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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

"bits and scraps" of one particular Shakespeare play in Mansfield Park!

Anielka Briggs wrote the following in Austen L and Janeites this morning:

"As Henry Crawford says "Shakespeare one gets acquainted with without knowing how. It is a part of an Englishman's constitution. His thoughts and beauties are so spread abroad that one touches them everywhere; one is intimate with him by instinct."....Englishmen would never say Austen's knowledge of Shakespeare was anything special because, this time in Edmund's words "No doubt (Austen was) familiar with Shakespeare in a degree.....from.... earliest years. His celebrated
passages are quoted by everybody; they are in half the books we open, and we all talk Shakespeare, use his similes, and describe with his descriptions" ....Any English person, like Henry Crawford, would modestly claim their knowledge of Shakespeare was slight when in fact they were dyed-in-the-wool, Stratfordian experts by comparison to those who had not had an English education. We know the plots of the plays...because we've been forced to read them, line by line even though I think of myself as knowing Shakespeare "in bits and scraps". END QUOTE

I responded as follows:

Anielka, apropos your above comments about Jane Austen's knowledge of Shakespeare in connection with the passages in MP from which you quoted, I have a question for you (and anyone else who might be interested) that I think it very worthwhile to answer.

To wit: what _specific_ Shakespeare play was under consideration by the Mansfield Park thespians when the following comments were made during the attempt to settle on one play for the troupe to perform?:

"No piece could be proposed that did not supply somebody with a difficulty, and on one side or the other it was a continual repetition of, "Oh no, that will never do! Let us have no ranting tragedies. Too many characters. Not a tolerable woman's part in the play. Anything but THAT, my dear Tom. It would be impossible to fill it up. One could not expect anybody to take such a part. Nothing but buffoonery from beginning to end. That might do, perhaps, but for the low parts. If I must give my opinion, I have always thought it the most insipid play in the English language. I do not wish to make objections; I shall be happy to be of any use, but I think we could not chuse worse."

Many have been the Austen scholars, including myself, who have claimed to detect in Mansfield Park allusions to various of Shakespeare's plays. However, I realized only this morning that one _particular_ Shakespeare play is being covertly alluded to, in several significant and winking ways, in the above quoted passage from Mansfield Park, and also to some extent in the passages you quoted from MP, and which I requoted while quoting from you, above:

Can you guess which Shakespeare play it is which was specifically claimed to be the worst possible choice for performance, for the specific reasons stated? I suggest to you that JA has winked repeatedly at it, both in these specific passages, and also in the novel as a whole. I.e., this is not a trivial allusion, it goes to the thematic heart of Mansfield Park, and why JA chose that particular Shakespeare play to deepen the meaning of her novel by bringing this play's themes into the mix as well.

I give no additional hints, because the hints are already there in the above quoted passages from MP.

I will give my answer to this question tomorrow (Wednesday) evening EST if no one comes forward before then with the answer.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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