Note from the Director
There is an overall focus in Emma on what is seen and what is unseen. When Emma shows her sketch of Harriet to her family and friends, they each have their own perception of it.
Many of the characters of Emma see the world as they want to see it, however, this means that they are frequently blind to reality. Emma thinks she sees signs that Mr Elton is in love with Harriet, Mr Elton sees signs in Emma that she is in love with him, most of the characters think that Frank and Emma are falling in love with one another, but noone sees that Mr Knightley is in love with Emma, and she with him. Emma herself doesn't recognize this until it is almost too late.
The concept of transparency, of reality versus fantasy, of what is underneath the surface as opposed to what is above it runs through the play. When it is discovered Frank Churchill has been secretly engaged to Jane Fairfax, his deception is looked badly upon. Honesty is held to be a virtue, yet the game playing throughout the story has meant that most characters have not been open with one another. This creates the confusion which causes much of the humour in Emma.
Class conflict and social positioning is also a thematic thread through the play. The matchmaking that goes on is generally related to rank and fortune, and each character's perception of where they sit on the social ladder and where they think everyone else is ranked. This creates many interesting relationship dynamics. Harriet, for example, is a nobody who Emma raises to a higher social position; Mrs Elton, on the other hand, tries to outrank everyone she meets, yet she is actually from trade and therefore not of the same class as many of the characters
The Individual and Society
The struggle and the co-operation that establishes a sense of place is timeless in that people experience the separation and the connection of the two in every age. Jane Austen's own contemplations on the individual and society shines through quite prominently in her works, with individuals who desire to be true to their place and rank and duties which construct Regency civilised society but who also deal with their own wants, needs and personalities.
Imagination/Fancy Versus Reason
Emma is an exploration into a womans desire to hold on to sense and reason but as we see during the play, this acts as a hindrance as it denies Emma the connection both she and Mr Knightley desire. Perhaps in this respect this masculinises Emma as she is surrounded by fanciful flighty women who are easily led, becoming an gender issue of attributes that each of the sexes are assumed to have. The push and shove of fancy versus reason in Emma mirrors the internal conflict felt in many situations in which the audience finds a connection and which humanises the Regency characters to a modern audience.
Love, Courtship, Marriage
The defining stage in a Regency womans life is courtship then marriage. It signifies all the main events in the play Emma, and it was incredibly important to ensure the well-being of a woman. It could be the stepping stone to wealth or power or just a means of avoiding poverty. Women, by law, were unable to inherit land and would have to leave their homes when the patriarch of the house died, unless they found favour with the male who was inheriting it. The process of courtship was quite tricky with strict social codes defining the course of the courtship, a code that not surprisingly could have easily been dismissed if one changed their minds. A woman was given three social seasons to find a husband until she was dismissed as disgraced, so such matters always seemed to be approached with a quiet sense of urgency.