By Emma Pfanner
Sometimes knowing literary allusions is more of a burden than a blessing. There is that feeling of pride that comes with the recognition of an allusion, but what about that feeling of annoyance when you hear an allusion abused? That feeling like the new shirt you are wearing has an unfortunately placed tag, which arises when someone says, “Now is the winter of our discontent,” and you do not know how to politely shout, “Made glorious summer! Made glorious summer by this sun of York…! There’s more to that sentence!” Or maybe there is someway to point but to someone that no, you do not “gild the lily,” but someone might try “(T)o gild refined gold, to paint the lily,’ without seeming like a pretentious jerk.
I count myself fortunate, as the only block of literature that I know well enough to get this persnickety about is Shakespeare, and, as I’m sure you know, his works are largely forgotten and seldom quoted. Oh wait. The King’s English talks about incorrect allusions in a beautiful way, saying that such things are ‘fatal’ to writers. From the way they go on about them, I’m pretty sure the writers of The King’s English dreamt of a world in which that ‘fatal’ was literal, and any writer who played it fast and loose with an allusion could be burnt at the stake.
Hyperbole aside, they make a good point. A faulty allusion might impress someone who has no idea what you’re writing about, but it will destroy the credibility of your entire piece for someone who can catch the mistake. When writing, a quick Google search can make all the difference. But methinks the lady doth protest too much. No, wait.
“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”