Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Unexpected Allusions

Seventeen years ago, a line from a movie (and even earlier than that in book form) made a large enough impression on me to remain in my mind to this day. Lestat, from Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire, is in the midst of seducing a prostitute when he says the ill-fated line (from memory, so forgive any lapses...) "Put out the light, then put out the light." As he speaks, he extinguishes the sole candle in the scene, then makes his move on the unsuspecting woman.

Picture courtesy of Google Images

Anne Rice is well known for her work, and I can't help but wonder just how much of a fan of Shakespeare she is, since the line is used in Act V of Othello. Othello, led astray by the conniving Iago, is so consumed by jealousy that he "put[s] out the light, and then put[s] out the light" of Desdemona, his faithful, faultless, yet forgiving wife.

Or perhaps this is more telling of me, since I remembered this line from the book and movie. I've thought about Lestat every year when I reread Othello, but this is the first time it has fallen in to place with another allusion used in class.

My juniors are in the midst of Puritan literature. As dry as it can be, I attempt to liven it up a bit, though my references are starting to become rather dated... Not only is Anne Rice not as well known to today's high schoolers, even Harry Potter is beginning to age out, and Twilight has, I believe, crested. But my point is that, in explaining the social mores and beliefs of Puritan times to the students, I was discussing the convictions of the theocracy. The students looked at me like I was speaking in tongues because, well, if this group of people were so upstanding, why would they have convictions??

Sigh. Yes, the alternate definition of conviction was lost on this group of students. So, I bring in a reference that, too, sticks in my mind from Interview with the Vampire. Louis, before he was turned, is heart-broken and living life dangerously in order to hasten his death. His wife died in childbirth, and the babe with her. He carouses with unsavory people, playing cards, and blatantly cheating. One man, after discovering this, jumps back, whips out a gun, and threatens to shoot Louis. He calmly looks up at the man, opens his shirt to indicate where he should aim, and waits. The man looks lost. He is caught off guard by the actions of the cheater, and puts his gun away. "You lack the courage for your convictions." In summarizing this scene, I asked the students what convictions means in this context.

The fact that few still caught on is discouraging and beside the point. Ultimately, I found myself curious as to how these two literary allusions came to fruition. Where else do we find classical literature being used in contemporary (or even not so much) every day life? Where have YOU seen classical literature? Respond to me and let me know. The more canonized, the better. And yes, Harry Potter is Hamlet.

1 comment:

  1. I was totes going to say Harry Potter...
    Especially since that's the only literature I read. (: