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?
Ironically, the charades reveal more about Mr. Rochester's relationships with Blanche Ingram and with Jane than reality does.
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 in chains at aptly-named Bridewell prison in England. Underpinning Jane's interpretation of the none-to-subtle charades, Jane's observations of Blanche and Mr. Rochester as they converse lead her to conclude that they will marry soon.
Further in the evening, an old gypsy woman, Old Woman Bunches as she calls herself, has come to tell people's fortunes. Blanche's mother, Lady Ingram, wants this swarthy gypsy sent away: however, Blanche insists. Ironically, it is a disgruntled young woman who returns to the group. On the contrary, when her sisters return from their consultations, they seem delighted and fascinated by how much the gypsy knows about them. Finally, in Chapter 19, the gypsy demands to speak with the last single young lady; namely, Jane. Willingly, she goes in to the old woman. There, the old woman smokes a pipe; she peruses Jane's face and tells her she is cold, sick, and silly, explaining her meanings. Astonished at how perspicacious the gypsy is, Jane moves forward as she asks questions of her. Before the fire, the old woman examines Jane; she tells Jane she holds a treasure within her, and "Reason sits firm and holds the reins." As she continues to speak, Jane recognizes in the lowered voice that of Mr. Rochester, who obviously reads her heart well.
While Jane believes that the charades foreshadow the imminent marriage of Mr. Rochester and Blanche Ingram, in actuality, they depict Mr. Rochester's own Bridewell in which he is imprisoned, or chained to a madwoman, whom he married in the West Indies. In addition, these charades blur the relationship of Mr. Rochester and, certainly, with Jane herself as in some ways, Mr. Rochester shows an almost parental interest in Jane's well-being, and in another sends signals that marriage with him is beyond the realm of reality. Still, at the end of the evening, Miss Ingram's efforts to fascinate Mr. Rochester fail--"herself unconscious that they did fail;" and Jane's seeing how they could have succeeded, leads Jane to conclude that Miss Ingram does not truly care for Mr. Rochester, but is only interested in his wealth and position. Jane reflects,
How will she manage to please him when they are married? I do not think they will manage it, and yet it might be managed; and his wife might, I verily believe, be the happiest woman the sun shines on."
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.