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If Time, the avenger, execrates his wrongs,
And makes the word ˜Miltonic™ mean ˜sublime,™
(Dedication, ±°)

Here, the allusion to Paradise Lost ©©, l. µ, is luminously clear, but not
separated by quotation marks from the speech of the Dedication. Lucy
Newlyn argues that this reference leaves the Milton myth ˜intact™, but it
is recognisably different from Wordsworth™s unsignalled use of the same
Miltonic moment in ˜Tintern Abbey™:
that neither evil tongues,
Rash judgments, nor the sneers of sel¬sh men,
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all
The dreary intercourse of daily life,
Shall e™er prevail against us.
( ll. ±“)

Wordsworth invokes Miltonic isolation to secure self-suf¬ciency with-
out inviting the reader to linger on his source. The rolling blank verse
cadences of ˜Tintern Abbey™ glide from paragraph to paragraph, mak-
ing it less likely that the reader will pause to disinter literary echoes. At
this moment of assimilation Wordsworth gathers all that is ˜unremem-
bered™ and all that is ˜unborrowed™ into an organic whole: Milton™s voice
contributes to the harmony, af¬rms the integrity of the younger poet
(changed, no doubt, and yet not utterly) and swells his authority. Never
slow to recognise his own genius, Wordsworth praised ˜the musical suc-
cession [of preconceiv]ed feeling™ in the poem.µ Byron™s ottava rima, on
the other hand, sets up more inquisitive hesitations from line to line and
rhyme to rhyme, encouraging readers to be alert to the ˜superarti¬cial™.
Don Juan is hospitable to many different voices and wants its read-
ers to be aware that very little is ˜unborrowed™. Extensive catalogues
of other authors serve to remind readers of the different texts which
±° Byron, Poetics and History
make up consciousness and identity. This has a very different effect from
Wordsworth™s account of his undergraduate reading in The Prelude:
Beside the pleasant mills of Trompington
I laughed with Chaucer; in the hawthorn shade
Heard him, while birds were warbling, tell his tales
Of amorous passion. And that gentle bard
Chosen by the Muses for their Page of State,
Sweet Spencer, moving through his clouded heaven
With the moon™s beauty and the moon™s soft pace.
Wordsworthian blank verse naturalises earlier authors, making them
accord to the contours in his mental landscape and form a background
of choral support rather than appearing as material texts or re-embodied
authors. We ¬nd a similar blending of voices when Elizabeth Barrett
Browning™s Aurora Leigh advocates a loss of identity and difference
in reading, ˜when / We gloriously forget ourselves and plunge / Soul-
forward, headlong, into a book™s profound™.· Although the ˜plunge™ is
Byronic in its uncompromising speed, Aurora™s encounters with earlier
authors are part of dutiful family affection:
I read much. What my father taught before
From many a volume, Love re-emphasised
Upon the self same pages: Theophrast
Grew tender with the memory of his eyes,
And AElian made mine wet. (©, ll. ·±°“±).
Barrett Browning™s blank verse is more receptive to the art of patchwork
than Wordsworth™s, but it appears seamless when compared with the
discussions of reading in Don Juan. Encounters with literary forefathers
in Byron™s epic belong to a social world of literary commerce, not the
hermetically sealed realm of private reading. Speci¬c book titles emerge
frequently in Don Juan as ˜things™ with as much “ or sometimes more “
vitality than the poem™s hero:
Ovid™s a rake, as half his verses show him,
Anacreon™s morals are a still worse sample,
Catullus scarcely has a decent poem,
I don™t think Sappho™s Ode a good example,
Although Longinus tells us there is no hymn
Where the sublime soars forth on wings more ample;
But Virgil™s songs are pure, except that horrid one
Beginning with ˜Formosum Pastor Corydon.™
(©. )
±°
˜Don Juan™, digressive intertextuality and the risks of reception
In this stanza we can detect the familiar tactics of Byron™s allusive textual
transmission: the classic authors become exactly what Juan™s mother
fears “ contemporaries one might talk with over dinner or in a tavern.
The tone creates a sense of bodily presence as Byron ironically celebrates
the local and risqu©, those awkward moments when the actuality of the
classical text disconcerts the code of modern morals.
As McGann™s editorial commentaries reveal, there is no established
critical vocabulary capable of distinguishing between Byron™s multiple
forms of intertextuality: indeed, were it available, such a vocabulary
might limit the reader™s responses to the digressive intertexture of ottava
rima verse. It is all the more necessary, therefore, to discuss individual
instances of digressive play locally to see how their varying effects at the
level of the reading experience constitute meaning in the poem. Typo-
graphically signalled digressions have the advantage of marked visibility,
and as they are among the most distinctive of Byron™s compositional
practices they provide one of my main measures of digressive frequency.
The rest of this chapter focuses on areas of Don Juan which display this
sort of concentrated digressive activity. Moving away from the ¬rst two
cantos (which tend to be the main site of previous scholarship on digres-
sion and allusion), and looking at digressive intertextuality as local not
global phenomena, we shall see how Byron™s text asks its readers to relate
individual parts to a continually shifting conception of what has gone
before. It is evident that, in the course of reading the poem, the reader
becomes more receptive to richly accruing layers of meaning and indi-
vidual readers become part of a process by which meaning is diversi¬ed
and contingent. Here the notion of poetic allusion is crucial, a concept
which in Byron™s texts is intricately bound up with an experimental art
of digression.
Byron™s diverse modes of allusion have presented critics with some-
thing of a problem. G. Wilson Knight solved this very skilfully by ana-
lysing Byron™s repertoire of different Shakespearean characters in prose
and verse (namely Hamlet, Falstaff, Richard III, Macbeth and Timon),
and by tracing the ˜varying, inter-shifting™ Shakespearean psychology in
Don Juan ˜as a whole™. More recently scholars have addressed this prob-
lem by making broader distinctions, such as Jonathan Bate™s detection
of ˜loud™ and ˜soft™ Shakespearean allusions in Don Juan:
The occurrence of two allusions in quick succession, the second usually quieter
than the ¬rst, is very frequent in Don Juan; once the mind is sent to Shakespeare,
it dwells there for a moment and picks up a second treasure.
±±° Byron, Poetics and History
After the focus in the ¬rst three chapters on what Bate would call
˜loud™ allusions, this chapter is concerned with the workings of ˜quieter™
allusion “ the kind of intertextual reference which had been described
as ˜casual and buried™ by Peter Manning (in relation to Byron) and
˜maddeningly elusive™ by John Hollander (referring to a type of allusion
more generally).±° Having noticed the development of a ˜quiet™ allusive
trope, Jonathan Bate does not dwell on its function in Don Juan, but con-
centrates instead on the ways in which Byron ˜proclaims difference, in
contrast to the usual Romantic striving for similarity with Shakespeare™.±±
Bate™s emphasis on ˜Byron™s Pose™, however, leads to the over-simpli¬ed
conclusion that in Don Juan, the poet achieves an ˜untroubled and unself-
conscious [relationship] with Shakespeare™, and that ˜the robust use of
quotation in Don Juan suits Byron™s public persona. His appropriations
of Shakespeare are so brazen that they are not problematic.™±
By leaning (like Francis Jeffrey rather than Wilson Knight) on a ¬xed
sense of Byron™s personality, Bate limits the relationship between Byron
and Shakespeare. He focuses on examples of signalled allusion in Don
Juan because they ¬t his quasi-Bloomian trajectory as a writer™s anxious
echoing of a rival. From this viewpoint, Byron™s rejection of ˜Bardolatry™
undercuts both the aesthetic credo of his contemporaries, and the icono-
graphic status of Shakespeare:
As Don Juan as a whole is an accumulative, disparate, unorganic work, so its
quotations are not integrated. Byron makes a virtue of the incidental, the mo-
mentary, the super¬cial. Overt quotations and adaptations could also be used
to demonstrate the vulnerability of the English classics. Comic, bantering quo-
tations are a form of affectionate mockery that render their subjects human and
approachable. Byron is able simultaneously to mock Romantic awe in the face
of Shakespeare and to overcome that sense of his own inferiority which was
discerned by Goethe.±
Bate™s paradigm is reductive to the extent that it suggests that signalled
quotations are symptoms of a ˜disparate, unorganic work™. But, as we
shall see, as well as offering surface quotations, each canto of Don Juan
also uses forms of reference that are more deeply integrated and which
rely on the reader to disinter them. Where Bate™s paradigm relies on a
sense of ˜inferiority™ as the dynamic of Byron™s text, my stress is on ways in
which Byron™s poem, through a subtler interweaving of reference, raises
questions about the nature of the organic itself.
Anne Barton goes much further towards an explanation of the function
of different forms of allusion in Don Juan and Byron™s late dramatic
writing:
±±±
˜Don Juan™, digressive intertextuality and the risks of reception
Quotations from Shakespeare, half-remembered or precise, had always been a
feature of Byron™s poetry and prose. What emerges, however, in Don Juan is a
tendency to invoke recognisably Shakespearean situations, without necessarily
using their words, in order to complicate or add resonance to relationships or
attitudes.±
Using Barton™s observations as a starting point, we can turn to canto
© which displays a signi¬cant rise in the frequency of typographically
marked disruptions compared with the preceding two cantos. Different
levels of Shakespearean allusion in canto © suggest that in ± the poem
becomes more demanding of its readers, and also more open to the risk
that they might or might not co-operate in intertextual production.
The horri¬ed reaction of Murray and his advisers to the later cantos
of Don Juan is today assumed to be part of the public prudishness of the
nineteenth century. Twentieth-century critics like McGann and Barton
describe canto © as ˜genial™ and applaud Byron™s ˜comic sparkle and
©lan™.±µ Steffan is less enthusiastic, assuming that the seraglio narrative
constitutes a deliberate provocation of Murray™s ˜Synod™ but ¬nding the
digressions ˜excessively diffuse and often ¬‚accid™ and ˜the improvisation
is so free and so tri¬‚ing that it becomes tedious™.± It is interesting that
Barton™s close attention to allusion produces a positive assessment of
canto ©, whereas Steffan™s analysis of ˜associational license™ discloses a
˜hodgepodge™ moving by ˜whimsical and centrifugal jerks™.±· The term
˜hodgepodge™ exempli¬es that concern for violated canons of correctness
which characterised Byron™s contemporary critics. If we read intertex-
tually, however, we can begin to look at the ways in which Byron plays
with a relationship between the general and the particular, the spoken
and the unspoken, with an eye on different groups of readers, and how
the poem in Barthes™s phrase ˜produce[s] its own chiaroscuro™.±
Jerome McGann has established that Byron™s work on canto © began
as early as January ± and extended into April. Anne Barton and
G. Wilson Knight remind us that in February, Byron and other members
of the Pisan circle began rehearsals for a production of Othello which was
to be staged in the Great Hall of the Lafranchi Palace.± ˜Lord Byron was
to be Iago™, Medwin tells us, ˜I shall never forget his reading Iago™s part in
the handkerchief scene.™° As well as in¬‚uencing The Deformed Transformed,
as Barton has shown, the dynamics of Othello also complicate canto © in
terms of plot and audience relations. Byron uses nuances from the play to
address both the private tensions of the Pisan circle and his more public
disagreements with the English readership, whose moral superiority he
questioned in the Twelfth Night epigraph to the new cantos.
±± Byron, Poetics and History
A signalled allusion to Othello occurs early in the canto at stanza :
I am not like Cassio, ˜an arithmetician,™
But by ˜the bookish theoric™ it appears,
If ™tis summed up with feminine precision,
That, adding to the account his Highness™ years,
The fair Sultana erred from inanition.
The quotation of Iago™s words turns his disparaging assessment of
Cassio™s career into a ˜feminine™ enumeration of grievances. This trans-
fer of speech from a masculine to a feminine sphere of activity is a
more interesting form of cross-dressing even than Juan™s costume (which
tends to be the focus of feminist readings of canto ©).± Susan Wolfson
de¬nes ˜linguistic cross-dressing™ in Don Juan as ˜transfers of verbal prop-
erty, such as the narrator™s calling himself “a male Mrs. Fry” . . . or the
application of masculine-toned terms to women: the Sultan desires a
“handsome paramour”™. If we look at the subtle way Don Juan modi¬es
its Shakespearean allusions it is possible to discern a further level on
which the poem tests its readers:
For were the Sultan just to all his dears,
She could but claim the ¬fteenth hundred part
Of what should be monopoly “ the heart.
(©. )

This emergence of Shakespeare™s Othello in the texture of canto © al-
lows us to hear the voice of Iago (˜part™) and his fascination with literal
details of sexuality competing with the voice of Othello “ who cannot
bear to keep ˜a corner in the thing I love™ “ and his vain attempts to
make sexual betrayal into something more digni¬ed. The narrator™s sen-
timental re¬‚ection on his boyish devotion uses the all-or-nothing voice of
Othello:
I
Gave what was worth a world; for worlds could never
Restore me those pure feelings, gone forever.
(©. µ)

On the verbal level this combines Othello™s farewell to his occupation
(˜O now forever / Farewell the tranquil mind™), his relinquishing of
his love for Desdemona (˜™Tis gone.™), and his estimation of her value
(˜If heaven would make me such another world / Of one entire and
perfect chrysolite, / I™ld not have sold her for it). Three stanzas later,
however, we hear the narrator as honest Iago, ˜[persuading himself ] to
±±
˜Don Juan™, digressive intertextuality and the risks of reception
speak the truth™ (©©. . l. ±) so as to secure Cassio™s dismissal:
I know Gulbeyaz was extremely wrong;
I own it, I deplore it, I condemn it;
But I detest all ¬ction even in song,
And so must tell the truth, howe™er you blame it.
(©. )

The narrator™s reluctance to impart details of reprehensible behaviour
incites the reader, Othello-like, to supply those very details. The poem
discloses each reader as a potential hypocrite, a technique which dupli-
cates Iago™s repertoire of hints and tonal traps. But Byron will not allow
identities of characters from the play to settle for long on characters
of his poem. Stanza ± offers Iago™s sexual experience as the basis for
knowledge:
Now here we should distinguish; for howe™er
Kisses, sweet words, embraces, and all that,
May look like what is “ neither here nor there,
They are put on as easily as a hat,
Or rather bonnet, which the fair sex wear,
Trimmed either heads or hearts to decorate,
Which form an ornament, but no more part
Of heads, than their caresses of the heart.
(©. ±)

This warning about women is closely patterned after the terms in which
Iago alerts us to his sel¬sh scheming in the opening scene of the play:
others there are,
Who, trimm™d in forms, and visages of duty,
Keep yet their hearts attending on themselves.
(©. ±. ll. “µ±)

And the knowing tone once again recalls the way in which Iago instructs

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