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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What a piece of work is about nothing ......What a silly thing is Woman! How vain, how unreasonable!

"Does not Sir Thomas also in a way represent l'ancien regime - he comes home to encounter a full-fledged rebellion to authority and, enraged, crushes it. In this way, perhaps, the composition of this novel is quite"expressionistic" as Arnie has said: one association initiating in childhood of the situation in France initiates a long string of psychological associations encompassing both the greater world political order [and political/social morality] and symbolizes everyone's lack of safety in our timid little "creepmouse" Fanny."

Exactly, Elissa, nicely articulated! There's no doubt that Sir Thomas stands for all that was wrong in the way power was distributed in the world at that time..

"Notice most pesky little mice get caught - but not careful creepmouse Fanny who is always so guarded. I think Arnie is right about this as well - it is the "big game" - the king - that JA wants trapped in her elaborate mousetrap. But Sir Thomas is far bigger and stronger than Fanny, wilier and with greater worldly resources. She simply has her own plain cross and her stubborn refusal to walk any path but the straight and narrow."

I.e., Jesus vis a vis the Roman Empire. Sir Thomas tries every cynical trick he knows to break her spirit, but it is HE who is broken in the end. The meek does inherit Mansfield Park. You gotta love this little mouse Fanny, for her kahones!

"There are so many, many signposts here that Austen certainly does want us to think *precisely* of Hamlet - of the play being *just* the thing to catch the conscience of this king, don't you think?"

Exactly again, that was my point in writing the following a month ago:

And not only are the thematic signposts in so many ways, there are also all the specific "bread crumbs" in the text which are JA's "winks and nods".

I will give one beautiful example from among several textual tidbits in MP which point to Hamlet. It is what Mrs. Norris says to Fanny at the precise moment when Fanny does not wish to act in Lover's Vows--and doesn't the entire drama in Hamlet circle around Hamlet's waffling about whether to ACT on the Ghost's admonitions and revelations?

Anyway, here is the relevant text:

"....before [Fanny] could breathe after it, Mrs Norris completed the whole by thus addressing her in a whisper at once angry and audible -- "WHAT A PIECE OF WORK IS ABOUT NOTHING: I am quite ashamed of you, Fanny, to make such a difficulty of obliging your cousins in a trifle of this sort -- so kind as they are to you!"

I claim this is an echo of Hamlet's famous speech to Rosencrantz & Guildenstern "What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason!"

Taken in isolation, a hardened skeptic might try to argue that beginning a sentence with "What a piece of work is" was a cliche and not an allusion to Hamlet. Given that all literate people of JA's time would have been familiar with Hamlet in some way, and in particular with such a famous speech, PLUS Hamlet is one of the plays specifically considered for enactment at Mansfield Park, that seems an absurd degree of skepticism.

However, there's an even better reason to accept this as an intentional allusion by JA. It would be great foolishness to take anything JA wrote in isolation, because it has been shown a thousand times that she always wove a web of words from textual bits and pieces spread widely across her novels, and also BETWEEN her novels as well. So to claim that one must analyze each bit of text in isolation is even more absurd with a writer like JA than with writers who did not engage in such long-distance connections between disparate chapters and novels.

And there's more. First, Mrs. Norris's seems not only to point to Hamlet's speech (and by the way, Hamlet's speech to R&G is almost a soliloquy, and aren't Shakespearean soliloquys often delivered in an audible whisper?), but also to ANOTHER Shakespeare play, one which JA indubitably alluded to in extensive detail in P&P, i.e, Much Ado ABOUT NOTHING!

Sometime I will have to take a closer look at whether there is more of Much Ado in MP--for sure Mary Crawford shares Beatrice's verbal facility, but there is no Benedick in MP, unless it is Henry, and that incestuous implication is just too creepy to contemplate.

Anyway, I long ago also pointed out that JA loved to secretly allude to Shakespeare in all sorts of clever ways, such as in the following speech by Mrs. Elton:

“That's quite unnecessary; I see Jane every day: -- but AS YOU LIKE. IT is to be a morning scheme, you know, Knightley; quite a simple thing.”

There is clearly an intentional allusion to As You Like it in Emma, complete with all the love charades brought to a "wood house" (i.e., the FOREST of Arden)!

But back to MP and Hamlet---the piece de resistance on this particular point is the following line from JA's Catherine or the Bower (written, please note, by JA while still a teenager!):

“what a silly Thing is Woman! How vain, how unreasonable!”

I mean really! What a wonderful transformation of Hamlet's phrase, echoing just enough of the sentence structure to unmistakably point to Hamlet. And it's more than just wordplay, JA has hijacked Shakespeare's words, in the way that self confident great artists do, and turned them to her own purposes. Hamlet's speech is a masterful reversal, he starts out as if he was drinking a toast to the wonderfulness of mankind, and then abruptly pulls the rug out from that praise, and turns the tone completely sour. JA seems in that one line to be cutting to the chase, and echoing Hamlet's entire speech!

So, if the 18 year old JA was playing such sophisticated allusive games with that very same speech in Hamlet, is it possible that the mature artist JA would FORGET what she knew 20 years earlier? Of course not!

And I repeat, that is only ONE of the wordplay allusions to Hamlet in MP. Otherwise, Elissa, in my book I specifically discuss the character transformations from Hamlet to MP, and I bet you will enjoy the way I do it. It all fits so beautifully.

Thanks for your chiming in, Elissa, your good opinion on such matters is always welcome, because you are no rubber stamp for my heresies, and your opinion it is always a very well informed one, even when we disagree! ;)

Cheers, ARNIE

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