The narrator fills us in on John Yates. He's the younger son of a wealthy Lord, and he and Tom have mutual friends. Tom invited him to come visit Mansfield, so Mr. Yates takes him up on the offer.
Mr. Yates is bummed when he arrives, though: he'd recently been hanging out at a fancy house with some Lords and Earls and they were all putting on a play together. But someone's relative had the nerve to die in the middle of rehearsals and the play was canceled.
Mr. Yates still has the acting bug and talks all about the awesome play they were going to perform, something called Lovers' Vows.
Everyone is intrigued by this idea and they soon decide that the group at Mansfield should put on a play, too.
Everyone's excited by the idea except Edmund. Edmund's idea of fun is probably watching paint dry.
Edmund objects to the idea of putting on a play.
Historical Context Lesson! It might seem weird that Edmund would have a problem with putting on a play, which seems like a harmless past-time. But during this period, an evangelical movement was going on and a lot of religious thinkers objected to activities like dancing, card playing, and acting. Acting was seen as especially bad and dangerous since it let people get away with doing scandalous things in the name of "playing pretend." Interestingly, people involved in the French Revolution, which had happened in the 1790s, also thought that actors were immoral since they were essentially lying about who they were. Edmund's objection to acting has religious and political significance that Austen's readers would have picked up on.
But everyone else disagrees with Edmund and tells him to stop being a party pooper.
Edmund says that he has nothing against the theater, really, but thinks that their group shouldn't be acting together without parental supervision. He says Sir Thomas won't like it at all.
The others say that Sir Thomas is gone and what he doesn't know won't hurt him.
Later that evening Tom and Edmund discuss the acting thing. Tom's determined to do it since it will be fun. He wants to turn the billiard room into a theater.
Edmund urges caution, saying that Maria's in a weird situation since her engagement can't be really locked down until Sir Thomas actually gets back and can handle things in person. Quick FYI: As Maria's father, Sir Thomas would have been in charge of handling all the financial and legal issues that went into arranging a marriage in this era. Women had no say over their own financial matters, and fathers and husbands pretty much had all the legal rights.
Tom attempts to convince Edmund that Lady Bertram is stressed over Sir Thomas's absence and that a play will distract her.
Unfortunately for Tom, Lady Bertram is dozing and isn't paying them any attention. She doesn't look stressed out at all. Tom complains to his mother that she ruined his argument and she's confused – she was asleep, after all. Edmund laughs.
After debating a bit more, Tom finally tells Edmund to mind his own business and to not judge things for everyone else.
Edmund gives up but refuses to be one of the actors.
Fanny tries to console Edmund by saying that the group will never be able to agree on a play anyway.
Edmund tries once again to talk with his sisters about the acting thing but they both ignore him.
Henry's back and he stops by to say that he and Mary are happy to act in the play and are looking forward to doing it.
Maria looks over at Edmund after this and Edmund begins to think that acting might not be so bad since Mary's doing it.
Mrs. Norris fully approves of the acting scheme and helps make arrangements.