"Intimate by Instinct": Mansfield Park and the Comedy of King Lear (1)

By Ford, Susan Allen | Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal, Annual 2002 | Go to article overview

"Intimate by Instinct": Mansfield Park and the Comedy of King Lear (1)


Ford, Susan Allen, Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal


ALTHOUGH HENRY CRAWFORD reads from Shakespeare's Henry VIII to Fanny and the suddenly awakened Lady Bertram, he denies any particular knowledge of that or any Shakespeare text: "'Shakespeare one gets acquainted with without knowing how. It is part of an Englishman's constitution. His thoughts and beauties are so spread abroad that one touches them every where, one is intimate with him by instinct'" (338). And indeed in Mansfield Park, as in no other novel by Austen, that theatrical instinct is pervasive. Not only Lovers Vows and Henry VIII but numerous other plays are either alluded to or considered for performance: The Merchant of Venice, Richard III, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, Douglas, My Grandmother, The Gamester, The Rivals, School for Scandal, Wheel of Fortune, Heir at Law. But it is a play not named--moreover a play whose contemporary form satisfies the Mansfield players' demands for both comedy and tragedy--that contributes most to Mansfield Park. That play is King Lear.

John Wiltshire's recent book Recreating Jane Austen explores the relationship between Austen and Shakespeare. Part of the critical endeavor of tracing textual relationships, he suggests, is the possibly spurious pleasure for the critic/reader, "a delicious sense," of entering into a feeling of "deep communion with two great minds at once" (61). Such activity, he seems to argue, may be of limited usefulness. In a footnote to his discussion of that kind of critical attention, he speculates that "one might imagine similar relations between any Austen novel and any Shakespeare play. What about Mansfield Park and King Lear?" After efficiently and perceptively setting out the parallels, he asks, "Can the attentive reader of Jane Austen fail to detect the text's allusion to Lear here?" (150-51, n 27). And of course, other readers--including Claire Tomalin (316, n 14) and H. R. Harris--have noticed such a pattern. Wiltshire is less interested in the significance of specific correspondences between texts than in Austen's general "incorporation" of Shakespeare and the resultant principle of allusive structure that informs and enriches her fiction.

If, however, we trace the strategies of Austen's incorporation not merely of Shakespeare but of a particular play, King Lear, those strategies may support a more critically aware and artistically assured "incorporation" than Wiltshire suggests. Other contemporary revisions of King Lear, such as Amelia Opie's The Father and Daughter, a Tale in Prose (1801), focus on a father maddened by his daughter's apparent betrayal. Diane Long Hoeveler describes Opie's tale as "a closet epic tragedy, ... a large trunk whose misery gets unpacked and then stuffed again into the small space of a novella." For Hoeveler, that novel's crisis centers on the father's "struggles to recognize his daughter as a sexual woman." Mansfield Park's revision of Lear is rather different, focusing on the tyrannical rather than the maddened Lear. Sir Thomas easily recognizes Fanny as sexual but sees her sexuality only in terms of its social and political currency. Indeed, as it is for the actress on stage, the heroine's sexuality is highlighted by the comments of Sir Thomas and Edmund. In Austen's version of the Lear story, what Sir Thomas must struggle to recognize is Fanny as independent moral entity.

Shakespeare's King Lear seems to inform Mansfield Park at almost every level: plot, character, thematic issues, and imagery. In both works, the father/ king abrogates his responsibility for family/kingdom/estate and suffers as a consequence the ungrateful rejection of his two elder daughters even as he banishes the third daughter, whose honesty he fails to value. Further, the novel incorporates in its main plot the play's subplot: one son betrays his father and the virtues he stands for but fails fully to embody, while the other is revealed as the true inheritor of those paternal values. Even Austen's naming of her characters refers to, while inverting, Shakespeare's: Sir Thomas's pious younger son inherits the name of the Bastard Edmund, while his scapegrace brother assumes the name of Edgar's mad alter ego, Poor Tom. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

"Intimate by Instinct": Mansfield Park and the Comedy of King Lear (1)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.