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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, April 8, 2011

Warding & Watching in Troilus & Cressida and Mansfield Park

A few days ago, I noticed that there was a sudden and mysterious wave of people reading the following post at my blog from 2009:

My blog stats suggested that these people were being referred by a link at a blog at, another blogging site, but I could not discern which blog had posted the link…till this morning, when I found out that it was here at a blog with the very interesting title “The Other Austen”:

For those who enjoy an edgy, satirical take on JA, I recommend this refreshing blog, apparently started by a young lady (with a painted tongue) named Emily. It is a blog which echoes the irreverent, hyperbolic tone of Austen’s Juvenilia.

By very happy coincidence, I intended to post today anyway about Mary Crawford’s “rears and vices” bon mot, for an entirely different reason, to wit:

I have previously posted on several occasions about the extraordinary covert allusions in Mansfield Park to its Shakespearean counterpart, Troilus & Cressida, which is, arguably, the Bard’s most cynical and problematic problem play (just as MP plays exactly the same role in the Austen canon).

Initially, in the summer of 2009, I pointed out how Mary Crawford’s “rears and vices” joke is a covert, but unmistakable, tip of the hat to Cressida’s Freudian invitation to Troilus:

As I stated in that 2009 post, I was led to that discovery by seeing Troilus & Cressida performed at the Globe theatre in London the week before, and being bowled over by the connection to Mary Crawford as I watched that scene in the play!
I have since then posted on several occasions bringing forth additional connections I have discovered between Mansfield Park and Troilus & Cressida. In particular I have repeatedly zeroed in on Sir Thomas Bertram as another lecherous pandering uncle just like Pandarus, but whereas Pandarus is utterly unable to conceal his monstrous lechery, Sir Thomas is the consummate hypocrite who deceives himself, and many readers of MP, into thinking he is an upstanding moral pillar who really has niece Fanny’s best interest at heart when he pushes her toward Henry Crawford:
Anyway, today I found another piece of the jigsaw puzzle, which cements this covert allusion of niece and pandering uncle even more tightly.

It is in Act 1, Scene 2, the first (and by far the longest) of several encounters between Pandarus and Cressida during the play. They are standing on the ramparts of Troy’s outer walls (the ones that will eventually be breached not by attack but by the entry of the Trojan Horse), watching the virile, sweaty Trojan warriors return home from a long day’s battle against the Greeks, and the sexual raillery is at a high intensity from the get-go, as Pandarus advocates hard for Troilus, but Cressida cleverly parries her uncle’s matchmaking thrusts, as they watch (like Joan Rivers and her daughter at a red carpet) Aeneas, Hector, Paris, Helenus, and Antenor pass by, before Troilus has his brief moment on “the runway”.

The wickedly clever Cressida then jerks Pandarus’s chain a little by suggesting that the Greek hero Achilles is a better man than Troilus, whereupon Pandarus, frustrated by his niece’s deft deflections of his clumsy pandering for Troilus, bursts out with a speech that is tantamount to “What does it take in a man to win _your_ admiration?”:

“'Well, well!' why, have you any discretion? Have you any eyes? Do you know what a man is? Is not birth, beauty, good shape, discourse, manhood, learning, gentleness, virtue, youth, liberality, and such like, the spice and salt that season a man?”

She replies saucily once more, and then we have the key exchange to which, I claim, Jane Austen deftly alludes in MP:

PANDARUS. You are such a woman! A man knows not at what ward you lie.

CRESSIDA. Upon my back, to defend my belly; upon my wit, to defend my wiles; upon my secrecy, to defend mine honesty; my mask, to defend my beauty; and you, to defend all these; and at all these wards I lie at, at a thousand watches.

PANDARUS. Say one of your watches.

CRESSIDA. Nay, I'll watch you for that; and that's one of the chiefest of them too. If I cannot ward what I would not have hit, I can watch you for telling how I took the blow; unless it swell past hiding, and then it's past watching…

PANDARUS. You are such another!

Pandarus has introduced the metaphor of courtship as a swordfight, suggesting that a male suitor does not know how to land a thrust on Cressida’s elusive body, because she keeps “warding” them all off . Cressida, who is as witty as Mary Crawford, takes the metaphor and runs with it, suggesting she will defend her virtue to the end, because if she fails to “ward” them off, she will wind up pregnant!

Now, do you see the first obvious “bread crumb” that JA left in MP that points to this passage? Here it is, at the very beginning of the novel:

“About thirty years ago Miss Maria Ward, of Huntingdon, with only seven thousand pounds, had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Park.”

Not only is Jane Austen, via the maiden surname Ward in Mansfield Park, pointing (as I have posted in the past) to the three_weird_ sisters from Macbeth, this passage shows that she is also pointing to Cressida’s “wards”! And did you know, by they way, that Anne Radcliffe’s maiden name was also Ward? Not a coincidence either!

Anyway, what I claim particularly connects Pandarus to Sir Thomas Bertram in this scene is Pandarus’s hypocritical pandering, as he leaves no stone unturned in repeatedly extolling Troilus’s virtues.

In "War and Lechery": Thematic Unity of "Troilus and Cressida" inThe Bulletin of the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association, Vol. 27, No. 3(Sep., 1973), pp. 181-186, Edward L. Hart perfectly sums up Pandarus’ hypocrisy as illustrated in this scene:
“…In the first scene in which we meet Cressida (I.ii), the quality of her mind is revealed by the language she uses in bawdy talk with her uncle Pandarus. When he says that arguing with her is difficult because "One knows not at what ward you lie," she replies, "Upon my back to defend my belly" (11.282-284). Few virtues have been successfully defended in this position; it is the posture for receiving, not for warding off. But this is typical of the way the principle of negativity operates in the play, even in the figurative language and the imagery. That we have not misinterpreted the preceding passage is proved by the lines that follow: "If I cannot ward what I would not have hit, I can watch you for telling how I took the blow-unless it swell past hiding, and then it's past watching." To enhance the irony, this dialogue occurs in the center of the scene in which Pandarus is trying to produce in Cressida a romantic response to Troilus, who possesses" birth, beauty, good shape, discourse, manhood, learning, gentleness, virtue, youth, liberality." _It is outrageous that Pandarus should see himself in the role of a purveyor of virtues_; and Cressida, knowing him for what he is, reacts only to those physical attributes of Troilus that denote virility.” END QUOTE

I claim it is equally outrageous that Sir Thomas should see _himself_ in the role of a purveyor of virtues, but it is Mary Crawford, not Fanny, who knows Sir Thomas for what he is, and that is why she, like the sharp-tongued Cressida, keeps tossing her sexually drenched stink bombs into the _pseudo_moral, and very _un_free, air of Mansfield Park.


I referred to “Ward” as the first blatant allusion by Jane Austen to this scene from Troilus & Cressida. There is, however, also a _second_ much more pervasive, yet less obvious, allusion by Jane Austen, which refers to the _other_ key word of that Shakespearean scene, i.e., the word “watch”.

Perhaps you noticed as you read it that scene that both Pandarus and Cressida bawdily toss the word “watch” back and forth several times in the short passage I quoted above, expanding on the sword fighting metaphor of “ward”, and riffing on the conceit of Cressida watching to avoid a sexual “blow” from one of her suitors, in contrast with the reverse, i.e.,the after-the-fact watching to observe the effects of a sexual “blow” already landed, i.e., a swelling and very visible pregnancy.

As soon as I noticed the significance of that keyword “watch” in that scene in Troilus & Cressida, I had a strong hunch that the word “watch” would also be an important one in Mansfield Park, in particular in regard to Fanny’s love life, in particular Sir Thomas’s desire to “sell” Fanny to Henry Crawford.

It turned out my hunch was spot-on! It would take too long to spell out for you all the marvelous ways that JA deploys the word “watch” thematically in MP, but I will give you the highlights now:

The most spectacular allusion is in Chapter 7, as Fanny looks down on the park where Mary and Edmund cavort on horseback, and “she could not help _watching_ all that passed”. This is just like Cressida and Pandarus who cannot help watching, from the ramparts of Troy, all the Trojan warriors passing below. And we have the sly added touch of the old coachman at Mansfield Park who “had been _watching_ with an interest almost equal to her own”, and who then says ““It is a pleasure to see a lady with such a _good heart_ for riding!”. This explicitly echoes Pandarus’s _four_ references earlier in that same Act 1, Scene 2 to its “doing a _heart good_” to see the various warriors returning safely from battle.

In Chapter 9, we read a scene just as “watch”-intensive as the one in Act 1, Scene 2, in terms of repetition of the word:

“We have been exactly a quarter of an hour here,” said Edmund, taking out his _watch_. “Do you think we are walking four miles an hour?”

[Mary] “Oh! do not attack me with your _watch_. A _watch- is always too fast or too slow. I cannot be dictated to by a _watch_.”

And at the end of that scene, we read that Fanny “_watched_ them till they had turned the corner, and listened till all sound of them had ceased.”

In Chapter 22, Fanny and Mary do what Mary suggests, in Chapter 17, clergymen do all the time, i.e., watch the weather:

“Another quarter of an hour,” said Miss Crawford, “and we shall see how it will be. Do not run away the first moment of its holding up. Those clouds look alarming.”
“But they are passed over,” said Fanny. “I have been _watching_ them. This weather is all from the south.”

“South or north, I know a black cloud when I see it; and you must not set forward while it is so threatening. ..”

This is not only pointing to Troilus & Cressida’s watching, it is also a clever double allusion to Hamlet, blending the moment in Act 3, Scene 1, when Hamlet watches clouds with Polonius, with the one in Act 2, Scene 2, when he says to Rosencrantz & Guildenstern:

"I am but mad north-north-west; when the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw."

From Chapter 24 onward, there are two repeated motifs of watching, first of all Fanny who watches everyone (but especially Edmund at the crucial moment when he sours on Mary), but also very crucially Sir Thomas watching Fanny to see if his pandering for Henry is working:

In Chapter 28: “She was attractive, she was modest, she was Sir Thomas’s niece, and she was soon said to be admired by Mr. Crawford. It was enough to give her general favour. Sir Thomas himself was _watching_ her progress down the dance with much complacency; he was proud of his niece; and without attributing all her personal beauty, as Mrs. Norris seemed to do, to her transplantation to Mansfield, he was pleased with himself for having supplied everything else: education and manners she owed to him.”

In Chapter 37: “Mr. Crawford gone, Sir Thomas’s next object was that he should be missed; and he entertained great hope that his niece would find a blank in the loss of those attentions which at the time she had felt, or fancied, an evil. She had tasted of consequence in its most flattering form; and he did hope that the loss of it, the sinking again into nothing, would awaken very wholesome regrets in her mind. He _watched_ her with this idea; but he could hardly tell with what success…. Sir Thomas, meanwhile, went on with his own hopes and his own observations, still feeling a right, by all his knowledge of human nature, to expect to see the effect of the loss of power and consequence on his niece’s spirits, and the past attentions of the lover producing a craving for their return; and he was soon afterwards able to account for his not yet completely and indubitably seeing all this, by the prospect of another visitor, whose approach he could allow to be quite enough to support the spirits he was _watching_....”

And when Henry reads Shakespeare (of course!) aloud so eloquently, Edmund, Sir Thomas’s henchman, “_watched_ the progress of [Fanny’s] attention, and was amused and gratified by seeing how she gradually slackened in the needlework, which at the beginning seemed to occupy her totally…”

But perhaps my favorite of the entire bunch is the exquisite allusion to that scene with Pandarus and Cressida which JA sneaks in in Chapter 45, as we read Fanny’s thoughts at Portsmouth, just before she learns that she will be able to return to Mansfield Park after all:

“It was sad to Fanny to lose all the pleasures of spring. She had not known before what pleasures she had to lose in passing March and April in a town. She had not known before how much the beginnings and progress of vegetation had delighted her. What animation, both of body and mind, she had derived from _watching_ the advance of that _season_ which cannot, in spite of its capriciousness, be unlovely, and seeing its increasing beauties from the earliest flowers in the warmest divisions of her aunt’s garden, to the opening of leaves of her uncle’s plantations, and the glory of his woods.”

Not only is this narration a quintessential example of sexual imagery, reflecting Fanny’s own sexual awakening, it also alludes to Pandarus’s frustrated complaint about “the spice and salt that _season_ a man”! Indeed, it is the “spice and salt” of Henry Crawford’s (almost) overpowering seductive charm, which has caused Fanny’s sexuality to blossom, which in turn then awakens Edmund to Fanny’s charms!

Cheers, ARNIE


Anonymous said...

Touche, Arnie!! As soon as I saw both the words "watch" and "ward," I knew exactly where you were going with this - and the Hamlet reference are most important, I think because MP as a whole is far more allusive of Hamlet for so many reasons than T&C including the distinctly "rotten" moral order in the castle and a young person who is very, very watchful and can certainly tell a "hawk from a handsaw" [i.e., a heronshaw; but also a reference to Hamlet's instrux to actors not to "saw {their} hands about" - it is a reference to the fact that he is aware Rosencranz and Guildernstern are pretending to be *acting* innocently but are in reality *acting* as informers or spies for the king].


Arnie Perlstein said...

"Touche, Arnie!! As soon as I saw both the words "watch" and "ward," I knew exactly where you were going with this"

I knew you would, Elissa, as I do recall that you are definitely with me on the notion of JA as a very profound Shakespearean in her own right/write, much more so than is acknowledged by most Janeite scholars.

" - and the Hamlet reference is most important, I think because MP as a whole is far more allusive of Hamlet for so many reasons than T&C including the distinctly "rotten" moral order in the castle and a young person who is very, very watchful and can certainly tell a "hawk from a handsaw" [i.e., a heronshaw; but also a reference to Hamlet's instrux to actors not to "saw {their} hands about" - it is a reference to the fact that he is aware Rosencranz and Guildernstern are pretending to be *acting* innocently but are in reality *acting* as informers or spies for the king]."

Yes to all of that and much much more, including the Mousetrap that is sprung on Sir Thomas when he returns from Antigua---except that you should not minimize Troilus & Cressida as an important allusive source for MP--the schizo Cressida who is hot and cold and hot and cold several times in the same scene with Troilus has been split by JA into Mary Crawford and Fanny Price. And there is no work of literature more cynical about the rottenness of the world than T&C--remember, Shakespeare was writing both of these plays at more less the same time, and also Measure for Measure and All's Well That Ends Well--these are all Shakespeare's problem plays, and they are all, along with King Lear, Henry VIII and several other Shakespeare plays, in the Protean subtext of Mansfield Park.

Cheers, ARNIE