Shakespearean Allusion in Crime Fiction: DCI Shakespeare by Lisa Hopkins, 2016 (Palgrave Macmillan)
Hopkins tells us:
‘Shakespeare is a pervasive presence in detective fiction’ (1)
- merely touching on a detail
- called on as a detailed guide to human character
‘Shakespearean allusion serves a variety of purposes. First and most obviously, Shakespeare is an unimpeachable source of cultural capital, but at the same time one perceived as popular enough to be free of any connotations of elitism or inaccessibility.’ (8)
‘Shakespearean allusion also has consequences for the reader and for the status of the text itself: it interpellates the reader and establishes the literary status of the text. G.K. Chesterton notes in ‘The Ideal Detective Story’ that ‘The detective story differs from every other story in this: the reader is only happy if he feels a fool,’ and yet feeling a fool is also a potentially unnerving and unsatisfying state. It can however be counteracted if one does not feel quite such a fool because one can at least recognise Shakespeare’ (10)
‘It is a commonplace of the genre that a fine line divides the detective from the criminal’ (17)which is a particularly useful thought when considering Hamlet as part of Elements of Crime Writing.
‘Detective fiction needs to position readers in this way for two main reasons. In the first place, it is generally nervous about the legitimacy of its own enterprise, because it can by no means be taken for granted that detection itself is a legitimate enterprise. Alongside a rather vaguely felt conviction that it is a citizen’s duty to help the police typically sits an often more powerful view hat doing so will almost certainly entail things that are literally, inherently and in absolute terms deplorable: reading other people’s correspondence, eavesdropping on conversations and generally prying into a sphere radically and inalienably constituted as private.' (11)
She refers to Golden Age detective fiction here, and it would be interesting to see if the same attitudes can be found in modern crime fiction.
‘The only thing that can justify violation of this ethos of privacy being sacrosanct is if the policeman too is an insider, and allowing to quote Shakespeare is a foolproof way of constituting him as one; this is particularly marked in the case of Ngaio Marsh’s Alleyn, both the most intrinsically inquisitive and also the most sustainedly Shakespearean of detectives’ (11)
‘On the surface the least likely of plays to be connected to crime, Dream proves to have a surprising affinity with the genre because it speaks to so many of its key concerns: drug-taking, land ownership, violence against women, and the question of artisanship versus mass production, with attendant implications for the literary status of crime fiction itself.’ (184)