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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Honorable Mr. Yates is...the Player King of Mansfield Park!

In Janeites & Austen L, Christy Somer presented a normative interpretation of the character of Mr. Yates in Mansfield Park, and I strongly disagreed with her, as follows:

Christy, you and I could not disagree more as to the significance of the role that Mr. Yates plays in the Lover's Vows episode in Mansfield Park. From the passages about Yates that you've quoted, I see Mr. Yates as an integral part of Jane Austen's elaborate but veiled allusion to Hamlet in Mansfield Park--an allusion that had been previously noted by some Austen scholars (most notably Roger Sales in his wonderful book Jane Austen & Representations of Regency England), but as to which I was the first, in 2006, to unpack the full significance of such allusion, as I first publicly outlined here in my blog back in September 2010:

In essence, in that lengthy post, I sketched the case for Tom Bertram having subtly choreographed the entire Lover's Vows episode from Day One, all for the purpose of confronting his father with a staged performance which would mirror back to Sir Thomas the heinousness of Sir Thomas's past misdeeds, and perhaps awaken his dormant conscience.

However, I did not in my 2010 post dwell on the importance of Mr. Yates, whom I have always seen as Tom Bertram's willing and talented confederate---and I realized only today that Mr. Yates actually is Jane Austen's version of the Player King in Hamlet--he's the acting veteran who just happens to show up at "Elsinore" at precisely the right moment to spark the performance of a home theatrical specifically designed to catch the conscience of the King.

And there are multiple Hamletian layers here. Kotzebue knew his Shakespeare, and Baron Wildenhaim was _his_ version of King Claudius! And Jane Austen saw all of that very clearly, which is, along with Mrs. Inchbald's particular translation, the main reason why I believe she chose Lover's Vows to be _her_ play-within-the-novel. And this gives us one great advantage in interpreting JA's intentions in this regard, as we have the entire text of Lover's Vows at our disposal, whereas Shakespeare scholars have searched in vain for the text of the Mousetrap or The Murder of Gonzago.

And so, also for the first time today, I realized that it was possible to identify, with a high degree of probability, the very speech that Mr. Yates would have been in the midst of delivering as Sir Thomas walked in on him, while Tom Bertram, watching from the wings, carefully observed his father's reactions to Yates the way Hamlet observed Claudius's reactions to the Mousetrap. Tom's satisfaction was such that he could barely hold his countenance as he observed "...such an exhibition, such a piece of true acting, as he would not have lost upon any account. It would be the last--in all probability--the last scene on that stage; but he was sure there could not be a finer. The house would close with the greatest ├ęclat.."

This was Tom Bertram's purpose from Day One, I suggest, and he and Yates had been waiting for just this moment for Yates to deliver the following speech for its intended audience of one, Sir Thomas Bertram:

" Go.--Your heart will tell you how to act.[Exit Anhalt.] [Baron distractedly.]Who am I?What am I?Mad--raving--no--I have a son--A son!The bravest--I will--I must--oh![with tenderness.]Why have I not embraced him yet?[increasing his voice.]why not pressed him to my heart?Ah!see--[looking after him]--He flies from the castle--Who's there?Where are my attendants?[Enter two servants]. Follow him--bring the prisoner back.--But observe my command--treat him with respect--treat him as my son--and your master.[Exit].

Please note that this is the _only_ speech given by Baron Wildenhaim in the entire text of Lover's Vows in which he is actually ranting, and isn't it remarkable that it is the scene in which his world has been turned upside down, because he has just learned that Frederick is actually his illegitimate son, the fruit conceived from the Baron's extramarital tryst with Agatha, just before he carelessly abandoned her to a life of disrepute? And in Lover's Vows, it is not long afterwards that the Baron delivers a followup speech to the above, one which reminds us of Claudius's tortured guilty soliloquy after he has stormed out of the Mousetrap:

"Young man!Frederick!--[calling after him.]Hasty indeed! would make conditions with his father.No, no, that must not be.I just now thought how well I had arranged my plans--had relieved my heart of every burden, when, a second time, he throws a mountain upon it.Stop, friend conscience, why do you take his part?--For twenty years thus you have used me, and been my torture."

This was the effect Tom hoped to achieve by confronting his father with Yates as Baron Wildenhaim upon his return to his private chambers at Mansfield Park.

A Mousetrap indeed, but alas, judging by his behavior subsequent to his return to Mansfield Park, I fear that Sir Thomas's conscience was _not_ caught.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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