Agatha and Shakespeare

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Agatha and Shakespeare

jul 23, 2014, 2:58pm

Hello, I am new to this group but wanted to add to the discussion. I listen to a lot of Agatha Christie on Audible while I work and I have noticed that a number of characters get compared to Ophelia - one of the sisters in Nemesis is described as an aged Ophelia. Norma in Third Girl is described as an unattractive Ophelia and Ginny in Appointment with Death is described as being like Ophelia and indeed SPOILER ALERT goes on to become an actress and plays her.

In The Pale Horse, a character describes how they would portray the Witches in Macbeth as ordinary old village women and I can't think where at the moment but in another story a character states the same idea.

Has anyone else noticed references to Shakespear in Agatha Christie's work?

nov 21, 2014, 11:09am

Hi, and welcome to the group. As you've probably noticed, we aren't as active as we once were, which is unfortunate.

I think Christie refers to Shakespeare often because in her lifetime the majority of English speaking adults could be expected to have at least a passing acquaintance with his work, as it was taught in schools. So it was probably a quick way of making the reader understand that an Ophelia-like female was fragile and perhaps unbalanced.

dec 22, 2014, 11:30am


Yes, I completely agree with you on the Shakespeare characters being used as cultural shorthand for her readers, especially in regards to Ophelia.

In regards to the references to the witches in Macbeth, I wondered if this was Agatha Christie's own personal view that if putting on a production of Macbeth one should make the witches appear as ordinary old women?

Thank you for the welcome, I do love Agatha Christie!

Redigeret: feb 26, 2015, 1:45am

>1 Bowerbirds-Library: Has anyone else noticed references to Shakespear in Agatha Christie's work?

Without checking her complete canon, 5 of her work titles immediately come to mind as being direct references to plays or sonnets by the Swan of Avon. In no particular order they are ...

1. Sad Cypress - cf. Twelfth Night II.iii
2. There is a Tide ... (US title) / Taken at the Flood (UK title) - cf. Julius Caesar IV.iii
3. By the Pricking of My Thumbs - cf. Macbeth IV.i
4. The Mousetrap - cf. Hamlet III.ii
5. Absent in the Spring - cf. Sonnet XCVIII

ETA: OK, I've thought of another one ... kind of, sort of. In the early 1960s Margaret Rutherford made a number (four, I believe) of monochrome movies for MGM in the UK which were loosely based on Christie's Marple novels. In fact, they were so loosely based that only the first two of these movies are actually based on Christie books, the second one (Murder at the Gallop) being based on After the Funeral, which was a Poirot whodunnit NOT a Marple one!

The third and fourth movies simply utilized the Rutherford tongue-in-cheek portrayal of the earlier Marple character in studio written scripts. The third one in 1964 was entitled Murder Most Foul which is a reference to the words spoken by the ghost in Act I Scene 5 of Hamlet ...

Murder most foul, as in the best it is.
But this most foul, strange and unnatural.

Redigeret: feb 26, 2015, 1:32pm

>4 Rule42: Sad Cypress

Since I own a copy of Sad Cypress and it is readily to hand on my shelves I can give you the main tract of the song from which the book's title - a reference to the scented, decay-resistant wood from which coffins are more usually made in the Orient - is derived (it is quoted on the first page of the novel):

Come away, come away, death,
And in sad cypress let me be laid;
Fly away, fly away, breath;
I am slain by a fair cruel maid.
My shroud of white, stuck all with yew,
O prepare it!
My part of death, no one so true
Did share it.

You will have to read the novel to appreciate the aptness of the quotation. This might be the only Christie whodunnit where she provides a clue to the murderer's identity before the first word of the book's Preface has even been read! For the sake of completeness, the rest of the song that is sung by the Fool in this scene goes as follows ...

Not a flower, not a flower sweet
On my black coffin let there be strown.
Not a friend, not a friend greet
My poor corpse, where my bones shall be thrown.
A thousand thousand sighs to save,
Lay me, O, where
Sad true lover never find my grave,
To weep there!

Redigeret: feb 26, 2015, 2:46pm

>4 Rule42: There is a Tide ... / Taken at the Flood

Both of the alternate novel titles based on the words of Brutus in Act IV Scene 3 of Julius Caesar come from the same short passage ...

There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves
Or lose our ventures.

To tell the truth, I'm somewhat surprised that the American title (the true first edition) was changed to the words of the first line of the above tract from Christie's original choice for the novel's title taken from the second line for the slightly later UK edition. From the perspective of the audience that these whodunnits were aimed at on both sides of the pond, neither title would have held any significant draw over the other. The USA titles were usually changed from the original UK ones created by Christie in order to make them more gruesomely appealing to whodunnit fans by introducing words such as "death" or "murder" etc. into them if the British title didn't originally contain such terms.

Examples of such prosaic title changes would be Murder in Retrospect for Five Little Pigs; Hickory, Dickory, Death instead of Hickory, Dickory, Dock; and The Patriotic Murders instead of One, Two, Buckle My Shoe. All of these changes, of course, completely ruin the nursery rhyme origins of these names and thus miss the whole point of Christie's original choice of these titles. The editorial justification for these alternative titles would be that the American audience would not be anywhere near as familiar with these nursery rhymes as their contemporary British audience would be, and even if they were, would hardly be attracted by such tame, innocent titles compared to all the competing whodunnits from rival detective fiction authors that would have titles rife with more commercially alluring imagery.

But I just don't see the point in this particular choice of alternate book title other than simply "change for change's sake"!

feb 26, 2015, 1:09am

>4 Rule42: By the Pricking of My Thumbs
>1 Bowerbirds-Library: In The Pale Horse, a character describes how they would portray the Witches in Macbeth as ordinary old village women and I can't think where at the moment but in another story a character states the same idea.

I'm not sure if this is the novel you are thinking about as I have never read it - although I am familiar with the pseudo-Marple TV version of it - but I suspect it is. The full quotation from Act IV Scene 1 of Macbeth on which the third novel's title is based is spoken by the Second Witch just before Macbeth enters ...

By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.
Open, locks,
Whoever knocks.

jul 27, 2020, 3:32pm

Christie's work is full of Shakespeare references. I'm making my way through the Bard's complete work at the moment and I keep discovering phrases and references that are familiar from Dame Agatha's work.