Definition of Homage

Homage means to specially honor or respect someone in public. Etymologically, the word homage is a derivation of Latin and French origin. The first Latin term is homo, which evolved into hominaticum and later taken by the French to turn it into homage. Medieval English took this term and spread it as homage that means to give special honor to somebody involving respect and humility. As a noun, it is also used as a public acknowledgement of political allegiance.

In literary terms, it means to create something in the name of some other great writer purely to pay homage to that writer. It could be the creation of a poem, a short story. or a novel or even citation of some lines as an epigraph in the work of art or literature. Sometimes, writers also create new things out of the old to pay homage to their favorite masters.

Examples of Homage in Literature

Example #1

A Thousand Acres: A Homage to Shakespeare

The novel of Jane Smiley, A Thousand Acres, is a homage to William Shakespeare as it imitates and includes several scenes and characters of King Lear. For the character of A Thousand Acres Ginny, Rose, Larry, and Caroline remind the readers about Goneril, Regan, Lear, and Cordelia. Similarly, some of the roles of the characters that Smiley adopts include that Edgar, Edmund, and Gloucester. Even some of the thematic strands have been adopted from King Lear. Therefore, this is a classic example of the homage a writer pays to a classic master.

Example #2

Sir Walter Raleigh and Christopher Marlow

Christopher Marlow wrote a very good poem “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love,” showing a shepherd who tells his beloved how he enjoys life saying, “And I will make thee beds of Roses / And a thousand fragrant posies.” Sir Walter Raleigh has echoed these feelings in his famous poem “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd” in which he has elaborated it further with his own premises “If all the world and love were young / And truth in every Shepherd’s tongue.” This shows how Sir Walter Raleigh has paid homage to the classic master through the inclusion of his thoughts in his poem.

Example #3

Curfewed Night’s Epigraph: A Homage to James Baldwin

Curfewed Night is a beautiful memoir of Basharat Peer, a New York based journalist from Indian held Kashmir. He has depicted the otherness of the Kashmiri people at the hands of the Indian administration and military crackdowns against the resistance. The impacts on his psyche are clear from his description of the destroyed houses and checkpoints but he has adopted the tone of James Baldwin whose epigraph he mentions in the beginning. This is also a good example of a homage he has paid to a US scholar for demonstrating how history traps the people into prolonging discrimination.

Example #4

Foreign Bodies: A Homage to The Ambassadors

Foreign Bodies is a popular novel by Cynthia Ozick. She has demonstrated her respect and honor toward Henry James by adopting some character traits of Bea Nightingale from The Ambassadors, his popular novel. Even she has touched the same themes; inheritance and displacement of families. Although Paris enters both the novels, the distance between the novels is not bridged due to the time differences. Despite these differences, she has paid homage to Henry James through the similarity of thematic strands.

Example #5

The Skinhead Hamlet and Hamlet

Although The Skinhead Hamlet is a parody of Hamlet by William Shakespeare, Richard Curtis has adopted several of the lines of the original play including its characters and has put them into the postmodern situation to see how they show their character traits during these times. Interestingly, he has won laurels for paying homage to the old master by adopting his characters and lines and parodying them to see the enactment of the play in the postmodern period. Most importantly, Richard Curtis has taken a bold step of presenting Hamlet and Ophelia in a lighter mood as if they are modern lovers, showing that they do not think that love is worth consideration with heavy responsibilities of time and space on their shoulders.

Example #6

Wide Sargasso Sea and Jane Eyre

Although both the novels seem different having some differences in thematic strands, the similarity between the novels as Wide Sargasso Sea being a prequel to Jane Eyre is unmistakable. The novel demonstrates the point of view of both Rochester and Mrs. Rochester yet Rhys has manipulated the first-person narrative to have a good peep into the thinking of each character. Rhys has also followed Charlotte’s regret of depicting Bertha as such and has named her differently. Yet, the homage Rhys has paid to the great writer of her times attracts the attention of the readers.

Functions of Homage

Although homage does not mean mimicry or imitation in literature, yet it becomes clear that sometimes writers pay homage for borrowing things from one or the other writers and including them in their works. Such borrowing leads to feelings in the readers that the writers have merely borrowed ideas and that they are not creative. Yet, this remaking and making of the classics continue since antiquity. Not only do the writers copy styles and diction, but they also copy characters, character traits, and other such thematic issues. Such creations and recreations continue creating creativity among the new readers and students. Focusing on such issues also enables literary readers to think about the larger canvas of time in which the works are placed and critiqued.


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