When Edmund returns from his travels, he is surprised to run into Henry and Mary as he rides into town, especially since he extended his stay in an attempt to avoid Mary. Sir Thomas updates Edmund on William’s promotion and Henry’s proposal.
Edmund, who clearly still has feelings for Mary, is distressed at seeing her, since he believes that she will never marry him now that he is ordained.
Henry calls on the family the next day to say hello to Edmund, and Sir Thomas invites him to dinner. Later that night, Edmund and Henry walk into the drawing room to find Fanny reading Shakespeare aloud to Lady Bertram. Henry takes up the book and begins to read, impressing Fanny, despite herself, with his beautiful manner of reading.
That Henry’s beautiful reading voice appeals to Fanny speaks to her love of literature (which she expresses throughout the book). It also shows how Henry has a charismatic and appealing voice and manner, whatever he is reading or saying.
They all compliment Henry’s reading and discuss Shakespeare. Lady Bertram tells Henry he should set up a theatre at his estate, and Henry replies that there will be no theatre there, implying that Fanny, as its mistress, would not allow it. They move on to discussing Edmund’s preaching, the rhetoric of sermons, and the role of religion, debating back and forth, with Henry paying lots of attention to Fanny.
The fact that acting and theatre are Henry’s strengths shows how Henry is comfortable playing a role—just as he did when he seduced Maria and Julia. Though Henry’s acting appeals to Fanny, it also demonstrates Henry’s unreliability and untrustworthiness.
When Henry comments that he could only preach once or twice a season rather than every Sunday, Fanny shakes her head, and he privately implores her to tell him what she means. Fanny eventually implies that his fickleness is one of his more consistent traits. Henry tells her that he will prove her wrong in his love, and that he deserves her, and goes on to shower her with compliments. Tea then arrives, and Henry moves away from Fanny.
Henry’s statement that he would only preach once a season shows his lack of commitment. When Fanny tells Henry that he is fickle, and Henry say he will prove her wrong, Henry professes to be changing his ways and committing to Fanny’s love and the married lifestyle that he always resisted.