Emma: A Play by Pamela Whalan

Emma: A Play

by Pamela Whalan

Sometimes, acting out a section of the novel can help you understand the text. We’re delighted that Pamela Whalan has given us a sneak peek at Emma: A Play before its official publication, so you can read an excerpt below. This play’s first public season is scheduled for May 2016.



Mr. Knightly has been visiting Mr. Woodhouse after several days in London. Emma and Harriet are out walking. Mr. and Mrs. Weston arrive.

MR WOODHOUSE:             My dear Mrs. Weston, pray be seated. You should not be walking so far at this time of year! November is a treacherous month! Please, come closer to the fire!

MRS WESTON:                    Thank you, Mr. Woodhouse, but I am a little heated from my exercise so it may be unwise for me to sit so near the fire, perhaps I may sit here? You know that I have always liked this chair.

MR WOODHOUSE:             Certainly, certainly, dear lady. To be sitting too close to the fire might well give you a nasty chill! You are very wise. Pray be seated where you will.

MR WESTON:                      But you, sir, must not forsake the fire on our account. Come, take your seat again while I build up your fire for you. (Mr. Weston takes charge of Mr. Woodhouse and remains comfortably chatting to him.)

MRS WESTON:                    You left our dear Isabella well, I hope, Mr. Knightley?

MR KNIGHTLEY:                  Very well indeed and all the children in good health, too. Young George is beginning to walk. He will soon be running races with his older brothers.

MRS WESTON:                    How quickly they do grow! I look forward to seeing them when they visit at Christmas, and I am sure that they will be spoiled by Emma and her little friend, Harriet Smith.

MR KNIGHTLEY:                  I do not know what your opinion may be, Mrs. Weston, of this great intimacy between Emma and Harriet Smith, but I think it a bad thing.

MRS WESTON:                    A bad thing! Do you really think it a bad thing? – why so?

MR KNIGHTLEY:                  I think they will neither of them do the other any good.

MRS WESTON:                    You surprise me! Emma must do Harriet good: and by supplying her with a new object of interest, Harriet may be said to do Emma good. I have been seeing their intimacy with the greatest pleasure. How very differently we feel! – Not think they do each other any good! This will certainly be the beginning of one of our quarrels about Emma, Mr. Knightley. I can imagine your objection to Harriet Smith. She is not the superior young woman which Emma’s friend ought to be. But on the other hand, as Emma wants to see her better informed, it will be an inducement to her to read more herself. They will read together. She means it, I know.

MR KNIGHTLEY:                  Emma has been meaning to read more ever since she was twelve years old. I have seen a great many lists of her drawing up at various times, of books that she meant to read regularly through – and very good lists they were – very well chosen, and very neatly arranged. I dare say she may have made out a very good list now. But I have done with expecting any course of steady reading from Emma. She will never submit to any thing requiring industry and patience. Two or three years ago, you remember she had a passion for taking likenesses but she never finished one of the many she began. I dare say that the likeness she was beginning to take of Harriet Smith before I went to London is now stored away with the other unfinished masterpieces!

MRS WESTON:                    Well you are wrong there. It is finished and in London being framed, as we speak.

MR KNIGHTLEY:                  Then perhaps Miss Smith has been of some influence.

MRS WESTON:                    And while Emma was taking the likeness, Mr. Elton came often and read to the girls, so that their reading has progressed as well!

MR KNIGHTLEY:                  Elton would do better to attend to his parish duties. He is beginning to spend far too much of his time in the comfort of Mr. Woodhouse’s common sitting room!

MRS WESTON:                    Come now, Mr. Knightley! What harm can there be in his reading to the girls? – and he was so kind as to take the drawing to London himself to be framed. True, he is often here, but it must be a very lonely life to be a bachelor in that old rectory. He should be thinking of finding a wife.

MR KNIGHTLEY:                  Well, he will not find one here at Hartfield. Emma is as far above him as Harriet is beneath him!

MRS WESTON:                    I agree that Emma, with her birth and breeding, her beauty and her thirty thousand pounds could seek much higher for a suitable husband, but Mr. Elton would be a very good match for Harriet Smith.

MR KNIGHTLEY:                  It would not be wise of her to be setting her cap at Elton for it would come to nought. I do hope that Emma has not been encouraging any hopes in that direction! It would be most unkind in her to do so. Let Harriet Smith seek a husband from her own circle. She spent a very happy summer with the Martins at Abbey Mill Farm. I know that Robert Martin was very much attracted to her. She could be content among such people.

MRS WESTON:                    It is very likely that Mr. Elton is thinking of marriage. He has the living of Highbury and some private income as well, so he could afford to marry. He is of an age when a young man looks to seek a partner and a clergyman does need a wife to share in the demands of his parish. Harriet Smith would not be a great match but she is a very pretty, biddable girl. Why should he not think of her?

MR KNIGHTLEY:                  Elton is a very good sort of man, and a very respectable vicar of Highbury, but not at all likely to make an imprudent match. He knows the value of a good income as well as anybody. I am convinced that he does not mean to throw himself away. I have heard him speak with animation of a large family of young ladies that his sisters are intimate with, who have all twenty thousand pounds apiece. And who is Miss Smith? – a parlour-boarder at Mrs. Goddard’s seminary – nobody knows anything of her parentage and whoever pays for her upkeep is unlikely to be willing or able to provide her with a dowry of any size. Elton will not look to find a wife in the illegitimate daughter of nobody knows whom, a girl without sense or information. She is pretty and she is good tempered and that is all. No, if Elton is spending so much time here at Hartfield, he is raising his eyes to Emma. Pray God she will have sufficient sense to reject him.


If you would like to use the full play in your school or homeschool, please contact us; if your theater group is interested in performing the play, please contact David Spicer Productions.

Pamela Whalan has also written a play for Pride and Prejudice.

EIL Editor’s Note: Since this author, Pamela Whalan, is from Australia, you may notice that she follows British usage in punctuation and other formatting. In your own writing, please follow the formatting standards requested by your teachers.


Pamela Whalan is a Jane Austen scholar who has adapted Austen's novels for the theater.Since 1962, Pamela Whalan has been an active member of the Genesian Theatre in Sydney, Australia, including working as the Theatre Director for six years. She has also been a member of JASA (Jane Austen Society of Australia) for twenty years. Combining her love of the works of Austen and her love of theatre, she has adapted five of Austen’s novels for the stage. These adaptations have been published and produced successfully in Australia and the United States. In addition, on a number of occasions Pamela has presented papers on the works of Austen at conferences in Australia, Canada, and the U.S.A.

In 2002, Pamela returned to her hometown of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia. Shortly afterwards, she was invited to become a judge for CONDA (City of Newcastle Drama Awards) and performed this civic duty for the next twelve years.

Pamela holds an M.A. from the University of Sydney and an MLitt from the University of New England (Australia). She has done extensive post-graduate study in the field of 20th century Irish Drama, and she taught English for many years at the University of Technology in Sydney.

When will you read Jane Austen’s work in Excellence in Literature?

E4.6 Focus text: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (Modern Library Classics)

E4.6 Honors text: Persuasion or other novel by Jane Austen
Persuasion by Jane Austen (Norton Critical Edition, 2nd edition)

Emma by Jane Austen

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