Sunday, 22 January 2017

'LOVERS' VOWS' FROM JANE AUSTEN'S 'MANSFIELD PARK'

In Mansfield Park, you will recall, the young people plan to mount a production of the play Lovers' Vows during the absence of Sir Thomas in Antigua.

There is nothing inherently wrong in young people wishing to indulge in theatricals. At the beginning, even Fanny is excited ‘for she had never seen even half a play’.

But they do wrong in three ways. They plan to perform a frivolous play while their father is in peril on the high seas. They cause considerable disruption to rooms and furnishings (not least their father’s own room), even though they know in their hearts that he would be displeased by this. Most wrong of all, however, is the impropriety of having the young ladies of the party act in the kinds of scenes to be found in Lovers’ Vows.

In case you may be interested in what the play is about, here is a summary for you.

In Act I, we meet Agatha who is begging breakfast from the tavern owner where she has spent her last farthing. He suggests that she beg and proceeds to show her how. The rich farmer he approaches refuses. The poor egg girl Agatha approaches has no money but promises a three-pence when she returns from selling her eggs. The third stranger is Frederick, who, recognizing Agatha's need, offers her money immediately. He is returning, on furlough from the army, in order to obtain his birth certificate. She recognizes him as her son. Agatha tells him he has no birth certificate because she was not able to name his father. Frederick demands to know who his father was and Agatha tells him. By now it is time to find shelter for the night. The tavern owner refuses to accept them as they have no money. They then request shelter at a nearby cottage. The Cottagers accept them willingly.

In Act II, during the Cottagers’ conversation, Agatha and Frederick discover that the local Baron (Frederick's father) has returned to his castle and that his wife is dead. The scene changes to the castle where the Baron is having breakfast and awaiting his guest, Count Cassel, to join him. We learn that the guest is effeminate, foolish and wealthy. Amelia, the Baron's daughter, joins her father and is very respectful. The Baron questions Amelia in order to ascertain her attitude about Count Cassel. Amelia's answers are ambiguous. He suggests that Amelia meet with Anhalt so that he can instruct her about matrimony. Count Cassel enters and greets Amelia lavishly. His conversation with both Amelia and the Baron displays a foolish conceit. Mr. Anhalt enters. Amelia and then Count Cassel leave. The Baron and Count Cassel intend to go shooting. The Baron wants Mr. Anhalt to instruct Amelia but also to ascertain her feelings about Count Cassel. Although the Baron knows Count Cassel is financially secure, he does not wish to impose him on Amelia. It must be her choice. He desires that Amelia marry so that he may have a son. There is an implication that Anhalt is also looking for the Baron's natural son. The Baron compliments Anhalt by considering that had he had a tutor as fine as Anhalt he would not have been as foolish when he was young. He might have made wiser decisions.

In Act III, the first scene has Frederick returning to his Mother, disappointed because his begging has produced such paltry results. The Baron and the Count enter the scene. The Baron is upset with the Count because his slowness has caused the dogs to lose the scent. When Frederick approaches the Baron for some money for his Mother, the Baron chastises him for begging instead of pursuing his regimental duties but he gives him a small sum. Frederick berates the Baron and insists on one dollar at least. The Baron turns to leave. Frederick seizes the Baron by the throat and demands his money or his life. The Baron calls upon the gamekeepers and they seize the soldier. The Baron orders that the man be taken to the castle and locked in a tower. Frederick begs that at least his Mother be given some money as he is dragged away. The Baron remarks upon the ‘well looking youth’ and orders one of his men to investigate the cottages to find the woman.

We move to a room in the Castle. Mr. Anhalt joins Amelia to speak to her of Count Cassel and matrimony. She wishes to hear of matrimony and when Anhalt asks of which, the good side or the bad side, Amelia chooses the good. Anhalt describes an ideal marriage state and Amelia agrees to marry. Anhalt insists that she must hear of both sides before she makes her decision. He then describes a poor marriage and Amelia says then she will not marry. Anhalt questions whether she will ever fall in love. She answers that she is in love, but not with Count Cassel. Amelia banters with Mr. Anhalt until she gets him to admit that he loves her, but that it is an impossible love – a love her father would never accept, but Amelia does not agree with this conclusion.

They are interrupted by the butler: He tells of the Baron's narrow escape and a young man's incarceration. The Baron enters. Amelia congratulates him upon his escape but the Baron is more interested in other things. He questions the two about their conversation on matrimony. Their replies confuse and irritate him and he tries to leave. Before Anhalt leaves, Amelia extracts the promise from her father that he will suffer her to be guided by her affections when considering matrimony. Amelia delays him - he thinks to plead for the young man - but she wishes to plead for two young men. The Baron leaves in exasperation. Amelia challenges the butler about how the prisoner has been fed. When she learns that his meal was bread and water, she is upset. She intends to go to the wine cellar.

Act IV begins in a prison at the castle. Frederick is alone, bemoaning his situation since arriving in his native land. Amelia approaches with a basket covered with a napkin. She offers Frederick wine and food but he begs that it be sent to his dying mother who is with the cottager, Hubert. Amelia asks if Frederick intended to kill her father and Frederick insists that he did not. Frederick asks: ‘Who is your father?’ He is shocked to discover that he has attacked his own father. Frightened by Frederick's reaction, Amelia leaves, as Anhalt enters. He tells Frederick that the Baron has investigated his story and found it to be true. The Baron is prepared to be lenient with him. Frederick requests a private meeting with the Baron. In the next scene, the Baron is anxious to know about his daughter's willingness to marry Count Cassel. Amelia hates Cassel because he had bragged about using so many women. The Baron insists that be was boasting. Amelia speaks of a case about which the butler knows the particulars. The butler verifies the story and even offers to produce the father of the girl. The Baron confronts the Count, who wonders that the Baron knows of nobody else who acted in such a way: the Baron admits that he did. The Baron says the incident was regretted, but has to admit to the Count that he lives as if nothing had happened. It was not until he matured that he realized his errors. He suggests that Count Cassel wait until he matures before he marries Amelia. Count Cassel is unwilling to do that. Amelia returns to her father and asks whom she should marry. The Baron has no answer but, of course, Amelia has. She tells her father she wishes to marry Mr. Anhalt. Anhalt joins them and Amelia leaves. He wants the Baron to see Frederick. Reluctantly, the Baron agrees and Anhalt leaves. The Baron assumes that Frederick has come to plead for his life in deference to his Mother's needs. Frederick pleads instead based on his Father's cruelty. In the discussion that ensues the Baron discovers that Frederick is his natural son. As Frederick taunts his father about the results due to his youthful indiscretion, the Baron shouts in pain. Anhalt rushes in for fear Frederick has physically attacked the Baron. The chastised Baron explains and begs Anhalt to go with Frederick to his mother and to do that which his heart decides. The Baron tells two of his servants to accompany them and to treat Frederick as if he were his son.

In Act V, in the cottage Agatha is concerned as to the whereabouts of her son and continually implores the Cottager to look out for him. The Cottager's wife does not understand why she is so upset as she has a purse of gold. Agatha continues to worry about her son but she is also confused as to why the Baron has sent her so much money. The Cottager returns to say Frederick is not in view but the new rector is and perhaps he may visit. Anhalt enters and begins to question Agatha who is reluctant to speak in front of the Cottagers. The Cottagers leave and Agatha discovers that Anhalt has been in search of her at the Baron's request. Agatha asks Anhalt who he thinks she is? His answer is 'Agatha Friburg'. When Agatha discovers from whom the purse of gold had been sent, she refuses it. She states that her honour has never been for sale. Anhalt explains that when the purse was sent, the recipient was unknown to him, the mother of a stranger begging. Neither knew the other. Also, Anhalt explains how it was that the Baron was separated from her. Agatha asks the whereabouts of Frederick and Anhalt answers that he is at the castle. Agatha asks whether the Baron and his son know one another now. Anhalt confirms they do but he does not know how they fare. Anhalt tells Agatha that the Baron wishes her to come to the castle. As they leave, the purse of gold is given to the Cottagers in payment for their generous spirit. Back at the castle, the Baron tells Frederick that he is to be acknowledged as his son and his heir. Frederick asks what is to become of his mother. The Baron says Agatha shall be given her own estate to be used as she wishes. Frederick asks by what name shall she so live and in what capacity. The Baron says that can be settled later. Frederick requests permission to leave but states that his fate will never be separated from his mother's. He leaves. The Baron tells Anhalt that his conscience and himself are at variance. Anhalt replies that conscience is always right. The Baron then reviews his actions. He has accepted Frederick as his son and heir and asks Anhalt if he did right. Anhalt agrees. Anhalt insists that the Baron must marry Agatha. The Baron resists. Anhalt makes the Baron agree that Agatha was always virtuous; that he pledged his honour; and that he called on God as his witness. Anhalt points out that that Witness sees him now. And that it is in the Baron's power to redeem his pledge by marrying Agatha and his reward will be the sweetness that Agatha will bring into his life. The Baron agrees to the marriage, but Anhalt is not yet finished. He asks, ‘Where is the wedding to be?’ When the Baron replies that it will be in the castle. Anhalt objects and says that the wedding must take place before the village. The Baron consents. Amelia enters and the Baron tells her that she has a brother and that she has lost one-half her inheritance. Amelia takes both statements complacently. Amelia and Anhalt are rewarded by the Baron's consent to their betrothal. The Baron must now see Agatha; and he does so reluctantly. But when they meet Agatha forgives him - and everyone lives happily ever after!