Shylock’s Turquoise Ring: Jane Austen, Mansfield Park and the‘Exquisite Acting’ of Edmund Kean
There are no Jewish characters or developed Jewish subjects in any of Austen’s novels or fragments. Despite this absence, there is an intriguing if oblique connection in her letters: in March of 1814, just as she had finished a draft of Mansfield Park, Jane Austen comments on Edmund Kean, who had debuted in the role of Shylock on 26 January 1814 at Drury Lane. Visiting London in March, Austen refers to the great ‘rage for seeing Keen [sic]’ that she shares, and then comments again on Kean’s ‘exquisite acting’ after she sees him. But the question remains: Why was she so affected by Kean’s rendition of Shylock?
This question guides the present chapter. This chapter suggests that, having completed Mansfield Park, in which Fanny Price begins life as a kind of outcast, Austen was particularly susceptible to a play about Shylock, the dispossessed Jew. Moreover, Kean’s performance of Shylock (as simultaneously sympathetic, monstrous and fascinating) brought out seemingly contradictory, complex responses to Otherness in Austen, as well as in her contemporaries, such as Hazlitt. Her response gives us insight into the creation of Mansfield Park.
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