Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 15: No 2) >> Domesticating the Gothic: Realism and Romance in Simms's Richard Hurdis >> Page 8

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Secondary Scholarship | 2007
Transcription give it a gothic flavor.7 According to Maggie Kilgour, Shakepeare's plays
served as touchstones for many writers of gothic fiction. As Kilgour
observes, Macbeth and Hamlet are among "the most important sources
drawn upon by the gothic" (40). She adds that these plays "provide models
for explorations of themes such as inheritance, usurpation, oedipal conflict,
fraternal rivalry, [and] incest" (40). Simms's allusion to Macbeth serves a
similar purpose in Richard Hurdis. While this indirect reference appears
when Ben Pickett imagines seeing the "ghost" of Richard Hurdis on his
property, Simms uses epigraphs from Macbeth in Chapters Eleven, Twenty-
Nine, and Thirty to establish connections between Shakepeare's tragedy and
the events of his novel. In particular, this prefatory material underlines
important thematic correspondences between, the two texts such as issues of
familial conflict and treachery.
The epigraphs also prepare readers for Pickett's encounter with "the
spectre," which reproduces Macbeth's vision of Banquo's ghost. During this
scene, King Macbeth attends a banquet after ordering his friend Banquo's
murder. At the feast, he sees Banquo's ghost and recoils in horror. Lady
Macbeth (now Queen), who does not see the apparition, tries, in vain, to
calm her husband and tells her guests that the king has been subject to
nervous fits since childhood. Consider Simms's imitation of this scene. Ben
Pickett returns home from murdering William Carrington, whom he mistook
for Richard Hurdis. When he reaches his cabin, Pickett imagines that he
sees the ghost of Richard Hurdis with "a bloody hole in his bosom" standing
before "the gate of his hovel" (178). Terrified, Pickett tries to regain his
composure, telling the specter, "I'm not afraid of your bloody finger shake
it away shake it away!" (179). Pickett's language echoes Macbeth's:
"[N]ever shake/ Thy gory locks at me" (3.4.50-1).
Simms's apparition differs significantly, however, from
Shakespeare's. In Simms's novel, the ghost is a figment of Pickett's
imagination, a projection of his guilty conscience. In Macbeth, the ghost of
Banquo actually appears on stage. This specter is not, however, the only
supernatural figure in the play. Consider the Weird Sisters. Shakespeare
endows these women with occult powers. They also serve as chorus.
Displayed prominently on stage with ghosts, the necromancers register the

7 See C. Hugh Holman's "Simms and the British Dramatists" for an analysis of Simms's literary
borrowings from Renaissance and Restoration playwrights. Of Simms's knowledge of
Shakespeare, Holman observes that the South Carolina writer "was a student of Shakespeare,
wrote articles on him, and annotated some of his plays" (346). He adds, however, that Simms's
interest in the Bard transcended scholarly concerns. As Holman demonstrates, Shakespeare and
his contemporaries offered Simms useful models for his own writing. The influence of these
dramatists is evident in Simms's "description of character through action and soliloquy, the
conception of character in terms of the `humours' theory, and the borrowing of attributes and
attitudes of drama" (359). Significantly, Simms departs from some of these practices in Richard
Hurdis as he strives for greater realism in characterization. At any rate, the novel contains
several references to Shakespeare's plays. For example, in addition to citing Macbeth, Simms
uses quotations from other plays as epigraphs. Thus while Simms experiments with new
narrative techniques in the novel, Shakespeare's work continues to influence his literary vision