April 29, 2013

Shakespeare References in John Mortimer’s Rumpole A La Carte

Rumpole A La Carte, a book of short stories featuring the character Horace Rumpole, has many Shakespeare references. The volume’s first story, “Rumpole A La Carte,” has a reference to Hamlet: “‘When sorrows come,’ Mr. Bernard, ‘they come not single spies, But in battalions!’” (page 13). That is a line that Claudius speaks in the fourth act. That story also has a reference to Julius Caesar: “Claude looked at me sadly, as though wanting to say, Et tu, Rumpole?” (page 30).

The second story, “Rumpole and the Summer of Discontent,” obviously contains a reference to Richard The Third in its title. It is a play on the first line of that work, “Now is the winter of our discontent.” At one point in the story one character says, “Remember the Winter of Discontent, do you?” (page 54). This story also has a Hamlet reference in the line, “Manslaughter in jest; no offence i’ the world?” (page 49). That is a reference to Hamlet’s line in Act III: “No, no, they do but jest – poison in jest. No offence i’ th’ world.” There is also a reference to King Lear in the line, “After his movie show, Ernie Elver was called to give evidence, and, as a hard-pressed boss more sinned against than sinning, he clearly had the sympathy of his Lordship” (page 64). In Act III Scene ii, Lear says, “I am a man/More sinn’d against than sinning.”

The third story, “Rumpole and the Right to Silence,” contains a reference to Hamlet: “So far as Rumpole was concerned the rest was silence.” This, obviously, is a reference to Hamlet’s last line of the play: “The rest is silence.”

The fourth story, “Rumpole At Sea,” also contains a reference to Hamlet (actually, several). This one is an extended passage, which Rumpole quotes to his wife, Hilda: “‘I could a tale unfold, Hilda, whose lightest word/Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,/Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,/Thy knotted and combined locks to part,/And each particular hair to stand on end,/Like quills upon the fretful porpentine’” (page 124). Those lines are from Act I Scene v, from the Ghost’s speech to Hamlet. There is actually a second reference to that same scene: “There he sat, immersed in Murder Most Foul, the latest Howard Swaintown, when, glancing up after the discovery of the fourth corpse, he saw Hilda standing at the end of the passage” (page 136). “Murther most foul” is another of the Ghost’s lines to Hamlet. Later in the story, Mortimer writes: “Looking down the bar, I saw Gloria talking to Alfred, the barman, while beside me Swainton was babbling with delight at his ingenious plan. ‘See if he looks guilty,’ he said. ‘Do you think that’s an idea?’ ‘Not exactly original,’ I told him. ‘Shakespeare used it in Hamlet’” (page 152). Swainton’s idea was basically Hamlet’s The Mousetrap. Mortimer writes, “However, Swainton’s threatened re-enactment of the play scene from Hamlet seemed likely to add a certain bizarre interest to an otherwise tedious occasion” (page 154). Continuing this theme, Mortimer writes, “Obediently playing the part of guilty King Claudius, Bill Britwell rose from his seat and fled from the room” (page 155).

The fifth story, “Rumpole and the Quacks,” has a reference to The Tempest: “He did this with the avowed intent of causing a certain quantity of Rumpole to vanish into thin air and leave not a wrack behind” (page 163). That is actually a combination of two lines from Prospero’s famous speech from Act IV. Prospero says, “Our revels now are ended: these our actors -/As I foretold you – were all spirits and/Are melted into air, into thin air;/And like the baseless fabric of this vision/The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,/The solemn temples, the great globe itself,/Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve/And like this insubstantial pageant faded/Leave not a rack behind: we are such stuff/As dreams are made on, and our little life/Is rounded with a sleep.” And, of course, the story also contains a reference to Hamlet: “Does he protest too much?” (page 163). This is a reference to Gertrude’s line to Hamlet during the play scene: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” There is a second reference to Hamlet later in the story. A woman says, “Mr. Rumpole, isn’t it?” And Rumpole responds, “A piece of him” (page 173). In the first scene of Hamlet, Bernardo says, “Say -/What, is Horatio there?” And Horatio responds, “A piece of him.” This story also has a reference to Antony And Cleopatra. When Rumpole’s wife asks, “How are you, Rumpole,” he responds, “‘I am dying, Egypt, dying’” (page 164). Antony speaks that line to Cleopatra in Act IV. Twice.

The sixth and final story of this volume, “Rumpole for the Prosecution,” has a reference to Hamlet (surprise, surprise). Rumpole says, “’Use every man after his desert, as a well-known Dane put it, and who should escape whipping?’” (page 208). Hamlet says that line to Polonius in Act II Scene ii. This story also has a reference to Twelfth Night, when Rumpole quotes, “‘Thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges’” (page 227). Feste speaks that line near the end of the play.

This book is more evidence for my argument that everyone should read the complete works of William Shakespeare. After all, someone who reads this book of short stories is going to get a lot more enjoyment out of it if he or she understands all the references.

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