Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Shakespeare in Mansfield Park

Austen, Jane. Mansfield Park. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Mansfield Park was another novel I read with an eye to Shakespeare.

A scene some way into the novel is remarkably similar to a scene quite early in Little Women. Our younger protagonists are planning to put on a play, Tom insisting that it would be fine while Edmund thinks it is a bad idea:
“By Jove! this won’t do,” cried Tom, throwing himself into a chair with a hearty laugh. “To be sure, my dear mother, your anxiety—I was unlucky there.”

“What is the matter?” asked her ladyship, in the heavy tone of one half-roused; “I was not asleep.”

“Oh dear, no, ma’am, nobody suspected you! Well, Edmund,” he continued, returning to the former subject, posture, and voice, as soon as Lady Bertram began to nod again, “but this I will maintain, that we shall be doing no harm.”

“I cannot agree with you; I am convinced that my father would totally disapprove it.”

“And I am convinced to the contrary. Nobody is fonder of the exercise of talent in young people, or promotes it more, than my father, and for anything of the acting, spouting, reciting kind, I think he has always a decided taste. I am sure he encouraged it in us as boys. How many a time have we mourned over the dead body of Julius Caesar, and to be’d and not to be’d, in this very room, for his amusement? And I am sure, my name was Norval, every evening of my life through one Christmas holidays.”

“It was a very different thing. You must see the difference yourself. My father wished us, as schoolboys, to speak well, but he would never wish his grown-up daughters to be acting plays. His sense of decorum is strict.”
Later, Fanny, steadfast and true to the morals of the manor, unwaveringly advises against it.

The line "How many a time have we mourned over the dead body of Julius Caesar, and to be’d and not to be’d, in this very room, for his amusement?" reminds me of an exchange from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Cassius begins the exchange, marveling at the fame that is now theirs for all time:
                          How many ages hence
Shall this our lofty scene be acted over
In states unborn and accents yet unknown! (III.i.111-13)
Brutus responds with equal optimism:
How many times shall Caesar bleed in sport,
That now on Pompey’s basis [lies] along
No worthier than the dust!  (III.i.114-16)
They're both right, and it's a wonderfully self-reflexive moment within the play. Mansfield Park adds to the layers of metatheacricality by being one of the places where the lofty scene is acted over.

[As a side note, the line about Norval refers to John Home's Douglas, a 1756 Scottish tragedy.]

Let me give you the scene quoted above in greater context (click on the image below to enlarge it):



Shakespeare is mentioned a few times in Mansfield Park. Astonishingly, speeches from Henry VIII move Fanny very much:



In one of the last references to Shakespeare in the novel, his work forms at least one point of common ground between two otherwise dissimilar people. Could love of Shakespeare spark true love between polar opposites?



The lesson for us all is, I believe, that we should read more Austen—and that doing so will make us read more Shakespeare. And I think even Mrs. Norris would agree with that! 

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Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
All material original to this blog is copyrighted: Copyright 2008-2016 (and into perpetuity thereafter) by Keith Jones.

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