Analyzing social performance in marriage in Pride and Prejudice
Women can interpret an eagerness to dance as a demonstration of how affectionate a gentleman would be as a husband. Musical skills were suggestive of whether or not women will prove themselves to be accomplished wives. On the other hand, men were thought to be ill-fit for the role of husband if they were awkward on the dance flow. Men read a failure to illustrate true accomplishment as a sign that she will not contribute to their social life. Whether men and women evaluation is favorable or not, Joe Wrights expressed this in the setting of the film, pride, and prejudice.
In Wright’s Pride and prejudice, the women evaluate the men in terms of their ability on the dance floor. Bingley’s attitude towards dancing is the basis for a female opinion about what kind of husband he will make. It is clear that the prospect of spending an evening dancing is a pleasant one for Mr. Bringley, for he is all smiles in his first minutes on screen walking into the assembly ball and following his introduction to the Bennets. The camera spends multiple shots capturing his dances with Jane and then Charlotte, which he does in a most energetic manner; at home in bed that night. Jane proclaims “Mr. Bingley is just what a young man ought to be” and objects to Elizabeth’s suggestion that she is referring to his wealth, indicating that his demeanor at the ball has convinced her of his suitability as a husband.
Also, Darcy’s attitude about dancing is the basis for a female opinion on him. According to Elizabeth, Darcy’s “quizzical blow” conveys his unhappiness at being at the ball and when she asks, “do you dance Darcy?” he responds, “Not if I can help it”. Elizabeth’s raised eyebrows and bitten lip betray her thoughts; in finding no pleasure in dancing. Darcy has confirmed that truly he is a miserable man, which means he would make a miserable husband. A man must be a willing dancer so as to be judged a suitable husband. However, the case of Mr. Collins demonstrates that a man must be able to follow the rules of the dance flow as well. He claims to have “lightness of foot”, but when he and Elizabeth begin their dance at the Netherfield Ball, he cannot keep up with the steps or converse with her during the performance. Consequently, Elizabeth can barely contain her laughter in the short exchange with Jane. The audience learns from this sequence that if a man cannot partner a lady properly in a formal dance, he will not earn her respect.
Wright uses the success or failure a lady has in the musical setting to indicate what type of wife she will make. Elizabeth is presented as someone with talent at the pianoforte; although she professes to play “very poorly”. Darcy in the background of the left side of the frame cannot take his eyes off her at the instrument in the right of the foreground, and he walks into it to be closer to her. The romantic implications of the sequences are made explicit with two cuts of Charlotte noticing the couple at the piano, which alerts the audience that there is something to be noted. The final shot of the scene confirms Darcy’s feelings towards Elizabeth. As Darcy walks away from Elizabeth at the piano, he stops to turn back and stare at her for quite a long time, unbeknownst to her. She does eventually come realize these feelings. This is after Darcy’s sister Georgiana expresses an interest in hearing Elizabeth play the piano, adding that her brother praised her for playing piano so well. This surprised Elizabeth not only because she does not expect Darcy to have a civil word to say about anybody, but also she knows that such a compliment means that Darcy has been thinking of her as a potential bride.
Mary’s characters in the film, Pride and Prejudice demonstrate how social performance could deter a suitor from making someone his wife. After Elizabeth and Darcy dance, the camera follows her as she walks away into another room. Before she enters, a strained and shaky song is heard on the soundtrack and Elizabeth finds Mary sat at the piano while the girls lined up waiting, for their chance, to perform snicker. Her father shuts the piano on her placating, “Mary dear, you’ve delighted us long enough; let the other young ladies have a turn.” Afterwards, the camera moves on its own throughout the ballroom catching other members of the Bennet family behaving badly before returning to Elizabeth in a two shot with Charlotte as she proclaims “ clearly my family have a rivalry to see who expose themselves on the most ridicule.” The danger of which is evident in Charlotte’s response that “at least Bingley has not noticed.” The failure to please with one’s social performance is to expose one’s family to ridicule, thereby affecting a gentleman’s decision to marry into that family.
Dancing is how the characters in Wright’s pride and prejudice communicate their decisions about marriage partners. The audience knows that Mr. Bingley cares for Jane because the see, as Elizabeth points out, that he dances with her for most of the night. By the same token, Darcy rejects Elizabeth in declining his friend’s suggestion that he ask her to dance at the assembly. A sentiment she returns in announcing that she would not “dance with him for all of Derbyshire, leave be the miserable half.” In the Netherfield ball sequence, Darcy asks Elizabeth to dance, which she takes for a polite formality. However, the audience recognizes as an expression of his desire because of the bringing up the volume and slowing down of the soundtrack. Besides, the momentary absence of other couples during their dance and the music appears to play and time seems to stop just for them, the only two people in the realm.
Wright’s decision to emphasize the role of social performance in marriage seems to be a reasonable consideration in a sense of realism. The women thought men who enjoyed dancing and excelled at it would make a more affectionate husband, and that woman’s chances of marriage are greatly increased if she has musical talent. In situating a modern character in a genuine nineteenth-century scenario, Wright sets up a comparison between the current society and the contemporary one that leads the audience to conclude their current means of judging potential mates.
Pride and Prejudice. Dir. Joe Wright. Perf. Keira Knightly, Mathew Macfadyen. Focus Features, 2010. DVD
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