Jane Austen's Use of Theater in Mansfield Park
"All the world's a stage/ And all the men and women merely players."
-As You Like It II.vii.139
A large portion of the plot of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park (Austen, 1814) describes the young gentlemen and ladies of the estate preparing a performance of the play Lovers' Vows (Inchbald, 1798). A play full of controversial subjects, it features ideas of love, illegitimacy, a disgraced woman, class differences, and imprisonment. When Sir Thomas Bertram, the patriarch of Mansfield Park, returns home from the West Indies to find his children and their friends acting out such controversial ideas, he immediately puts a stop to their antics, seeing "all the impropriety of such a scheme among such a party, and at such a time" (Austen 204). Although throughout Mansfield Park the young characters' participation in the theatrics is portrayed as taboo, overly sexual, and improper, Jane Austen is not condemning the theater or Lover's Vows. Rather, Austen uses the theater as a forum through which she makes criticisms on society. Similar to her young characters, Austen is able to approach taboo subjects under the guise of theatrics. Mansfield Park examines the weighty subjects of imprisonment, slavery, and...
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