Whereas Carroll's novel explores quite thoroughly the nineteenth-century blend of bardolatry and bard-revision as well as the establishment of Stratford as a Shakespearean mecca, Carla Kelly's Miss Grimsley's Oxford Career takes on academic Shakespeare. The internal cover blurb, with the bold title of "BEYOND THE BARD," offers Shakespeare in abundance:
Kelly's novel explores the limited educational possibilities available to young female scholars with some talent for explicating the writer of such compelling interest in the period. As a result, her novel is as imbued with Shakespeare as any of the actress novels but concentrates on the heroine's thwarted academic ambitions rather than any brush with the sexual dangers of the theater. Her insights into the relative powerlessness of women who function as tokens of exchange for the men relate to the end of Measure for Measure--Ellen does not instantly or easily take up her place beside the scholar/Lord who has manipulated her through disguising his rank and hiding as the poor scholar while he arranges for her work to be read, pursued and finally published. Her resistance almost reads as Kelly's working through of Isabella's dilemma when faced with the Duke's proposal--though Ellen has only saved her plagiarist brother's reputation and place at Oxford, her choice to humiliate herself for her brothers leads to a consideration of whether to marry Lord Chesney--despite his deception.
The most elaborate appropriation and reinterpretation I have discovered so far is Michelle Martin's reworking of the plot of Much Ado about Nothing in The Hampshire Hoyden. The novel combines almost all the features I have analyzed so far: the lovers, Kate and Theo, discover their compatibility through challenging each other with Shakespearean quotations; they attend Romeo and Juliet at the theater together though neither enjoys that particular play; and they even become actors as a play-within-the-novel is used to unveil and disgrace the pair who have plunged the plot into the slandered maid tale from Much Ado in remarkably faithful terms.
Reinterpretation enters most fully into the novel when Martin devotes considerable time to the reactions of Hero/Georgina and to the difficulties and horror of Claudio/William's realization that he has been tricked into ruining his life and the life of the woman he loves. Martin works through both William's and Georgina's dilemmas, ultimately staging their reunion not as the abrupt substitution at the wedding in Shakespeare's play but as the slower healing of serious wounds to trust. William in fact feels he can only beg that she not hate him for what he has done; Georgina's ultimate willingness to forgive him derives in part from Kate's explanation of the violence and shameful public quality of his denunciation: "Despite everything he was told and thought that he heard and witnessed, Sir William still loved you. He still loved the woman he believed had betrayed him, and he hated himself for it'"(222). Even with Kate's explanation and implicit interpretation of Claudio's violence in Much Ado, Georgina's forgiveness is hard-won and, ultimately, classic romance fare.
Two elements contribute to Martin's adoption and revision of Much Ado. First, after appropriating the slander and mistaken rejection and displaying them as well suited to romance novel conventions, Martin elaborates the reactions of both the slandered maid and the tricked lover, developing and explaining their rapprochement. Second, the revelation and comparable public shaming of the villains becomes an important part of the reinstatement of Georgina's reputation and her reunion with William. Martin draws in the play device from Hamlet. Suitably at the Prince's reception which everyone, including the slanderous Lady Priscilla and Lord Falkland, attends, Kate and Theo enact the conspiracy between those two as an entertainment which duly provokes Falkland to reveal his guilt. Both he and Lady Priscilla experience even worse social shame and ostracism than they imposed on Georgina. As in The Lady Who Hated Shakespeare and Miss Grimsley's Oxford Career, one Shakespearean reference or strategy answers another.