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A CASEBOOK ON MANKIND: FAULKNERS USE OF SHAKESPEARE

Robert W. Hamblin, Southeast Missouri State University


Throughout his career William Faulkner acknowledged the influence of many
writers upon his work--Twain, Dreiser, Anderson, Keats, Dickens, Conrad,
Balzac, Bergson, and Cervantes, to name only a few--but the one writer that he
consistently mentioned as a constant and continuing influence was William
Shakespeare. Though Faulkners claim as a fledgling writer in 1921 that [he]
could write a play like Hamlet if [he] wanted to (FAB 330) may be dismissed as
an act of youthful posturing, the statement serves to indicate that from the
beginning Shakespeare was the standard by which Faulkner would judge his
own creativity. In later years Faulkner frequently acknowledged Shakespeare
as a major inspiration and influence, once noting, I have a one-volume
Shakespeare that I have just about worn out carrying around with me (FIU 67).
Faulkners recorded interviews and conversations contain references to a
number of Shakespeare's works and characters, including Hamlet, Macbeth,
Henry IV, Henry V, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Romeo and Juliet, the sonnets,
Falstaff, Prince Hal, Lady Macbeth, Bottom, Ophelia, and Mercutio. In 1947 he
told an Ole Miss English class that Shakespeares work provides a casebook
on mankind, adding, if a man has a great deal of talent he can use
Shakespeare as a yardstick (Webb and Green 134). In one of his last
interviews shortly before his death in 1962, Faulkner said of all writers, We
yearn to be as good as Shakespeare (LIG 276).
The parallels in the lives and careers of the two writers are remarkably striking.
Both were born in provincial small towns but found their eventual success in
metropolitan cities, Shakespeare in London and Faulkner in New York and
Hollywood. Both had a great love of nature and the rural outdoors. Neither
received a great deal of formal education. Both started out as poets but shortly
turned to other narrative forms, Faulkner to fiction and Shakespeare to drama.
Both had extramarital affairs that were reflected in some of their writings. Each
wrote both tragedies and comedies, and in each case their final work was a
comedy, Shakespeares The Tempest and Faulkners The Reivers. A number of
dominant themes and emphases are common to both writers, including the
imaginative use of historical materials, the incorporation of both tragic and
comic views of life, and the paradoxical tension between fate (in Faulkners
case, determinism) and free will. Moreover, both writers exhibit a fascination for
experimental form and language, flouting conventional rules to create new
narrative structures and delighting in neologisms, puns, and other forms of word
play. Finally, both writers were acutely interested in the paradoxical relationship
of life and art.
It would be impossible, of course, in the short time that I have to consider all of
the possible Shakespearean influences upon Faulkner, so I will cite only three
representative examples. These may be grouped according to the following
categories: (1) specific Faulkner allusions to Shakespeare's plays and
characters; (2) a common interest in historical analogues; and (3) an emphasis
on the theme of the immortality of art.

Allusions
Allusions, or cross references, by one author to the works of another provide
irrefutable evidence of a deliberate and conscious literary borrowing. Without
question the most famous allusion to Shakespeare in all of Faulkner is the title
of his 1929 novel, The Sound and the Fury. As Faulkner readily acknowledged,
the title phrase was borrowed from Macbeth's famous speech,
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle.
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. (5.5: 19-28)
Not only Faulkners title phrase, sound and fury, but also the opening chapter
of Faulkners novel which is narrated through the consciousness of a mentally
retarded person, thus told by an idiot, and the second chapter which presents
Quentin Compson very much as a walking shadow seeking dusty death,
provide obvious links to this Shakespearean passage. However, as William A.
Frye has astutely demonstrated in his study of the bell imagery in The Sound
and the Fury, Faulkners use of Shakespeare's play goes far beyond the points
just mentioned. Frye traces dozens of references to bells and chimes
throughout Faulkners text. Linking these to Lady Macbeth's bell that provides
the signal for Macbeth to murder Duncan (I go, and it is done. The bell invites
me. / Hear it not, Duncan, for it is a knell / That summons thee to heaven or to
hell [2.1:63-5]), Frye demonstrates that the bells in both Macbeth and The
Sound and the Fury denote not only time, but opportunities for choices,
summonings, even, to choose (27). In this connection, Faulkner appears to be
using the Shakespearean pattern, much as Joyce used the Homeric in Ulysses,
to ironically juxtapose the heroic, bold, if mistaken, choices of an earlier age
with the indecision and impotence often associated with the early twentieth
century.
Faulkner employs another significant Shakespearean allusion in Light in August.
Gail Hightower, a major character in that novel, is, as his name implies, an
individual who has sought to escape from actual experience to live in a high
tower of self-delusion and fantasy. A defrocked clergyman, Hightower has
elected to stay on in Jefferson despite the personal scandal that, years earlier,
had cost him his marriage, his position as pastor of a church, and finally even
his right to the title of ordained minister. When we meet him early in the novel,
he is living out his barren existence largely behind the closed doors of his
house, entertaining no visitors except one, a mill worker and church layman
named Byron Bunch.

As Faulkners novel unfolds, looping backward as well as forward, we are led to


understand the reasons for Hightowers tragic failure. Like many of Faulkners
modern white male Southerners, the youthful Hightower had become fixated on
an idealistic Southern heritage, embodied for Hightower in the image of his
grandfather, a Confederate calvary officer who, the young minister had been led
to believe, sacrificially gave his life for homeland and personal honor.
Hightowers worship of this ancestor and the values he supposedly represented
come to dominate Hightowers consciousness; the grandfather's legendary
exploits even become the focus of Hightowers sermons: It was as if he
couldn't get religion and that galloping cavalry and his dead grandfather shot
from the galloping horse untangled from each other, even in the pulpit (56).
When Hightower learns, however, that the fabled grandfather had not died
heroically in battle but, quite the contrary, was actually shot while engaged in
the ignominious act of stealing chickens, Hightower is robbed of his mythical
past; and this loss contributes to Hightowers decision to disengage himself
from life and action, passing his days as though the seed which his grandfather
had transmitted to him had been on the horse too that night and had been killed
too and time had stopped there and then for the seed and nothing had
happened in time since, not even him (59).
Eventually, however, as you'll recall if you've read the novel, Hightower, inspired
by the kindly example and encouraging words of Byron Bunch, elects to climb
down from his high tower of retreat and symbolic death to reenter the land of
the living. Under Bunchs leadership, Hightower assists first Lena Grove, a
young unwed pregnant woman, and then Joe Christmas, a supposed black man
who is eventually lynched by a white mob. In the case of Christmas, Hightower
tries to save the mans life by fabricating an alibi for Christmas. Men! he
screams at the mob, Listen to me. He was here that night. He was with me the
night of the murder (439). While Hightowers situational ethics ultimately fail to
save Joe Christmas from the hands of the racist mob, his intervention on
Christmas behalf marks a major point on Hightowers progression toward selfawareness, social engagement, and personal responsibility.
What is interesting and relevant about all this to my purpose this evening is the
reading material that Faulkner assigns to Hightower. During his long period of
escape and disengagement, we are told, Hightower reads a great deal in the
large number of books housed in his study (67). One author whom he finds
particularly attractive is Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
He turns from the window. One wall of the study is lined with books. He
pauses before them, seeking, until he finds the one which he wants. It is
Tennyson. It is dogeared. He has had it ever since the seminary. He sits ath
the lamp and opens it. It does not take long. Soon the fine galloping language,
the gutless swooning full of sapless trees and dehydrated lusts begins to swim
smooth and swift and peaceful. It is better than praying without having to bother
to think aloud. It is like listening in a cathedral to a eunuch chanting in a
language which he does not even need to not understand. (301)
Obviously Hightower finds in Tennysons mellifluous lines, even more than in
prayer, an anodyne to his pain and anguish. But on the day he returns from the

cabin where he has served as midwife at the birth of Lenas child, he ignores
the dogeared Tennyson volume and turns to Shakespeare.
He goes to the study. He moves like a man with a purpose now, who for
twentyfive years has been doing nothing at all between the time to wake and
the time to sleep again. Neither is the book which he now chooses the
Tennyson: this time also he chooses food for a man. It is Henry IV and he goes
out into the back yard and lies down in the sagging deck chair beneath the
mulberry tree, plumping solidly and heavily into it. (383)
As the words solidly and heavily imply, Hightower has abandoned the dream
world associated with Tennysons gutless swooning and sapless trees and
dehydrated lusts to enter the real world of physicality and substance. If I
understand Faulkners allusion correctly, Hightowers choice is not altogether
unlike the choice that Prince Hal must make in his transition from youthful
irresponsibility to the duties of kingship as Henry V.
Use of historical materials
A second aspect of Faulkners work that seems linked to the possible influence
of Shakespeare relates to the manner that both writers make significant use of
historical material. Shakespeare, as most of you well know, seldom invented an
original plot, choosing rather to take familiar characters and events from older
plays or historical chronicles, most notably Raphel Holinsheds Chronicles of
England, Scotland, and Ireland and Plutarchs Lives of the Noble Grecians and
Romans, and reworking them to suit his own dramatic purposes. Faulkner, too,
drew heavily upon history for his fictional materials, incorporating into his
Yoknapatawpha narratives accounts of the settlement of the South, the Civil
War and Reconstruction, the racial patterns and conflicts of Jim Crow and
segregation, and the displacement of an agrarian life style by mechanization
and industrialization.
But it would be a mistake to think that either Shakespeare or Faulkner was
primarily interested in history as mere history. They both wrote in what I like to
call--accurately, I think, if ungrammatically--the past-present tense, that is, in a
way that utilizes the past as an analogue to or even a commentary on the
present situation. Here, it will be helpful to take a brief excursion into
contemporary literary theory. Recent advancements in literary criticism and
linguistics have helped us to understand better the always complex relationship
existing between a writer, that writers world, and any literary text. We now
acknowledge that there can never be a definite demarcation between a literary
work and its creator, between objectivity and subjectivity, or between the past as
lived and the past as perceived by one looking back on it from the altered
perspective of the present. One of the best illustrations of this point is Arthur
Millers great play, The Crucible, on the literal level a treatment of the mass
hysteria evidenced in the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692 but through contextual
parallels an expose of the McCarthyism that was rampant in America at the time
Miller published the play, 1953. There can be no denying that The Crucible is
an historical play; but it would certainly be a mistake to view the play as
merely or even primarily historical: the ultimate meaning of the play can be

grasped only by placing the historical elements alongside the contemporary


event--the McCarthy hearings--that provided the motivation for Millers writing of
the play. In Millers case, we know, the use of the past present tense was
conscious and calculated; but modern theorists would argue that even had it
been unconscious and coincidental, Millers choice of historical subject and his
treatment of it would still have been influenced by his present situation, that is,
by his summons to appear as a witness before the Senates Committee on UnAmerican Activities.
While Shakespeares main purpose in his repetitions of history was in all
likelihood to tell a good story, or, more precisely, to elevate the old stories into
poetic form, there can be little doubt that he was very much aware of the
parallels between the historical narratives he chose to dramatize and his
contemporary Elizabethan world.
To cite only two examples: think of
Shakespeares presentation in the great comedies of the pastoral life style that
was disappearing with the development and spreading influence of the
metropolitan culture of London; or, better, think of Shakespeares obsession
with the history of kingship, even the divine right of kings, at a time when the
right to the throne of the contemporary wearers of the crown, first Queen
Elizabeth and then King James, was continually being challenged and even
threatened with insurrection.
Perhaps the best example of Shakespeares using the past as a mirror to
contemporary events is Richard II. Here Shakespeare deals with one of the
most crucial episodes in English history, the deposing of King Richard by Henry
Bolingbroke, afterwards King Henry IV. This event had occurred in 1399, nearly
200 years before Shakespeare wrote about it; and from his later perspective
Shakespeare knew that the ultimate outcome of Richards overthrow was the
long and tragic War of the Roses, the civil war between the royal houses of York
and Lancaster that lasted for thirty years.
Before writing Richard II,
Shakespeare had already written four plays about the War of the Roses--the
three parts of Henry VI and Richard III. Now, having already dramatized the
national calamity of the war, he explores the source of that conflict in
Bolingbrokes usurpation of Richards crown. Yes, Shakespeare acknowledges
in his play, Richard was a weak king, a dreamer and an aesthete, out of touch
with his subjects; and Henry was a doer, a man of action, and the crowds
favorite--but there was still the huge question, towering large for Shakespeare
and others of the Renaissance, of whether any degree of inefficiency or even
wickedness could justify the overthrow of Gods anointed ruler and the political
chaos that would ensue. As Richard states the case,
Not all the water in the rough, rude seas
Can wash the balm from an anointed king.
The breath of worldly men cannot depose
The deputy elected by the Lord. (3.2: 50-53)
In the Deposition scene Shakespeare has Richard compare himself to the
crucified Christ:
. . . you Pilates

Have here delivered me to my sour cross,


And water cannot wash away your sin. (4.1: 230-32)
Clearly, if Richard is Christ, then Henry is Judas, the political leaders Pilates,
and the British populace the fickle mob that demanded the freeing of Barrabas
and the crucifixion of Christ.
The issue of who is the rightful ruler is a universal question of British politics, but
Shakespeares interest in the question, as indeed the entire history of the War
of the Roses, was being fueled by particular events of his own day, not unlike
the way Arthur Millers interest in the witchcraft trials was fueled by the
McCarthy hearings, or our recent revival of interest in President Andrew
Johnsons impeachment was brought about by the impeachment of President
Clinton. At the time Shakespeare wrote Richard II, the Henry-Richard conflict
was being repeated in the opposition of the Earl of Essex to Queen Elizabeth.
Shakespeare was very close to, if not personally involved in, this issue, since
his patron, the Earl of Southampton, was one of the leading supporters of
Essex. Modern audiences and readers may not be much aware of this parallel
when they view or read Shakespeares play, but the parallel would have been
unmistakable to the Elizabethan audience. We know that the parallel was
obvious to both Essex and the queen. In 1601, when Essex and his followers
attempted to overthrow Elizabeth and place Essex on the throne, they arranged
to have a performance of Richard II staged at the popular Globe Theatre the
very night before the attempted coup--a kind of pep rally before the big game
the following day. When the coup failed, the conspirators were arrested; and in
the trial that followed Essex was condemned to death and Southampton was
imprisoned in the Tower, where he remained until the death of Elizabeth two
years later. One of the real mysteries in all these developments is how
Shakespeare managed to escape censure or worse, since he was such a close
personal friend of Southampton and thus probably a close acquaintance of
Essex.
We also know that Queen Elizabeth was acutely aware of the parallel being
drawn between herself and Richard II. I am Richard II, know ye not that? she
is quoted as saying after the conspiracy trial was over; and her sensitivity to the
issue was undoubtedly the reason that the Deposition scene in Shakespeares
play--where Henry actually takes the crown from Richard--was officially
censored and thus omitted in the first printings of Richard II, not finding its way
into print until after the accession of James I (Rowse 235).
This question of kingship and right rule is at the very heart of so many of
Shakespeares plays, not only the two tetralogies of the Henrys and the
Richards, but also the great tragedies of Macbeth, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, and
King Lear, and even many of the comedies such as Twelfth Night, Much Ado
about Nothing, and The Tempest. There can be little doubt, I think, that this
theme was of great concern for Shakespeare; and his relating it to both past
and present situations--in other words, his effective use of the past-present
tense--provided him a means of warning his age about the tragic lessons of
history.

Like Shakespeare, Faulkner was an historical writer who courageously explored


the past in his attempt to analyze and understand the present. We see this
approach operative in Faulkner on the level of both individual characters and
Southern society as a whole. The best example is Faulkners most complex,
and, many think, greatest, novel: Absalom, Absalom!.
Published in 1936, Absalom, Absalom! expands the story of the suicidal Quentin
Compson from The Sound and the Fury of seven years earlier. Set during the
final year of Quentins life, 1909-10, Absalom presents Quentins desperate and
ultimately unsuccessful attempts to come to understand both himself and his
native region. In this quest for understanding and, indeed, salvation, Quentin
displaces his own inner guilts and conflicts onto a legendary story that he has
heard all his life, the story of the rise and fall of Thomas Sutpen, a rags-toriches Southern planter who carved a plantation out of the Yoknapatawpha
wilderness in the 1830s and sought to create a family dynasty, but who saw his
dream eventually destroyed by a father-son conflict that parallels the tragic
conflict from which Faulkner draws his title, the biblical account of the conflict
between King David and his son Absalom. In structuring the plot of his novel,
Faulkner moves back and forth from the Quentin narrative of 1909-10 to the
Supten narrative of the 1810s to the 1860s. In analyzing these time shifts,
however, and in seeking to determine whether the main character of the novel is
Quentin Compson or Thomas Sutpen, critics typically overlook the novels third
time dimension, that is, the time of Faulkner, the creator of the novel, which is,
of course, 1935-36, when the novel was being written. Thus, not unlike the
better-known novel published the same year, Margaret Mitchells Gone with the
Wind, Absalom, Absalom! is written in past-present tense: while an historical
novel of Civil War days, it is also a novel about, and with a message for, the
Great Depression.
And what is that message? We can begin the search for an answer to that
question, I think, by recognizing that Thomas Sutpen is a character type
frequently found in American history and literature but one that in the 1930s was
coming under increased scrutiny: an entrepreneurial, laissez-faire capitalist.
Like the real-life Benjamin Franklin and John D. Rockefeller and Henry Flagler
and the fictional Poor Richard, Horatio Algers Tattered Tom, and Jay Gatsby,
Sutpen is born poor but, through ambition, industriousness, and good fortune
(pluck and luck), rises to a position of tremendous wealth and status. With the
advent of the Great Depression, however, such character types, as indeed all
the business practices of capitalism, were being called into question, the more
so since the failures of the Great Depression appeared to be the logical
consequences of the excesses of the all-too-recent robber barons and
monopolists. As Faulkners novel demonstrates, it was not merely New Deal
politicians like Franklin Roosevelt or Henry Wallace or socialistic writers like
John Dos Passos and John Steinbeck who were questioning the American
economic enterprise. The characterization of Thomas Sutpen is a serious
critique of the American Dream at a time of crisis when the traditional values
and methods associated with that Dream were being challenged.
In dramatizing the reasons for Sutpens self-destruction, Faulkner stresses
Sutpens ruthless exploitation of other people in his quest to amass wealth and

power. He utilizes and brutalizes the slaves who build his mansion, and he
holds a French architect in virtual imprisonment until the house is completed.
Sutpen marries twice, in each case not for love but for financial and social
advancement. A racist as well as a materialist, he rejects his first wife when he
learns she is part-Negro, turns away from his door the son of that union, and
eventually provides his white son with a motive to murder his mulatto halfbrother. As a sad, pathetic old man and a widower, with his plantation gone and
his family dead or scattered, he seeks to revitalize his dream by seducing a
poor-white teenaged girl in the hope of producing a male heir: when the child
turns out to be a female, Sutpen rejects both the mother and the child with
perhaps the cruelest words in the novel: Well, Milly; too bad youre not a mare
too. Then I could give you a decent stall in the stable (286). They did not
think of love in connection with Sutpen, the reader is told early in the novel.
They thought of ruthlessness rather than justice and of fear rather than respect,
but not of pity or love (43).
Treating Thomas Sutpen as Faulkners 1930s portrait of capitalism without any
redeeming social consciousness leads one to a very different interpretation of
Quentin Compsons obsession with the Sutpen legend than is currently offered
by critics. While, like many Americans of every day and time, Quentin envies,
perhaps even subconsciously admires, the boldness and the audacity of
pragmatic doers and achievers like Sutpen, at the same time Quentin is an
idealist, a believer in noblesse oblige, a defender of community and
brotherhood and family loyalty and romantic love--indeed, a practitioner (to
reverse the negative terms earlier applied to Sutpen) of justice rather than
ruthlessness, of respect rather than fear, of pity and love. Caught between such
oppositions, the America of the 1930s sought to find itself--and Faulkner, just as
Shakespeare had done with Richard II, employed an historical analogue to
serve as a critique of the contemporary situation.
Art and immortality
A third parallel between Faulkner and Shakespeare is a common interest in the
paradoxical relationship between life and art. Most artists have a heightened
awareness, some obsessively so, of the tragic brevity of life and a concomitant,
perhaps even consequent, desire to create works of art that will far outlast their
creators meager space of life and breath. Picasso, we are told, was so fearful
of death terminating his creativity that he would tolerate no mention of the word
or any reminder of its harsh reality. And Keats, dying of tuberculosis, penned
his Ode on a Grecian Urn, celebrating the capacity of art to survive and inspire
others even centuries after the death of its creator--and thereby expressing his
own hope that he as a poet might be as lucky as the anonymous maker of the
urn. It is not at all surprising that Faulkner and Shakespeare shared this
interest in the mortality of the artist and the potential immortality of art.
Death seems to have been an obsession with Faulkner from an early age.
Perhaps this fear of death may have derived from his near demise from scarlet
fever at age four or from his experience, at age nine, of watching his beloved
grandmother (Damuddy) destroyed by cancer. Whatever its origin, death
surfaces as a major subject in Faulkners early poetry and prose and is seldom

again absent from his work. Indeed, among American writers only Edgar Allan
Poe seems as obsessed as Faulkner with death, decay, corpses, and
cemeteries.
But an existential recognition of the tragic inevitability of death is only one--and
not the most important--facet of Faulkners handling of the subject. For
Faulkner the ultimate meaning is to be found in the heroic resistance to death,
and from Thomas Sutpens struggle against time and mortality in Absalom,
Absalom! onward, this theme becomes an overt motif in Faulkners work. As
Ernest Becker has convincingly argued in The Denial of Death, all individuals
experience death anxiety and consequently long for immortality, whether natural
or supernatural; but Faulkner contends that this psychological conflict is
especially acute for the artist. As he once said, Since man is mortal, the only
immortality possible for him is to leave something behind him that is immortal
since it will always move. This is the artists way of scribbling 'Kilroy was here'
on the wall of the final and irrevocable oblivion through which he must someday
pass (LIG 253). Perhaps Faulkners most sublime expression of this idea is
found in his Foreword to The Faulkner Reader (1954), in which he contends
that the ultimate goal of any writer is to uplift mans heart by saying No to
death. Some day, Faulkner concludes, [the writer] will be no more, which will
not matter then, because isolated and itself invulnerable in the cold print
remains that which is capable of engendering still the old deathless excitement
in hearts and glands whose owners and custodians are generations from the air
he breathed and anguished in (ESPL 181-2).
Given his deep concern for the nature and role of artists and art, it is not at all
surprising that Faulkner frequently introduces into his works what might be
termed art surrogates, that is, particular objects that have survived from the
past to evoke memories or thoughts of people and incidents from earlier times.
Predictably, a significant number of these art surrogates take a literary form,
eliciting the response of a reader. There is, for example, in Absalom,
Absalom! the letter that Judith Sutpen gives to Quentin Compsons
grandmother, which Quentins father, two generations later, interprets as
Judiths compulsion to make that scratch, that undying mark on the blank face
of the oblivion to which we are all doomed (127). Other examples, presented
by Faulkner in greater detail, are the commissary ledgers that Ike McCaslin
reads in Go Down, Moses and the story evoked by the signature of Cecilia
Farmer scratched into the windowpane of the Jefferson jailhouse in Requiem for
a Nun. All such surrogates express symbolically the same idea that Faulkner
stated explicitly in one of his letters to Joan Williams, his lover and protg:
Thats the answer, the reason for it all, the one and only way on earth you can
say No to death: the best, the strongest, the finest, the most enduring: to make
something" (FAB 1461).
We know less about Shakespeares personal life and opinions than we do of
Faulkners, but a number of the sonnets clearly evidence the same mortality vs.
immortality theme that we have been exploring in Faulkner. These sonnets are
addressed to one or more unidentified individuals whom Shakespeare loved
dearly (whether patron, friend, or lover we cannot be quite sure), and they all
set actual experience, Where wasteful time debateth with decay / To change

your day of youth to sullied night (sonnet 15), against the poets desire to write
eternal lines (sonnet 18) in which the beloved will be made immortal: So long
as men can breathe or eyes can see, sonnet 18 concludes, So long lives this
and this gives life to thee.
One of the most sublime expressions of this idea is sonnet 65:
Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality oersways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O how shall summers honey breath hold out
Against the wreckful siege of battering days
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong, but time decays?
O fearful meditation! Where, alack,
Shall times best jewel from times chest be hid,
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back,
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
O, none, unless this miracle have might:
That in black ink my love shall still shine bright.
It is a cardinal irony, of course, that an individual whose name or identity we do
not know is immortalized in Shakespeares poetry. But that causes us no
concern, since it is the universal and immortal poem that we celebrate and not
its particular historical circumstance. Faulkner certainly understood that. As he
once said, [Man] can't live forever. He knows that. But when hes gone
somebody will know he was here for his short time. He can build a bridge and
will be remembered for a day or two, a monument, for a day or two, but
somehow the picture, the poem--that lasts a long time, a very long time, longer
than anything (LIG 103). And here, I think, he was stating a principle that he
learned at least partly from reading Shakespeares sonnets.
Time does not permit my exploring additional parallels between Shakespeare
and Faulkner; but I hope that the few examples I have cited will serve to
suggest that Faulkners use of Shakespearean materials was often conscious,
sometimes undoubtedly unconscious, and always significant. Given such
parallels, perhaps it is not altogether unfitting that Faulkner is sometimes called
the American Shakespeare.

Works Cited
Becker, Ernest. The Denial of Death. New York: Free Press, 1973.
Blotner, Joseph. Faulkner: A Biography. New York: Random House, 1974. Cited
as FAB.

Faulkner, William. Absalom, Alsalom! New York: Vintage, 1972.


--------. Light in August. New York: Vintage, 1972.
Frye, William A. "Mythic Imagery in Absalom, Absalom!, The Sound and the
Fury, and Light in August: Faulkner's Structural Motifs." Master's thesis,
Southeast Missouri State University, 1995.
Greenblatt, Stephen, and others, eds. The Norton Shakespeare. New York:
W.W. Norton, 1997.
Gwynn, Frederick L., and Joseph L. Blotner, eds. Faulkner in the University:
Class Conferences at the University of Virginia, 1957-1958. Charlottesville:
University of Virginia Press, 1959. Cited as FIU.
Meriwether, James B., ed. Essays, Speeches, and Public Letters by William
Faulkner. New York: Random House, 1965. Cited as ESPL.
--------, and Michael Milgate, eds. Lion in the Garden: Interviews with William
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