The Play’s the Thing

Jane Austen’s use of lovers’ vows in Mansfield Park.

One of the great debated questions in literature is, ?Is art supposed to reflect life as it is, as it should be, or is art for art?s sake enough?? Jane Austen uses a play in her novel to suggest that art has something to teach its hearers, readers, or watchers. Austen uses a German romantic play, Lovers? Vows, to hold up the mirror of reality on the world she creates at Mansfield Park. The novel?s characters have striking similarities in nature and situation to the characters they portray in the play. Jane Austen shows these similarities to her readers, and then, in an ironic move doesn?t allow the characters to see the similarities themselves. When the play is cancelled altogether, and social ?tragedy? strikes the family later in the work, the reader can?t help but wonder if the entire mess could have been avoided if the novel characters had learned something from the play.
Usually, when a play is introduced into a work of fiction, the author is asking his or her audience to think about the nature of drama in general. Although the implementation of the play Lovers? Vows into Mansfield Park does take some consideration on theatre in general, the play itself is much more important to the novel than as just any given piece of theatre. Lovers? Vows is introduced into Jane Austen’s book because it illustrates and emphasizes two major themes in the novel; first, the theme of a woman’s right to choose her own husband, and second the theme of marriage for love rather than marriage for money. The play Lovers? Vows illustrates both of these themes, but accomplishes a greater task by establishing the novel as a mirror to the society in which Austen lived.