In Jane Eyre, what insight does the charades scene give to the characterization of Rochester? How does the scene shed light on his relationship with Jane and with Blanche Ingram?
A careful and attentive observer, Jane watches in Chapter 18 as Mr. Rochester and Blanche Ingram, dressed in white, act out a marriage ceremony. Then, in a less obvious scene, a basin is brought in and, costumed in Mid-eastern dress, Rochester and Blanche reenact the story at the well of Eliezer, Abraham's servant, and Rebecca, who is betrothed to Isaac. To seal this betrothal, Eliezer adorns the arms and fingers of Rebecca with jewels. The final scene presents Mr. Rochester...
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The charades scene is carried out in the form of a spectacle, revealing shades of Rochester's character. It is significant in the way it places Jane as a spectator and not an active participant to the scene. Jane only watches and observes as the events unfold in front of her.
Firstly, the entire concept of the charade is a reference to the different layers that Rochester's personal life comprises. Jane knows nothing of his legal marriage to Bertha Mason, which was in itself a "charade". So was Rochester's elaborate pretence at being in love in with Blanche just to goad Jane's feelings toward him.
Different aspects of the tableau portray aspects of Rochester's life and feelings. The first scene represents a marriage, the charade of a marriage that Rochester was bound to with Bertha Mason. It is an ironical reference. Just as Bertha would be bound to a chair to restrain her, so was Rochester in this scene. It could also represent the potential marriage between Rochester and Blanche, which Jane thinks is imminent.
From the scene of Rebecca and Eliezer at the well, the readers are invited to draw upon a comparison between Rebecca and Jane as a representation of an "innocent, unknowing bride." Bear in mind that Jane has no idea of Bertha Mason's existence.
The last scene of the tableau shows Rochester as a haunted, trapped man in fetters. It reflects his current state, trapped in a marriage to the mad Bertha Mason. The dim light in the last scene reflects the misery and darkness in Rochester's world.
Bridewell was the name of the charade, as identified by Col. Dent. This name brings allusions of adultery and marital frustrations. King Henry the VII resided in a palace called Bridewell as he awaited the papal dissolution of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and his subsequent wedding to Anne Boleyn who,like Jane was a much younger woman. Bridewell was later converted into an asylum/shelter home for loose women by King Edward VI who were considered sexual deviants in their time. Thus, Bridewell is a subtle foreshadowing of all the complex debates around adultery, female "sexual deviance", marriage and gender relations.
A charade is a space of light and shadow, of falsity and performance. The charade scene is a reflection of the falsities in Rochester's marriage, his false show of love for Blanche and his entrapment.