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Psychoanalytic Interpretations of Shakespeare's Works
Accompanying the rise of psychoanalysis in the twentieth century, many modern critics have applied the methods of this field to literature, and quite fruitfully to the dramatic works of Shakespeare. Tracing its origins to Sigmund Freud's publication of The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900, psychoanalytic criticism has demonstrated a natural affinity to the Shakespearean oeuvre, as contemporary critics—notable among them, Harold Bloom—have located in the rich examples of Shakespeare's major tragedies Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, and King Lear significant sources for Freud's theories. Additionally, the contemporary era has witnessed a proliferation of psychoanalytic thought, and has produced a range of theoretical approaches, many of which have been rewardingly applied to Shakespeare's comedies, problem plays, histories, and romances, as well as the tragedies. Likewise, in the last decades of the twentieth century, psychoanalytic criticism has in many cases been successfully combined with other critical approaches, particularly with feminist or gender theory, to produce several of the dominant strains of contemporary critical thought relating to Shakespeare.
The myriad subjects of psychoanalytic criticism coupled with the breadth of Shakespeare's drama make this one of the largest categories of Shakespearean criticism. Unconscious motivation, neurosis, jealousy, matters of autonomy and emotional isolation, sexual desire, and Oedipal or pre-Oedipal conflicts figure prominently among the multitude of psychological topics related to the dramas. Libidinal impulses and Oedipal patterns are frequently explored by critics in relation to such works as Macbeth, The Tempest, Hamlet, and Coriolanus to name a few. Of these, Coriolanus appears as a common subject for psychoanalytic critics, such as Janet Adelman (1976), who has examined his aggressive, masculine drive toward self-sufficiency as he struggles with an obsessive dependence upon his mother. The subject of uncontrolled, jealous passion has been taken up by several commentators, who have focused on the consuming desires of Othello and The Winters Tale's Leontes. As for Shakespeare's histories, Valerie Traub (1989) has blended psychoanalytic and feminist criticism in studying the psychological effects of a patriarchal social order on the subjugated female Other in the Henriad, while Harry Berger, Jr. (1985) has observed the disordering properties of psychological conflict between fathers and sons in this sequence of histories.
Other critics have emphasized the broad sweep of psychoanalytic criticism as it is applied to the Shakespearean text. Norman N. Holland (1964) has outlined the psychology of contrasting worlds in The Merchant of Venice and Romeo and Juliet, and studied phallic aggression in the histories and late romances. The conflict of trust versus isolation appears in the criticism of Richard P. Wheeler (1980), who has classified Shakespeare's later dramas using these representative psychological polarities. Elsewhere, M. D. Faber (1970) has observed the importance of psychoanalysis as a means of assessing Shakespeare's often brilliantly realized characters, but warns against the extremism that such a narrow focus can create. Additionally, a minority of critics have turned their pursuit of psychoanalytic criticism toward the figure of Shakespeare himself, though typically with only limited success.
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 22242
Robert A. Ravich (essay date 1963)
SOURCE: "A Psychoanalytic Study of Shakespeare's Early Plays," in The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, Vol. XXXIII, No. 3, 1964, pp. 388-410.
[In the following essay, originally delivered as a lecture in 1963, Ravich presents a psychoanalytic overview of Shakespeare's eleven earliest plays and highlights the dramatist's conception of mental disorder.]
Freud's repeated and cogent comments about Shakespeare's plays and characters indicate that he found in them abundant material for psychoanalytic investigation (11, 12, 13 ). Throughout his works he often quoted Shakespeare. He also became interested in the dramatist's life, espousing (with some vacillation) the theory, rejected by modern scholars, that the plays were written by...
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the Earl of Oxford (76).
Shakespeare's writings have had an influence upon psychoanalysis. Can psychoanalysis help us to understand the personality of the Bard himself? Three sources of information exist: known biographical facts; the psychological theories expressed in the plays; and the content of the plays treated as evidence similar to the free associations offered by a patient to his analyst.
Freud on Shakespeare
From the earliest days of psychoanalysis, Freud found in Shakespeare's works evidence for the soundness of at least one of his basic postulates. When he first hinted at the discovery in his own analysis of what he later termed the œdipus complex, he referred to A Midsummer Night's Dream, not to Hamlet. In a memorandum to [Wilhelm] Fliess he commented: 'It seems as though in sons this death wish is directed against their father . . . ' (9, p. 207). A few lines later Freud pointed out that 'Titania, who refused to love her rightful husband Oberon, was obliged instead to shower her love upon Bottom, the ass of her imagination' (9, p. 208).
Freud recognized a theme common to his self-analysis, to the Œdipus Rex of Sophocles, and to Hamlet. In another note to Fliess he wrote: 'I have found love of the mother and jealousy of the father in my own case too, and now believe it to be a general phenomenon of early childhood. . . . Every member of the audience was once a budding œdipus in fantasy . . . the same thing may lie at the root of . . . Hamlet's . . . hesitation to avenge his father . . . he . . . had meditated the same deed against his father because of passion for his mother . . . ' (9, pp. 223-224). Initially Freud believed that the theme of Hamlet was related to the dramatist's life. In The Interpretation of Dreams he wrote: ' . . . it can . . . only be the poet's own mind which confronts us in Hamlet . . . [the drama] was written immediately after the death of Shakespeare's father (in 1601), that is, under the immediate impact of his bereavement and, as we may well assume, while his childhood feelings had been freshly revived' (8, p. 265).
Method of Examining the Plays
Freud considered 'the analysis of works of the imagination and of their creators . . . among the most fascinating in the whole application of psychoanalysis' (7, p. 321). In the same note to Fliess referred to earlier, Freud said: 'The mechanism of creative writing is the same as that of hysterical fantasies. . . . By means of this fantasy [the writer] protected himself against the consequences of his experience. So Shakespeare was right in his juxtaposition of poetry and madness (the fine frenzy)' (9, p. 208). In Delusions and Dreams in Jensen's Gradiva, he described two methods that 'may enable us . . . to gain some small insight into the nature of creative writing. . . . One . . . to enter deeply . . . into the dream-creations of one author in one of his works. The other . . . to bring together and contrast all the examples . . . of the use of dreams in the works of different authors' (6, p. 9).
In this study the eleven earliest plays, taken in chronological order, were treated as if they were the productions of a patient in analysis. The audience was viewed as participant-observer and transference object for the writer, its role resembling that of a therapist. Each play was read (and listened to, if recorded), with eye and ear attuned to its latent as well as its manifest content.1 The plays were then compared with the known sources (1) to ascertain what the playwright selected, what he eliminated, and what apparently originated in his own mind. Whatever Shakespeare had to say about psychology and mental illness was also carefully noted.
For purposes of a psychoanalytic inquiry, I have assumed that the plays are closely connected with Shakespeare's life experiences. I also proceeded on the assumption that Shakespeare wrote the plays attributed to him by his contemporaries. Thus far I have found nothing in the plays to cause doubt that he did write them and many details to indicate that he did. I have also found that this approach to the subject tends to clear up some of the mysterious lacunae of knowledge that have fostered doubts as to the authorship.
The general biographical outline of Shakespeare's life is well known and well documented (2, 3, 17). The dramatist's father, John Shakespeare, the son of a farmer, became a shopkeeper in Stratford. His mother, Mary Arden, came from a well-to-do family of landed gentry and inherited money and property from her father. John prospered in business and took an active part in the town administration, becoming town councillor, treasurer, and alderman. In 1568 he was elected 'Presiding Officer of the Corporation'. Stratford was the marketplace of a rich farming countryside and an independent political unit with its own self-contained government, and John Shakespeare's position was one of considerable prestige, authority, and power. By virtue of his high office he was 'automatically eligible for a gentlemen's coat of arms if he could afford to pay the fees' of an application. He submitted his application in 1576, when William was twelve.
This was the pinnacle of John's career. In September of that year something went wrong. He stopped attending town council meetings, although the other members apparently expected his return since they waited nine years before electing another alderman to replace him. After 1578 the family was also in some financial difficulty. Part of Mary's inheritance was sold and another portion mortgaged. The Shakespeares were not impoverished, however, and retained possession of their three houses in Stratford. Two explanations are usually offered for John Shakespeare's political eclipse and the financial difficulties of the family. It has been suggested that John either sustained a serious business loss or that he was being harassed by the authorities because of his religious beliefs. Evidence for either view is inconclusive and leading authorities remain uncommitted. One other possibility, based upon evidence in the plays, rather curiously does not seem to have been considered. John's withdrawal from community affairs and his financial troubles may have been caused by a prolonged, serious illness in the family, perhaps his own or perhaps William's.
Stratford records reveal that William was christened on April 26, 1564. He was the third child, the first two being girls who died before William was born. Five more children completed the family. As the eldest son of à leading citizen and town official, William was entitled to attend the fine grammar school in Stratford. The schoolmasters were university graduates and well paid, and the education he received from them was of a high order for that time. His schooling appears to have ended at about the same time that his father's difficulties began. Although he was eligible because of his father's position to go to Oxford or Cambridge, he did not continue his formal studies.
At the age of eighteen and a half years, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway who was eight years his senior and already three months pregnant. They apparently married in haste since records seem to indicate that, on the day before, William was planning to marry another woman and had obtained a license to do so. His marriage to Anne appears to have been one of the determining elements in his selection of dramatic material and his handling of important characters. Suspected infidelity of the wife is a constantly recurring theme in the plays.
The first child born to William and Anne was Susannah who became an important influence in Shakespeare's life and writings when she reached puberty, as suggested by the development of the father-daughter theme in his plays. One fact worth noting is that Susannah was only three years younger than her uncle Edmund. There are a number of slips and hints in the plays that indicate Shakespeare's suspicions and resentment concerning the relation between his daughter and his youngest brother.
A year and half after the birth of their first child, Anne and William had twins named Hamnet and Judith. About this time William separated from his family, leaving them in Stratford. Nicholas Rowe, who wrote the first biographical sketch more than a century later, gave this explanation: 'He had fallen into ill company . . . that made a practice of deer stealing, [and] more than once [robbed] a park that belonged to Sir Thomas Lucy near Stratford. For this he was prosecuted by that gentleman . . . and in revenge . . . he [wrote] a ballad . . . so very bitter that it redoubled the prosecution against him [and] . . . he was obliged to leave his business and family.' Although this story has not been substantiated it appears to reflect a continuing reputation for antisocial behavior that Rowe encountered many years later when he visited Shakespeare's home town. All the evidence about Shakespeare's adolescence suggests that it was a period of considerably more than ordinary turbulence.
The sudden deterioration in family finances and prestige, the discontinuance of his schooling, the hasty forced marriage to an older woman already pregnant (when another marriage had been licensed), the deer poaching compounded by a defiant public attack upon an important personage, and his leaving his family fit a pattern of delinquent adolescent behavior as unacceptable in Elizabethan times as now.
Nothing is known of Shakespeare's life from the time he abandoned his family until the age of twenty-eight when he was already recognized as a new but significant playwright for the London stage. Throughout the twenty years of his career as a writer he was also an actor. He became a principal member and shareholder of the acting company known as the Lord Chamberlain's Company which was formed in 1594. The shareholders owned the theater and shared the returns from performances. Shakespeare also profited from the sale of his plays to his company as well as through the sale by the company of the publication rights to the plays. In the world of the theater such a situation is unusual. It allowed Shakespeare a degree of freedom of choice and expression that has rarely, if ever, been duplicated. It means—a consideration important for our study—that Shakespeare was exceptionally free to choose themes for his plays without external dictation.
Shakespeare led a lonely life in the capital, lodging in various private homes. Most of the other members of his company had their large families with them. He did not, however, sever his Stratford ties entirely and may have returned there at times. Once he began to enjoy financial success he invested in real estate within Stratford and its immediate surroundings and eventually became the largest property holder there. He also successfully reinstituted his father's application for a family coat of arms twenty years after the initial request had been filed.
The Early Plays Examined
Sufficient evidence exists in the dramas and in various contemporary records to permit Shakespearean scholars to reach general, though not precise, agreement on the chronological order of the plays. The first eleven, the subject of this study, were probably written between 1590 and 1596.
Certain major trends can be recognized. The three parts of Henry VI as well as Richard HI and Titus Andronicus reveal preoccupation with the destructive power of the phallic woman and the passive dependent man's fear that he will be killed or driven mad. Three comedies follow, The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of theShrew, and Love's Labour's Lost, which reveal persistent concern with therapeutic means of achieving restitution and repair. The Two Gentlemen of Verona and Romeo and Juliet, both romances, deal with symptoms of depression, withdrawal, isolation of affect, and confusion about sexual identity. The fear of women diminishes as the relation between a jealous father and a defiant, independent daughter develops. All these trends are recapitulated in the major dream creation, A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Shakespeare's attempts to understand psychopathology and psychodynamics are evident throughout his earliest plays. He made dramatic use of the theories of demoniacal possession, witchcraft, and bewitchment that were the accepted popular explanations of mental illness. However, he consistently rejected these concepts and expressed support for the more humane, naturalistic view of psychopathology first propounded in 1563 by the physician, Johann Weyer (21).
Shakespeare began his career as playwright when the witch mania had taken a strong hold in England, about a hundred years after it had started on the Continent (18). In his early historical plays, he used material concerning three politically motivated witch trials described in the chronicles that served as his sources.
The First Part of King Henry VI (20 a) dramatizes the unsuccessful efforts of the English to retain possession of the conquered areas of France. This attempt is frustrated by Joan of Arc. She triumphs in hand-to-hand combat with a man and routs the English forces. She is captured and convicted of witchcraft, but Shakespeare carefully dissociated himself from those who attributed her power to supernatural causes and demoniacal possession. Shakespeare's Joan says:
I never had to do with wicked spirits. But you, that are . . . tainted with a thousand vices . . . You judge it straight a thing impossible To compass wonders, but by help of devils
Eleanore Cobham, the Duchess of Gloucester, in The Second Part of King Henry VI (20 b) is exiled for consorting with witches and conjurers. Her husband's opponents take political advantage of her mental instability to bring about his defeat and death. But Shakespeare depicts her as a 'bedlam brain-sick duchess', not as a witch (III, i:51).
In The Tragedy of King Richard III (20 c), the dramatist accepted the view of the Tudor-inspired chronicles that the last of the Plantagenet kings was a villain. To get rid of Lord Hastings, an unwanted political ally, Richard, now himself Duke of Gloucester, accuses Hastings of protecting Jane Shore, claiming that she has withered his arm through witchcraft (III, iv:68-72). But Shakespeare, seeking a psychodynamic explanation of Richard's distorted self-image and psychopathic behavior, attributed both to rejection by his mother which began before he was born. Richard's mother tells him:
. . . I have stay'd for thee, . . . in torment and agony. . . . Thou cam'st on earth to make the earth my hell. A grievous burthen was thy birth to me, Tetchy and wayward thy infancy, Thy school-days frightful, desperate, wild, and furious, . . .
Although he rejected the idea of woman-as-witch, Shakespeare was deeply concerned with the possibility that a woman could drive a man insane. In The Third Part of King Henry VI (20 d), Queen Margaret takes over from the passive, dependent King, creating disorder and chaos in England. Margaret clearly expresses the desire to drive a man mad. At one point she waves a handkerchief soaked with the blood of his murdered son in the face of the captive Duke of York.
I prithee grieve, to make me merry, York. . . . Why art thou patient, man? Thou shouldst be mad; And I, to make thee mad, do mock thee thus
It was this powerful depiction of female vengeance that first called public attention to Shakespeare. The badgered York describes Margaret as having a 'tiger's heart wrapt in a woman's hide' (I, iv:137). This line was paraphrased by another playwright, Robert Greene, who resented Shakespeare's rising reputation and described him as having a 'tyger's heart wrapt in an actor's hide', expecting that the public would immediately recognize the target of his attack.
Titus Andronicus (20 e) tells the story of another man physically injured and finally driven mad by the vindictiveness of a woman, Queen Tamora. In this startlingly brutal tragedy, Lavinia, only daughter of Titus, is raped, her hands cut off, and her tongue cut out to prevent her revealing her attackers. Using one of her nephew's schoolbooks, Ovid's Metamorphoses, she points with the stumps of her arms to the story of the rape of Philomel, thus telling her father what has befallen her (IV, i:42-51).
Titus Andronicus is also of interest because of the violence of the intrafamilial relations portrayed. There are subtle suggestions of incestuous relations between father and daughter and mother and sons. The play compares the attitudes of two fathers toward their sons. The hero, Titus, willingly has sacrificed twenty-two sons in battle and kills another with his own hands. The villainous Aaron, an early prototype of Iago, is willing to sacrifice himself to save his bastard son's life.
Shakespeare used the Metamorphoses as a source of several early plays and of the long poem Venus and Adonis (20 l). In this poem, Shakespeare deals with the seduction of a young, sexually inexperienced, and uninterested boy by an older woman who is a nymphomaniac. The content of Venus and Adonis may have afforded Shakespeare an opportunity to express in poetic form his own feelings about being married at eighteen to a woman eight years older.
In Titus Andronicus Shakespeare began to demonstrate his concern with questions of the care, treatment, and prognosis of the psychiatrically ill. This interest in emotional disorders and their treatment was an important theme in the next three plays, all comedies. The Comedy of Errors (20 f) deals with amusing situations resulting from the confusion of identities of two sets of twins. But Shakespeare was concerned also with two opposing concepts of the psychodynamics and therapy of mental illness. This interest was entirely his own and in no way derived from his sources. All the characters in the play become convinced that one of the twins is insane. He, in turn, believes that he is surrounded by witches who want to drive him mad. Shakespeare, within a comic situation, contrasts two conflicting views of the etiology of mental illness: is it the result of supernatural causes, demoniacal possession and bewitchment, or are there natural causes? He takes an unmistakable position in favor of natural causes.
He compares the methods of Doctor Pinch, a charlatan, who attributes aberrant behavior to demoniacal possession and treats the patient by exorcism, restraints, and imprisonment, with the naturalistic approach of an Abbess, who seeks to understand the onset and course of the man's derangement through careful questioning of his wife. The wife pleads with Doctor Pinch:
Good Doctor Pinch, you are a conjurer. Establish him in his true sense again, And I will please you what you will demand
Doctor Pinch attempts to exorcize the Devil.
I charge thee, Satan, housed within this man, To yield possession to my holy prayers, And to thy state of darkness hie thee straight. I conjure thee by all the saints in heaven!
The patient describes the quack as:
. . . a hungry lean-faced villain, . . . a mountebank, A threadbare juggler and a fortune-teller, A needy, hollow-eyed, sharp-looking wretch, A living-dead man. This pernicious . . . conjurer . . . gazing in my eyes, feeling my pulse, . . . Cries out, I was possess'd. Then all together They fell upon me, bound me, bore me thence, And in a dark and dankish vault at home There left me . . . bound . . .
The husband escapes and seeks refuge in the abbey. There the Abbess attributes the man's emotional symptoms to conflict with his wife. Her therapeutic approach is to separate him from his family by keeping him in the abbey, where she will administer sedatives and then pray for him. Her psychological approach is apparent as she interviews the wife Adriana to elicit the precipitating cause of the man's mental illness.
Adriana: . . . hurt him not, for God's sake—he is mad. . . . Abbess: How long hath this possession held the man? Adriana: This week he hath been heavy, sour, sad, And much different from the man he was. But till this afternoon his passion Ne'er brake into extremity of rage. Abbess: Hath he not lost much wealth by wreck of sea? Buried some dear friend? Hath not elsehis eye Stray'd his affection in unlawful love, A sin prevailing much in youthful men, Who give their eyes the liberty of gazing? Which of these sorrows is he subject to? Adriana: To none of these, except it be the last, Namely, some love that drew him oft from home. Abbess: You should for that have reprehended him. Adriana: Why, so I did. Abbess: Ay, but not rough enough. Adriana: As roughly as my modesty would let me. Abbess: Haply in private. Adriana: And in assemblies too. Abbess: Ay, but not enough. Adriana: It was the copy of our conference: In bed he slept not for my urging it; At board he fed not for my urging it; Alone, it was the subject of my theme; In company I often glanced it; . . . Abbess: And thereof came it, that the man was mad.
The venom clamours of a jealous woman Poisons more deadly than a mad dog's tooth. . . . In food, in sport and life preserving rest To be disturbed, would mad or man or beast. The consequence is then, thy jealous fits Hath scared thy husband from the use of wits. . . . Adriana: She did betray me to my own reproof. Good people, enter, and lay hold on him. Abbess: No, not a creature enters in my house. . . . Be patient, for I will not let him stir Till I have used the approved means I have, With wholesome syrups, drugs, and holy prayers, To make of him a formal man again. . . . Therefore depart, and leave him here with me
When Shakespeare pointed to the wife's jealous fits as the precipitating cause of her husband's apparent madness and denied the reality of demoniacal possession, he took a stand that seems entirely sensible to us but which was in direct conflict with the prevailing attitudes of his own day.
The therapy of mental disorders is also important in The Taming of the Shrew (20 g). In this play within a play, a nobleman discovers a chronic alcoholic, Christopher Sly, in a drunken stupor. At first repulsed by the man, he decides to treat Sly with kindness and consideration. A play is presented to him because:
. . . your doctors . . . Seeing too much sadness hath congealed your blood, And melancholy is the nurse of frenzy; Therefore they thought it good you hear a play, And frame your mind to mirth and merriment, Which bars a thousand harms, and lengthens life
Therapy is the theme of the play presented for therapeutic reasons. A violent, abusive, 'stark mad' young woman is treated by a man who is determined to marry her. He scores a therapeutic triumph by behaving in a more irrational and uncontrolled manner than she, thereby forcing her to control her behavior. The result is that she becomes an obedient and loving wife. Actually, Shakespeare was describing two therapeutic methods that are employed today—Moreno's psychodrama and the paradigmatic method used by Rosen and others in the treatment of psychoses.
The third comedy, Love's Labour's Lost (20 h), appears to have been entirely original with Shakespeare.
It begins and ends with the leading character, a poet named Berowne, facing the prospect of entering an institution. The opening scene has a familiar ring for the psychiatrist. Berowne is hesitant about signing an agreement that commits him for a three-year period during which he is not to see a woman, and must study and fast, and sleep little. When he is told that he has already verbally committed himself, he says that he swore in jest and wants to know the purpose of this study. The purpose of the confinement, he learns, is:
Why, that to know which else we should not know. Things hid and barr'd . . . from common sense? Ay, that is study's god-like recompense
Berowne, who appears quite sane, is repeatedly compared to and mistaken for the poet-playwright Armado.
A man . . . That hath a mint of phrases in his brain; One whom the music of his own vain tongue Doth ravish like enchanting harmony. . . . A man of fire-new words . . .
This certainly could be Shakespeare's image of himself, if only because no other literary figure has had such a 'mint of phrases' or so many 'new words' (15). Armado is a melancholic whose writings and speech are pure 'schizophrenese', full of neologisms, puns, concretisms, and clang associations. They have the effect of creating temporary madness in the other characters, one of whom complains that Armado makes him feel insane, 'frantic, lunatic' (V, i:29). For example, Armado writes a letter:
. . . besieged with sable-coloured melancholy . . . as I am a gentleman, [I] betook myself to walk: the time When. About the sixth hour, when beasts most graze, birds best peck, and men sit down to that nourishment which is called supper; so much for the time when. Now for the ground Which; which I mean I walked upon; it is y-cleped thy park. Then for the place Where; where I mean I did encounter that obscene and most preposterous event, that draweth from my snow-white pen the ebon-coloured ink, which here thou viewest, beholdest, surveyest, or seest. But to the place Where, it standeth north-north-east and by east from the west comer of thy curious-knotted garden . . .
Berowne is told by his ladylove, Rosaline, that if he wants to win her, he must for a whole year
. . . from day to day Visit the speechless sick and still converse With groaning wretches; and your task shall be,
With all the fierce endeavour of your wit To enforce the pained impotent to smile. . . . A jest's prosperity lies in the ear Of him that hears it, never in the tongue Of him that makes it: . . .
The poet is appalled by the task imposed upon him. Nevertheless, he acquiesces.
To move wild laughter in the throat of death? It cannot be; it is impossible: Mirth cannot move a soul in agony. . . . A twelvemonth? Well, befall what will befall, I'll jest a twelvemonth in an hospital
In a brief epilogue, Shakespeare contrasted this penance of Berowne with that of the insane poet Armado who has committed himself to marry the woman he has made pregnant and remain in the country with her for three years. By the end of this play, Shakespeare has made some observations which are probably self-revealing about a poet who must amuse hospital inmates in the face of their suffering if he is really to prove himself and about an insane writer who makes a country woman pregnant and then agrees to marry and remain in the country with her for three years.
Although The Two Gentlemen of Verona (20 i) is about love and friendship, it contains very little expression of feelings. Everything in the play is dull, lifeless, and flat, albeit the sources Shakespeare used are rich in emotional content. The playwright appears to have been aware of an affectual blunting in himself. The one memorable character, the servant Launce, expresses his concern about the lack of emotion displayed by his dog, Crab.
. . . I think Crab my dog be the sourest natured dog that lives: My mother weeping; my father wailing, my sister crying; our maid howling; our cat wringing her hands, and all our house in a great perplexity, yet did not this cruel-hearted cur shed one tear . . .
Launce confuses the dog with the man.
. . . I am the dog: no, the dog is himself, and I am the dog. Oh, the dog is me, and I am myself. . . . Now the dog all this while sheds not a tear, nor speaks a word; but see how I lay the dust with my tears
He also exhibits considerable sexual confusion as he debates which of his shoes should represent his mother and his father.
. . . Γ11 show you the manner of it. This shoe is my father: no, this left shoe is my father. No, no, this left shoe is my mother. Nay that cannot be so neither. Yes, it is so, it is so, it hath the worser sole. This shoe with the hole in it is my mother, and this my father
The play contains evidence of regression to an infantile level. For example, discussions about love almost invariably end by referring to food and eating. And Launce in another monologue, ostensibly on the noble subject of friendship, becomes involved with urination.
. . . O 'tis a foul thing when a cur cannot keep himself in all companies! . . . He thrusts me himself into the company of three or four gentleman-like dogs, under the Duke's table: he had not been there . . . a pissing while, but all the chamber smelt him. 'Out with the dog!' says one: 'What cur is that?' says another. 'Whip him out!' says the third: 'Hang him up!' says the Duke. I, having been acquainted with the smell before, knew it was Crab, and goes me to the fellow that whips the dogs. 'Friend,' quoth I . . . 'twas I did the thing . . . '. He makes me no more ado, but whips me out of the chamber. How many masters would do this for his servant? . . . I remember the trick you served me when I took my leave of Madam Silvia. Did not I bid thee still mark me and do as I do? When didst thou see me heave up my leg and make water against a gentlewoman's farthingale? Didst thou ever see me do such a trick?
(IV, iv: 10-42).
Feelings of estrangement and withdrawal are described in a soliloquy.
This shadowy desert, unfrequented woods, I better brook than flourishing peopled towns: Here can I sit alone, unseen of any, And to the nightingale's complaining notes Tune my distresses and record my woes
In The Two Gentlemen of Verona we find also the theme of a father's incestuous desire for his daughter that recurs in many of Shakespeare's plays. The Duke of Milan tells how he has locked his daughter up every night out of jealousy. He describes her as:
. . . peevish, sullen, froward, Proud, disobedient, stubborn, lacking duty, Neither regarding that she is my child Nor fearing me as if I were her father. And . . . this pride of hers, . . . hath drawn my love from her, And, where I thought the remnant of mine age
Should have been cherish'd by her child-like duty, I now am full resolved to take a wife, And turn her out to who will take her in: . . .
The play shows a degree of confusion about locale not found elsewhere. On three separate occasions (II, V:l; III, i:81; V, iv: 129) Shakespeare made mistakes about the place of action. These errors are corrected in modern editions, but they are present in the original folio. Moreover, stage directions are lacking, notations of entrance and exit are missing, and new scenes are indicated in several places where the action is in fact continuous.
The Two Gentlemen of Verona may have been written following a period of severe emotional disturbance. Perhaps Shakespeare at thirty-one returned temporarily to Stratford where he may have attempted a reconciliation with his wife. This would also have given him an opportunity to become reacquainted with his children, especially with his eldest daughter, Susannah, who was then thirteen.
This question of the relation of father and daughter and their respective ages was of considerable importance to the playwright, as indicated in the next play, Romeo and Juliet (20 j). He reduced Juliet's age from sixteen, as it was in the sources, to thirteen. There is no dramatic justification for this change, but Juliet's age is the same as that of Susannah Shakespeare at the time the play was written. That the heroine was identified in Shakespeare's mind with Susannah is supported further by the Nurse's comment that her own child Susan and Juliet would be the same age, had Susan lived. The Nurse reminisces about episodes of Juliet's life up to the age of three. Her recollections thus appear to coincide with the time before Shakespeare left his family. The significant point is that his return to them reunited him with his daughter at the time of her early adolescence, and this appears to have had a profound and lasting effect on his attitude toward women.
The intensity of feeling that Shakespeare infused into the old poem that was the source of Romeo and Juliet is in striking contrast to his inability to give any affective content to The Two Gentlemen of Verona. This swing from virtually complete affectual blunting to intense feeling is probably clinically significant.
A Midsummer Night's Dream (20 k) is of particular interest to the psychoanalyst. First, it is Shakespeare's major dream creation in which he drew together many of the themes he had already used in other plays. Second, in this play Shakespeare clearly deals with the Œdipal theme and the conflicts within the family triangle. Finally, it is here that the influence of Johann Weyer's ideas regarding mental disorders is most evident.
Two conflicts provide the underlying motivation in A Midsummer Night's Dream. One involves a father who insists on his right to choose a husband for his defiant daughter and also on his right to kill her if she does not obey him. The other conflict is between a married couple, Titania and Oberon, the estranged King and Queen of the Fairies, who are struggling for possession of a changeling mortal boy. As part of his ruse to get the boy away from his wife, Oberon uses a magic potion that will make her fall in love with the first thing she sees on waking. Puck changes the appearance of the weaver-actor, Bottom, by giving him an ass's head. When Bottom's fellow actors run off terrified by the sight of him and leave him alone in the woods, he sings a song to show that he is not afraid. His singing awakens Titania, and she immediately falls in love with the ass-headed Bottom.
The physical change that Bottom undergoes may symbolize a mental disturbance. Bottom expresses this when he says that he hopes he has 'wit enough to get out of this wood' (III,i:152). 'Wood' meant madness in Elizabethan parlance, so that Bottom may be speaking metaphorically of recovery from insanity.
In this play a more frankly Œdipal situation is portrayed than in Hamlet. When Bottom grows tired, Titania says:
Sleep thou, and I will wind thee in my arms. Fairies be gone, and be all ways away. So does the woodbine, the sweet honeysuckle, gently entwist; The female ivy so Enrings the barky fingers of the elm. O, how I love thee! how I dote on thee!
They go to sleep on stage, clasped in each other's arms.
Oberon takes the changeling boy and then directs Puck to restore Bottom's head and mind.
. . . Puck, take this transformed scalp From off the head of this Athenian swain; That he, awaking . . . think no more of this night's accidents, But as the fierce vexation of a dream
Shakespeare indicates that the significance of Bottom's dream is too shocking to bear interpretation, although it can be employed for dramatic purposes. Bottom says:
I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was: man is but an ass, if he go about to expound this dream. . . . Man is but a patched fool, if he will offer to say . . . what my dream was. I will get Peter Quince to write a ballad of this dream; it shall be called Bottom's Dream, because it hath no bottom; . . .
Bottom returns to reality, rejoins his fellow actors, and resumes his duties as actor, director, and playwright. Immediately afterward, Theseus makes a speech comparing the imaginations of 'the lunatic, the lover, and the poet'.
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains, Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend More than cool reason ever comprehends. The lunatic, the lover, and the poet Are of imagination all compact. One sees more devils than vast hell can hold; That is the madman. The lover, all as frantic, Sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt. The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling . . . [From his] imagination [creates] The form of things unknown . . . and gives to airy nothing A local habitation and a name. Such tricks hath strong imagination, That, if it would but apprehend some joy, It comprehends some bringer of that joy. Or in the night, imagining some fear, How easy is a bush supposed a bear!
It will be recalled that, in The Taming of the Shrew, Sly's recovery is to be effected through watching a play performed expressly for therapeutic purposes. In Love's Labour's Lost, Berowne must prove himself by attempting to relieve the mental anguish of hospital inmates. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, Bottom's 'dream' is to become a ballad. It appears that Shakespeare during this period connected playwriting and acting with the treatment of mental illness.
Shakespeare's Concept of Mental Illness
When Shakespeare wrote that the madman imagines 'more devils than vast hell can hold' and juxtaposed this process with the 'fine frenzy' of the poet, he was expressing a radical attitude about psychopathology and the etiology of mental illness. In Elizabethan days, psychopathology and psychodynamics were regarded chiefly in terms of demoniacal possession, witchcraft, and bewitchment. Psychotherapy consisted of exorcizing the demons that had possessed the sick person so that they would leave his body and free his soul. It was indeed a reversal of accepted thought to say that demons were the products of the deranged mind rather than the cause of it.
Legalistic consequences of psychopathology involved imprisonment, torture, and execution. At the time Shakespeare was writing these lines, men, women, and children were being convicted as witches in league with the Devil. It has been estimated that more than seven hundred fifty thousand people were burned or hanged for witchcraft during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, an average of ten every day for two hundred years (22). It must have been terrifying to a man who could understand that what was happening in his own mind could seriously jeopardize his life.
Today many of these unfortunate persons would be considered mentally ill and would be referred for psychiatric care and hospitalization. The magnitude of what was going on at that time is difficult for us to comprehend; psychiatry is still struggling with the aftereffects of that massive attack upon the mentally ill.
Shakespeare's concept of mental disorder resembles that of the physician Johann Weyer. A pupil of Cornelius Agrippa, Weyer received his medical degree from the University of Orléans. He became court physician to Duke William of Cleves in 1550, and prevailed upon the Duke to halt the persecution of witches. Weyer's clinical observations led him to believe that mental illness, rather than demoniacal possession, was responsible for the aberrant behavior of these people. His book on witchcraft (21) was published in 1563 and went through six editions in twenty years (22).
Whether Shakespeare read Weyer in the Latin is not known. His work on the subject of witchcraft has never been translated into English.2 Certainly the dramatist was acquainted with Weyer's ideas and we can only speculate why he was so impressed. An English popularization of Weyer, written in 1584 by Reginald Scot (19), was one of the sources for A Midsummer Night's Dream. Scot freely acknowledged the influence of Weyer, whom he described as 'the most famous and noble physician'. Later both Scot and Weyer would be vigorously attacked by James the First in his book on witchcraft (14). One of James's first acts on becoming King of England was to order copies of Scot's book to be seized and burned.
Zilboorg (23, 24) considered Weyer's book one of the most important in medical history and described him as the leader of 'the first psychiatric revolution', with Freud the leader of 'the second psychiatric revolution'. Although Freud made no reference to Weyer in his papers, he had a very high regard for the scientific importance of Weyer's treatise. He once wrote that among the ten most significant books he would include 'scientific achievements like those of Copernicus, of the old physician Johann Weyer on the belief in witches, Darwin's Descent of Man, and others' (5, p. 245).
Freud, in an article about Charcot, expressed the same point of view as Weyer and Shakespeare: ' . . . existing records of witchcraft trials and possession . . . show that the manifestations of neurosis were the same then as they are now' (4, p. 20). Later he wrote a fascinating article, entitled "A Seventeenth-Century Demonological Neurosis," in which he stated, ' . . . the neuroses of those early times, emerge in demonological trappings. . . . The states of possession correspond to our neuroses. . . . We merely eliminate the projection of these mental entities into the external world which the middle ages carried out; instead, we regard them as having arisen in the patient's internal life . . . ' (10, p. 72).
Shakespeare's theories of mental illness, as expressed in his early plays, were in advance of his time; they seem to have been influenced by those of Johann Weyer, of whose writings Freud also expressed a high opinion.
By treating the content of these early plays as if they were the associations produced by a patient in psychoanalysis, some hypotheses can be constructed concerning Shakespeare himself, and some of these hypotheses are given support by examination of what is known of the dramatist's life.
1 In this study I have received invaluable help from George E. Daniels, M.D., in weekly discussions at the Columbia University Psychoanalytic Clinic for Training and Research.
2 Weyer's De Praestigiis is currently being translated by William R. Nethercut of Columbia University, New York, as a result of this study.
Bullough, G.: Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, (Vols. I-IV). New York: Columbia University Press, 1960.
Chambers, E.: William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems. London: Oxford University Press, 1930. Abridged: A Short Life of Shakespeare with the Sources. By C. Williams. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1933.
Chute, Marchette: Shakespeare of London. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1949.
Freud: Charcot (1893). Coll. Papers, I.
——: Contribution to a Questionnaire on Reading (1907). Standard Edition, IX.
——: Delusions and Dreams in Jensen's 'Gradiva' (1907 ). Standard Edition, IX.
——: On the History of the Psychoanalytic Movement (1914). Coll. Papers, I.
——: The Interpretation of Dreams (1900). Standard Edition, IV, V.
——: The Origins of Psychoanalysis. Letters to Wilhelm Fliess, Drafts and Notes: 1887-1902. Edited by Marie Bonaparte, Anna Freud, and Ernst Kris. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1954.
——: A Seventeenth-Century Demonological Neurosis (1925 ). Standard Edition, XIX.
Holland, N. N.: Freud and the Poet's Eye. Literature and Psychology, XI, 1961, pp. 36-45.
——: Freud on Shakespeare. Publ. of the Modern Language Assn. of America, LXXV, 1960, pp. 163-173.
——: Shakespearean Tragedy and the Three Ways of Psychoanalytic Criticism. The Hudson Review, XV, 1962, pp. 217-229.
James I: Daemonologie. Edinburgh: Robert Waldegraue, 1597.
Jespersen, Otto: Growth and Structure of the English Language. (Ninth Edition.) New York: The Macmillan Co., 1938.
Looney, J. T.: Shakespeare Identified in Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. London: Cecil Palmer, 1920.
Parrott, T. M.: William Shakespeare. A Handbook. (Rev. Edition.) New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1955.
Robbins, R. H.: The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1959.
Scot, Reginald: The Discoverie of Witchcraft. Edited by M. Summers. (Limited Edition.) London: John Rodker, 1930.
Shakespeare, William: The Complete Works. Edited by Charles Jaspar Sisson. New York: Harper & Bros., n.d.
a. The First Part of King Henry VI
b. The Second Part of King Henry VI
c. The Tragedy of King Richard III
d. The Third Part of King Henry VI
e. Titus Andronicus
f. The Comedy of Errors
g. The Two Gentlemen of Verona
j. Romeo and Juliet
k. A Midsummer Night's Dream
1. Venus and Adonis
Weyer, Johann: De Praestigiis Daemonum et Incantationibus Ac Veneficiis. (Second Edition.) Basle: Johannes Oporinus, 1564.
Withington, E. T.: Dr. John Weyer and the Witch Mania. In: Studies in the History and Method of Science, Vol I. Edited by C. J. Singer. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1917.
Zilboorg, Gregory: A History of Medical Psychology. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1941.
——: The Medical Man and the Witch During the Renaissance. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1935.
Norman N. Holland (essay date 1964)
SOURCE: "The Psychological Continuum," in Psychoanalysis and Shakespeare, McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1964, pp. 324-37.
[In the following excerpt, Holland surveys the patterns of psychological criticism typically applied to Shakespeare's plays.]
The Psychological Continuum
Freud, in describing human personality, used the latest and richest version of the metaphor that Plato, Augustine, More, Bacon, Campanella, and many others before him had used: the city. Freud suggested that we think of the human mind as like the Rome he enjoyed so much. At the deepest level lies the primitive village of the Latin tribes. Erected on it are the cities of the republic and the empire. On their ruins, in turn, rose the city of medieval Christendom and from it the Rome of modern Italy. And yet the avenues clogged by the traffic jams of today follow the path worn down by the solitary herdsman of antiquity—indeed, his choice of route centuries before has much to do with the congestion and conflicts of today.
In the city, modern builds on ancient. Modern also brings much that is new, but it escapes only with considerable destruction and renewal the paths anciently laid down. So in the mind: the intellectual and moral concerns lately arrived at in the adult build on the primitive paths and communities of the child. We need to think of modern and ancient, adult and child, as coexisting, as if, by a kind of time-machine vision, we could see in the center of the magnificence of St. Peter's the dream shadow of the Circus Neronis dedicated to cruel and uncanny sports.
Adult and child coexist; but the orthodox critic sees only the adult mind, and the psychoanalytic critic, all too often, sees only the child. The truth lies rather in the continuum between them. The religious, aesthetic, social, moral, or intellectual themes the orthodox critic develops have their roots in the infantile fantasies and conflicts the psychoanalytic critic points out. Indeed, it is only because infantile basis and adult superstructure exist in us together that these intellectual concerns can have at all the emotional power they do in art. Both the psychoanalytic critic and his conventional counterpart need to recognize that each tells half the story. Not only are there complex two-way bonds back and forth between author, text, and reader—these bonds themselves have higher and lower sides, each of which informs the other. . . .
In short, the psychoanalytic critic has (by and large) been both too logical and not logical enough. That is, he has confined himself too rigidly (even if not too explicitly) to one or a combination of the three kinds of psychoanalytic criticism. He has thus failed to follow out the assumptions of his own discipline. . . . [The] essence of psychoanalysis is that it deals objectively with the data of subjectivity. To do so, to think in a truly psychoanalytic way, one must move back and forth from one's own inner responses to what the objective, scientific descriptions of psychoanalysis have to say about those inner responses.
The psychoanalytic critic needs to recognize that he is himself part of the literary process he is describing. The character he analyzes does not exist "out there" in some never-never land; the realism of the character comes as one part—although only one part—of the critic's own responses. Conversely, the play itself is not an isolated reality, a text that can be analyzed separate from the analyzer. What criticism needs is a sense of the continuum and interaction between objective work of art and subjective response; or as this book has tried to act out by its own odd form, between the categories of actual psychoanalytic criticism (Part II) and the psychoanalytic concepts that show how these categories are really not categories but blend one into another (Part I). To understand a work of art, one must understand oneself.
That is clear enough for the critic's thinking, but how about his writing? How does he express this sense of continuum between work and self short of a most unseemly autobiographical baring? By careful language. Through a process of translating psychoanalytic insights into terms that can also describe the play in the moral and aesthetic terms of orthodox criticism. Incidentally, this same admonition applies to ordinary criticism as well, if the critic wishes to express this sense of continuum in the literary transaction. That is, a conventional critic who states simply that, at the outset of the tragedy, Macbeth is physically courageous gives us an isolated insight. If he were to rephrase it—at the outset, Macbeth has "animal courage"—he would bring his insight into meaningful relation with the rest of the tragedy: with a major series of images (animals) and a major theme, What is a man?
For the psychoanalytic critic, however, the difference in terminology spans a far greater range. He is involved in words like oedipus complex, sibling rivalry, repression, displacement, self-object differentiation, and the like. How can he translate these into words that describe the play as a whole? By showing how the intellectual "meaning" of the play grows from the emotional content.
Six Shakespearean Instances
Macbeth is a useful example because psychoanalytic criticism, by and large, has not approached the play through the realistic analysis of character but rather through over-all patterns, thus removing one element from our problem.
From a conventional point of view, five recurring themes stand out for me in Macbeth: (1) uncertain perception (the vanishing witches and ghosts, the mysterious voices, such questions as, "Is this a dagger which I see before me?"). (2) The supernatural (witches, prophecies, apparitions, ghosts, and omens). (3) The natural world of eating, drinking, sleeping, having children, in short, domestic and political life. (4) The unnatural disease represented by the Macbeths who corrupt eating, drinking, sleeping, and having children, turning Scotland from "our mother" to "a grave." (5) Finally, the idea of breeding understood either as having children or as spreading evil: "Unnatural deeds do breed unnatural troubles." We could state the essential Macbeth quality as: uncertain perception of the way supernatural, natural, and unnatural mingle in a man's mind and breed outward.4
Psychoanalytic criticism, by contrast, sees Macbeth as the interaction of oedipal patterns. Macbeth, a bad "son," allies himself with a bad "mother" to kill a good "father," Duncan. Then, having become a bad "father" or king, Macbeth kills a mother and a son (the Macduffs). Then, a good son, Malcolm, and a not-so-good father, Macduff (both dissociated from women), slay the bad "father," and the good son becomes a good king (or "father").
We can see in these patterns the emotional roots of one of the five big intellectual themes of the tragedy: breeding. Good "fathers" and "sons" dissociate themselves from women: the sons show asexual filial piety, the fathers asexual authority. Bad "fathers" or "sons" get involved with women and concern themselves with breeding, understood either as the act of fathering children or as betraying and destroying family life.
Others of the five themes have the same sexual dualism as "breeding." For example, the concept of the supernatural seems to involve doing the will of another. Macbeth fights rebels for the Lord's anointed, King Duncan, whose virtues plead like angels. Malcolm and Macduff fight under the aegis of the "holy" English king "with Him above to ratify the work." Submission to a father justifies even murder (as of Macdonwald or Macbeth). But this submission is evil and unnatural when Macbeth acts under the auspices of the weird sisters or Lady Macbeth—women. The intellectual themes of the natural and unnatural involve a similar dualism. A noble wishes that
we may again Give to our tables meat, sleep to our nights, Free from our feasts and banquets bloody knives, Do faithful homage and receive free honors— Alt which we pine for now,
(III. vi. 33-37)
all which, presumably, he had under Duncan (a man alone) but which Macbeth has now corrupted (a man acting in submission to a woman).
In short, beneath the intellectual dualisms seem to lie conflicting attitudes toward a father. Alone, he is a beneficient and justifying authority, but in relation to a woman, "He wants the natural touch." The witches themselves represent the deepest form of this ambiguity:
You should be women, And yet your beards forbid me to interpret That you are so.
Perhaps, too, this constant sense of uncertainty has a symbolic value: the ambiguities in gender, the blood, the darkness, the mysterious noises at night may represent a primal scene fantasy.
At any rate, this pervasive need to "interpret," this theme of ambiguity and uncertainty of perception functions defensively. Responding to a father as benevolent political authority works to reassure against or cancel out that other sense of the father as a frightening and dangerous sexual being. We see this dualism or ambiguity in all the episodes of uncertain perception. We see it, too, in the structure of the tragedy: two waves, one of crime, one of punishment. They act like the defense of doing and undoing (acting on an aggressive impulse, then trying magically to cancel the deed out). The antitheses in the language work the same way: "Fair is foul, and foul is fair." "Nothing is / But what is not."
This sense of uncertainty also functions as a projection: Is Macbeth responsible for his crimes? Or the witches? Or Lady Macbeth?
Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle toward my hand?
. . . . .
Or art thou but A dagger of the mind, a false creation Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?
If these impulses and attitudes are in me, I am guilty. If they are outside me, in destiny or, particularly, in a justifying father, I am innocent. But if I have taken them in, not from a father, but from a woman, I am even more guilty.
Thus, beneath the oedipal pattern of love and hate among fathers, mothers, and sons we come to a still deeper stratum, the problem of earliest infancy: taking things in from outside; what is me and what is notine? Defensively, Macbeth uses the uncertainty to sustain himself, to justify and explain his actions:
Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown,
and to supply himself with courage:
Come, Fate, into the list, And champion me to th'utterance!
And yet this taking in from outside becomes also a fatal dependence. When the prophecies fail him, "I pull in resolution," "I 'gin to be aweary of the sun." "It hath cowed my better part of man."
At the deepest level, then, the "uncertain perception of the way supernatural, natural, and unnatural mingle in a man's mind and breed outward" (our intellectual statement of the essential Macbeth quality) translates into a wish to act aggressively justified by obedience to a parent poised against a fear of dependence and subsequent betrayal of a libidinal kind. In short, the psychoanalytic reading can tell us in a more or less scientific way how the unconscious conflicts and fears buried in us let us find in the fictitious events and intellectual issues of the tragedy emotional power.
Macbeth shows how psychoanalytic readings of overall (nonrealistic) pattern lead us from intellectual response to its emotional roots in unconscious conflict. In Coriolanus the psychoanalytic readings of character lead us to our emotional response. The psychoanalytic critics of character see the hero as a phallic, authoritarian personality seeking to establish himself in terms of his aggression. Under the phallic pattern lies the deeper oral conflict from which it stems: the infant striving to prove his identity separate from a mother who encompasses him. To put it another way, Coriolanus behaves in adult life (in the contrived world of the tragedy) like a man who, through early frustrations, developed an extraordinary amount of unmastered aggression which his mother diverted from herself onto other objects. Farfetched as this statement about a nonexistent infancy may sound, the play provides more than ample evidence for it. But what has it to do with any ordinary reading of the play?
Conventional criticism might begin with a comment like Professor Harry Levin's, on a contrast in the imagery: between walls, buildings, gates, swords, shields, even the Tarpeian rock (hard things) to images of soft flesh or food or cloth. It is precisely Coriolanus' problem to move "from th' casque to th' cushion" and precisely this he cannot do, instead
commanding peace Even with the same austerity and garb As he controlled the war.
Similarly, the imagery contrasts deeds and words, Coriolanus failing at the latter even as he is successful at the former. We are seeing in a symbolic or intellectual form the infantile crisis of identity: Coriolanus forced from the soft and symbiotic unit of mother and son into trying to establish his identity by hard deeds in a harder context. Another group of images and episodes contrasts authority which is sole and authority which is divided. Coriolanus succeeds in battle where he is on his own, but fails when he must mingle himself with others, as in civil affairs—or in the primal mother-child unit.
The analysis of Coriolanus' character leads not only to the reason for his downfall but also to a handsome instance of the way realistic character traits blend into the nonrealistic poetic world of the play, each informing the other. We could say Coriolanus is, intellectually, a tragedy of contexts, but that rather late and adult tragedy reaches back to an earlier one, fighting oneself loose from the context of an overwhelming mother. What, though, of the nonrealistic psychoanalytic interpretations of the tragedy—that Coriolanus is a son confronted with helpful, aggressive, or treacherous fathers (Menenius, Aufidius, or the tribunes) and mothers (Volumnia, the citizens, Rome herself)? Here again Coriolanus can find his identity in aggressive actions either toward men or shared with men; he cannot stand being dependent on a mother figure. The total pattern of the play shades into the individual characterization and also into the tragedy's significance.
Perhaps, too, we have a clue to that feeling with which audiences always confront this play: the difficulty of identifying with Coriolanus. We have trouble identifying with him because his identity is, in fact, so precariously established, as shown by "thy stol'n name Coriolanus." The hero lacks the basic libidinal openness necessary before we can ourselves become libidinally involved in his fate: we cannot love a man who does not love himself. Coriolanus shares this disability with Shakespeare's other "Roman heroes," Brutus, Octavius, or even Hotspur, those men who cast aside libidinal ties to peace and family to pursue aggressive aims of war and murder. But these other plays take us into Shakespeare's own character and away from the process we are considering: the way psychoanalytic readings show the emotional roots of play's theme and significance.
This process probably shows more clearly in The Merchant of Venice than in any other of the plays we have been considering in detail. The psychoanalytic readings are plentiful; the view of orthodox New Criticism is clear. We might begin with C.S. Lewis's statement that "The real play is not so much about men as about metals." The play, he goes on to say, sets off Shylock's efforts to take "a breed of barren metal" against Bassanio's marrying the almost-allegorical figure of The Princess, offering her all he has: "All the wealth I had ran in my veins." The play contrasts the cold, lifeless, mineral wealth worshiped by Shylock to the wealth of human relationships he tries to abuse: Jessica and Lorenzo, Bassanio and Portia, Bassanio and Antonio.
The psychoanalytic readings see the play also as contrasting two worlds. Both have oral and anal elements, but one, Venice, is harsh, aggressive, masculine, and niggardly; the other, Belmont, is bountiful, merciful, feminized, and libidinal. In other words, the psychoanalytic readings find the unconscious roots (in our minds or Shakespeare's) for these two different feelings about wealth, and about male and female. After all, it is woman who is the life-giver—man's role in the process is much more tenuous: "It's a wise child that knows its own father." In effect, we could say The Merchant of Venice deals with an early and ongoing human wish—to have. One way to "have" someone is aggressively, destructively, and such having leads to lifelessness, sterility, the "use" (usury) of people, to use the play's term. The other kind of having leads to mutual giving, to creating life, to riches of a nature quite unmonetary.
The notion of "having" leads to a second basic issue in the play: risk. An element of risk in making your money breed absolves you of the sin of usury. Shylock sins in that he seeks a certain return. Bassanio, Antonio, Portia, Jessica are all willing to take a chance: "Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath."5 Again, the psychoanalytic readings contrasting libidinal and aggressive ways of "having" people tell us the roots of the feeling the play gives. To "have" aggressively is to destroy, to render lifeless. To "have" libidinally is to unite with the other, and to do that one must (quite literally) take a chance. To love another, I must risk myself, take the chance of being rebuffed. It is in this sense that Portia presents herself as a risky riddle. Life is a risky riddle, and Portia is life. At the deepest level The Merchant of Venice works with the feeling of trust a child needs to have toward his mother: I can depend on her, I can risk her displeasure without disastrous results. In the world of Venice, taking a chance can lead to getting flesh cut off. In Belmont, out of risk comes trust (this, I take it, is the point of the story of the rings).
But what of the psychoanalytic readings of character? One can see how the nonrealistic psychoanalytic readings of the pattern of the play as a whole show the emotional strata underlying the play's conscious and intellectual "meaning." How does one translate back and forth from criticism's statement (that the play is about risking and having) to the psychoanalyst's statement that Antonio is passively homosexual toward Bassanio and Shylock or that Shylock is orally and anally sadistic? The translation is not so difficult as it might seem. In technical terms, Antonio adopts a passive, submissive, homosexual position toward the men around him; in more idiomatic terms, he is willing to risk "being had." Shylock, however, cannot risk being had; he must be the haver, and aggressive destruction is the only certain way of absolutely, certainly, and permanently "having" someone. We could put it another way. Antonio offers himself; he is willing to risk himself in the service of love, while Shylock takes no such chances. From this point of view the Christian element of the play falls into the psychoanalytic pattern. Shylock matches the absolute destructive power of Yahweh (at least as Renaissance Christians used to think of him), while Antonio corresponds to a passive, submissive Christ, risking his body and blood.
In short, whether we enter the play from the point of view of character, over-all psychological pattern, or conventional criticism of meaning, we enmesh ourselves in a continuum of conscious and unconscious material, each giving richness and depth to the other. We begin, too, to be able to guess at a basic element in Shakespeare's character that runs through his plays: ambivalence. The three plays we have looked at so far (in this continuous psychoanalytico-conventional way) all deal with the difficulty of maintaining toward a single person impulses both of love and hate, wishes to unite with and to destroy.
The problem reveals itself with particular clarity in Romeo and Juliet, for, even from the point of view of conventional criticism, Romeo and Juliet is the quintessential tragedy of opposites: black and white, good and evil, night and day, man and woman, old and young, friar and prince, light and dark—and, especially, love and hate.6 The tragedy deals with the ways these opposites work themselves out in action:
For naught so vile that on the earth doth live But to the earth some special good doth give; Nor aught so good but, strained from that fair use, Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse.
The catastrophe comes when these opposites engulf each other, when the hate of the Montagues and Capulets reverses the love of Romeo and Juliet:
All things that we ordainèd festival Turn from their office to black funeral— Our instruments to melancholy bells, Our wedding cheer to a sad burial feast; Our solemn hymns to sullen dirges change; Our bridal flowers serve for a buried corse; And all things change them to the contrary.
In the terms of light and dark, Juliet's bright beauty turns the dark tomb into "a feasting presence full of light," and, in general, as the prince says at the end of the play,
Capulet, Montague, See what a scourge is laid upon your hate, That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love.
What of the play from a psychoanalytic point of view? The key opposites are love and hate. Directed toward a single person, a psychoanalyst would call them ambivalence, but in Romeo and Juliet love and hate are carefully split off into different figures: the parents hate, the children love; Tybalt quarrels, Benvolio makes peace; the prince tries to settle the feud by threats, the friar by love. In psychoanalytic terms, the special quality of Romeo and Juliet, its preoccupation with sharply outlined opposites, stems from defending against ambivalence by splitting or isolation. The catastrophe comes when this defense breaks down, when hate engulfs love, killing Romeo and Juliet, and love engulfs hate, reconciling the Montagues and Capulets. We can think of the defensive splitting as the formality of the play (the term orthodox critics offer for describing the puns, rhymes, sonnets, and, in general, the stylized quality). The catastrophe comes when this formality fails to master or disguise the raw emotions beneath.
But, then, what is so intolerable, either to Shakespeare or to us in the audience, about ambivalence? The answer lies in a layer deeper than the defense—in the quality of the love and hate themselves. Hate, in Romeo and Juliet, is associated with the men, while even in the opening scene Lady Montague and Lady Capulet act as peacemakers. Separating love from hate separates man from woman, fends off the sexual act which leads in this tragedy to death, as in the opening quarrel:
Sampson. When I have fought with the men, I will be cruel with the maids—I will cut off their heads.
Gregory. The heads of the maids?
Sampson. Ay, the heads of the maids, or their maidenheads—take it in what sense thou wilt.
Behind the fear of sexuality as a form of aggression we can guess at a fear of being engulfed at a still deeper and more primitive level:
The earth that's nature's mother is her tomb. What is her burying grave, that is her womb.
To be united with another, sexually or as a suckling, is to be swallowed up as in a tomb—in particular, the Capulets' tomb:
Thou detestable maw, thou womb of death, Gorged with the dearest morsel of the earth.
If we feel both love and hate toward someone, they must feel the same way toward us. If the someone is an all-powerful parent, ambivalence means total catastrophe and the failure of isolation becomes disastrous.
In short, we can, as it were, regress from the conventional critical reading of the tragedy to see the psychological dynamics behind and within the play and our response to it. The reading of unconscious material interacts with the reading of conscious material, each fulfilling the other to show the wholeness of the play from its deepest and most primitive level to its most sophisticated. We are seeing in action the complex net of interactions between author, text, and audience across the spectrum of conscious and unconscious elements in text and response.
What about the view of the play as imagined event, the realistic analyses of character? We have only one in this play, Theodore Reik's insight that Romeo and Juliet, very much in the manner of ordinary adolescent lovers, are each building up a self out of the other to replace a self no longer felt as narcissistically satisfying. As they say,
Juliet. Romeo, doff thy name; And for thy name, which is no part of thee, Take all myself.
Romeo. I take thee at thy word. Henceforth I never will be Romeo.
. . . . .
My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself, Because it is an enemy to thee. Had I it written, I would tear the word.
In effect, each of the lovers avoids self-hate by receiving love of self from another. The realistic dynamics of character work out both the unconscious, nonrealistic pattern (the unsuccessful splitting of love from hate) and the intellectual "meaning": life on this earth takes the form of opposites and tragedy results when these opposites cataclysmically engulf one another.
My only love, sprung from my only hate! Too early seen unknown, and known too late! Prodigious birth of love it is to me That I must love a loathèd enemy.
At such a moment of birth, when love and hate, a man and a woman, merge, their doom is sealed—or so the tragedy seems to say.
Richard III is another early play in which we can see conscious and unconscious elements in character, plot, and imagery work together around the issue of ambivalence. The history play shows much the same symmetry and formality as the tragedy, most notably in the highly stylized dream scene at the end with the two opposed leaders, one good, one evil, having parallel dreams, one of victory, the other of defeat. Among the opposites in the over-all pattern, three stand out. First, love contrasts to hate, as in the psychoanalytic reading of Richard's character, that he turns libidinal frustration into aggressive political action. Second, we are made constantly aware of either a marked similarity or a sharp difference between the way things seem and the way they really are; between, in other words, inside and outside (the most obvious example being Richard's deformed body as an outward emblem of his deformed soul). Third, the play often refers to people as "souls" (the word occurs twice as often in this play as in any other of Shakespeare's) or, as a distinct alternative, to people as objects to be controlled, "men that fishes gnaw'd upon" or Richard as "A base foul stone." These same attitudes toward people carry over toward words: there is much interest in puns, place and family names, and words used to mask feelings (words, in short, as things); then, by contrast, words serve to curse, prophesy, or pray—they become means to supernatural power. From a conventional point of view, then, three contrasts inform the world of Richard III: love and hate; inside and outside; natural and supernatural.
In the play the retribution that sweeps Richard from the throne has something of a supernatural quality, symbolizing, from a psychoanalytic point of view, the unknown forces within the self. As Richard says, after his dreams before the final battle,
Have mercy, Jesu! Soft! I did but dream. O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me! The lights burn blue. It is now dead midnight. Cold fearful drops stand on my trembling flesh. What do I fear? Myself? There's none else by. Richard loves Richard; that is, I am I. Is there a murderer here? No. Yes, I am: Then fly. What, from myself? Great reason, why? Lest I revenge. What, myself upon myself? Alack, I love myself. Wherefore? For any good That I myself have done unto myself? O no! Alas, I rather hate myself For hateful deeds committed by myself. I am a villain. Yet I lie, I am not. Fool, of thyself speak well. Fool, do not flatter. My conscience hath a thousand several tongues, And every tongue brings in a several tale, And every tale condemns me for a villain. Perjury, perjury, in the highest degree, Murder, stern murder, in the direst degree, All several sins, all used in each degree, Throng to the bar, crying all, "Guilty! Guilty!"
His self-dialogue shows the several dualisms of the play, between what is inside and what is outside, supernatural and natural, words as things and words as forces. The speech shows, too, Richard's ambivalence.
In effect, his trouble is that, despite his protestations, he does not love himself—enough. He lacks that basic substratum of self-esteem or narcissism that any human being (or literary character) must have in order to function: he can neither really love nor really be loved,
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover To entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Richard tries to make up this lack of self-love by making himself all, by making himself the kingdom which will then perforce respect Richard as its king:
The wretched, bloody, and usurping boar, That spoiled your summer fields and fruitful vines,
Swills your warm blood like wash, and makes his trough In your embowelled bosoms—this foul swine Is now even in the centre of this isle.
Richard devours his environment. He tries to make what is outside him part of himself; he tries to push the titantic forces within him onto the world around him. In technical terms, we are dealing with two opposed defenses: identification with the aggressor and projection, psychological forms of what the conventional critic would call the theme of inside and outside.
We can also guess at an oedipal motif: Richard behaves like a man who desperately needs to possess (devour) the nurturing mother. Measuring the retaliation he fears by his own brutality, he tries to make himself immune by becoming the thing he fears:
I'll marry Warwick's youngest daughter. What though I killed her husband and her father? The readiest way to make the wench amends Is to become her husband and her father.
Here we have a clue to the mythic pattern of the play. Good King Henry VI is murdered by a bad king in the image of a boar (as in the myths of Osiris or Adonis) and mourned by three queens. The boar-king, now his successor, lays the land waste, but he is finally killed by good King Henry VII who comes from across the sea to kill the boar-king and set the wasteland free. In effect, in the style of this play, the titanic forces within Richard become supernatural forces outside him. The catastrophe comes when the world outside Richard ceases to be a mere series of things he can manipulate, but takes on a libidinal and aggressive life of its own and revolts against its Frankenstein master.
Again we see the psychological (and mythic) pattern within the character giving rise to the dualistic themes of the tragedy: love and hate, inside and outside, natural and supernatural. Again we see the interaction of conscious theme and unconscious impulse and defense as giving rise to the distinctive style of the play. And, again, we see Shakespeare's concern with ambivalence and defenses against it. Here, Richard defends by attempting to make himself omnipotent, but he fails within and falls without.
Romeo and Juliet and Richard III are early plays—The Tempest comes at the very end of Shakespeare's career. Yet even in this late comedy we find the same attempt to master conflicting aggressive and libidinal impulses through isolating them and projecting them out-ward. The psychoanalytic insights into the play are two. From the realistic point of view of analyzing character, Prospero is giving over his oedipal attraction to his daughter. From a nonrealistic point of view (considering over-all patterns), the other characters in the comedy are projections of Prospero's own psyche.
Conventional criticism points to The Tempest as a play (like the also-late Winter's Tale) about art and nature: a play very much about plays, with its interest in acting, shows, masques, costume, music, and teaching. In effect, the play shows us a magus-king with godlike powers manipulating the other characters so as to lead them into the paths of justice and chastity. Prospero uses his island to teach the way to heaven, just as God (or destiny) "hath to instrument this lower world / And what is in't." As the myth critics have pointed out, the comedy is an initiation ritual, an imitation of death and rebirth (from the sea), with Prospero leading the conspirators through a maze, putting them to sleep, showing them supernatural visions, and finally welcoming them as adult members of the group:
The charm dissolves apace; And as the morning steals upon the night, Melting the darkness, so their rising senses Begin to chase the ignorant fumes that mantle Their clearer reason.
Being controlled by outer force brings the conspirators against the "king" to a mature control of their impulses.7 Conversely, by controlling the people around him (projections, according to the psychoanalytic critics), Prospero achieves control of his own inner impulses.
But what are those impulses? The psychoanalytic critics say that Prospero masters his oedipal, libidinal ties to his daughter. We can add that he plays with the death or subjugation of a son (of Alonso, parallel to Prospero). Thus, at the end of his life, we find Shakespeare dealing with the impulses of childhood in their latest development, the father's love for a daughter and his resentment of a son-in-law, one recapitulating the child's love for his mother, the other the last version of a child's aggression toward his father or older brother. And Prospero deals with these impulses very much as a writer-director of plays might, by putting them into dramatic characters and moving them through a plot toward catharsis.
4 Norman N. Holland, The Shakespearean Imagination (New York: Macmillan, 1964), pp. 50-71 and 323.
5 Holland (n. 4), pp. 91-108.
6 Holland (n. 4), pp. 72-90.
7 Holland (n. 4), pp. 304-322.
Richard P. Wheeler (essay date 1980)
SOURCE: "'Since First We Were Dissevered': Trust and Autonomy in Shakespearean Tragedy and Romance," in Representing Shakespeare: New Psychoanalytic Essays, edited by Murray M. Schwartz and Coppélla Kahn, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980, pp.150-69.
[In the following essay, Wheeler explores the psychological polarities associated with seeking self-fulfillment in Shakespeare's late tragedies and romances.]
In the earlier phases of his career, Shakespeare writes interchangeably—perhaps often simultaneously—comedies, history plays, three widely divergent tragedies, and narrative and lyric poetry.1 But in the later phases, the last two of Dowden's four periods, Shakespeare tends to write within the inclusive framework of a single, exceptionally flexible genre: tragedy from Hamlet to Coriolanus, and then, with some overlap, the late romances.2 In this paper I will try to identify polarized trends in Shakespeare's development, separated by generic distinctions in the earlier work, which confront each other in the drama of the tragic period, and which help to shape Shakespeare's artistry in the tragedies and the romances. Although I will suggest some of the ways these trends are manifested in various plays, my main concern is to state as simply and as sharply as I can a complex pattern, itself composed of smaller, interrelated patterns, that emerges from a long view of Shakespeare's development.3 I hope that the effort to achieve synoptic clarity justifies sacrificing the very detailed reading that would be necessary to situate fully any one play within this developmental outline.
The tragedies and the romances dramatize polarized modes of seeking self-fulfillment in conditions of extreme crisis. This polarity, which persists through an astonishing range of transformations, is itself hardly unique to Shakespeare; Margaret S. Mahler generalizes its essential qualities when she speaks of "man's eternal struggle against fusion on the one hand and isolation on the other."4 What is characteristic of Shake-speare is a full imaginative investment in mutually necessary but mutually incompatible modes of self-experience at either end of this spectrum, and a recurrent pattern of oscillation between them. At one extreme, a deeply feared longing for merger subverts relations of trust; at the other, failed autonomy gives way to helpless isolation.
The destructive potential in conflicting needs for trust and autonomy, averted in the festive comedies and displaced away from Hal's quest for power in the Henriad, shapes the drama in a new way in Hamlet. A polarity that begins to take form in the movement from Hamlet to Troilus and Cressida recurs regularly in the drama that follows; it is refined to exceptional purity in Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus at the end of the period of the tragedies, and again in The Winter's Tale and The Tempest. This polarization is expressed in a pattern of contrast that cuts across other lines of development; with varying degrees of clarity and comprehensiveness, it tends to sort the later drama into two groups of plays. The fear of and longing for merger with another provide the primary driving force in the plays of one of these groups. In the other, a comparably ambivalent relation to the prospect of omnipotent autonomy provides the psychic context in which the protagonists seek self-definition.
I will refer to the two groups as the trust/merger group and the autonomy/isolation group. The terms paired across a slash mark designate the primary positive and negative trends—the need and the characteristic danger that accompanies it—that are held in tension within the plays of each group, and that together distinguish the two groups from each other. It must be stressed, however, that these distinctions indicate emphasis and subordination, not exclusion; they point to shifts in relations among basic needs and psychological hazards, present in all the plays.
The tragedies I include in the trust/merger group are Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Antony and Cleopatra. In these plays, the effort to establish power and autonomy is ultimately subordinated to what proves to be a stronger need for a lost or jeopardized relation of mutuality. A characteristic fear underlying the experience of the protagonists of these plays is loss of autonomy in a union that destroys both self and other. But the longing for merger shapes the action, and is culminated, tragically, in the endings of these plays. Hamlet's final sense of enclosing himself within the sphere of "a divinity that shapes our ends,/Roughhew them how we will" (V.ii.10-11), completes in a dramatically ambiguous religious resolution a movement more directly realized in the human context of the other plays of this group. Othello, after he labors desperately to reconstruct an image of his heroic self, joins Desdemona on her death bed, "to die upon a kiss" (V.ii.359). The dying Lear, with dead Cordelia in his arms, tragically consummates the overreaching longing that has driven him throughout the play. Antony dies in the arms of Cleopatra, to be reborn through the fertile womb of her imagination into a transcendent image of manhood he has been unable to achieve in his life.
In each of these instances, an extravagant effort to protect a deeply threatened ideal of manly selfhood gives way to a more powerful longing, completed with tragic irony, for merger with another. In skeletal form, the culminating action of these plays is a movement through loss of identity in isolation toward a tragic realization, in mutual destruction, of the longing for merger.
The tragedies I include in the autonomy/isolation group are Troilus and Cressida, Macbeth, Timon of Athens, and Coriolanus. In these plays, relations of the self to others that promise fulfillment instead prohibit the achievement of stable autonomy. The protagonists of these plays, unlike those of the trust/merger group, move away from relations of unqualified trust, which ultimately prove to be destructive. Each of these relationships is grounded in a perilous overinvestment of self in others—a mistress, a wife, a whole society, a mother—that negates the autonomy these characters will make desperate efforts to retrieve. Troilus' naive faith in Cressida, Macbeth's desperate reliance on the will of his powerful wife, Timon's bizarre attempt to appropriate for himself the role of nurturant mother to all of Athens, and Coriolanus' bond to his mother—all of these shape dependent, contingent identities that define both the strength and vulnerability of the characters involved.
The psychic separateness that each of these characters initially either denies or surrenders is in each case tragically realized as complete estrangement, isolation, and impotent rage against a world perceived as hostile, intrusive "other." The culminating action of these plays moves through destructive merger toward isolation and emptiness. Rather than die, like the protagonists of the trust/merger group, in a union with a beloved other, Troilus is left in impotent, empty rage; Macbeth and Coriolanus, desperately and defiantly alone, are hacked to death by enemies; Timon dies, in a grave of his own making, after petitioning the "common mother," the "common whore of mankind": "Ensear thy fertile and conceptious womb / Let it no more bring out ingrateful man!" (IV.iii.177; 43; 187-88).
The contrasting movements of the two groups can be summarized by a glance at key developments in the experience of Lear and Macbeth. In the opening scene of King Lear, there is a clear incompatibility between Lear's implicit assumption of absolute power and freedom and his actual forfeiture of political power to his daughters. Driving Lear, and underscoring his desire to "shake all cares and business from our age," is his longing for a condition of childlike dependency with his beloved Cordelia: "I loved her most, and thought to set my rest / On her kind nursery . . ." (I.i.39; 123-24). After he banishes Cordelia, and after Regan and Goneril have refused to comply with his demands on them, Lear is unable to articulate the "true need" they have failed to accommodate. But after the shattering experience of the storm, in which his effort to assert hallucinatory omnipotence by commanding the heavens to serve his will gives way to his own collapse, Lear can express that need, and the joy that attends its apparent fulfillment, when he would transform imprisonment into the earthly paradise of a sacred union with Cordelia:
Come, let's away to prison. We two alone will sing like birds i' th' cage. When thou dost ask me blessing, I'll kneel down And ask of thee forgiveness.
Lear's final experience oscillates between the unbearable awareness of Cordelia's death—"Thou'lt come no more, / Never, never, never, never, never . . ." (V.iii.308-09)—and the undeniable longing to retrieve her, to exist in the presence of the radiant, human, feminine face and voice that alone can confer wholeness and meaning: "Look on her! Look her lips, / Look there, look there—, . . ." (V.iii.311-12). The sum of Macbeth's experience, by contrast, is realized as absolute aloneness, bereft even of desire for relations with others. The death of Lady Macbeth offstage releases Macbeth's vision of life as a "walking shadow, a poor player" emptied of any context, within the self or external to it, that could provide meaning: "It is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing" (V.v.24; 26-28). There is an enormous gulf between Lear's "never" and Macbeth's "nothing." Lear necessarily fails to achieve the conditions he covets for living through Cordelia's presence. Macbeth annihilates in himself the capacity even to imagine a context that would redeem him from absolute, empty isolation.
Whereas King Lear begins with the separation of Lear from his daughters, the quest for royal manhood in Macbeth requires that Macbeth's ambition be nurtured into action by others. After the first exchange with the witches, Macbeth is driven to achieve a magically compelling ideal of manhood articulated for him by his wife. Macbeth cannot refuse this ideal, but he cannot pursue it except by making himself a child to the demonic motherhood held out to him by Lady Macbeth. As the merger of these two characters dissolves, Macbeth's sustained violence, always exercised in the context of family relations—a fatherly king, a father and son, and finally a mother and her "babes"—only serves to isolate him further, until even the illusion of omnipotence nurtured by the witches collapses before the force of a man "not born of woman."
As my emphasis on family relations in King Lear and Macbeth suggests, the psychological polarity I am tracing is grounded in experience in a family, particularly in the crises that accompany the maturational process of forming a separate self out of an originally undifferentiated matrix. Early development involves, according to Margaret Mahler, "a gradual growing away from the normal state of human symbiosis, of 'oneness' with the mother." As the child discovers that he is not identical with the essential source of nurture provided by the mother, and that his world is not magically responsive to urgent demands originating in him, he must struggle to master the first and most profound divisions in the development of the human self. This development proceeds along the lines of what Mahler calls the "gradual process of separation-individuation." The movement through individuation is essential to the establishment of autonomous identity, but it is accompanied by unavoidable and repeated traumas of separation. This leads Mahler, with other analysts, to see the "growing away process" as a "lifelong mourning process."5 Erik Erikson calls the achievement of the early phases of the separation-individuation process "basic trust," the confidence manifest at the very core of experience that inner urges and external providers are trustworthy enough to allow further development of the self and its relations to others. But as Erikson observes:
Even under the most favorable circumstances, this stage seems to introduce into psychic life (and become prototypical for) a sense of inner division and universal nostalgia for a paradise forfeited. It is against this powerful combination of a sense of having been deprived, of having been divided, and of having been abandoned—that basic trust must maintain itself throughout life.6
The establishment of basic trust, and out of it the first gains toward the achievement of autonomy, underlies all later development, both toward relations with others and toward the consolidation of individual identity. Mahler suggests that "the entire life cycle" pivots on the double "process of distancing from and introjection of the lost symbiotic mother, . . . the 'all-good' mother, who was at one time part of the self in a blissful state of well-being."7 But as the ego develops along boundaries that distinguish the world from the self, crises in the process of separation can engender the wish to reinhabit the symbiotic unity of infant and mother; crises within the environment provided by the mother, including those that provoke fears of "re-engulfment," can lead to the defiant repudiation of essential others and to fantasies of a powerful autonomous self that magically incorporates symbiotic omnipotence. Neither the longing for fusion nor the longing for omnipotent autonomy can be integrated fully into the contingencies of living, and the separation-individuation process to which they are bound is never complete. Arnold H. Modell emphasizes that, in the development of an individual self:
the acceptance of separaten ess, as is true for the establishment of one's identity, is never absolute or final. Even if one has established the capacity for mature love, established a sense of identity, and accepted the uniqueness of the beloved—there is a wish to merge, to fuse, to lose one's separateness.8
The wish to merge with another, however, if felt to endanger one's need to be separate, may in turn intensify the effort to establish total separation through withdrawal and isolation. Both the movement toward separation and the longing for fusion may jeopardize the equilibrium of the self that emerges from their interaction. The longing for merger threatens to destroy precariously achieved autonomy; the longing for complete autonomy threatens to isolate the self from its base of trust in actual and internalized relations to others.
Shakespearean tragedy dramatizes conditions of extreme crisis that bring these longings directly into the felt experience of the protagonist's vulnerable, heroic identity. As C. L. Barber observes, "the roots in infancy from which identity grows outward in healthy situations become, in tragic situations, the source of impossible, destructive, and self-destructive demands."9 In much of the earlier drama, however, Shakespeare uses generic boundaries to reinforce selectively barriers that protect "enterprises of great pitch and moment" from the intrusion of deep psychic conflict. The longing for trustworthy feminine control that often lies near the psychological center of the festive comedies asserts itself independently of, or in triumph over, fears of encroachment and sexual degradation that can attend the movement toward intimacy. In the second tetralogy of English history plays, Prince Hal engineers his way toward the assumption of royal authority in an almost entirely masculine world.10 The Henriad works through tensions of father and son conflict uncomplicated by a directly expressed maternal presence; the actions of the festive comedies proceed under the direction of benign feminine control—but again without the explicit presence of mothers. In the Sonnets, the loving poet often sacrifices claims for his own autonomy to live through an idealizing identification with the adored friend. Self-denial in the Sonnets is transcended by merger with the friend, in which the poet assumes a generous, nurturant role that derives from experiences of maternal cherishing.
Hamlet, because it brings into tragic drama the full range of family-based conflict, forecloses solutions available in earlier works that exclude or minimize potentially disruptive conflict. It seems that the tragedies culminating in relations of destructive merger seek to reinhabit the world of love grounded in trust, often presided over by benign female presences, as dramatized in the festive comedies. The women of these tragedies—Ophelia, Desdemona, Cordelia, Cleopatra—often recall the women who establish the conditions for loving in the comedies, but they cannot accomplish the comedies' goals of stable relations of mutuality. By contrast, the desperate recoil into movements toward travestied autonomy in Troilus, Macbeth, Timon, and Coriolanus recall the simpler world of masculine authority, uncomplicated by the presence of captivating women, that Prince Hal negotiates in the Henriad.10
The split in the Sonnets between the chaste, almost sacred idealization of the friend and the degraded sexuality of the dark lady—a split that originates in conflicted responses to a single maternal figure—is taken up and refocused in the tragedies of the trust/merger group, usually in a single relation to a woman, as when Othello inscribes "whore" upon the brow of "divine Desdemona." A sense of desperate isolation, which emerges in those sonnets that suggest failures in Shakespeare's identification with the friend, anticipates the tragic intensity of helpless separation in the plays of the autonomy/isolation group. In Timon of Athens, this helplessness is given dramatic shape by Timon's desperate denial of it when he rails savagely against a society that has failed to reciprocate his nurturant generosity.
In the development of Shakespeare's later drama, the two groups balance and perhaps beget each other in a rhythmic unfolding of plays—or in one instance, pairs of plays—in the same genre. From this vantage point, Hamlet in the trust/merger group is closely linked to Troilus and Cressida in the autonomy/isolation group, Othello and King Lear to Macbeth and Timon of Athens, Antony and Cleopatra to Coriolanus, as if the movement through isolation to union and the movement through union to isolation recurrently engender each other.11 This rhythmic, oscillating pattern can be traced into the reconstructive actions of the late romances, blurred a little in the experimental gestures toward new form in Pericles and Cymbeline, and worked to great clarity in The Winter's Tale and The Tempest.
Like Roethke's woman, "lovely in her bones," Shakespeare's art "moved in circles, and those circles moved."12 The interanimations of turn and counterturn within this psychic dance are virtually infinite and occur at every level. But it is useful to conceive of four separable contexts in which a movement through an enduring polarity—of trust inseparable from the fear of destructive merger and of autonomy entangled with the threat of isolation and emptiness—is realized in these plays: in the interaction of conflicting needs for trust and autonomy in the protagonist of a single play; in the oscillating movement from a play in the trust/merger group to a play in the autonomy/isolation group—from King Lear to Macbeth, for instance; in a spiraling movement toward increased polarization in the development first of tragic and then of romance form; and in the polarized relation of the two genres to each other, as the central experience of loss in the tragedies gives way to the restoration of lost relations in the reunions of the late romances.
Lying behind these developments, as a half mythic paradigm of stable family harmony, is Hamlet's nostalgic remembrance of his father's kingly authority, complemented by the loving union of royal husband and wife. But at the outset of Hamlet, this private paradise of familial order has become an "unweeded garden." The tragedies pursue fragmentary, aberrant, self-destructive gestures toward reestablishing either half of the balance of trust and autonomy Hamlet recalls in his idealization of the past. The late romances move toward reinstatements of the identity anchored in images of manly autonomy and familial unity, which Hamlet has lost through his father's murder and his mother's remarriage. Although in Hamlet the need to be an autonomous, active self and the need to find a relation of trust in which to ground that self are closely balanced, Hamlet must locate himself within a relation to transcendent providence before completing his personal mission, and both achievements are dramatically ambiguous. But Hamlet's efforts to incorporate the image of vengeful, heroic manhood stipulated by his father's ghost, and to recover the capacity for trust shattered by Gertrude's incestuous union, identify the psychological directions in which the ensuing drama will move. The tragedies that follow intensify this polarization of mutuality based on merger and an autonomy that requires separation. The polarization reaches extreme form in Antony's death in the arms of Cleopatra, set against Coriolanus' death in an alien city. The late romances, by extension and by contrast, culminate in the mutuality reachieved in The Winter's Tale and in Prospero's movement toward benevolent autonomy in The Tempest.
Antony's bond to Cleopatra expresses a longing denied by the Roman ideal of manly honor and autonomy. Once he has been ensnared by Cleopatra's "strong toil of grace" (V.ii.346), Antony can neither retrieve full rapport with that ideal nor fully articulate an identity for himself independent of it. When he fails to live up to a Roman ego ideal he cannot abandon or qualify, the essential imagery of self-experience becomes for him as "indistinct as water is in water" (IV.xiv.10-11).13 The deep antagonism between Antony's Roman self and the mode of relatedness into which he is drawn by Cleopatra is ironically manifest in Antony's death. He declares himself "a Roman, by a Roman / Valiantly vanquished" (IV.xv.57-58) while lying in the arms of the woman who has led him beyond the experiential limits of Roman manhood.
Shakespeare makes it clear that Antony's failure to integrate the two poles of his experience is a necessary, tragic failure. To be Cleopatra's "man of men" (I.v.72) is to be enmeshed in the contradictory imperatives realized as paradox in Antony's death. In his life, they are realized by a series of circular movements in which the union of Antony and Cleopatra is severed and then renewed with heightened intensity. The longing for this union is the most powerful need driving Antony: it at once allows him to achieve a richer, more inclusive humanity, and estranges him from political resources established by Caesar's deflection of all human impulse into the quest for power.
The longing for identity in mutuality continues to seek elaboration after Antony has been sacrificed to it. It remains for Cleopatra to articulate a dream of an Antony adequate to her own shrewdly exploited dream of herself. From Cleopatra's vantage point, "'Tis paltry to be Caesar" (V.ii.2). In the dream she describes to Dolabella, an extravagant consummation of human longing for transcendent identity finds in her vigorous, earthy imagination the home it cannot maintain in ongoing human experience: "His delights / Were dolphin-like, they showed his back above / The element they lived in" (V.ii.88-90). This dream of her lover's endless "bounty" ("an autumn 'twas / That grew the more by reaping" [V.ii.88-89]), which embraces Antony in Cleopatra's bountiful imagination of him, is the exalted counterpart of Lady Macbeth's effort to live through her husband in the image of a manhood she covets. Underlying this dream is the longing to reinhabit the serenely mysterious realm of complete unity that Lady Macbeth shatters in her violent repudiation of maternal nurture:
Peace, peace! Dost thou not see my baby at my breast, That sucks the nurse asleep?
. . . . .
As sweet as balm, as soft as air, as gentle— O Antony!
Cleopatra has offered Antony a mode of relating in which his manhood is completed in his response to the feminine in Cleopatra, and which releases the mutual interchange of masculine and feminine in both lovers.14 Although this union is tragically incompatible with the structures of sustained life as they are understood in this play, its ideal imaginative completion holds the stage even as Cleopatra's corpse is scrutinized by curious Romans seeking a cause of death in a world that does not crack, even with "the breaking of so great a thing" (V.i.14).
The restless expansiveness that often makes Antony and Cleopatra seem as much like comedy or romance as tragedy, the inclusiveness of an action that holds contradictory modes of living and understanding in its wide embrace, and the rich lyrical imperialism that can melt Rome in Tiber to establish new heaven, new earth, make this play a fitting culmination of the tragedies of the trust/merger group. Wide-ranging dramatic movements concerned with establishing a source of irreducible value characterize these plays: Hamlet's imperiled nobility is set off by the rotten world of Denmark; the precious womanhood of Desdemona is dramatized against Othello's "lust-stained" imagination of her; Cordelia's truth survives the sacrifice of Cordelia in Lear's quest to fulfill "true need." More than in any of these plays, in Antony and Cleopatra Shakespeare dramatizes value in a dream of fulfillment plainly incompatible with pragmatic reality. Cleopatra's folly, as Janet Adelman observes, "is the folly of vision; and the whole play moves toward the acknowledgement of its truth."15
Coriolanus, by contrast, completes a group of tragedies centered from the beginning in movements toward disillusionment and devaluation. Cressida's infidelity and the bankruptcy of heroic ideals define the world of Troilus and Cressida; the "imperial theme" is transformed into royal butchery in the action of Macbeth; Timon's grand generosity collapses into vindictive misanthropy in Timon of Athens. Like Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus exaggerates trends in the group it completes. The strong Egyptian fetters that bind Antony are liberating as well as destructive; Cleopatra's immortal longings are illusions that illuminate a human truth; together the two lovers appropriate the right to define, against Caesar's might, what is noble, what is great. On the other hand, psychological patterns that entrap Coriolanus are explored in ways that severely qualify the glory of Roman manhood to which he aspires. The "lonely dragon" is accorded no visionary power to counterpoise the relentlessly reductive force of the action in the last tragedy of the autonomy/isolation group.
Volumnia creates in Coriolanus a self that expresses "my very wishes / And the buildings of my fancy" (II.i.188-89). As Coriolanus fulfills her wish to be a man, embodying the "valiantness" he has sucked from her, the relation also takes unto itself a deep maternal antagonism toward the son who becomes the man such a mother longs to be herself.16 Within the context of her exalted identification of herself with her son, the glory Volumnia takes in Coriolanus' wounds expresses a deep resentment toward a manhood she cannot realize in her own person. The inseparability of the nurturant maternal bond and violent attack of the infant who has become manly warrior is established strikingly in Volumnia's own imagery:
The breasts of Hecuba, When she did suckle Hector, looked not lovelier Than Hector's forehead when it spit forth blood At Grecian sword, contemning.
In his brutal successes at war, Coriolanus both localizes his mother's ideal of manhood and absorbs her fierce inner rage. In battle, Coriolanus will display his bloody body to urge on the Roman troops, for the wounds he receives are in balance with the destruction he metes out, in a kind of desperate homeostasis of violence. But in peace, his wounds become a source of vulnerability and shame. Coriolanus' angry refusal to show his wounds to the citizens reflects a fear of exposing himself as incomplete, piecemeal, a collection of fragments held together only by his mother's idea of him.
Coriolanus' fear of gaps in himself—represented by the wounds his mother has enjoined him to suffer, and which she regards as emblems of her own self-fulfillment—betrays his perpetual indebtedness to Volumnia for what provisional psychic wholeness he possesses. Coriolanus is ashamed to show the wounds that reflect his own fear of being female, of being identical with that part of his mother which she repudiates by identifying herself with him. This fear of being female, of being possessed by "some harlot's spirit" (III.ii.112), is linked to a hidden hatred of the bond with his mother, which the play expresses by dwelling on Coriolanus' turning against his motherland and on his role as destroyer of family units in battle. But the action bends this resentful impulse back toward its origins, until Coriolanus' imminent assault on Rome is equated with an assault on "thy mother's womb / That brought thee to this world" (V.iii.124-25). Coriolanus is forced to renounce in direct confrontation a matricidal impulse implicit in his effort to "stand / As if a man were author of himself / And knew no other kin" (V.iii.35-37).
The impotent rage released in Coriolanus when Aufidius calls him "boy" completes an understanding developed throughout the play—that Coriolanus' savage masculinity remains bound to the overpowering mother who invented it and filled it with her son. Coriolanus would rather die than acknowledge this psychic incompleteness:
Cut me to pieces, Volsces. Men and lads, Stain all your edges on me. Boy? False hound! If you have writ your annals true, 'tis there That, like an eagle in a dovecoat, I Fluttered your Volscians in Corioles; Alone I did it. Boy?
He is destroyed amidst cries that define him as the arch-enemy of the family and reflect his deep hostility toward the familial constraints that underlie his very being:
ALL PEOPLE Tear him to pieces!—Do it presently!— He killed my son!—My daughter!—He killed my cousin Marcus!—He killed my father!
Like his own challenge to the Volscians, the cry of the people to tear the hero to pieces clarifies the fragmentation that results from Coriolanus' futile effort to assert a manly autonomy independent of his bond to Volumnia.
The late romances as a group retrieve a place for the basic needs sacrificed in the tragedies to destructive impulses within those needs. A psychological index to the development through the tragedies to the romances can be constructed from D. W. Winnicott's understanding of the role of aggression in the formation of the self. Winnicott specifies conditions that enable the self to "use" objects that exist "out in the world."17 This "capacity to use objects" includes the capability of relating to others in a manner that acknowledges their full, independent existence. In locating others in a world outside the realm of mere projection and exploitation, Winnicott argues: "It is the destructive drive that creates the quality of externality." The object can be "used" in a world recognized as external to the self only if it is first destroyed in a psychic world not yet differentiated from the world beyond it: "It is the destruction of the object that places the object outside the area of the subject's omnipotent control." Winnicott points to the importance of the mother (and the often analogous role of the analyst) as "the first person to take the baby through this first version of the many that will be encountered, of attack that is survived." Acknowledgment of a separate world, not completely independent of projective fantasy, but which does not exist simply as a creation of projection, can only be achieved when a world beyond omnipotent control reveals itself as such by surviving its destruction within the sphere of omnipotence. The completion of this process is crucial to the establishment of both trust and autonomy; it makes possible relations to others that can unite persons who acknowledge the separateness of one another.18
In the crises of Shakespeare's later drama, the boundary that establishes the condition of externality is blurred by protagonists who replace actuality with worlds that reflect inner need and conflict. In movements either toward fusion or radical isolation, encounters with essential others recreate in drama the conditions of infantile destruction Winnicott describes. But in these plays, the implications of this aggression extend far beyond a two-person encounter grounded in one individual's regression to deep conflict; destructiveness based in fantasy leads to actual destruction in the plays' dramatic reality. Often, as in King Lear, this destruction becomes the image of permanent, generalized loss:
Kent. Is this the promised end?Edgar. Or image of that horror?Albany. Fall and cease.
But each of these plays, at its psychological core, participates in part or all of the process Winnicott describes, in which an essential other is denied a place in reality, is destroyed in fantasy, survives that destruction, and thus becomes a part of the actual world, separate from the subject, but united with him in a bond of trust. Within the complexities of their whole dramatic movements, the romances dramatize the renewed completion of this process, but the tragedies return it to and abort it at the destructive phase.
In the tragedies, essential others, replaced by projective fantasies, are denied places in the actual world. Tragic protagonists who lose touch with actuality attempt to recapture it within the sphere of omnipotent control: "Now he'll outstare the lightning" (Ant. III.xiii.195), Enobarbus observes of an Antony who has forfeited his actual resources of power; "I banish you!" (Cor. III.iii.124) cries Coriolanus to the Rome that has banished him. Frustrations that penetrate the assumption of omnipotent control, rather than lead to its dissolution, tend to divert magical, projective thinking toward a negative vision no less grandiosely self-centered. Othello, "the noble Moor whom our full Senate / Call all in all sufficient" (IV.i.257-58), expects the universe to suffer a cosmic repetition of his own unbearable loss after he murders Desdemona:
I have no wife. O, insupportable! O heavy hour! Methinks it should be now a huge eclipse Of sun and moon, and that th' affrighted globe Should yawn at alteration.
Timon would annihilate Athens, indeed humanity ("Destruction fang mankind!" [Tim. IV.iii.23]), when Athenian ingratitude annihilates in him the illusion of a world defined by the nurturant generosity through which he has lived. But Timon's raging belongs no less to the projective realm of omnipotent control than his earlier generosity, and it is Timon, not mankind, who cannot survive his destructiveness: "'Timon is dead, who hath outstretched his span. / Some beast read this; there does not live a man'" (V.iii.3-4).
More than that of any other tragic protagonist, Timon's fate reflects the catastrophe of infantile self-annihilation that Winnicott associates with the failure to be able to create the quality of externality. It is a limitation of Timon of Athens that Timon's misanthropic reconstruction of the world is inadequately balanced by a dramatic reality independent of it. The Athenian world Timon rejects is never compellingly established in the first place, and it is scarcely affected by Timon's withdrawal of himself from it into impotent rage. More typically in the tragedies, destructiveness that originates in the sphere of omnipotent control does lead to actual destruction in a fully rendered world that sustains life for the protagonist who has belonged to it. When Lear gives up his kingdom, he relinquishes such a world, one that Cordelia and Kent struggle at the outset to keep intact and struggle throughout to reinstate.
In doing this, Lear trades actual power for illusory omnipotence. When he banishes Cordelia, he does not send her out into the world, but expels her from an imaginary world of omnipotent control defined by magical, automatic responsiveness to the demands of his psyche. When Lear is ready to go with her to prison, he continues to deny her a place in a world beyond that created by his own need. In his longing, Lear destroys Cordelia by creating her presence in the image of his own need and imprisoning her in that image.19 But the consequences of Lear's actions extend throughout the world of the play. He has tragically altered the conditions of an actual world in which Cordelia must be destroyed, cannot be retrieved, cannot be used. In the play's symbolic action, the malevolence of that outer world mirrors the inner destructiveness of Lear.
The late romances create a comparable intermingling of symbolic and actual destruction. The resolutions of these plays hinge on the restored presence of those who "survive destruction," but often at considerable cost in the actual world. After Leontes retreats into persecutory fantasy in The Winter's Tale, he cannot begin to recover a world apart from his omnipotent recreation of it until his "psychic murder of Hermione."20 The eventual recovery of Hermione, who survives Leontes' hatred, will reinstate the creative rapport between inner need and external reality that Leontes annihilates in jealous delusion. But this process of recovery is decisively complicated when the attack on Hermione destroys in actuality the one figure who provides for Leontes a link between the world of fantasy and the actual world. That link is Mamillius, whom Leontes both loves as a son in the world and endows with projected attributes that reflect his persecutory fantasies: "Though he does bear some signs of me, yet you / Have too much blood in him" (II.i.57-58).
In the infantile struggle that Winnicott interprets, the external world can only be recognized and lived in after it survives destruction, but in the complex dramatic reality of The Winter's Tale, Leontes can recognize a world apart from fantasy only when an essential part of it does not survive. Even the oracle of Apollo is powerless to free Leontes from his delusion until news comes of Mamillius' death. Mamillius is a real victim of the assault on Hermione that takes place within the sphere of Leontes' destructive omnipotence; Mamillius dies when he is deprived of the essential maternal presence Leontes destroys in fantasy. The loss of Mamillius in the actual world confirms its independent existence, but cannot enable Leontes fully to assume his own place in it. The completion of Leontes' mourning must reestablish the boundary that both connects and separates the inner and outer world, and must prepare him to acknowledge that outer world as a place to live in. Only then can he and his wife be newly united, in a bond of trust that confirms the autonomy of each, "at the point in time and space of the initiation of their state of separateness."21
Each of the romances culminates in the restoration of figures who have survived destruction. The romances also tend to divide into pairs of plays which extend the groups within the drama that precedes them. Pericles and The Winter's Tale follow in the line of those plays that move toward tragically achieved relations of merger, and I regard them as part of the trust/merger group. Cymbeline and The Tempest have stronger affinities with the tragedies of the autonomy/isolation group, in which the protagonists move toward isolation and emptiness. The resolution of Pericles in the reunion of the protagonist with his daughter and wife is facilitated by the intervention of the goddess Diana. Like that of Pericles, the ending of The Winter's Tale is centered emotionally in the protagonist's recovery of lost relations of mutuality and trust. Hermione's reappearance in The Winter's Tale takes unto itself the quality of sacredness suggested by the appearance of Diana in Pericles.
By contrast, Jupiter, god of masculine power and autonomy, must intervene to allow the resolution of the tangled action of Cymbeline. Autonomous patriarchal power is restored to the human sphere in The Tempest through the actions of Prospero. In the ending of The Tempest, and to a lesser extent in Cymbeline, feelings of loss and separation qualify the spirit of restoration and renewal. The Tempest closes on a Prospero who has given up his beloved daughter, his beloved Ariel, and his beloved magic, and for whom henceforth "every third thought shall be my grave" (V.i.311).
In The Winter's Tale, the longing for merger and the violent recoil from it are ultimately subordinated to achieved trust and mutuality. Perdita, Hermione, and Paulina together enable Leontes to recover a place in the world of relations he has himself destroyed in the delusional rages of the first three acts. In the hallowed presence of Hermione, maternal and wifely, sacred and human, Leontes recovers the base for potent, sustained selfhood lost to Hamlet, Lear, Othello, and Antony. In The Tempest, the need for autonomy is purged of the drive toward omnipotence and the collapse into failure. Rendered helpless by his misplaced trust in Antonio, Prospero wrests new power away from the savage legacy of the "foul witch Sycorax," malevolent symbol of feared maternal power. In Prospero, Troilus' "venomed vengeance" yields to the "rarer action" of a mercy that seems to contain, rather than transcend, his vindictive impulses. Macbeth's usurpation by a demonic wife and three cunning witches is superseded by the liberation of those powers imprisoned by Sycorax. Timon's fantastic quest for maternal omnipotence and his collapse into misanthropic rage are transformed into artfully exploited magical power and Prosperous final resignation of himself to his own human limitations. Finally, the mutual banishment of Coriolanus and Rome gives way to the mutual recovery of Prospero and Italy.
In Leontes, Shakespeare allows the richness of relations grounded in mutual trust to flow back into the life of a character who has fearfully transformed those riches into a nightmare of violent jealousy. The Winter's Tale moves beyond the poisoned cup that fragments psychic wholeness to the mutuality Leontes finds through a magic "lawful as eating" (V.iii.111). In Prospero, Shakespeare provides a character who subdues the longing for omnipotent control to responsible power, who can release the daughter whose loss leaves an unfillable void in himself and not collapse around his own experience of emptiness. Leontes' recovery of himself in the embrace of Hermione and Prospero's assertion of self-sufficient autonomy through the power of his mind extend, and perhaps embody in its purest form, the division I have tried to trace through the drama leading up to these plays.
The restoration of Leontes in the facilitating presence of Hermione reverberates back through the plays of the trust/merger group to complete an image of manhood complementary to the feminine powers invested in Portia and Rosalind in the festive comedies. Hermione "hangs about his neck," restoring to health not only the mind that has imagined a Polixenes who "wears her like her medal, hanging / About his neck" (V.iii.112; I.ii.306-07), but also Hamlet's anguished memory of Gertrude, who would "hang on [King Hamlet] / As if increase of appetite had grown / By what it fed on" (Ham. I.ii.143-45). Essential to the comic achievement that takes The Winter's Tale beyond the catastrophic world of tragedy is the movement toward a reciprocal, mutually creative relation between a vigorously rendered manhood and a comparably complete realization of essential womanly power. But the play can only come to this point through Leontes' trusting submission of himself to the active, guiding spirit of Paulina.
The trusting investment of self in others gives way in The Tempest to exacting control and shrewd vigilance; the mature womanly powers embodied in Paulina and Hermione drop out altogether. The maternal capacities to give and withhold essential nurture, which inform Timon's initial generosity and his subsequent withdrawal of nurture in the feast of stones and water, are incorporated into Prospero's magic, as in the banquet Ariel first provides and then withdraws from the distraught visitors to the island. In order to dramatize the controlling presence of Prospero, Shakespeare must split his imagination of the feminine into the compliant, innocent daughterhood of Miranda and the evil, maternal power bequeathed to the island by Sycorax. Prospero's autonomy, which completes with new intensity an ideal of manhood anticipated in the Henriad, is achieved by the rigorous subordination of trust to power. In the world of The Tempest, trust exercised within the sphere of human activity "like a good parent" (I.ii.94) begets a contrary falsehood great as itself
Taken together, The Winter's Tale and The Tempest relate to each other across a division in Shakespeare's imagination that is never closed nor completely bridged. This division separates a potential identity sought in a trusting investment of self in another, and which turns on the mutual dependence of male and female, from a potential identity sought in a counterturn toward the assertion of self-willed masculine autonomy over destructive female power or over compliant feminine goodness. But The Winter's Tale and The Tempest look across this division toward needs that form the separate, incompatible centers of the previous drama.22 Perhaps, like Leontes and Polixenes, these two plays, written at the end of Shakespeare's career, "shook hands, as over a vast; and embraced, as it were, from the ends of opposed winds" (WT I.i.28-29). From the vantage point of this conceit, it is well to recall what happens when that vast is dissolved by intimate contact in The Winter's Tale. But nonetheless, Leontes, restored fully to himself in the arms of Hermione, presides over the ending of The Winter's Tale with kingly power and autonomy. And Prospero, having willed his own autonomy in triumph over the threatening power invested in Sycorax's heritage, submits himself to the playwright's ultimate "other" for the life-giving applause that only can save him from isolation and despair. Together, these plays culminate a vast dramatic enterprise that encounters with incomparable courage and skill human vulnerabilities that entered into Shakespeare's life, and enter into our own, in that "wide gap of time since first / We were dissevered" (WT V.iii.154-55).
1 In my title I quote from Leontes' closing speech in The Winter's Tale; all quotations from Shakespeare are from William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, gen. ed. Alfred Harbage (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1969). Earlier versions of this chapter were presented at the annual meeting of the Shakespeare Association of America, April 1977, and included in a lecture given at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, Santa Cruz, in February 1978. The present form is adapted from the final chapter of my book, Shakespeare's Development and the Problem Comedies: Turn and Counter-Turn (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1980).
2 See Edward Dowden, Shakspere: A Critical Study ofhis Mind and Art, 3rd ed. (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1881). His division of the works into periods is entangled with speculations regarding "spiritual tendencies" in Shakespeare's "personality" that occasionally make Dowden's Shakespeare almost unrecognizable to modern readers. But the groups themselves provide a useful way of identifying important shifts in Shakespeare's development of dramatic form, and I think his insistence that the critic must in some way "attempt to pass through the creations of a great dramatic poet to the mind of the creator" (p. xii) is as appropriate to our age, with its speculative tools, as it was to Dowden's.
The chronology Dowden provides has been altered by modern scholarship, which pushes Julius Caesar back to 1599 from Dowden's date of 1601-03. I do not include Julius Caesar in my discussion of plays from the tragic "period," although it anticipates them more than it recalls either Titus Andronicus or Romeo and Juliet. Twelfth Night, according to modern dating, may have been written after Hamlet, and its comic world reflects some of the concerns of the tragedies, but its deepest affinities, in spirit and form, are to the festive comedies that precede it. Two comedies contemporaneous with the tragedies, All's Well that Ends Well and Measure for Measure, can be assimilated to the pattern I trace through the tragedies and the romances (see n. 22).
3 The idea of "psychological development," as Heinz Lichtenstein has observed, requires the "postulation of an invariant, to which all transformations must be related." See "The Role of Narcissism in the Emergence and Maintenance of a Primary Identity," The International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 45 (1964), 55. In his own work, Lichtenstein postulates "the concept of a primary identity as an invariant, the transformations of which we could call development" (p. 55). My purpose is not to disclose a primary identity for Shakespeare, but to establish the presence of polarized modes of self-experience that are repeatedly transformed in the tragedies and romances without losing their identifying characteristics. Because I see this polarity as both an animating force and a structural principle in Shakespeare's development of the drama, one that persists as an "invariant" against which complex variations can be measured, it serves a purpose in my argument analogous to that served by the concept of primary identity in Lichtenstein's work.
4 Margaret Mahler, "On the First Three Subphases of the Separation-Individuation Process," Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Science, 3 (1974), 305.
5 Mahler's theory of "the psychological birth of the individual" specifies a series of subphases, each of which contributes differently to the separation-individuation process, and each of which has its specific forms of psychic hazard (pp. 295-96). But all the subphases are understood within the larger context of opposing gestures toward fusion and separation, a context that she sees as active throughout the life span.
It is this larger context that I have found most pertinent in formulating an overview of Shakespeare's development in the tragedies and the romances. Mahler's full-length studies of early development, which summarize and extend work reported on in many articles, are On Human Symbiosis and the Vicissitudes of Individuation (London: Hogarth Press, 1969) and The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant (New York: Basic Books, 1975).
6 Erik H. Erikson, Childhood and Society, 2nd ed. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1974), p. 250.
7 The "'all-good' mother" is not an actual person but an aspect of the infant's experience of maternal care as a "blissful state of well-being." Mahler links this experience with an "actual or fantasied 'ideal state of self,'" which is a source of longing identical with the longing for fusion ("On the First Three Subphases," p. 305).
8 Arnold H. Modell, Object Love and Reality (New York: International Univ. Press, 1968), pp. 61-62.
9 I quote from the opening chapter of C. L. Barber's book (in progress at this writing) on the place of the tragedies in the development of Shakespeare's drama and the drama of the Elizabethan stage. This note gives me an opportunity to acknowledge my large indebtedness to Barber's work generally, and in particular to strategic comments he offered in response to an earlier draft of this paper. Painstaking readings of earlier drafts of this paper by Carol Thomas Neely have also contributed substantially to its present form.
10 Ernst Kris, in his essay on "Prince Hal's Conflict," makes this point in distinguishing Hal's relations to parental conflict from Hamlet's: "In Hamlet, the oedipus [conflict] is fully developed, centering around the queen. In Shakespeare's historical dramas women are absent or insignificant. Prince Hal's struggle against his father appears therefore in isolation, enacted in male society." See Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 17 (1948), 502.
11 Although the chronology can never be made totally secure, there is considerable consensus among recent scholars and editors. Harbage provides the following dates for the tragedies, which vary little from those supplied by G. Blakemore Evans in The Riverside Shakespeare (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974) and by Sylvan Barnet in The Signet Classic Shakespeare (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1963, 1972): Hamlet, 1601; Troilus and Cressida, 1602; Othello, 1604; King Lear, 1605; Macbeth, 1605; Timon of Athens, 1606; Antony and Cleopatra, 1607; and Coriolanus, 1608. Harbage's dates for the late romances are: Pericles, 1607; Cymbeline, 1609; The Winter's Tale, 1610; and The Tempest, 1611.
12 "I Knew a Woman," in Theodore Roethke, Wordsfor the Wind (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana Univ. Press, 1961), p. 151.
13 Janet Adelman perceptively explores the movement in the play by which Antony's Roman identity is dissolved and transcended through its immersion in the fluid, hyperbolical, erotic world of Cleopatra's Egypt in The Common Liar: An Essay on 'Antony and Cleopatra' (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, 1973): "The Roman horror of that loss [of oneself in the sexual process] and the ecstatic union which the lovers feel as they die are two elements in the same process: for the dissolution of personal boundaries is both our greatest fear and our highest desire" (p. 149).
14 Murray M. Schwartz emphasizes the "interpenetration of opposites, self and other, male and female," in Antony and Cleopatra, as he explores shifts in Shakespeare's use of the "playspace" of drama in the development from the tragedies to the late romances. Schwartz's paper, now Chapter 2 of this book, was delivered at the International Shakespeare Association Congress, Washington, D.C., in April 1976. In the same session, Janet Adelman presented a paper that is now Chapter 7 of this book; it helped focus for me the discussion of Coriolanus that follows.
15 Adelman, The Common Liar, p. 163.
16 Cf. Philip E. Slater's analysis of the "oral-narcissistic dilemma" in Greek family structure and mythology in The Glory of Hera (Boston: Beacon Press, 1968). Slater describes "a deeply narcissistic ambivalence in which the mother does not respond to the child as a separate person, but as both an expression of and a cure for her narcissistic wounds. Her need for self-expansion and vindication requires her both to exalt and to belittle her son, to feed on and to destroy him" (p. 33).
17 D. W. Winnicott, Playing and Reality (New York: Basic Books, 1971), p. 91.
18 Winnicott summarizes his argument by providing the following sequence of development: "(1) Subject relates to object. (2) Object is in process of being found instead of placed by the subject in the world. (3) Subject destroys object. (4) Object survives destruction. (5) Subject can use object" (p. 94; see also pp. 90, 92, 93).
19 M. Masud R. Khan provides a clinical instance of this process in a discussion of three patients whose progress in analysis was blocked by their incapacity to relinquish "symbiotic omnipotence": "They needed my presence—in the analytic situation so they could disregard and negate me, and in their life so they could be related to themselves." See The Privacy of the Self (New York: International Univ. Press, 1974), p. 84.
20 Murray M. Schwartz, "The Winter's Tale: Loss and Transformation," American Imago, 32 (1975), 156. This illuminating discussion of "how Shakespeare transforms the fears and realities of loss into the theatrical revelation of fulfillment" (p. 146) completes a thorough psychoanalytic interpretation begun in "Leontes' Jealousy in The Winter's Tale," American Imago, 30 (1973), 250-73. I am also indebted to Stephen Greenblatt for emphasizing the importance of Mamillius' death in the whole design of The Winter's Tale (personal communication).
21 Winnicott, p. 97. The quoted words are italicized in the original.
22The Winter's Tale and The Tempest also look back to the more problematic resolutions of two comedies from the tragic period, All's Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure. The resolution of the plot in All's Well through the efforts of Helena suggests the roles of such heroines as Portia and Rosalind in earlier comedies, but Helena's cure of the king's fatal disease and her arrangement for her own miraculous reappearance after rejection and apparent death anticipate the roles divided up among Paulina, Perdita, and Hermione in The Winter's Tale. The design of All's Well places it among the trust/merger group ("we should submit ourselves to an unknown fear," says Lafew [II.iii.5-6]), although Bertram resists trusting submission up to the very end and does not then embrace it very convincingly.
Measure for Measure, by contrast, comes under the control of a man, Vincentio, who, as many have noted, anticipates the role of Prospero in The Tempest. Measure for Measure belongs with the autonomy/isolation group; indeed, Vincentio's autonomy is purchased at the expense of isolating him from direct involvement in the range of human conflict that besets lesser mortals in this play. His proposal to Isabella in the comic resolution suggests a denial of that isolation more than a fully successful triumph over it. The book from which this essay is adapted is a study of All's Well and Measure for Measure and the place they occupy in Shakespeare's development (see n. 1).
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 25181
Meredith Skura (essay date 1980)
SOURCE: "Interpreting Posthumus' Dream from Above and Below: Families, Psychoanalysis, and Literary Critics," in Representing Shakespeare: New Psychoanalytic Essays, edited by Murray M. Schwartz and Coppélla Kahn, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980, pp. 203-16.
[In the following essay, Skura emphasizes the psychological importance of family in Shakespeare's Cymbeline.]
Shakespeare's Cymbeline is an extraordinarily complicated play, even for a romance. Set in prehistoric Britain, it combines elements of history play and Roman play, but it still ranges over an Elizabethan Italy and a timeless pastoral world in Wales. By allusion, it also ranges widely over Shakespeare's own earlier plays. Its wicked Queen evokes Lady Macbeth; Iachimo evokes Iago; and the hero Posthumus recalls Othello, although Shakespeare seems to be making mere cartoon version of those earlier complex characters.
If the external allusions are complicated, the on-stage action is even more so. There are more than twenty separate strands of action, and although sorting them out into three major plot lines helps some, the action is still confusing, even in the way that it is primarily about Posthumus' marriage to Imogen, rather than about Imogen's father Cymbeline, who gives the play its name. And finally, the play is written in a very mannered, elliptical, and self-conscious style. While most modern audiences can respond immediately to Othello, Posthumus' adventures in Cymbeline present many difficulties and call for an acquired taste.
These difficulties are precisely what interest me, however. This essay will be an experiment to see how a psychoanalytic bias can be of use in coming to terms with difficult works, like Cymbeline, which do not readily fit into expected patterns. I am not interested in trying to psychoanalyze either Shakespeare or the reader, nor in discovering all an analyst might say about the "unconscious meaning" of the play, but only in trying to use some psychoanalytic categories to explain its puzzling details. I hope to avoid the familiar dichotomy between analyst's and critic's explanations—or between "unconscious" and "conscious" meaning. "Meaning is an affair of consciousness," says critic E. D. Hirsch, while the analyst Ferenczi claims that the conscious meaning cannot be understood until the unconscious "depths are plumbed."1 I think, though, that what happens as we look at Cymbeline, even more clearly than with the other plays, is that we can see the terms conscious and unconscious as a misleading polarity. What we really experience instead of either of these extremes is a range of different ways of being aware.
There is no such thing as a neatly separable conscious meaning, nor a meaning of which we are totally unconscious, but only a range of different ways of being aware of and representing things—different "modes of consciousness," as one analyst has called them.2 Lo-cating their effect is not simply a matter of finding an unconscious meaning behind the action, but rather of finding a play between two ways of seeing the details already visible in the action. The effect, as two French analysts have described it in their revisionary essay on "The Unconscious,"3 is like a newspaper puzzle-game in which Napolean's hat is hidden—though perfectly "visible"—in the leaves of a tree. This ambiguous interplay affects all levels of Cymbeline, from moral interpretation to plot to language, and it recreates for us the shifting ambiguities of experience in our own lives that we normally do not notice.
I want to begin not with psychoanalysis but rather with the simple fact that Shakespeare's plays are about families. It is remarkable how many of the plays develop out of specific moments in what we might call the cycle of generations that makes up a family. Both comedies and tragedies begin in those moments of crisis or transition that open new worlds, the rites de passage through Jaques' seven ages of man—or, rather, in Shakespeare, the ages of the family. Characters grow up in and then out of families; they start their own families and struggle to keep them together; they watch their children leave to set up new families; and, finally, they fall back to become their children's children.
The early plays, for example, are often organized around the transition from childhood to adult passion and its responsibilities. A Midsummer Night's Dream, its action poised on the threshold of a royal marriage, reveals the passage from a sexless spring when Hermia and Helena sat sewing together as calm as two cherries on a branch (while Leontes and Polixenes, in The Winter's Tale, frisked together like twinned lambs in their boyhood days), to the midsummer heat that sends the girls to the forest scrabbling at each other like animals. We watch Romeo's passage from a sexless puppy love for Rosaline—which his family could approve—to the dog days of passion that nearly tear Verona apart.
The plays written near the turn of the century often show another kind of transition, when the young heroes emerge from their boyish isolation and irresponsibility to take over leadership, whether from a literal or a symbolic father. Prince Hal leaves his prodigal days behind to become a sober king when his father dies; Hamlet moves from his student days to an even more sobering burden of leadership when his father dies, because for him it soon requires that he really must steal the crown. Brutus—historically Caesar's stepson—moves from a quiet filial devotion to a sense of authority that leaves no more room for Caesar as soon as Brutus thinks of himself as head of Rome. And even Angelo in Measure for Measure crosses the threshold, leaving the cloistered virtues and an "unsounded self to confront adult responsibilities and temptations. Elsewhere we can see a movement in the other direction, when a Titus or a Lear thinks he can retire to his children's nursery.
Cymbeline and the other romances differ from the earlier plays in their scope; they present the whole cycle, often ranging over several crises in different generations. The histories present such cycles too, of course, but what distinguishes the romances is the way they focus on one particular aspect of family experience that I want to examine here. The romances make explicit a paradox about families that Shakespeare put at the center of his plays long before the anthropologists began to study kinship relations: the family is so important that characters cannot even imagine themselves without one, yet every family must bring on its own destruction. Its very success in raising children ensures that they will want to leave—or to take over in the wrong way. As the crisis recurs in each generation, both parents and children have to find the right balance between holding on and letting go; they must avoid both the threat of an ingrown family collapsing in on itself and the threat of an explosion that will tear the family apart.
The romances stage several of these crises, and in them the two threats take many forms. The threat of holding on too tightly is seen most strikingly in the threat of incest in these plays.4Pericles opens with a story about incest; incestuous longing is just hinted in The Winter's Tale, when Leontes sees his daughter for the first time in sixteen years; and there may be a more obscurely implied incestuous attraction making Prospero jealous of his potential son-in-law. Shakespeare also suggests an incestuous ambition on the part of characters like Cloten and Caliban, who want to marry their lovely step-sisters, usurping their proper role within their foster families and refusing to leave.
But incest is only one form of a more general danger that family bonds will become too strong. Parents in particular threaten to swallow up their children. Mothers are quite literally ready to eat their "little darlings" during the famine in Pericles (reversing the threat from Lear's "pelican" daughters). More often the parents simply do not want their children to leave or to shake off parental power. Antiochus in Pericles delays his daughter's wedding because he wants her for his own use, but even the less perverse parents like Simonides in Pericles, or Cymbeline or Prospero, delay weddings. And Alonso—who lets his daughter go—is sorry: she is in another country; it's as if the wench were dead.
The opposite threat of families exploding outwards comes sometimes from parents who throw their children out, as Dionyza does in Pericles, or as Leontes does. Cymbeline merely loses track of his sons, but the effect is the same. More often, however, it comes from the children who try to break out of the family too soon. So Florizel refuses to ask his father's blessing on a dubious marriage, and Perdita herself denies her shepherd "father" in running off with Florizel, just as Cymbeline's sons defy their shepherd "father."
These family dramas are interesting in themselves, but they are also the outward accompaniment of an equally important inner drama that I want to look at more closely. It is a drama that each new generation feels: the conflict between family inheritance and personal individuality, between old memories and new perceptions, between being part of the family unit and being the head of a new family. This is the universal drama that Freud saw in the very specific fate of Oedipus. What psychoanalysis adds to the traditional western understanding that the past shapes us is the idea that the past works on us unconsciously and in even stranger, less direct ways than it did for Oedipus, permeating our present lives without being literally true as it was for him.
Too much emphasis on the past, of course, is reductive, and we have all read psychoanalytic criticism that reduces an ongoing drama to a perpetual repetition of the same old family drama. So the analyst finds that Prince Hal and Hamlet commit oedipal crimes—as do Brutus, Macbeth, Angelo, and Florizel. Shakespeare's plays resist such reductions—but they do so partly by taking them into account.
The plays present a uniquely balanced vision. Without ever reducing present experience to mere repetition of the past, they never leave out the shadowy resonances that the analyst finds in present experience. Indeed, Shakespeare finds a way of representing the ambiguity of current experience that re-creates "out there" some of the complexity of what it is like inside our own overlaid minds. We are each tied to a family with bonds stronger than any an overbearing father can impose because those bonds are part of our sense of ourselves, taking the form of memories or attitudes of mind and perception. The child can leave his family behind, but he cannot escape its influence, and in some sense he cannot know who he is until he knows where he has come from—until he knows his roots.
One way Shakespeare portrays all this, of course, is to put the literal parents onstage. Thus Hamlet really is struggling with his parents, and so is Coriolanus. No wonder the analyst takes to these plays, as Norman Holland says, like a kitten to a ball of wool. But another way Shakespeare portrays the family influence is by symbolic reenactments of the original family situations, so that a character leaves home and comes to a new world, seemingly to a new family, but we can see that he is also simultaneously working out his relationships to his old family as he tries out the new one. We can neither reduce his current to his past experience, nor can we ignore his past. The family references flicker on the surface. They are neither a psychoanalytic skeleton behind the surface, nor are they quite part of the literal meaning. And this is precisely the role they have in life. The family's role comes out most strikingly in the case of Posthumus in Cymbeline, and it is to his adventures that I want now to turn, to see how the cycle of family crises reverberates as part of his own separate experience as an individual, and particularly how all this emerges in the strange climactic dream he has at the turning point of the play.
Of course, to the casual audience, Posthumus in this play is primarily a husband, but we shall see that there is no way for him to find himself as husband until he finds himself as son, as part of the family he was torn from long ago. The story of Posthumus learning to be a proper son is not literally part of the main plot, and in fact it is hardly noticeable and seldom noted in discussions of the play. But it is nonetheless a shaping influence on the story of his learning how to be a husband.
No one would claim that Cymbeline is solely about families. It is, in fact, about several different relationships that hold men together. Its three main plots examine political, generational or familial, and marital ties, so that the story of Posthumus' marriage takes place only in this larger context. All three plots are about human bonds gone wrong—exploded or imploded—and then being righted by a new faith or mutuality of trust.
The first, or political, plot is the story of King Cymbeline of Britain, who refuses to pay tribute money to Rome and is getting ready to go to war about it. In the second or dynastic plot, we learn that Cymbeline's two sons disappeared long ago, and his good wife has died. He is now remarried to a wicked Queen with an unsavory son whose name Cloten, rhymes with "rotten." Cymbeline is foolish enough to insist that his daughter Imogen marry Cloten instead of letting her marry the orphan Posthumus, whom Cymbeline has been bringing up as his own son.
In the third plot (really the main one), Imogen and Posthumus do get married secretly anyway, but with almost disastrous results. Posthumus is banished, and while he is away he succumbs to an Iago-like villain, Iachimo, and makes a bet with him on his wife's chastity. Iachimo promptly worms his way into Imogen's bedroom by hiding himself inside a trunk so that he can come out in the night to inspect her room and see the telltale mole on her left breast—and to take the bracelet Posthumus gave her. All this ocular proof convinces Posthumus that Imogen has betrayed him, and, rashly, he orders her killed. Of course he soon repents—too late, as he thinks, to save her, so instead he vows to serve her father, Cymbeline, by fighting in the British army against Rome. (We begin to see how the plots mesh.) He makes a heroic stand with three other rustic soldiers, and these happy few save the King and win the war. Posthumus, however, gets himself arrested as an enemy to Britain, still trying to repent and now willing to die.
Although, as I said, these plots are not literally about families, all three have family resonances behind them. Even in the first plot, Cymbeline's politics are a magnification of family rebellion. He was brought up at the court of Rome where he learned a Roman honor that now teaches him to rebel against Rome itself. The second plot is literally about family conflicts, and it presents the crisis I have described. Cymbeline is Imogen's possessive father; he wants to "pen her up," as he says, and make his Queen her jailer. Such restraint takes an alternate form in Cymbeline's pastoral alter-ego, Belarius, who has stolen the King's two sons and keeps them penned up in a cave. The two fathers have opposite motives—Cymbeline wants to prevent Imogen from marrying outside the courtly circles appropriate to his dynastic expectations, and Belarius wants to keep his stolen "sons" from entering into the same courtly world. But in both cases the children are being kept at home and treated as things, not people ("Foolish thing!" Cymbeline calls Imogen, "Disloyal thing!"). Cymbeline further tightens the family circle by insisting that Imogen marry "his wive's sole son."
It is in the Posthumus plot, as I have suggested, that the family resonances are most striking, however. Posthumus' trouble at the beginning of the play is that he does not know who he is—and this is partly because he does not know who his family is. Literally, of course, everyone does know his family, but he is introduced as an orphan—his very name, Posthumus, proclaims his status as one born out of his parents' death, just as he was "ript" from his dying mother's womb. The first thing we hear about him is that he cannot be "delved to the root"—a dubious note in a play about family trees, in which every man who founds one is associated with a tree. And, just listening to Posthumus, we hear an immature young man—good, but not yet able to distinguish independence from rash rebellion. Posthumus is cut off from his elders; he himself tells us that the weakness which led him to wager on Imogen's chastity in the first place was his swaggering refusal to "be guided by others' experience." If Cymbeline imposes his own experience in too stifling a way, Posthumus tries too soon to break free from the experienced elders—as perhaps he broke free too soon from his mother's womb when he was "ript" from it.
Though his real family is dead, Posthumus' story is a sequence of substitute-family adventures. It is not at all obvious, but we can see that he associates himself with two new families and works out his relation each time to a new father and two older brothers, all as part of his other adventures. His first foster family is Cymbeline's, and here he makes a mistake and usurps his proper place when he elopes with Imogen. We may certainly sympathize with his desire to marry Imogen, but it is at best precipitous and at worst tainted with the disrespect and incest that show most clearly in the stepson Cloten. For, in a sense, Cymbeline's degenerate step family is a symbolic reflection of Posthumus' actions, and Cloten is a parody of Posthumus himself.5 Cloten is of course Posthumus' opposite in so many ways: mean, proud, and cowardly—and he smells. Yet there are similarities, and these lie in more than their common passion for wagers and gambling. Imogen mistakes Cloten's body for Posthumus', and as for the spirit, Cloten's potential for selfish possessiveness is the very thing Posthumus must come to terms with. In fact, it is a Clotenish trait that nearly kills Posthumus' marriage, when he makes that bet and gives in to a boorish rage.
So Posthumus' mistakes with his first family coincide with his mistakes in his marriage. But he goes on to a second foster family, and this one leads to the healing of his marriage. Having killed Imogen (or so he thinks), Posthumus repents by joining Imogen's father's army, as we saw, and he promptly winds up fighting beside an unidentified father and two sons. (We of course know that these are really Cymbeline's own sons and their kidnapper, in disguise, and we can appreciate the ironic play among various levels of "real" and only apparent family ties.) This time Posthumus takes his proper place: brave, but not overbearing; accepting his position as nameless third son; subduing his own ends to those of the little family. He stands with Belarius in the "narrow lane," but instead of killing "the old man" in a repetition of an oedipal crime at the crossroads,6 he defends him selflessly, and the group single-handedly saves Britain. It is only when he has become a proper son that he becomes a man and takes his father's place, for Posthumus' father was known and named for his brave defense of Britain. Significantly, it is only when Posthumus goes into battle that he invokes his family's protection and takes on its name.
It is only when Posthumus moves from the older, suffocating family bonds, in which members are imprisoned and imprisoning, to this more generous conception of what it means to be part of a family, that he can establish a new and more mature relationship with his wife. At first he himself had been like a possessive parent, jealously guarding Imogen; when exiled, he left her with a "manacle of love," the bracelet he comes to believe in more than he believes in Imogen herself. Finally he winds up in his own prison, manacled and doomed. But once the characters find the right way of giving themselves to each other, the manacles of love become living, strengthening bonds. And when Imogen and Posthumus finally find each other at the end of the play, whether we hear "rock" or "lock" in the disputed word of Imogen's greeting, her words transform all the rocky prisons, bonds, bolts, and locks we have heard about earlier. Posthumus, not recognizing her, had pushed her away, but she embraces him, saying:
Think that you are upon a [l]ock, and now Throw me again.
All the strongholds in the play are similarly transformed: the British island, "paled in with rocks unscalable," or the "temple" Imogen, whose "lock" Iachimo did not pick after all.
Posthumus' prison is itself transformed by the dream he has there, in which his family forms a strong, unbroken circle around him and we see the bondage of the prison walls replaced by family bonds. (The stage directions are perfectly clear: beginning with a call for solemn music, they specify each family member and then order them all to "circle Posthumus round as he lies sleeping" [V.iv.28].) For Posthumus' achievement as a husband and a son is crowned by this vision of his family. Dead though they are, they appear physically on stage, breaking into the current action and revealing their implicit presence all along. They appear just when Posthumus finds himself, and the dream is a perfect climax to his story.
The dream is a climax for the whole play as well, and I want to turn finally to it now to see more clearly the general role of the family in the play. The dream comes at the moment when the action has gotten more tangled than we ever see it elsewhere in Shakespeare, and when the levels of duplicity and sheer misunderstanding have multiplied so that even the audience, which sees everything, has some trouble sorting them out. The dream reassures both the characters and the audience that the complexities will be made simple and the separations will become reunions, and that the "extraordinary blindness"7 of the characters has been countered all along by the insight of an all-seeing god.
What sort of dream can achieve all this? The critics have come to call it the vision of Jupiter, and so it is. I have left out the best part of the dream, actually, in my first description. The great god comes down from the sky in a marvelous flourish: "Jupiter descends in thunder and lightning, sitting upon an eagle. He throws a thunderbolt. The Ghosts fall on their knees" (V.iv.). And when he leaves, "The marble pavement closes; he is entered / His radiant roof (V.iv.90-91). But the more homely aspect of the dream, which is a vision of Posthumus' family, is just as important, if not more so. The family frames Jupiter's appearance and is responsible for it. They are the ones who summon him and ask him to account for himself. (Why has he been treating their son this way?!) And they remain behind to have the last word after he leaves.
The dream can be interpreted either as a revelation of the divine forces in human affairs, or as a revelation of the familial matrix that underlies all human experience. We can name the force that guides the action in Cymbeline's world, either by interpreting "from above" and calling it Jupiter, or by interpreting "from below" and calling it the effect of family.
The two phrases "from above" and "from below" allude purposely to Freud's account of the interpretation of dreams, in which he distinguishes on the one hand between traditional dream interpretation, which looks to the bizarre images in dreams for prophecies and god's word, and Freud's own more mundane interpretation, which looks for derivatives of early infantile complexes.8 Freud would not be surprised to discover that a dream about God was "really" about the dreamer's father. Of course, Freud's answers to questions about how gods and fathers were related were often reductive answers: the "illusions" of art and religion derive from the forgotten mundane truths about the family. But the play insists on both interpretations. What is revealed in the dream is a guiding force that comes out of the family and is associated with it but is as "rare," to use a recurring word from the play, as a divine power would be.
My point is that while Shakespeare avoids the Freudian reduction of the divine vision, he still "psychologizes" or internalizes it. Shakespeare's originality lies not only in joining gods and fathers, combining two different aspects of experience, but in joining and transforming two familiar literary traditions so that each takes on new meaning. The first of these is the divine epiphany, the entrance of a deux ex machina, who was expected in the narrative romances on which Shakespeare drew and who literally appeared in machines of various subtlety on the sixteenth-century stage, including Shakespeare's own plays: Hymen in As You Like It and Diana in Pericles. What is extraordinary about Posthumus' epiphany, however, is that while Jupiter does indeed descend, he neither does nor says anything of substance—no rescues, no revelations, and only the flimsiest, most circumstantially creaky, of oracles. Essentially all he does is say "I am here."
The same is true of Shakespeare's transformation of the second tradition that he drew upon for the dream—the family recognition scene. For just as Shakespeare gives us an intervening god who does nothing, he gives us a recognition scene in which nothing is recognized. Posthumus is not literally reunited with his family, the way children in romances always are, and he does not learn anything literally new about his identity. He is not a prince and was not meant to be; he is merely his father's son. After the dream, nothing has changed except his state of mind; Posthumus has simply recognized his past and therefore recognized himself. Here, as with the divine epiphany, what is usually staged as an outward movement of the plot—and what appears as such in Shakespeare's other romances—has become instead an inward movement of the mind. Other young heroes (or more often heroines) in the romances must also find their parents in order to find themselves. What is different here is that Posthumus cannot find his parents in the flesh; he must find the idea of his parents. "Sleep, thou hast been a grandsire and begot / A father to me," says Posthumus when he wakes: he is the child of his own vision (V.iv.93-94). Shakespeare is not Sophocles, and he has not written another Oedipus. What he has done in this play is just what Freud did in his theory about Oedipus: he has rationalized a myth by making it into a psychological truth.
I want now to suggest that this semi-psychoanalytic insight about the family's presence can help us to understand and cope with the difficulties, obscurities, and ambiguities in Cymbeline—because the family's ambiguous presence in the characters' lives is closely related to the remarkable degree of confusion unique to this play, and to the pervasive uncertainty about just what is going on. Of course, no one finally trusts appearances in any Shakespearean world—at least we do not usually trust those characters who trust appearances and demand ocular proof. But in this Shakespearean world, appearances are almost never right or even determinable; the characters are literally nearsighted and otherwise inclined to misinterpret or overinterpret. But even more unsettling, not only do we mistrust external appearances here but also internal ones. We mistrust even those overwhelming inner passions that seem to be the rock-bottom reality of life.
This is the kind of distrust more familiar to the psychoanalysts, and Cymbeline, more than any other Shakespearean play, comes closest to the strange unsettling revelation of depths below depths unearthed in psychoanalysis. It presents a world where identities shift—and so do loyalties (Posthumus dresses like a Briton to defend Britain and then puts on Roman clothes and is arrested); where past suddenly overtakes present; where one emotion turns into its opposite. Cymbeline shows us what it is like to be a creature of the past, a creature with a latency period and latent meanings in everything we do. The play shows what it is to be an individual whose identity paradoxically depends on being part of a family in which that identity is threatened; an individual whose conscious experience is colored by unconscious, and whose current life is always shaped by a quiet, or not so quiet, symbolic force from the past.
Cymbeline has been called a history play, but it is a history play of the individual too, and it shows that what we are now comes out of what we were. Like Oedipus, its characters keep meeting their past and must give it a place,9 just as Cymbeline must finally "pay tribute" to the Rome that generated him and his ideals, even though he has outwardly defeated the Roman army. The play presents a world in which a "posthumus" child finds life only be recreating his dead parents, and where people who had seemed dead come alive in strange ways. Interestingly enough, the play also ensures that we in the audience also keep meeting figures like Iachimo/Iago from our past lives with Shakespeare, and it forces us to find a way of incorporating that past without letting it take over.
There are many scenes in Cymbeline where Shakespeare demonstrates the family resonances enriching—and confusing—the characters' experience, but I will mention only one here. The scene comes just past the middle of the action, when everyone is moving to Wales. In the political plot, the Roman forces are gathering there; in the second, or dynastic plot, Cymbeline's kidnapped sons are living there; and in the marriage plot, Imogen is heading there (in disguise, of course) to find her husband. In addition, when Imogen arrives in Wales (disguised as the boy Fidele), she accidentally wanders into the cave where her kidnapped brothers have been living for the last twenty years with their kindly kidnapper, though neither they nor she realizes anyone else's true identity. The scene I am talking about comes after Imogen, alias "Fidele," has been living with the brothers for a while and is suddenly discovered "dead" by one of them, though we know she isn't really dead but only drugged.
The scene begins when the young man, whose real name is Arviragus but who is known as Cadwal, comes onstage carrying the dead body of what he thinks is the boy Fidele. This death makes the young man remember the death of their mother (rather, of the woman they have taken all along to be their mother, but whom we know was merely the kidnapper's wife). But this is not all the death evokes. For us in the audience, the scene evokes Lear's entrance with the dead Cordelia in his arms, and, if we are loose enough, it evokes the pietà behind Lear's posture. Behind the pietà, it evokes an original image of the mother with a living child in her arms. In addition, when we hear Fidele called a "lily" in this scene, we may remember an earlier scene in the play—a time when Imogen was not dead but asleep and Iachimo spied on her in order to get information to mislead Posthumus. Then too she was called a "lily" as she lay senseless.
Now Fidele is not Fidele, of course—"he" is Imogen; nor is he dead. He has merely taken a potion that the wicked Queen gave to his friend thinking it was poison, but which we know is a harmless sleeping medicine. For that matter, not only isn't this Fidele dead, but Arviragus' mother, whom he mourned before, was not his mother either. Nonetheless, all these confusions do not invalidate Arviragus' emotion—any more than they invalidate the audience's esthetic and even playful appreciation of the scene. We take it for granted that we who are watching can bring something to our experience of this scene: other scenes in the play, scenes in other Shakespearean plays, a whole cultural matrix, and all our common human experience as well. What Shakespeare shows, in addition, is that even the characters most directly and least esthetically involved in the experience also bring things to it, making it richer and more complicated that it "really" is.
But experience is always richer than it "really" is, so long as there are people to observe it. The exaggerated complications in Cymbeline make us realize with even more force than usual that "reality" finally lies in the enrichment, and the truth lies in the excess. Arviragus' "excessive" or mistaken emotion, we finally realize, is appropriate after all: Fidele really is his sister. Arviragus is responding to a larger truth than the literal—just like Freud's patients, whose literally false déjà vu experiences are yet true representatives of their "psychological constellation" of the moment.10
Partly because the play's twists and self-consciousness encourage our detachment, they also encourage us to consider curiously those things we usually take for granted, and to ask not only "Who is that?" but "How do I know?"—to wonder about the nature of identity. The action suggests and discards several answers to that question and leaves us, I think, with a more amorphous and unsettling one—one more like the psychoanalyst's. We already knew that identity is more than a surface phenomenon. Only in the case of a sham like Cloten do clothes make the man and give him a lineage (his "tailor" was his "grandfather" [IV. ii.81-82]). And only a promiscuous Italian "jay" (whore) finds her beauty's "mother" in her painting, as Imogen says (III.iv.50-51). But identity is more than skin deep too, in this play. A mole identifies Guiderius at the end, but it was just such a mole that misled Posthumus about Imogen's true nature earlier. And not only moles but whole trunks can mislead; the trunk in which Iachimo hides to observe the mole is only a prelude to the more spectacular confusion of identities when Imogen mistakes Cloten's headless trunk for Posthumus'.
To discover his identity, Posthumus must look not only at the present trunk but at the roots. He must look to his family—but he must look in the very special, imaginative way we have seen. Instead of literally discovering his family, he must simply reimagine them; he must make what he can of the past, recreate his family in his dreams. And if the puns on which I have partly based this argument seem tenuous already, I will add one that is even more far-fetched and seemingly peripheral. There are some literal or vegetable "roots" that appear in the play during Imogen's pastoral interlude as Fidele. For she takes on the job of cooking for her hosts and makes them dishes, as they say, fit for the gods, when she "cut[s] our roots in characters" to make her brothers' broth (IV.ii.49). I am not suggesting that Shakespeare here is giving away his recipe for making characters out of their roots (for one thing, "character" did not yet mean quite what it means for us). But I am suggesting that the farcical misunderstandings in this play are matched by its seemingly trivial puns. And that it is in just such flickering, uncertain, off-center signs that the unconscious meaning of our love manifests itself, and the unconscious depths of character, which are always felt, make themselves known.
1 E. D. Hirsch, Jr., Validity in Interpretation (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, 1967), p. 4.
2 George S. Klein, Perception, Motives and Personality (New York: Knopf, 1970), p. 303.
3 Serge Leclaire and Jean Laplanche, "The Unconscious, a Psychoanalytic Study," in French Freud: Structural Studies in Psychoanalysis, Yale French Studies, 48 (1972), 118-75.
4 For suggestive treatment of this and related points, see C. L. Barber, "'Thou that beget'st him that did thee beget': Transformation in Pericles and The Winter's Tale" Shakespeare Survey, 22 (1969): 59-67; Leslie Fiedler, The Stranger in Shakespeare (New York: Stein and Day, 1972); and A. D. Nuttall, "Two Unassimilable Men," in Shakespearean Comedy, gen. ed. Malcolm Bradbury and David Palmer, Stratford-on-Avon Studies 14 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1972).
5 See Murray M. Schwartz's "Between Fantasy and Imagination: A Psychological Exploration of Cymbeline," in Psychoanalysis and Literary Process, ed. Frederick Crews (Cambridge, Mass.: Winthrop Publishers, 1970).
6 Suggestions of unwitting oedipal confrontation emerge more directly in Shakespeare's source. The Posthumus figure in Holinshed, Brute, fled from his family because he found that he had killed his father instead of a deer; the hero of The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune flees, like Posthumus, because of a taboo attachment, and then meets his father disguised as a hermit. (Note: Rare Triumphs, an anonymous dramatic romance acted in 1582, was edited by W. W. Greg in the Malone Society Reprints, 1931.)
7 Northrop Frye, A Natural Perspective: The Development of Shakespearean Comedy and Romance (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1965).
8 Along with the model of layered analogies described by Freud and others (e.g., Ernst Kris and Erik Erikson), see the model of mutually interacting analogies described by Paul Ricoeur in the first chapter of Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation, trans. Denis Savage (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, 1970). Elsewhere, of course, Freud was more interested in completely nonanalogous relationships between manifest and latent meanings, such as the ones produced by the distortions of dream work.
9 See n. 6.
10 See Sigmund Freud, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. and trans. James Strachey et al., 24 vols. (London: Hogarth Press, 1953-74), 6, pp. 265-68.
Carolyn Asp (essay date 1986)
SOURCE: "Subjectivity, Desire and Female Friendship in All's Well That Ends Well," in Literature and Psychology, Vol. XXXII, No. 4, 1986, pp. 48-61.
[In the following essay, Asp analyzes the character of Helena in All's Well That Ends Well, maintaining that her motivations and actions point toward a re-evaluation of female desire and a critique of the patriarchal social order.]
"That man should be at a woman's command and yet no hurt done!"
According to prevailing opinion, All's Well That Ends Well is a "problem play" whose major difficulty is located in the very assertion that the title makes in summarizing the action. In the opinions of many critics the play does not "end well" because the resolution remains on the structural level rather than moving to the psychological level.1 The frog prince remains a frog until the end and the princess chooses to overlook his slimy skin. If the reader or theatergoer expects the romance of heterosexual coupling that concludes Shakespeare's "high comedies," disappointment is inevitable.
Singular among the plays in Shakespeare's canon, All's Well That Ends Well is written out of the history of the female subject and this history is the history of her desire. The inadequacy of the male as subject is not only NOT repressed; it is emphasized. In this, the play challenges both culture and theory which both subordinate the issue of woman-as-subject-of-desire to the question of male subjectivity and desire. Renaissance notions of female inferiority (and consequent objectification) were largely based on physiological schemes. The cultural stereotypes that mandated female subordination were (and are) often legitimized by the appeal to the irreducible realm of the real, i.e., nature. Both Aristotle and Galen after him declared that the female is characterized by deprived, passive, material traits and is cold and moist (earthy) in her dominant humours. Because the female is less fully developed than the male, her sexual organs have remained internal; she is therefore incomplete in a teleological scheme that aims toward perfection, i.e., the male. Heat, associated with perfection on the physical level, is a male characteristic; it is the lack of heat in the process of generation that causes the genitalia of the female to remain internal and therefore imperfect. The male characteristic of heat thrusts out the genitalia and produces a perfect human specimen.2 To round off the paradigm, this assumed frailty of body was thought to be accompanied by mental and emotional weaknesses which were the natural justification of the female's exclusion from responsibility and moral fulfillment. Although the explanations used to justify female subordination to patriarchal structures have become increasingly complex in our day, the figure of the female hero in Renaissance drama, a figure who, especially in the comedies, rebels against her "natural" inferior position (or better yet, pays it no heed), still serves as a model of self-determination, i.e., as the subject of her desire, not the object of another's. Because there was much of the new in the old, much of the old in the new, I wish to use certain paradigms from psychoanalytic theory that are congruent with Renaissance notions of the character and place of the female to discuss the complexities and ambiguities of the central female character in All's Well That Ends Well. Viewed from this perspective Helena can be seen as coming to independent womanhood by surmounting attitudes and theories of female deprivation and inferiority.3 Psychoanalytic theory is a useful tool for such an investigation because it attempts to account for the phenomenon of female inferiority in terms of structural psychic formations and introjected cultural ideals; but it is also limited in that it insufficiently addresses itself to female psychic formation, i.e., to a female version of the Oedipal crisis. Until recently, despite Freud's late interest in the "pre-Oedipal phase," which stresses the mother-infant relationship,4 psychoanalytic theory had largely ignored that stage of development. Helena, in her ambiguity, represents a challenging subject for the psychoanalytic critic in that she breaks out of both the cultural (historical) and psychic (transhistorical) strictures applied to women in both her time and our own. She does this by the assertion of desire, the refusal of objectification and by interaction with other women in the play.
According to psychoanalytic theory, particularly Lacanian theory, the inauguration of subjectivity and desire is based upon a male model, the model of the Oedipal crisis. That model stipulates the phallus as the signifier for the needs and drives which the subject must relinquish to gain access to the symbolic order, the order of language, culture, and symbolization. In the Lacanian scheme the phallus is not identifiable with the penis; it is, however, the signifier for the cultural privileges which define male subjectivity and legitimate his desire within the patriarchal order. The female subject remains isolated from this register, ironically, because she has no penis to lose or exchange for the phallus.5 As Luce Irigaray comments: "All theories of the 'subject' will always have been appropriated by 'the masculine'. . . . The subjectivity denied to the woman is, without doubt, the condition which guarantees the constitution of any object: object of representation, of discourse, of desire.6 " The scene of "castration" has only one subject as the concept of penis envy implies; the little girl sees herself through the eyes of the boy as "lacking." The "truth" of female sexuality, therefore, is "truth-as-lack."
The male subject, on the other hand, gives up the penis (direct expression of his own sexuality) to attain the phallus (the privileges of the patriarchal order). The female subject does not succumb to as radical an alienation from sexuality but neither does she enjoy as full a participation in the patriarchal order. Female sexuality, then, is not represented by the phallus (power) but by "castration" or lack. Since female sexuality cannot be represented (it is lack or absence) it remains "a dark continent" that, according to male theory, threatens to overpower both the female and the patriarchal order. According to Antonia Fraser, this "menacing" aspect to female sexuality was well known and greatly feared by seventeenth century males. In addition to the testimony of countless dramatis personae, there is the witness of such men as Thomas Wythorne and poets from Wyatt to Lovelace.7
Although there is a nice logic about this paradigm it is contrary to common sense to assume that the female is outside of signification or that her sexuality is any less structured or repressed by culture than is the male's. In entering into meaning and symbolization the female makes a sacrifice analogous to that of the male, i.e., the sacrifice of the mother and the gratifications she supplies.8 The difference is that the girl's sexuality is negatively rather than positively defined.9 This definition occurs on a cultural level which as-signs public power and prestige to the male. In developmental processes gender myths of female lack and male fullness are internalized and treated as "true" and identification with stereotyped characteristics takes place. On this cultural, or symbolic level, then, the both men and women are conditioned to think of the male as "all" and the female as "not-all" (Lacan, Séminaire III 198). Prior to the Oedipal crisis, however, the subject is bisexual (Freud, SE XX: 118) undetermined by gender myths. Although physiological lack may be used to justify the idea of female inferiority, it is not the cause. Penis-envy, such as it is, is symbolic rather than organic, referring to social power rather than to physical potency. Since the female functions as a signifier of lack in culture the male must accommodate himself to the fact of difference by either establishing the woman's unworthiness or by transforming her into a compensatory object. This objectification of woman (as castrated) is designed to annihilate the threat that she represents. Similar relief is found in the disparagement of women by which the male takes pleasure through control and punishment.
The subject's entry into the Symbolic Order (language, culture, power) displaces the mother as the central object of desire with the father; this transaction is of crucial importance in the constitution of the subject. The son identifies with the father as possessor of cultural power; the daughter with the mother as one who lacks such power. The result of such internalization is a profound sense of inadequacy both for the male and the female—the son can never be equivalent to the symbolic father (the position with which he identifies and with which he identifies the actual father); the daughter is denied even an identification with that position (Silverman 191).
This was especially true in matters of sexuality and marriage in Renaissance England where the role of female desire was widely held to be small, even non-existent. According to Lawrence Stone, the qualities most valued in a woman in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were weakness, submissiveness, charity and modesty: "the theological and legal doctrine of the time were especially insistent upon the subordination of women to men in general and to their husbands in particular."10 Ian McLean, after an extensive review of the learned documents devoted to the discussion of women in Renaissance theory, comes to the conclusion that the single greatest force preventing fundamental changes in the notion of women in the Renaissance was the institution of marriage; in the eyes of Renaissance thinkers—all male, by the way—marriage is a divine, natural and social institution and any alternative is considered subversive (85). Rethe Waraicke states that " . . . women were expected to marry, and those who did not were denied the respect of their communities."11 Any change in the position of the si-lent and submissive wife in relationship to her lordly husband would require a new vision of the mental and physical predispositions of the sexes; this was too radical even for such Utopian writers as Thomas More and Rabelais.
Renaissance handbooks on marriage speak of the "choice of a wife" but never the choice of a husband. It is the man—the suitor—who seeks, who chooses. He does not expect the woman to seek him or to take the initiative in declaring her love first. It was generally agreed by wise heads that both physical desire and romantic love were unsafe bases of an enduring marriage, since both were regarded as violent mental disturbances which could only be of short duration. Women were especially prone to fits of passion; a menacing aspect of female desire was the woman's suspected carnality as the sixteenth century mysogynist, Thomas Wythorne, states: "Though they be weaker vessels, yet they will overcome 2. 3. or 4 [sic] men in satisfying their carnal appetites" (qtd. in Fraser 4). Women were considered incapable of making a wise choice in the best interests of marriage. After arguing against "enforced marriages" in The Anatomy of Melancholy, Robert Burton adds: "A woman should give unto her parents the choice of her husband lest she be reputed to be malapert and wanton, if she take upon her to make her own choice, for she should rather seem to be desired by a man than to desire a man herself."12 Somewhat later in the century (1688) Lord Halifax writes in his Advice to a Daughter: "It is one of the disadvantages belonging to your sex, that young women are seldom permitted to make their own choice; their friends' care and experience are thought safer guides to them than their own fancies, and their modesty often forbiddeth them to refuse when their parents recommend, though their inward consent may not entirely go along with it. . . . You must first lay it down for a foundation in general that there is inequality in the sexes, and that for the better economy of the world, men, who were to be law-givers, had the larger share of reason bestowed upon them, by which means your sex is better prepared for the compliance that is necessary for the better performance of those duties which seem to be most properly assigned to it" (Stone 278), i.e., the duties of marriage. This representative patriarchal statement implies that the duties of compliance and subservience which the marriage doctrine enjoins could only be performed by those limited by nature (biological determinism) to a lesser level of intelligence than man. As late as 1706 Mary Astell still laments; "A woman, indeed, can't properly be said to choose; all that is allowed her is to refuse or accept what is offered" (Stone 275).
Ruth Kelso, who has surveyed an impressive variety of treatises on female behavior in The Doctrine of the Lady of the Renaissance, finally speculates that such emphasis would probably not have been placed on the submission and obedience of women and the inborn superiority of men if women in general were not asserting themselves in the pragmatic sphere. According to Kelso, the womanly ideal as found in male writings represents a most unrealistic separation of theory from fact.13 Joan Kelly adds another dimension to the pragmatic argument by quoting Lucrezia Marinella who speculates that the psychology of educated men (the authors and authorities) who both vituperated and idealized women was based on both the necessity of feeling superior to women and the displacement of sexual feelings.14 The re-ceived opinion on the value and place of women in a male world was based on male psycho-sexual experiences, not on observation and truth to experience (Kelly 82). Learned treatises on the relations of the sexes and marriage were contaminated by the need to maintain male supremacy even if that meant flying in the face of truth. In the face of such bias, how was a true image of woman to be recovered?
It was in the drama in particular that a new portrait of the female began to emerge during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. No matter what the various guises in which she appears, this woman has one consistent trait: she does not think of herself merely as an appendage of man; she insists on making her own decisions. It is this insistence that is so threatening to the patriarchal prerogative; it sets her apart from the conventional woman and often subjects her to attack or disapproval. One of the most interesting types of female rebels is the one who, like Helena, insists on the right to choose her own husband, to assert her own desire. This was a radical demand. A woman's right to love and marry according to her own desires could not be admitted without upsetting an established order which regarded women as inferior beings who needed to be governed by the sex for whose pleasure and convenience they had been created. Yet with the recognition that woman as well as man was "a reasonable creature" came the acceptance of the fact that she should use her reason in one of the most vital concerns of her life—the choice of a marriage partner and her relations with him. To find this type of assertive woman very much alive and extremely articulate in Renaissance drama is surely a surprise given the repressive nature of the tracts and sermons. But it is a surprise that leads to a deeper understanding of what is actually new in what seems old; it also provides an interesting and often amusing instance of that gradual process by which new attitudes supplant old ones over a period of time and produce profound societal changes.15
Helena, in the opening scene, seems to have internalized the "lack" mapped onto the female body; she acquiesces in her own powerlessness as defined by her context and tearfully accepts Bertram's inaccessibility as a love object. In this scene she plays out her role as passive, even masochistic female. This problematic first appearance can be explained by looking at her behavior from the viewpoint of psychoanalytic theory which postulates that female masochism is connected with gender identity and sexual desire, both social products. When the girl completes the Oedipal crisis, she also, like the boy must renounce the mother, the first love-object, and turn to the father who will not affirm the phallus in her (as he does for the boy), but instead will give it to her. When she turns to the father, she represses the active part of her libido: "hand in hand (with turning to the father)" says Freud, "there is to be observed a marked lowering of the active sexual impulses and the rise of the passive ones. . . . The transition to the father is accomplished with the help of passive trends insofar as they have escaped from the catastrophe. The path of femininity now lies open to the girl" (Freud, SE 21:239). It is this path of powerlessness and dependence which Helena initially believes she must adopt in regard to her desire for Bertram.
The ascendence of passivity in the girl is due to her recognition of the futility of realizing her active desire and of the unequal terms of the struggle. A segment of erotic possibility (female desire) is constrained. This realization, reinforced by cultural norms, prompts Helena's excessive and according to the other characters, unspecified emotional response. The creation of "femininity" in women as they are socialized also leaves in them a resentment of the constraints to which they were subjected but they have few ways of expressing this residual anger, even rage. Not only is passivity inculcated in the girl; masochism is as well. When she turns to the father because she must, she discovers that "castration" (lack of power) is the condition of the father's love, that she must be a woman (signifier of lack) to evoke his love. She therefore begins to desire to be castrated, or powerless, trying to turn a disaster into a wish. In finding her place in the sexual system, then, the woman is robbed of libido and guided into masochistic eroticism (Freud, SE XXII: 128).
Although Helena at first seems to embody these psychoanalytic paradigms of psychic masochism and powerlessness, she struggles at several points in the play to defy them and moves from tearful and powerless acceptance of her position—and a concomitant construction of herself as object—to an assertive desire of which she is the subject. How does this shift occur? In her bawdy and witty banter with Parolles on the subject of virginity they both speak of sexuality with the metaphors of warfare. This conversation brings wit into contact with aggressivity and narcissism, thus establishing a contact with unconscious desire. Desire can be restricted within the bounds of societal gender myths or it can follow its own trajectory and operate independently of them. Helena quickly shifts into resolve rooted in desire and determines upon cunning, aggressive action: a woman need not always defend her virginity against attack, i.e., remain an object; she may in fact, go on the offensive and "lose it to her own liking" (I.i.145). Desire here overcomes both gender and class; under the impress of its mobile power the unpropertied, educated female had much to gain even though such a desirous woman was regarded as a usurper of the masculine function and prerogative. Filled with resolve she casts off abjection: "Who ever strove / To show her merit that did miss her love?" (I.i.218-219).
Helena is not alone in her struggle, however. In a canon in which mother-daughter relationships are so few, this play is unusual in having several. Although Helena is a ward of the Countess, it is obvious that the countess extends to her the love of a mother for a child: "you ne'er oppressed me with a mother's groan," she tells Helena, "yet I express to you a mother's care" (I.iii.140-141). Helena quibbles, rejecting a fraternal relationship with Bertram: not "daughter" but "daughter-in-law" is the title she desires. When Helena admits her love to the Countess as well as her scheme to cure the King, the Countess allows Helena to speak of her desire, gives her an empathetic hearing, and bids her success, promising what aid she can. Helena appeals to the Countess' own youthful female experience thus creating a bond of womanly desire that transcends class.16 It is obvious that the Countess regards Helena as an appropriate wife for Bertram, but leaves the initiative to her (the King as Bertram's guardian, has the right to dispose of the young man). Once Helena has legally secured the reluctant Bertram and he rejects her, she returns to the Countess who verbally castigates her son but can do nothing to change the situation. The Countess functions as an emotional center who utters the correct—and truly felt—sentiments, but who is ineffectual to help Helena in any way except through verbal support. Albeit a kind and caring woman, a validator of Helena's desire, the Countess limits her effectiveness and accepts her position of dependence within the patriarchal order.
Helena leaves the maternal aegis of the Countess on the strength of her paternal inheritance; "prescriptions of rare and prov'd effects", male learning passed on to her as her dowry. She must leave the mother-figure to insert herself with a larger, public group and utilize the skill bequeathed her by her father. Armed with the patriarchal legacy of language and learning, she confronts and confounds "the schools" and attempts the king's cure. By curing the debilitating fistula (a sexually symbolic disease) Helena restores the king's manly vigor upon which the success of her project depends. But prior to the cure, she engages the royal honor: "Then shalt thou give me with thy kingly hand / What husband in thy power I will command" (II.i.194-95). It is in her best interest to restore power to the patriarchy which she plans to engage in her behalf.
This request, which depends upon patriarchal power for its implementation, paradoxically subverts the very order of patriarchy itself. Throughout history women, not men, have been sexual objects, gifts. The "exchange of women" expresses the social relations of a kinship system that specify that men have certain rights in their female kin and that women do not have such rights over themselves or their male relatives. In this system the preferred female sexuality is one that responds to the desires of others rather than one which actively seeks an object and a response (Lacan, Séminaire II, 306). We ask: "What would happen if a woman demanded a certain man as her gift rather than the other way around?" This play shows us what happens. The king's debt to Helena is reckoned in Bertram's flesh; he must become the sexual partner to her to whom he is "owed" as the reward for the restoration of the king's flesh.17 Bertram resists this struc-tural "feminization" loudly voicing the resentment that accompanies objectification, a resentment that arises from having been given no choice; "I beseech your highness, / In such a business give me leave to use / The help of mine own eyes" (II.iii.105-7).
The play contains a series of triangular exchange transactions of which this is the first. By power the king provides a substitute sexual partner for Helena who will function as his "stand in." It is obvious that he values and desires Helena more than any other male in the play—what man does not love the woman who restores his virility? But Helena is determined to have Bertram and the king, by virtue of his position, is outside the circuit of desire, Subject par excellence! Up to this point Helena attempts to control events less through her own sexuality and desire than through patriarchal gifts to her. These gifts come to her in language: prescriptions, learning, promises that will enable her to possess legally what she desires. Even though she is emboldened by desire, she is unable to evoke the desire of the other (Bertram), the ultimate goal in Lacanian psychic dynamics. So what she gets is a marriage in name only—an ironic reward—a marriage that Bertram never intends to honor with his flesh. The letter but not the spirit of the law is fulfilled. So her scheme has both succeeded and failed. This seems to be the limit for female desire that relies too heavily on even the best-intentioned of men.
After the check of Bertram's rejection Helena initiates a complex and indirect action for attaining her desire, an action in which she relies both on her own cunning and on bonding with other women. Taking up the apparently impossible conditions of Bertram's rejection as a challenge—"When thou canst get the ring upon my finger, which shall never come off, and show me a child begotten of thy body that I am father to, then call me husband, but in such a 'then' I write 'never'" (III.ii.56-59). Helena paradoxically weaves her net of capture by literally following his directives, turning his language into a trap. Her campaign initiatives arise from the very messages he sends denying her. Responding to his refusal to return to his ancestral lands "till I have no wife" she disguises herself as a pilgrim and sets out for Florence where it is possible she knows he is stationed. Ostensibly she appears submissive to his will, but her submission is also a strategy; her success from this point until the end is linked to her ability to assume a "feminized" (inferior, powerless) position and yet remain in cognitive control of the situation. This combination of positions is exceedingly potent and establishes her mastery in the second half of the play.
In the early part of the play the ideal that Helena thinks she sees in Bertram is not merely hidden; it is absent, lacking. She eventually must come to terms with this fact. Bertram is not a sufficient representation of the "virile object" that Helena sees only in her fantasy. We might wonder why she so desires him. In Lacanian terms, Helena is initially trapped in the level of consciousness called the Imaginary, i.e., the register in which opposition and identity are the only possible interrelationships between self and other. This "other" is usually someone or something which is thought to complete the subject or reflects back to him/her an ideal image (Lacan Ecrits 2-4). The Imaginary is the register of the ego, a construct that involves a purely dual either/or relationship that resembles that of the Hegelian master/slave paradigm. The predominance of the Imaginary in relationships results in the conversion of interdependent similarities and differences between man and woman into pathological identities and oppositions (as between images of man and woman). To enter into productive relationships it is necessary to transcend the oppositional relationships and reduce mastery to insignificance by means of this transcendence. During the course of the action Helena traverses this path of development, passing from the register of the Imaginary to that of the Symbolic Order (Lacan, Séminaire I 215). Early in the play she is almost overwhelmed by opposition in her relationship with Bertram; she can see only unbridgeable separations. Then she swings to the opposite, narcissistically identifying his desire with her own, never doubting her ability to win him. His severe rejection forces her to align herself with the limits of the possible. Finally she comes to a third position within the Symbolic Order, the register of similarities and differences, of the social and the cultural. She must accept the fact that his desire, whatever it may be, may be different from her own. Her original desire for Bertram seems to be displaced by her own maternity and by her return to the mother so that she is inserted into the larger cultural sphere of social and familial engagement. Paradoxically she does this by remaining true to her desire (is this type of maturation initiated, then, by desire within the register of the Imaginary?); as desiring subject she not only gets what she thinks she wants but more. And it is in this "more," this excess, that Helena's real triumph is located. This excess has to do with her increasing realization of the pragmatic and psychological support that female bonding provides for her in her erotic adventures.
In contrast to the Countess who is a very real but passive support, the Florentine women, a mother and daughter with whom Helena plots, are active on her behalf. Fallen from fortune, they must make their way in the world and struggle to defend their hard-earned gains. The precious jewel of her treasury is Diana's chastity, a "commodity" that commands a high price. As a consequence, these women have nothing but distrust and contempt for male language, especially the male language of seduction; instead, they rely on female lore: "My mother told me just how he would woo, / As if she sat in's heart" (IV.ii.69-70) says Diana, fore-armed against Bertram's vows. When these women show a willingness to believe her story, Helena grasps the opportunity to fulfill the letter of Bertram's law, an opportunity that Bertram's "sick desires" for Diana give her. In a scene of many exchanges she buys Diana's place with gold while Bertram thinks he is purchasing Diana's "ring" (genitals) with the patriarchal ring of Rosillon.18 What occurs is a triangular transaction between women in the possession of a man. In this circuit of desire Diana remains aloof, Helena gets what she wants and Bertram gets what he does not know he does not want. Without cognitive power, Bertram assumes the role of a circulatable commodity; again he is "feminized."
In transactions of heterosexual desire, there can be hidden strategies of bonding which seem to occur here; the bond between Helena and Diana is cemented by means of sexual substitution. Earlier in the play (I.iii) there is an odd conversation between Lavatch and the Countess in which Lavatch describes the use he will make of Isbel to create "friends" for himself. Voluntary cuckoldry creates a bond among men with the "other" (the partner of the opposite sex) as the object to be exchanged among them. When the Countess remonstrates: "Such friends are thine enemies, knave," Lavatch points out to her this new type of bonding: "He that comforts my wife is the cherisher of my flesh and blood; he that cherishes my flesh and blood loves my flesh and blood; he that loves my flesh and blood is my friend; ergo, he that kisses my wife is my friend" (I.iii.43-47). Lavatch describes a literal series of heterosexual displacements in which implicit homoerotic desire is represented as heterosexual adultery. Isbel will mediate a communion among males. Is Lavatch a fool or a knave or neither? He describes himself as involved in triangular sexual transactions in which he maintains control through knowledge and manipulation. As either thief or distributor he regards women as circulatable commodities, objects of desire. His song invoking Helen of Troy underlines this paradigm of the shared woman, the common ground of male desire.
Helena's sexual experience with Bertram, in which she substitues her body for that of the desired Diana's, leaves her with the conviction of the impersonality of the act. "Strange men"—in several senses of that word—make sweet use of what they hate, i.e., the female body with its threatening lack. "Lust doth play / With what it loathes" (IV.iv.24-25) in the darkness which hides both the particularity (subjectivity) of the woman and the place of castration. Lacan explains this imbalance by commenting that what man approaches in the sexual act is the cause of his desire (lack). The male identifies the woman with what he has repressed in himself and makes love to complete himself in her. Thus the woman's specificity is subordinate to the man's quest for this own fulfillment (Ragland-Sullivan 292). Helena seems both shocked and disillusioned by this experience of sexual objectification in which she is not seen and in which she may not speak. Yet from this place of apparent lack (her genitals) and seeming powerlessness she traps the cozened Bertram's wild desires and lures them into consummating the legal bond. Publically commenting on her experience later in the play, Helena admits that Bertram's sexual performance was "wondrous kind" (V.iii.305), gentle and natural.
After Helena has fulfilled Bertram's stipulations, the ensuing action is excessive, almost gratuitous. I believe that it is only at this point that Helena moves beyond the Imaginary (projected idealizations) with respect to Bertram and begins to see him as he is. All traces of psychological masochism vanish from her character and she begins to express a residual anger toward him, a desire to punish him for having rejected her desire and objectified her. It becomes clear that she has his public humiliation in mind since she now has achieved a cognitive leverage over him which gives her power. She has sent back word to France that she is "dead," i.e., she represents "castration" or loss as the ultimate lack or absence. Paradoxically it is from this position of "castration" or loss that she is able to achieve her greatest power as an active subject.19 What is thought to be absent can be ignored; what is regarded as lost can be thought of as without power. Yet the very veil of disappearance allows the subject room to act with impunity. Once again she enlists the aid of the Florentine women to carry out her project.
Having arrived in France Helena sends a letter ahead to the King via messenger. Because of the unforeseen concatenation of events, it becomes clear that this letter had been prepared in advance by Helena although it is signed with Diana's name. It lays claim to Bertram as a fair exchange for the latter's honor. What becomes increasingly apparent is that Helena is preparing a public confrontation between Diana and Bertram based on a non-event, i.e., an absence that will entrap him in a web of signs (rings) and language (lies) from which he will be unable to escape. The effectiveness of Diana's script turns upon an exchange of rings prior to the bed trick. Here the plot becomes increasingly dense since neither the audience nor most of the characters knows the history of the rings. The disclosure that the ring Diana gave to Bertram had been given to Helena by the King is a shocking surprise. What is even more disquieting is the fact that Helena had given it to Diana explicitly to exchange for Bertram's patriarchal ring, a transfer that indicates Helena's intent to entrap, since encoded in this ring is a secret message to the King: she is in need of his help. The sight of Bertram wearing this ring coupled with Helena's fictional account of her own death leads the King to suspect Bertram of foul deeds. On the defensive, Bertram entangles himself more and more tightly in the snare; brazenly lying, he repudiates Diana and denies any knowledge of Helena. As the pièce de résistance Diana produces Bertram's ring, alleging that with it he purchased her honor. Although like Parolles, Bertram may play with language, he cannot deny the object, irrefutable proof of his complicity. Publically revealed as a liar, a coward and a faithless husband, Bertram has no choice but to stand shamed and endure humiliation. At this point Helena enters triumphant as the dea ex machina to clarify and forgive.
By reading events of the second half of the play backwards, so to speak, we can see Helena's complex plan to turn Bertram's desires and fears against him and then make his weakness, perfidy and ignorance public through the accusations of others, herself remaining aloof.20 It is evident that there is little ro-mance in Helena's attitude toward Bertram at the end of the play; when she greets him she merely makes known her fulfillment of his conditions. When he further questions her, her final words to him are distant and almost foreboding: "If it appear not plain and prove untrue / Deadly divorce step between me and you" (V.iii.314-315). This marriage is an unknown item, a risk whose outcome is to be determined beyond the limits of the play. In contrast her greeting to the Countess is warm and affectionate: "O my dear mother, do I see thee living?" (V.iii.316). These, her last words in the play, seem to indicate that she has re-adjusted the focus of her desire.
Along with the power shift that occurs in the second half of the play there seems also to be a psychological reversal. I would go so far as to say that lurking behind Helena's apparent psychological masochism of her initial attitude towards Bertram lies its opposite, i.e., anger or rage at having been denied subjectivity by him and a willingness to inflict pain, a psychological form of sadism.21 In some ways her reversal is quite shocking but it certainly is not an unusual female paradigm. As mentioned earlier in this essay, the constraint of female desire in a patriarchal system leaves a residual resentment and anger in the woman which most women, unlike Helena, do not have the opportunity to act on. Granted, her action is indirect, even cunning, but for all that, it is eminently effective. As Helena moves from object position into subject status, from passive to active (the latter associated with the masculine "position") she concomitantly exchanges psychological masochism for a certain degree of willingness to inflict pain or humiliation in the assertion of mastery. Shakespeare manages to put Helena in the subject (sadistic) position without depriving her of our sympathy by shielding her behind the accusations and anger of others whom she has convinced to act in her place. Her agency has been displaced, certainly veiled. We cannot deny that Bertram deserves the punishment she arranges; our puzzlement is reserved for the "reconciliation" on which the play ends. If there is a reconciliation, then how does it come about and whose attitudes must change?
Helena's shift occurs in two phases in an encounter with the Real, i.e., the given field of existence, nature in self and in the world. The first phase is Bertram's rejection and abandonment of her which forces her to see him as he is; the second is her sexual encounter with him which is lustful and procreative rather than romantic. These encounters with the Real shake her out of the narcissism and the false perceptions associated with the Imaginary register and precipitate her into positioning herself within the Symbolic Order as a viable alternative to the delusory projections of the early part of the play. There is loss but there is also gain. Her position in culture and the collective is ratified by her obvious "wife-li-ness" and maternity. She is the fleshly sign of the link between the generations and as such holds a secure place in the Symbolic Order (Welsh 21). Helena has successfully rejected the powerlessness of her original position in the Imaginary, emerging from it at another level, carrying the signs of her transaction. It is she, not Bertram, who has both the ring and the child and she will exchange both for his acceptance of her as his wife and mother of his child. Helena's desire now locates itself within the social order—the child in her womb is the heir—but that order is not exclusively patriarchal. In the process of pursuing her desire for Bertram, Helena has come to experience the loyalty, support, and kindness of women who not only never doubted her but who never failed her. What began as a pursuit of a man developed into a transaction among women. With skill, intelligence and cunning they use Bertram's very desires to bind him to what his position and phallic potency demand of him. Through the trajectory of desire he becomes the victim of the trick. But the paradox does not operate only in Bertram's case. Let us entertain the possibility that in the pursuit of a husband Helena has actually found a mother, has discovered the power of feminine bonding. Although she carries the sign of her heterosexual eroticism and Bertram's potency, her desire seems to have transcended the narrow limits of such eroticism and moved into the larger sphere of female affectivity. Her sexual experiences and her own maternity seem to create a new awareness of and desire for the maternal body.
Is Helena's turning to women at the end of the play unusual in her immediate social context? Or does it signal some kind of change in sensibility that was actually occurring at the time? Although there has not yet been much investigation of primary documents relating to the bonding of women in the Renaissance, there are many collateral sources which refer to this phenomenon, including works of poetry, fiction and drama which depict strong, loyal, and loving relationships between and among women. In addition, it seems likely that in a society so constrained by rigid gender-role differentiations there would be both the emotional segregation of women from the male world and a corresponding development of bonding within the female circle. It is certainly true that biological realities centered around incessant pregnancies and childbirth traumas bound women together in intimacy. Supportive female networks paralleled the social restrictions on intimacy between men and women. Courtesy books, advice books, sermons, and other male-originated texts all stress gender-role differentiations as well as the social segregation characteristic of the culture.22
Although generally speaking the mother-daughter relationship is at the heart of the female world, in Renaissance literature we see bonds of kinship and service forming the basis of intense friendships. The literature frequently depicts a "conspiracy of women" that organizes itself around female desire. When the male is indifferent or hostile to such desire, the female characters find support in female kin, friends, or servants. Celia conspires with Rosalind; Emilia defends Desdemona to the death; Paulina refuses to abandon Hermione; Cleopatra surrounds herself with her women in the hour of her final triumph. This woman's world has a dignity and integrity that spring from mutual affection and the shared experiences of being a woman in a man's world. The drama of late sixteenth and early seventeenth century England, then, provides many examples of not only strong women but of strong friendships between women. According to Juliet Dusinberre, the struggles of many of the heroines in Shakespeare's plays are struggles against the male idea of womanhood; they are efforts to be considered human in a world that sees them only as female, i.e., as powerless, "castrated" devoid of initiating desire. In these conflicts women are intimate not just as individuals but as women; they develop a loyalty to their sex which can express itself in confederacy, even cunning.23 For ex-ample, in the play under consideration, the Countess is more sympathetic toward Helena than she is to her own son. She assures Helena: " . . . be sure of this / What I can help thee to, thou shalt not miss" (I.iii.248-49).
Helena succeeds in her scheme because she heeds and follows her desire even though the caveats of internalized gender values and the constraints of society make her task seem impossible. Frequently she occupies the so-called male position, the position of knowledge and power, through the very paradox of her "castration"; in this position she sets up the exchanges upon which society depends for its continuation. By the play's end she has come to value and depend on the world of women whose power Bertram, with some humility, is forced to acknowledge. Her success argues for a reevaluation of the patriarchal denigration of female desire and a reconsideration of that desire's power and validity in the social order. Through Helena's single-minded action a redefinition of gender prerogatives has occurred and as a consequence the patriarchal order is modified, if ever so slightly.24 Fired by her desire,Helena refuses to submit to gender myths that link the female with loss unless that loss can be turned to gain. The play ends as well as it can—all only "seems well" the king states at the conclusion—given the fact that sexual relations will never be harmonious, that psychic unity is tenuous at best.25
1 Paula S. Berggren, "The Woman's Part: Female Sexu-ality as Power in Shakespeare's Plays," in The Woman 's Part, ed. Carolyn Lenz, Gayle Greene and Carol Neely (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1980). pp. 22-23; G. K. Hunter, "Introduction" to All's Well That Ends Well, Arden Edition (Cambridge, Mass: Cambridge University Press, 1959), xxix-xxxi; Hunter also comments (liv-lv) that "in these plays [the problem plays] the strand of psychological realism makes the absence of personal reconciliation seem wanton and careless." Richard Wheeler states that the ending of the play is not a true resolution but merely a superficial denial of the hero's rebellion: "Marriage and Manhood in All's Well That Ends Well" Bucknell Review, 21 (1973), 103-24. Roger Warren in "Why Does It End Well?: Helena, Bertram and the Sonnets", Shakespeare Survey 22 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), 79-92, faults Shakespeare for failing to provide a "powerful and reassuring speech" for Helena at the finale, a definite dramatic weakness in his opinion.
2 Ian McLean, The Renaissance Notion of Woman (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980), p. 33.
3 Warren sees Helena as "unbearably poignant" and tends to idealize her masochistic tendencies; my argument follows Hunter's insight that "to fit Helena into the play or to adapt the play to Helena is obviously the central problem of interpretation (xiviii). I agree with Hunter that "her role is a complex one, but there is an absence of adequate external correlatives to justify this complexity; we are drawn to regard her as an isolated, complex individual" (xlix). In his enlightening study of the play, Wheeler (Shakespeare's Development and the Problem Comedies, [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981]) keeps to a middle ground when he asserts both her humble, adoring love for Bertram and her "vigorous, cunning and determined pursuit" of him. p. 63. Psychoanalytic theory can provide paradigms to account for her complex attitudes and behaviors.
4 Sigmund Freud, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works, ed. James Strachey (London: The Hogarth Press, 1964), XXII, 112-135. Nancy Chodorow in The Reproduction of Mothering (Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1978) has developed this theory in great detail.
5 Jacques Lacan, Ecrits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Norton, 1977), p. 66.
6 Luce Irigaray, Speculumde l'autre femme (Paris: Minuit, 1974), p. 165.
7 Antonia Fraser, The Weaker Vessel (New York: Knopf, 1984), p. 4.
8 Ellie Ragland-Sullivan, JacquesLacan and the Philosophy of Psychoanalysis (Chicago: The University of Illinois Press, 1985), pp. 297-98.
9 Kaja Silverman, The Subject of Semiotics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), p. 198.
10 Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex, and Marriage inEngland: 1500-1800 (New York: Harper and Row, 1977), p. 199.
11 Rethe Warnicke, Women of the English Renaissanceand Reformation (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1983), p. 178.
12 Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy (New York: Vintage, 1932), "Third Partition", p. 238.
13 Ruth Kelso, The Doctrine of the Lady in the Renaissance (Urbana: The University of Illinois Press, 1978), p. 208.
14 Joan Kelly, Women, History and Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), p. 81.
15 Jean Gagen, The New Woman (New York: Twayne, 1954), p. 119.
16 Carol McKewin, "Counsels of Gall and Grace: In-timate Conversations between Women in Shakespeare's Plays," in The Woman's Part, pp. 117-132.
17 Eva Sedgewick, "Sexualism and the Citizen of the World," Critical Inquiry (December, 1984), p. 233. See also Wheeler, pp. 49-51 on the deflection of male sexual interest from women to men.
18 Alexander Welsh in "The Loss of Men and the Getting of Children: All's Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure," Modern Language Review, Vol. 73, Part I (January, 1978), argues against Wheeler and later Kirsch (Shakespeare and the Experience of Love [New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981]) in their emphasis on the "threat of castration inherent in the Oedipal situation," i.e., Bertram's identification of Helena with her mother. He asserts that "inheritance and succession are far more important concerns than Oedipal jealousies" p. 21. Although my focus is not on Bertram, I agree with Welsh that the Oedipal argument is quite weak and unconvincing. Aside from the "punning" scene between the Countess and Helena, there is no reference to such a motive in the play. In that scene Helena specifically and somewhat playfully, refers to brother/sister incest.
19 Here I disagree with Hunter (xxxii) on the power of coincidence and submission to supernatural forces as the dynamic forces of the second half of the play. Helena actively uses and arranges the circumstances that lead to her success.
20 R. B. Parker, "War and Sex in All's Well That EndsWell," Shakespeare Survey (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 37: 111-112.
21 Wheeler states that "the exposure of Bertram re-leases a righteous feeling of moral outrage and with it a kind of vindictive pleasure that corresponds to the sadistic attack on the internalized object lost in reality described by Freud", pp. 72-73.
22 Carroll Camden in The Elizabethan Woman (New York: Elsevier Press, 1952) quotes from many such treatises which lead us to believe that women spent a great deal of time together. In his satirical pamphlet, The Gossips Greeting, Henry Parrot inveighs against talkative and outgoing women. Burton also refers to gossiping among women as "their merrie meetings and frequent visitations, mutual invitations in good towns . . . which are so in use." A Dutch traveller named Van Meieren found this mode of entertainment a notable one among Elizabethan women. He writes: "all the rest of their time they employ in walking and riding, in playing cards or otherwise, in visiting their friends and keeping company, conversing with their equals and their neighbors and making merry" (162). Educated women also spent time carrying on an extended correspondence with their female friends.
23 Juliet Dusinberre, Shakespeare and the Nature ofWomen (New York: Macmillan, 1975), p. 282.
24 Even at the end of the play the king proposes to repeat the process he inaugurated with Helena by finding Diana, the professed virgin, a husband. Lefew's daughter is offered to Bertram and then summarily withdrawn without any consultation with her. The tableau of women at the end of the play is intriguing; it ranges from Diana, who has vowed not to marry, to "fair Maudlin" who is given and taken back. The widow Countess stands with the newly restored wife-mother, Helena. What seems to be emphasized is the lack of or problematic nature of heterosexual relationships.
25 Jacques Lacan, Séminaire XX, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller (Paris: Seuil, 1973-74), p. 14. Other references to the Séminaires in the text refer to the French editions published by Seuil and edited by Miller.
Valerie Traub (essay date 1989)
SOURCE: "Prince Hal's Falstaff: Positioning Psychoanalysis and the Female Reproductive Body," in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 40, No. 4, Winter, 1989, pp. 456-74.
[In the following essay, Traub considers how Falstaff and Katherine of Shakespeare's Henriad "are constructed as female Others who must be repudiated or subjugated in order for Prince Hal to assume phallocentric control as King Henry V" and thus "suggest ways in which the phallocentric order might be undermined."]
Despite the specific meanings we may ascribe historically to the female reproductive body, its biological potential remains irrefutable, ineffable. In our own cultural tradition the female reproductive body is simultaneously an object of terror (fears of maternal engulfment) and idealization (the Virgin Mother). A "dark continent" traversed by every infant, whence we are conceived, labored, and delivered, it exists in our pre-natal memories—before culture, language, law, before knowledge of the father, before the Law of the Father.
Psychoanalysis offers a brilliant reading of the enculturation of the infant who is expelled from this body into the social order, of the simultaneous development of its subjectivity, gender, and sexuality. But, as feminist critics have made abundantly clear, the psychoanalytic narrative of psychic development is predicated upon a male subject. Not only is the trajectory of the male posited as normative, but that subject is constituted in relation to a fantasized Other—an Other that is at once engendered as "woman" and eroticized in reference to female reproductive functions.
The reflexivity and redundancy of the psychoanalytic narrative of psychic development also characterize its analysis of literary texts: it generally tells the same tale, a story of "real" or fantasized loss, with all psychic conflict organized around the threat of castration. Despite the variety of literary plot, image, and metaphor, psychoanalytic criticism rehearses a drama of the same, seeing only its own image in the face of the Other.
In an attempt to break out of this circle, I pose the female reproductive body as the repressed figure upon which two paradigmatic narratives of male subjectivity depend: Lacan's revision of the Freudian oedipal drama as the subject's entrance into the symbolic order, and Shakespeare's drama of the development of a "prototypical" male subject in the Henriad. In a recursive reading of drama through psychoanalysis and psychoanalysis through drama, I will argue that despite the significant differences in family and social structure between late-sixteenth-century England and twentieth-century Vienna and Paris, Shakespearean drama and psychoanalytic theory share in a cultural estimation of the female reproductive body as a Bakhtinian "grotesque body," and consequently repress this figure in their narratives of psychic development.1 Fol-lowing a discourse-based model, I am interested not so much in posing the Henriad as case history, applying psychoanalytic terminology to individual characters, but in the interrogation of persistent repetitions of psychoanalytic and dramatic narratives, repetitions that demonstrate their cohabitation within a certain structure of gender. The Henriad and psychoanalysis are parallel narratives, similarly positioning male subjectivity and the female reproductive body. By using the terms "drama" and "narrative" in reference to both, I mean to stress that psychoanalytic theory is as shaped by the politics of narrative convention and the constraints of an historically constructed cultural unconscious as is early modern drama.
In asserting such a connection between Shakespearean and psychoanalytic texts, I admit the acute risk of effacing historical differences. However, differences between sixteenth- and twentieth-century ideology in child-rearing practices, differences in the status of heterosexual desire and in biological paradigms—differences that are only now being explored2—do not, I would argue, translate into significant differences in the construction of the maternal body. Renaissance materials in fact demonstrate indigenous cultural rationales that, as today, construct the maternal as a figure of profound ambivalence. If, as scholars now argue, in the Reinaissance the fear of being turned back into women was constitutive of masculine subjectivity, if fear of male "effeminacy" shaped erotic relations between men and women, then "getting back to the mother" was massively prohibited.3 Early separa-tion from the mother, competition for maternal nurturance, ambivalent object-relations, and fears engendered by the dominant biological paradigm all converge in the construction of a maternal object that is desired, resented, and, most importantly, feared.
In noting the similarities that exist despite the historical differences in family and social structure, I do not propose that the line between Shakespeare and Freud is direct, continuous, or noninterrupted. Clearly, as the Victorian idealization of the maternal attests, the female reproductive body has been variously constructed and valued within different periods. Rather, I mean to suggest that in respect to the female reproductive body and its influence on male subjectivity, Shakespearean drama and psychoanalytic theory share in a cultural moment, much in the way that we can say that the narrative strategies of Tristram Shandy or Don Quixote share in those of the "postmodern moment." History is neither smooth teleology nor total disruption. It may repeat itself—but always with a difference. The salient difference between the Henriad and psychoanalysis, I would argue, is less ideological than stylistic.
. . . . .
The relationship of feminist critics to Shakespeare's history plays has been one of not-so-benign neglect. For many feminists, the lack of powerful female characters in the histories forecloses the critical questions they bring to Shakespearean drama. "Women don't figure" seems to sum up the stance of many critics who turn their analyses of gender and power to the greater presence of women and to the themes of chastity, courtship, marriage, and adultery in the comedies, tragedies, and romances.4 In a recent article Carol Thomas Neely takes the feminist argument even further: she maintains that the focus of new historical critics on the histories is in part evidence of their antipathy to feminism.5
In arguing against this trend of dismissing the histo-ries, I mean to suggest that the Henriad is a "seminal" point for an examination of the construction and maintenance of phallocentric ideology, particularly in regard to male subjectivity and sexuality. Although the histories depend on a resolutely hierarchical representation of gender difference, they do not merely exclude women; they stage the exclusion of women from the historical process (an exclusion that is the historical process), thus exhibiting the kinds of repressions a phallocentric culture requires to maintain and reproduce itself. By means of this staged exclusion, the Henriad represents a marginal discourse, if only to demonstrate the containment of that discourse. This containment, however, is neither final nor total; we thus see not only the "rehearsal" of power stressed by new historical critics but also the possibility of the deconstruction of dominant sixteenth-century ideologies of gender, sexuality, and power.6 In short, male dominated as it is, the Henriad contains within itself the means for its own meta-critique.
Access to this meta-critique is possible through a reading of the Henriad as paradigmatic of the gendered and erotic repressions upon which sixteenth-century male subjectivity depends. In psycho-dramatic terms, Prince Hal's subjectivity is constituted, first, in his relation to Falstaff, whose somatic iconography metonymically positions him as the fantasized pre-oedipal maternal, against whom Hal must differentiate; and, second, in relation to the French princess, Katharine, whose linguistic subjugation demonstrates the extent to which the male subject's (hetero)sexuality depends upon the repression and control of the female Other.
My reading of the Henriad draws an explicit parallel with the Lacanian description of the development of subjectivity within phallocentric culture. In Lacanian psychoanalysis the individual is constituted simultaneously as a subject, a gender, and a sexuality through entrance into the symbolic order of language. With the insertion of the third term, the phallus, into the Imaginary pre-oedipal relation of mother and child, the child loses its fantasized symbiosis with the mother, falling into a pre-existing order of culture that, through its endlessly substitutive chain of signification, enforces an always-divided subjectivity or "lack-in-being."7 The signifier of this lack-in-being is the phallus: first, because by breaking the Imaginary dyad, it inaugurates all subsequent desire as substitutive; and, second, because all subjects, male and female, are psychically castrated, learning the meaning of separation and difference through alienation into language.
The symbolic order governed by the Law of the Father is implicitly phallocentric, in part because of the resolute binarism by which it structures all categories of being and thought, beginning with gender: "The Father's Law enjoins the subject to line up according to an opposition, man/woman. . . ."8 From this binarism of gender, all subsequent difference is defined as oppositional and hierarchical, leading to the ascription of a host of related oppositions: rational/irrational, strength/ weakness, civilized/primitive.
Like Freud, Lacan describes a sequence of psychic events—the movement from the pre-oedipal through the oedipal—that is both constituted by and constitutive of patriarchal culture. For feminists, the value of Lacanian analysis is precisely in this description of how phallocentrism reproduces itself within and through a family structure that is inscribed by larger cultural codes. Despite its embeddedness in patriarchal ideology, Lacanian psychoanalysis provides the means for a critique of the pretensions of phallocentrism. As the signifier of the fiction of unmediated presence and integrated identity, as the metaphor for a fragmented and precarious subjectivity, the phallus exposes even as it upholds the artificiality of the division upon which gender and sexual identity are based. As Jane Gallop remarks, "The penis is what men have and women do not; the phallus is the attribute of power which neither men nor women have."9
As Gallop is well aware, however, the danger in this formulation is that, historically, the phallus has stood for precisely the kind of power men have had—as metaphor for their male identity and as figuration of their sexual, political, and economic power over women. A feminist psychoanalysis must therefore conscientiously resist subsuming gender hierarchies under the aegis of the radical instability of all speaking subjects.10 While retaining the Lacanian description of the way gendered subjects are constituted by and through phallocentric culture, language, and logic, feminists will continue to assert the possibility of a strategic intervention into this course of events.
. . . . .
Psychoanalytic criticism of the Henriad has tended to perceive Prince Hal's developmental problem as a choice between two fathers: a biological father, King Henry IV, standing for conviction, duty, and control, yet burdened by his guilty acquisition of the crown; and a father substitute, Falstaff, whose hedonism, lawlessness, and wit provide an attractive, if temporary, alternative. In his classic 1952 formulation Ernst Kris argued that Prince Hal dissociates himself from the court both as protest against his father's regicide and to escape his own unconscious temptation to parricide.11 Upon his father's death, Hal ascends the throne, displacing his parricidal impulses onto his father substitute; his harsh rejection of Falstaff thus acts as a symbolic killing of the father.
Kris's normalizing account of psychosexuality celebrates the successful reintegration of the wayward, unruly child into the patrilineal order of kingship. The tetralogy ends as a comedy, with the marriage of the newly crowned and martially victorious King Henry V to the French princess Katharine insuring the continued generation of patriarchal power through the expectation of male progeny.
More recently, Murray Schwartz and Peter Erickson also posit Falstaff as a paternal figure, but they view with ambivalence the tetralogy's close. In stressing that Falstaff represents in non-legitimate, infantile ways adult male fantasies of omnipotence, avarice, orality, and egotism, Schwartz argues that as low-life "sport" is channeled into high-minded military exploits, the drama expresses the cultural legitimation of infantile egotism.12 And Erickson's examination of male bond-ing suggests that the guilt Hal feels toward both Henry IV and Falstaff prevents the Henriad from reaching a clear resolution. Both father figures are "scapegoats who refuse to stay away."13
I see Schwartz and Erickson as beginning a movement to problematize psychoanalytically the Henriad from the perspective of a troubled masculinity, based in a flawed father-son dynamic that replicates the larger problems of patriarchy. I want to take their analyses of patriarchal relations one step further by arguing that Falstaff represents to Hal not an alternative paternal image but rather a projected fantasy of the pre-oedipal maternal whose rejection is the basis upon which patriarchal subjectivity is predicated. I see in this process of the oedipal rejection of the maternal and identification with the paternal not merely the individual psychosexuality of one character but a paradigm for the cultural construction of phallocentric subjectivity. Furthermore, through his militaristic courtship of Katharine, Hal's subjectivity is established as thoroughly phallocentric, depending upon the repression of the object of his erotic desire.
That Falstaff is figured in female terms is suggested first by his body, which is associated with the metaphors of women's bodies and carnality that Shakespeare elsewhere exploits in his denunciation of female eroticism. Physically, Falstaff is most like The Comedy of Errors' spherical, oily kitchen maid (variously referred to as Luce and Nell, who mistakenly attempts to seduce the Syracusian Dromio) and the bawdy Nurse of Romeo and Juliet, who, like Falstaff, huffs and puffs as she waddles on fat legs.14 In con-trast to the disembodied voices of Shakespeare's other fools, Falstaff's being is exceedingly corporeal; indeed, his corpulence is referred to repeatedly, invoking, in the emphasis on a swollen and distended belly, associations of pregnancy.15 In the space of three scenes,Hal calls Falstaff "fat rogue" twice, "damn'd brawn" (pig or fatted swine), "fat-kidney'd rascal," "fat-guts," "whoreson round man," "clay-brain'd guts," "emboss'd [swollen] rascal," and "my sweet beef."16 Not only fat Jack's gut but also what goes in and comes out of his body is the object of constant discussion—especially sweat and oil: Falstaff is an "oily rascal," a "greasy tallow-catch" who "sweats to death, / And lards the lean earth as he walks along."17
Such a focus on the bulging and the protuberant, the openings, permeabilities, and effusions of Falstaff's body situate him as a "grotesque body." According to Peter Stallybrass and Allon White, who reformulate Bakhtin's paradigm, early modern somatic concepts were organized into mutually exclusive iconographies of the low and high, the open and closed, the grotesque and the classical, with the grotesque body being
an image of impure corporeal bulk with its orifices (mouth, flared nostrils, anus) yawning wide and its lower regions (belly, legs, feet, buttocks and genitals) given priority over its upper regions (head, 'spirit', reason). . . . a subject of pleasure in processes of exchange . . . it is never closed off from either its social or ecosystemic context.18
When Hal calls Falstaff "gross as a mountain, open, palpable" (1HIV, 2.4.224), or "this bed-presser, this horsebackbreaker, this huge hill of flesh" (1HIV, 2.4.240-41), or a "tun of man," a "bolting-hutch of beastliness," a "swoll'n parcel of dropsies," a "huge bombard of sack," a "stuff'd cloak-bag of guts," a "Manning-tree ox with the pudding in his belly" (1HIV, 2.4.443-48), he instantiates Falstaff as a grotesque body.
The many references to Falstaff as a pig, including his self-identification as "a sow that hath overwhelm'd all her litter but one" (2HIV, 1.2.11-12), not only further locate him as a grotesque body but also create a web of associations that direct our attention to Falstaff's belly, which becomes increasingly feminized.19 When, after a scuffle with Pistol, Hostess Quickly asks Falstaff, "Are you not hurt i' th' groin? Methought 'a made a shrewd thrust at your belly" (2HIV, 2.4.207-8), she shifts the linguistic emphasis from the masculine "groin" (in danger of castration) to the more feminine "belly," the "already castrated," vulnerable recipient and receptacle of a "shrewd thrust." False-staff becomes precisely a false phallus, in inverse relation to the Freudian declaration that, upon entry into the "phallic phase" of sexual development, "the little girl is a little man."20 Falstaff himself makes the link between his belly, its "effeminacy," and his identity when, in response to the Knight Colevile's question, "Are not you Sir John Falstaff?" he replies, "I have a whole school of tongues in this belly of mine, and not a tongue of them all speaks any other word but my name. . . . My womb, my womb, my womb undoes me" (2HIV, 4.3.10, 18-22).21
I will argue soon that his womb does indeed undo him. For now, I merely mean to suggest that the associational chain from pig, sow, groin, belly, to womb effects a transposition from the grotesque body to the female reproductive body. As Bakhtin has argued, sexual as well as excremental functions form the core of the category of the "grotesque" that was operative throughout early modern culture. Although Bakhtin elides gender specificity in his work, the symbolic functioning of the bodily processes of menstruation, pregnancy, child bearing, and lactation that render women, particularly in respect to their genitals and breasts, open, protuberant, and never-quite-sealed-off, all metonymically instantiate the maternal body as "grotesque."22
Obviously, Falstaff could be analyzed as a "grotesque body" without specific reference to his maternal functions: many resonances echo between the Rabelaisian carnivalesque and Falstaff's gluttony and drunkenness, between the early modern marketplace and the East-cheap tavern.23 However, precisely because gender is repressed in Bakhtin's account, the demonstration of its salience is all the more pressing.
That the maternal was linked to the "grotesque body" in early modern societies is evidenced in part by the performance of certain pollution behaviors. The practice of "churching" women after menstruation and childbirth suggests that the products of women's sexual and reproductive bodies posed enough of a psychic threat to the social order to call for ritual purification.24 I would argue, further, that the fantasy repre-sented by the non-sexualized maternity of the Virgin Mary further manages anxieties about female reproductive corporeality. With the Reformation's institutionalized decrease in Mariolatry, the social and psychic functions the Virgin performed were left with little institutional accommodation. The symbolic complex of the "grotesque body" was one intervention in this social field, performing the psycho-social function of containing psychic phenomena perceived as threatening. The danger posed by the grotesque-body-as-maternal is the physical contamination that, by virtue of how we are born into the world—"inter urinas et faeces nascimur," to quote Freud—the maternal body represents to our psyches, socially constructed as they are through a dualistic logic of mind over matter, spirit over body, or, to invoke Simone de Beauvoir, transcendence over immanence.25 Because within our definitional categories masculinity is oppositional to femininity, Hal's development as a male subject depends not only upon separation and differentiation from a state of physical dependency and a fantasized state of psychic symbiosis but also on the exorcism of the figure responsible for and associated with that state: mother, mater, matter.26 Hal's public disavowal and humiliation of Falstaff in 2 Henry IV—"I know thee not, old man" (2HIV, 5.5.47)—suggest his need to externalize just such an intra-psychic threat.
Falstaff's rejection, like the signification of his body, is overdetermined; within the cultural paradigm of masculine rule and kingship, his transgressions are obviously dangerous. Yet, interestingly enough, Hal's statement of rejection likens his previous relationship with Falstaff to a dream, a pre-œdipal fantasy of non-differentiation of boundaries: "I have long dreamt of such a kind of man, / So surfeit-swell'd, so old, and so profane, / But, being awak'd, I do despise my dream" (2HIV, 5.5.49-51). As C. L. Barber notes, "elsewhere in Shakespeare, to dismiss dreams categorically is foolhardy."27 Part of Hal's "dream" has in-cluded such role-playing as indicated by his statement "I'll play Percy, and that damn'd brawn shall play Dame Mortimer his wife" (1HIV, 2.4.109-10). While the homoerotics of the Henriad deserve fuller treatment than I can render here, it is apparent that homoeroticism infuses the relationship of Falstaff and Hal, signalled both by Falstaff's "feminine" qualities and Hal's predominant lack of interest in women. In the above quotation, Falstaff's eroticization is based precisely on the "grotesque body" ("damn'd brawn") of the mature woman—"Dame Mortimer [my] wife." Although Falstaff portrays himself as a womanizer, his relations with neither Mistress Quickly nor Doll Tearsheet carry the erotic impress of his bond to Hal. Thus, Hal's rejection of Falstaff serves simultaneously to temporarily assuage anxieties, first, about male homoeroticism and, second, about a heterosexuality based on the equation of woman and maternity. His repudiation of Falstaff exorcises both threats to Hal's development of adult heterosexuality. When Hal charges Falstaff to "Make less thy body hence, and more thy grace; / Leave gormandizing. Know the grave doth gape / For thee thrice wider than for other men" (2HIV, 5.5.52-54), he not only pointedly situates Falstaff's grotesque body as the problem but metaphorically hurries this body off to its material end, Mother Earth's hungry maw.
Death holds specifically maternal associations for both Hal and his father. When a nobleman enters the tavern in quest of the prince, Hal retorts, "Send him back again to my mother" (1HIV, 2.4.288). Insofar as the queen, Mary de Bohun, had long been laid to rest, the editor of the Riverside Shakespeare perceptively glosses this line as "get rid of him permanently."281 Henry IV begins with the king imagining his country's recent period of war and destruction in maternal terms: "No more the thirsty entrance of this soil / Shall daub her lips with her own children's blood" (¡HIV, 1.1.5-6)—a projection of maternal destructiveness later repeated in Falstaff's description of himself as a sow that has devoured her little (2HIV, 1.2.11-12).29
That Hal is disturbed by precisely such associations between the "grotesque" maternal body and potential death is made evident by the language in which he voices his aspirations. He envisions his redemption in the eyes of men as a separation from "the base contagious clouds" that "smother up his beauty from the world." His maturity, identity, and freedom will be achieved by "breaking through the foul and ugly mists / Of vapors that did seem to strangle him" (1HIV,1.2.192-97). Such suffocation anxiety takes on the configuration of a bloody birth fantasy during his later repetition of this vow. He tells his father:
I will redeem all this on Percy's head, And in the closing of some glorious day Be bold to tell you that I am your son, When I will wear a garment all of blood And stain my favors in a bloody mask, Which, wash'd away, shall scour my shame with it.
The vapors that threatened to strangle him in the enclosure of the womb become the blood of birth that, when washed away, will scour off the filth of his maternal associations. Cleansed in a battle both martial and natal, the new-born babe will become simultaneously his father's son and his nation's hero.
Hal's escape from maternal suffocation, from threatened retention in the world of the mother—and thus a reenactment of Elizabethan boys' "breeching"—is predicated upon his assumption of martial arms and engagement in fraternal rivalry with a brother-surrogate, Hotspur.30 Hotspur early provides both the opposition between femininity and militarism, and the equation of sexuality to violence, that will later designate Hal's assumption of the masculine role. As Hotspur says upon leaving his wife for battle: "This is no world / To play with mammets and to tilt with lips. / We must have bloody noses and crack'd crowns" (1HIV, 2.3.90-92). That "this" is not a time to "tilt with lips" implies that there is a time for amorous caresses—but those caresses are themselves imaged in violent terms.31
As if to underscore this relation between militarism and male maturity, 2 Henry IV begins with the official separation of Falstaff from Hal on martial orders of the king; Falstaff is to join Hal's younger brother, John of Lancaster, while the Prince of Wales asserts himself independently in battle. When the Lord Chief Justice comments to Falstaff, "the King hath sever'd you" (2HIV, 1.2.201), he incisively indicates the necessity for the newly minted soldier-prince to renounce the maternal in favor of the Name-of-the-Father. That the motivation for such identification is based precisely on a connection between aggression and masculinity is clarified by Nancy Chodorow: "A boy gives up his mother in order to avoid punishment, but identifies with his father because he can then gain the benefits of being the one who gives punishment, of being masculine and superior."32 Ironically, it is Falstaff's repeated use of the term "prick" to denote the selection of commoners for battle that enforces a chain of signification between military conscription, sharp weaponry, and the male sex organ (2HIV, 3.2).33
By the beginning of Henry V, the violence of war has thoroughly permeated male subjectivity and sexuality. Both on the military front and in the French court, Henry V's language demonstrates the extent to which the phallus and military might are mutually constitutive. Henry V threatens the citizens of Harfleur with phallic violence: "What is 't to me . . . ," he says, "If your pure maidens fall into the hand / Of hot and forcing violation?" (HV, 3.3.19-21). Besieging a city is imagined as rape (HV, 3.3.7-35), just as the object of Henry V's desire, Katharine, is likened by her father to a city "all girdled with maiden walls that war hath never ent'red" (HV, 5.2.321-22).
With the conquest of France, the time is right for Henry, if not Hotspur, to "play with mammets and to tilt with lips." The achieved heterosexualization of Henry is a "triumph" that is perversely fulfilled by his inability to woo Katharine except through military metaphors. Henry himself is aware of his inadequacies as a lover; he remarks,
If I could win a lady at leap-frog, or by vaulting into my saddle with my armor on my back, . . . I should quickly leap into a wife. Or if I might buffet [box] for my love, or bound my horse for her favors, I could lay on like a butcher and sit like a jackanapes, never off.
As Peter Erickson notes, Henry's
"speaking plain soldier" (5.2.149) causes him to portray sexuality as a form of military aggression and conquest. Phrases like "I love thee cruelly" and "I get thee with scambling" [fighting] (202-3, 204-5) contain ironies the king cannot control.34
Henry is, in his own words, "a soldier, / A name that in my thoughts becomes me best" (HV, 3.3.5-6).
The military dimension of Henry's sexuality is paralleled by his linguistic domination of Katharine. When he asks her to "teach a soldier terms / Such as will enter at a lady's ear" (HV, 5.2.99-100), his subsequent behavior attests that the linguistic emphasis is more on penetration than on the acquisition of a new language. As Henry says, "It is as easy for me, Kate, to conquer the kingdom as to speak so much more French" (5.2.185-87). Like Lady Mortimer, who speaks only Welsh and thus relies on her father, Glendower, to translate even marital endearments, Katharine's linguistic status positions woman as a foreign language. It is she who must give up her native tongue—a French language and nationality that throughout the play are associated with the despised "effeminacy" of French nobles—for the "plain soldier" language and nationality of "Harry of England" (5.2.238, 280).
Thus far my analysis has suggested that insofar as Katharine is the object of Henry's discourse, Henry's subjectivity and sexuality are predicated upon his repression of Katharine's linguistic power. But what of Katharine as the subject of her own discourse? In the scene between Katharine and her lady-in-waiting (HV,3.4), in which Katharine not only learns English but metaphorically dismembers it—"d' hand, de fingre, de nailes, de arm, d'elbow, de nick, de sin, de foot, le count" (11. 56-57)—we encounter a Katharine who skillfully engages in linguistic play.35 Indeed, in this private scene between two women, Katharine takes control of the specifically sexual aspects of language; while asserting that "O Seigneur Dieu! Ils sont les mots de son mauvais, corruptable, gros, et impudique, et non pour les dames d' honneur d'user" (11. 50-52), Katharine nonetheless continues to recite "une autre fois" her "leçon ensemble," including the offending "de foot and le count" (11. 54-57). Insofar as this female appropriation of the sexual body directly follows Henry's threats of rape to the virgins of Harfleur, we are, I think, encouraged to see Katharine as temporarily escaping the play's overwhelmingly male representation of the proper role of female sexuality.
Despite her appropriation of linguistic and sexual power, however, Katharine fails to maintain such control once in the presence of Henry V. During the "wooing scene," her language is reduced to twenty-four short lines of maidenly embarrassment and deference compared to Henry's one-hundred-and-fifty lines of vigorous self-presentation. Listen to the tenor of her response to Henry's kissing of her hand, her longest speech (I follow the Bevington translation of her French): "don't my lord, don't, don't; by my faith, I do not wish [you] to lower your greatness by kissing the hand of an—Our dear Lord!—unworthy servant; excuse me, I beg you, my most powerful lord" (HV,5.2.254-58 n.). Katharine's predicament is structural; whatever her individual power, it is subsumed by her ideological, political, and economic function in the systematic exchange of women between men.36 As Katharine says, when Henry asks if she will have him: "Dat is as it sall please de roi mon père" (HV,5.2.248).
That nationality in Henry V is gender-marked is often noted. Less obvious is that women's bodies are figured as territory: when Henry describes Katharine as "our capital demand, compris'd / Within the fore-rank of our articles" (HV, 5.2.96-97), not only does the giving of her body symbolize the capitulation of French territory; her body becomes that territory. Once married to the masculine kingdom of England, the subservient state of France embodied by Katharine will be partially enclosed, its watery borders policed by British soldiers. At the same time, Falstaff's body, that unruly "globe of sinful continents" (2HIV, 2.4.284), is tamed and appropriated through its transfiguration into a more manageable "state."37
The symbolic substitution of Falstaff by Katharine thus effects a strategic displacement and containment, as the debased maternal is replaced with an idealized woman, the "classical body," which, as Stallybrass and White note, is "elevated, static, and monumental. . . . [with] no openings or orifices."38 Katharine's virginal body, while presumably to be used for reproductive purposes, is yet in Henry V's fantasies free of implication in maternal bodily exchanges. As "fair Katharine" (HV, 5.2.104), "dear Kate" (1. 154), "gentle Princess" (1. 203), "queen of all" (1. 246), "an angel" (1. 110), "my fair flower-de-luce" (11. 210-11), Katharine is positioned, in the space of one hundred lines, as far as possible from the "grotesque" maternal body.
Such a replacement of the "grotesque body" by the idealized "classical body" is, however, an ambivalent and troubling resolution; for although Hal's psychic anxiety is transcoded into erotic desire, the "classical" and the "grotesque" are two sides of the same coin, arising from the same cultural/psychic complex. Because of our dualistic system of thought, all women, regardless of their individual maternal status, are implicated in male fantasies of maternal omnipotence, nurturance, engulfment, and betrayal. To the extent that they are gendered, both the "grotesque" and the "classical" body are masculine projections—one, an anxious debasement, the other, a defensive idealization of the physical body from which we are born and to which, in the Shakespearean (and Freudian) equation of womb and tomb, we return.39
. . . . .
The Henriad's fantasies and anxieties about women revolve, not like Othello and Hamlet, around the virgin and the whore, but, like Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and King Lear, around the virgin and the mother.40 Despite this distinction, it is clear that widely diffused anxieties about female sexuality (the virgin and the whore) and female reproduction (the virgin and the mother) articulated in Shakespeare's texts are mediated through fantasies of the grotesque body. Whores, like mothers, are agents of contamination—syphilitic, polluted, and corrosive. With the possible exception of Cleopatra, nowhere in Shakespearean drama does one meet the equivalent of the French or Italian courtesan—educated, politic, and refined—suggesting that the construction of female sexuality in Shakespeare's plays was always already preempted by fantasies and fears of the reproductive body.41
One of the unfortunate legacies of this conflation of sexuality and reproduction is the contemporary critical impulse to collapse the whole of female subjectivity into a maternal position defined by nurturance, fecundity, and non-differentiated access to the language of the body. This "resorption of femininity within the Maternal," in the words of Julia Kristeva,42 while an attempt to re-value traditional female activi-ties, obscures the psychic pain and violence of infants' early object-relations, as well as the autonomous desires of mothers; it limits women's right to choose not to bear children or to structure their involvement with children in alternative ways. Reversing the value accorded to the maternal position simply reenacts the same problematic from the side of idealization rather than debasement.
Recently, the "missing mother" has come into focus in Shakespearean criticism.43 On the surface, at least,mothers seem to be expendable in Shakespeare's drama in a way fathers are not. And yet, despite her seeming erasure, the maternal figure often returns: the more benign "resurrections" of the Abbess in The Comedy of Errors, of Thaisa in Pericles, and of Hermione in The Winter's Tale only serve to offset the anxiety embodied in other maternal returns; as Sycorax in The Tempest and the witches in Macbeth suggest, maternal erasures can also reproduce maternity in a monstrous, "grotesque" guise. Even Falstaff, resurrected in The Merry Wives of Windsor (according to legend, at Queen Elizabeth's behest), turns out to be unkillable. The desire to bypass the maternal, then, seems to be a doomed project; if anything, these texts demonstrate the inevitable return of the repressed—oftentimes with a vengeance.
And yet, the negation of the maternal body continues in our own cultural milieu, albeit in modified forms. One of the principal propagations of this erasure is that of psychoanalysis itself. Volumes such as The (M)other Tongue and In Dora's Case show psychoanalysis to be, like the male subject, constituted on the basis of the repression of the maternal. As Garner, Kahane, and Sprengnether write:
Psychoanalysis, whether it posits in the beginning maternal presence or absence, has yet to develop a story of the mother as other than the object of the infant's desire or the matrix from which he or she develops an infant subjectivity. The mother herself as speaking subject, as author, is missing from these dramas.44
More recently, Sprengnether has argued that part of the problem is that psychoanalysis continues to relegate maternity to some place prior to and outside of culture.45 By refusing to locate maternal functions within a cultural sphere, both object-relations and Lacanian analysis fail to transform the status of maternity.
I would add that the psychoanalytic figuration of the maternal is curiously devoid of corporeality: Lacan reduces the maternal to a position taken in reference to the Law. In contrast, Shakespearean drama suggests just how thoroughly the maternal can be saturated with specific bodily attributes. If Shakespeare persistently records the horror of an omnipresent maternal materiality, Lacan just as assiduously denies the maternal as a body. Denial and hyperbole are equally defensive reactions to a female biology that cannot be escaped, but whose meanings are open to renegotiation.
As a beginning of that renegotiation, the question to pose to both the Henriad and psychoanalysis is not who is the appropriate parent—the harsh, guilt-provoking father who administrates sexual difference through his Law, or the easy, libidinally free mother who signifies both nurturance and suffocation—as if, like judges in a custody battle, we are bent on determining which parent represents the best interests of the child. I am not advocating Falstaff as Woman of the Year, Mom of the Month, or Queen for a Day, nor do I mean to idealize his obvious faults: his greed, his egotism, his manipulation of others. Rather, what is at issue in both the Shakespearean and psychoanalytic dramas is why the parent who is rejected, metaphorically killed, is figured in the iconography of the female body, and why the mature heterosexuality of the male subject—the Henriad's "star of England" (HV,5.Epi.6)—depends upon this repudiation.46
Psychoanalysis tells us that the mother is rejected in the "normal" course of individuation, the alternative being to remain neurotically attached to or dominated by her. But surely this narrative of the individuation process is to some extent suspect. As Chodorow writes:
It is possible to be separate, to be differentiated, without caring about or emphasizing difference, without turning the cognitive fact into an emotional, moral, or political one. In fact, assimilating difference to differentiation is defensive and reactive, a reaction to not feeling separate enough.47
Perhaps, in its emphasis on the excessive, overwhelm-ing, engulfing mother, psychoanalysis exposes its own paranoia that, were it not for the decisive entrance of the father, the contiguity of the pre-oedipal period would seductively go on and on. What such a suspicion disguises is the belief that women are incapable of defining, enforcing, and representing cultural exigencies. I suspect that this relegation of women to a space and time prior to culture is both a defensive denial of the cultural work that mothers perform daily, as well as a masking of the longing to live outside of the imperatives of the symbolic in an endless and seamless "semiotic."48
To my mind, neither rigid adherence to the symbolic nor immersion in the semiotic are viable alternatives. Given that our dualistic paradigm is created by humans with some measure of agency; given that the unconscious is not a transhistorical essence but is itself culturally constructed; and, given that women are no longer the sole nurturers of infants and can even embody the external "third term" to an infantnurturer dyad, perhaps the time is right for a refiguration of the maternal.
The primary difficulty in locating the maternal body more precisely may be that any discussion of the "preoedipal" can only with difficulty be divorced from our own adult fantasies and fears. Our understanding of that period is retrospective as we follow a trajectory back through our own childhoods. Thus, it always involves the risk of nostalgia, of the projection of our unmet early needs.
For that reason any refiguring of the maternal must give priority to the lived experience of "real women"—the ones who predominantly carry out the demanding, crucial, if still devalued work of caring for children. Such a refiguration would begin with the refusal to conflate the maternal and the pre-oedipal, recognizing that maternal desires precede and continue long after the pre-oedipal dyad is dissolved, as does the work of mothers. As long as the actual experiences of mothering are ignored or, alternatively, mystified and idealized, the maternal will be vulnerable to the logic of the replacement of the "grotesque" by the "classical" body. Such a refiguration would not necessarily alter the disunification of all subjects in language—the replacement of the phallus as signifier of substitutive desire would not change the fact that all desire remains "a shadow pantomime of the primordial drama of Desire"49—but it would detach the pain of loss from real mothers, real women.
Additionally, it seems crucial to recognize that the maternal body is a nexus of ambivalence and radical instability: representative simultaneously of lack and excess, nurturance and betrayal, it encompasses the most basic poles of positivity and negativity within which our individual subjectivities are formed. Because it inhabits both realms, the semiotic and the symbolic, the maternal is a potentially privileged position from which to interrogate precisely the binarisms that constitute our apprehension of "reality." Indeed, the experience of mothers suggests that it is possible to negotiate between various cultural necessities—the Imaginary, the Symbolic, the Real—without forming allegiances or hierarchizing value. By conceptually placing the maternal body within culture—demanding women's full participation within the symbolic while refusing the seductive logic of a "masculinity-for-women"—we will be in a better position to refuse the gendered arbitrations that divide the pre-oedipal from the oedipal, the Imaginary from the Symbolic, mothering from fathering.
. . . . .
In the Henriad, subjectivity, gender, and sexuality are inseparable. For Prince Hal, subjectivity is imaginable only in gendered terms: to be a person is to be his father's son, which is to be his father's heir, which is to be a soldier, which is to be a king whose gender identification is maintained by the homosocial exchange of women in heterosexual marriage. As Henry V says to Katharine: "If thou would have such a one, take me. And take me, take a soldier; take a soldier, take a king" (5.2.166-68). And just as subjectivity is meaningful largely in terms of gender, so too is sexuality. To be masculine in Henry's world is to be the active subject of a sexualized violence and a violent sexuality. It is never clear which is cause and which effect: does the fantasized maternal produce a "grotesque" sexuality, or does a particular construction of sexuality trigger a fantasy of the grotesque maternal?
The unanswerability of these questions within the logic of the Henriad—the circuitous interdependency of subjectivity, sexuality, and gender—is, I believe, one of the most powerful legacies of Shakespeare's histories and tragedies, and is one reason why Shakespeare's plays so often seem a preview to the works of Freud. Both authors tend to view gender as a totalization that subsumes whatever it touches. Most recently, the psychoanalytic infatuation with "desire," referring simultaneously to subjectivity, sexuality, and gender, replicates this totalizing impulse—as if, because gender and subjectivity are constituted contemporaneously, they are identical, as if sexuality were reducible to gender roles. Interestingly enough, it is the difference between sexuality and gender that Shakespearean comedy explores—but that is the subject of another essay.50
It would hardly be fitting to finish this discussion of the maternal in the Henriad without mentioning the two other mothers to whom its fantasy of repression is implicitly addressed. Henry of Monmouth's mother, Mary de Bohun, conveniently died in 1394 when the prince was seven or eight, thus doing her part to insure the relative absence of women in Shakespeare's histories.
The other maternal figure was not so obliging. Indeed, it is not, I think, fortuitous that the Henriad's phallocentric representation of power and the corresponding repression of women were staged at the moment when the most powerful person in the country, Queen Elizabeth, a woman, was in her sixties, having given birth to no heir.51 As the repeated interest in and intrigues surrounding Elizabeth's marriageability attest, hers was not only the body upon which power was annointed, but the body over which power was contested. To the extent that the Henriad limits the reign of power to the male subject, its compensatory function is complicated, doubling back upon itself in a negation of the Virgin Queen. Present in Henry V only as "our gracious Empress," Elizabeth I is supplanted by Henry V who, in his treatment of Katharine, decisively reverses Essex's subordinate position.52
And yet, Elizabeth herself was not contained by such textual strategies. Indeed, as Louis Adrian Montrose has noted, her astute manipulation of virginal, phallic, maternal, and paternal metaphors transformed "the political liability of her gender to advantage for nearly half a century."53 Elizabeth's own instantiation of the classical body—a secular Virgin Mary married to the Kingdom of England—allowed her to invest "her maternity in her political rather than in her natural body," while her adoption of the identities of Prince, Husband, and Shepherd underscored the particularly phallic pretensions of her power.54 As an aging, "gro-tesque" body, and as the "virginal mother" to whom the Henriad's fantasy of repression is indirectly addressed, Queen Elizabeth acts simultaneously as source of male anxiety and model for its compensatory mediation. Indeed, her manipulation of gender and sexual ideologies shares with Shakespeare, Freud, and Lacan the pervasive circularity of phallocentric representation: not only is power constitutive of gender and sexuality, but so too are gender and sexuality constitutive of power.
In conclusion, phallocentric culture is neither monolithic nor impregnable, in part because it stages its own necessary exclusions—the Others, in diacritical opposition to whom its own identity is constructed. Those Others are also historical actors who, like Queen Elizabeth and no doubt countless other early modern women, found their own space of power within a determinate field of constraints. Both Falstaff and Katharine are constructed as female Others who must be repudiated or subjugated in order for Prince Hal to assume phallocentric control as King Henry V. But, to the extent that their exclusions are enacted, Falstaff and Katharine suggest ways in which the phallocentric order might be undermined. I am arguing, then, not for Shakespeare as proto-feminist or the Henriad as herstory but rather for a recognition of the return of the repressed in the act of psychoanalyzing psychoanalysis and the Shakespearean text.
I would especially like to thank Brenda Marshall, Abbe Blum, Peter Stallybrass, Carol Batker, Murray Schwartz, Peter Erickson, Lee Edwards, and Arthur Kinney for their help in revising this essay.
1 Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, trans. Hélène Iswolsky (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1984). By "repression" I refer primarily to the psychic mechanisms operating not within character but within the text itself, whether that text is Shakespeare's, Bakhtin's, Freud's, or Lacan's. Through this broader, more diffuse focus on repression, I hope to move beyond a purely characterological reading toward a rendering of the ways characters are constructed and positioned in discourse.
2 See Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriagein England 1500-1800 (New York, Hagerstown, San Francisco, London: Harper and Row, 1977); Stephen Orgel, "Nobody's Perfect: Or Why Did the English Take Boys for Women?" South Atlantic Quarterly, 88 (1989), 7-29; Thomas Laqueur, "Orgasm, Generation, and the Politics of the Reproductive Body," Representations, 14 (1986), 1-41. One of the salient differences between sixteenth-century child-rearing practices and those that have dominated the twentieth century is the Renaissance reliance on wet-nursing: infants of the upper and to some extent the middle classes were farmed out to working-class households for the first twelve to eighteen months of life. This initial disruption and the continuing separation of the "breast" from the biological and socially legitimated "mother" probably resulted in increased anxiety over separation, ambivalence towards the biological "mother" upon reunification, and ambivalent class identifications. And, for both groups of children—those who were wet-nursed and those whose own "mothers" were responsible for other children—one would expect increased competition for nurturance.
Children of all classes and of both genders were kept in an almost exclusively female world, wearing skirt-like dress. At the age of seven or so, boys were "breeched," or put into the pants of manhood. From then on, masculinity and femininity were ideologically constructed as both oppositional and hierarchical; in particular, femininity was seen as dangerous to the male. Unlike our own age, in which heterosexual desire is the mark of masculinity, for the Renaissance male, lust was seen as effeminating. In an attempt to explain this divergence, Stephen Orgel looks to contemporary medical literature which, as Thomas Laqueur has argued, conceived of males and females as structurally inverted: both genders originate as female, with the greater presence of "heat" in the male forcing outward that which lies hidden in the interior folds of the female—hence, male genitalia. This biological paradigm leads to the fantasy of a reverse teleology, in which men can be turned back into women.
3 I am indebted to Peter Stallybrass for this particular turn of phrase.
4 Important exceptions to this trend are Phyllis Rackin,"Anti-Historians: Women's Roles in Shakespeare's Histories," Theatre Journal, 37 (1985), 329-44, and Linda Bamber, Comic Women, Tragic Men: A Study of Gender and Genre in Shakespeare (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1982). Marilyn French (Shakespeare's Division of Experience [New York: Summit, 1981]) and Irene G. Dash (Wooing, Wedding, and Power: Women in Shakespeare's Plays [New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1981]) examine the Henry VI trilogy but not the Henriad. Coppélla Kahn (Man's Estate: Masculine Identity in Shakespeare [Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: Univ. of California Press, 1981]), Peter Erickson (Patriarchal Structures in Shakespeare's Drama [Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: Univ. of California Press, 1985]), and David Sundelson (Shakespeare's Restorations of the Father [New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1983]) all include chapters on the development of male subjectivity through the reproduction of male bonds in the histories, but they do not focus specifically on the role of women. Marianne Novy (Love's Argument: Gender Relations in Shakespeare [Chapel Hill and London: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1984]), Carol Thomas Neely (Broken Nuptials in Shakespeare's Plays [New Haven and London: Yale Univ. Press, 1985]), Kay Stockholder (Dream Works: Lovers and Families in Shakespeare's Plays [Toronto, Buffalo, and London: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1987]), W. Thomas MacCary (Friends and Lovers: The Phenomenology of Desire in Shakespearean Comedy [New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1985]), and the essays in Representing Shakespeare (eds. Murray M. Schwartz and Coppélia Kahn [Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1980]) all focus on plays other than the histories.
5 Carol Thomas Neely, "Constructing the Subject: Femi-nist Practice and the New Renaissance Discourses," ELR, 18 (1988), 5-18.
6 For the "rehearsal" of culture, see Steven Mullaney, The Place of the Stage: License, Play, and Power in Renaissance England (Chicago and London: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1988).
7 Jacques Lacan, "The Signification of the phallus," Écrits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York and London: W. W. Norton, 1977), pp. 281-91, and Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the école freudienne, eds. Juliet Mitchell and Jacqueline Rose (London: Macmillan, 1985). See also Ellie Ragland-Sullivan, "'Beyond the Phallus?' The Question of Gender Identity," Jacques Lacan and the Philosophy of Psychoanalysis (Urbana and Chicago: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1986), pp. 267-308, and Anika Lemaire, Jacques Lacan, trans. David Macey (Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1977).
8 Shirley Nelson Garner, Claire Kahane, and Madelon Sprengnether, The (M)other Tongue: Essays in Feminist Psychoanalytic Interpretation (Ithaca, N.Y., and London: Cornell Univ. Press, 1985), p. 21.
9The Daughter's Seduction (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press, 1982), p. 97.
10 Such a subjugation of gender categories under the rubrics of "identity" and "power" occurs in the recent Shakespeare criticism of Jonathan Goldberg, "Shakespearean inscriptions: the voicing of power," and Joel Fineman, "The turn of the shrew," both in Shakespeare and the Question of Theory, eds. Patricia Parker and Geoffrey Hartman (New York and London: Methuen, 1985), pp. 116-37 and 138-59, as well as in Stephen Greenblatt's "Fiction and Friction," Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1988), pp. 66-93. For a critique of this subjugation, see Neely, "Constructing the Subject"; Lynda E. Boose, "The Family in Shakespeare Studies; or—Studies in the Family of Shakespeareans; or—The Politics of Politics," Renaissance Quarterly, 40 (1987), 707-42; Peter Erickson, "Rewriting the Renaissance, Rewriting Ourselves," Shakespeare Quarterly, 38 (1987), 327-37; Marguerite Waller, "Academic Tootsie: The Denial of Difference and the Difference it Makes," Diacritics, 17 (1987), 2-20; and Judith Newton, "History as Usual? Feminism and the 'New Historicism,'" Cultural Critique (1988), 87-121.
11 "Prince Hal's Conflict," Psychoanalytic Explorations in Art (New York: International Univs. Press, 1952), pp. 273-88.
12 Schwartz, discussion at the University of Massachu-setts, Amherst (1986).
13 Erickson, Patriarchal Structures, p. 46.
14The Comedy of Errors (3.2.81-153) and Romeo andJuliet (2.5.29-52). All quotations from Shakespeare refer to The Complete Works of Shakespeare, 3rd ed., David Bevington, ed. (Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman, 1980) and hereafter will be cited parenthetically in the text.
15 At least four other critics have noted Falstaff's "femininity." In "The Prince's Dog," W. H. Auden notes that a fat man "looks like a cross between a very young child and a pregnant mother . . . fatness in the male is the physical expression of a psychological wish to withdraw from sexual competition and, by combining mother and child in his own person, to become emotionally self-sufficient" (The Dyer's Hand and other essays [New York: Random House, 1962], pp. 195-96). In Man's Estate, Kahn credits Falstaff with a "curiously feminine sensual abundance" and goes on to remark that "a fat man can look like a pregnant woman, and Falstaff's fatness is fecund; it spawns symbols." However, Kahn sees in Falstaff mainly an "avoidance of sexual maturity," a "wish to bypass women" (pp. 72-73). Kahn refers to a talk by Sherman Hawkins, "Falstaff as Mom," given at the 1977 MLA Annual Meeting, but Hawkins's article has not, as far as I know, appeared in print. More recently, Patricia Parker includes Falstaff as one of the literary fat ladies in her book of that title (Literary Fat Ladies [London and New York: Methuen, 1987]). In a brilliantly "dilated" argument about the link between gender and the denial of textual closure, she sees Falstaff's corpulence as embodying Prince Hal's delay in "reformation" (pp. 20-22).
161 Henry IV, 2.2.110, 2.4.540, 2.4.109, 2.2.5, 2.2.30, 2.4.138, 2.4.224-25, 3.3.158, 3.3.177.
171 Henry IV, 2.4.521, 2.4.226, 2.2.197-98. Accord-ing to Dover Wilson, in Renaissance usage the word "tallow" referred to "liquid fat, as well as dripping or suet or animal fat rendered down . . . [H]uman sweat, partly owing perhaps to the similarity of the word to 'suet', was likewise thought of as fat, melted by the heat of the body" (The Fortunes of Falstaff [New York: Macmillan, 1944], p. 28).
18The Politics and Poetics of Transgression (Ithaca,N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press, 1986), pp. 9 and 22. In his essay "Patriarchal Territories: The Body Enclosed" (Rewriting the Renaissance, eds. Margaret W. Ferguson, Maureen Quilligan, and Nancy J. Vickers [Chicago and London: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1986], pp. 123-42), Stallybrass suggests that the dominant Renaissance ideology constructed "woman's body" as "naturally 'grotesque'" (p. 126); he ends his essay with a "validation of the female grotesque" (p. 142). In "Female Grotesques: Carnival and Theory" (Feminist Studies/Critical Studies, ed. Teresa de Lauretis [Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1986], pp. 213-29), Mary Russo delineates the difficulties involved in such a validation. And, in an essay that complements mine, Gail Kern Paster deciphers blood as a trope of gender in a reformulation of the Bakhtinian "grotesque." See "'In the spirit of men there is no blood': Blood as Trope of Gender in Julius Caesar," SQ, 40 (1989) 284-98.
19 Falstaff is also referred to as "blown Jack" (1HIV,4.2.48), "brawn" [fatted swine] (1HIV, 2.4.109; 2HIV,1.1.19), "martlemas" [fatted ox killed at Martinmas] (2HIV, 2.2.96), "old boar" (2HIV, 2.2.138), and "Bartholomew boar-pig" [roast succulent pig] (2HIV, 2.4.228-29).
20 Sigmund Freud, "Femininity," New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, ed. James Strachey (New York: W. W. Norton, 1965), pp. 112-35, esp. p. 118.
21 In "Language, linguistics and the study of litera-ture" (Tracking the Signifier: Theoretical essays: film, linguistics, literature [Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1985], pp. 113-30), Colin MacCabe informs us that "The verb to womb, meaning to enclose an empty space, gave rise to a series of nominal derivations which included both the sexually unspecific stomach as well as the meaning of uterus that is current today. It is crucial to a reading of the role of Falstaff to recognise that both meanings were available at the end of the sixteenth century and we should not be surprised at Falstaff's consequent sexual ambiguity, particularly in the context of a claim about the disruption of the normal order of language. . . . [S]uch a figure should undermine even the possibility of representing sexual difference. Falstaff's body constitutes a polymorphously perverse threat to the possibility of representation. It even claims to undo the arbitrary and social nature of the sign and to speak its own name independently of any social order of language" (pp. 116-17). Ivy Schweitzer also suggested to me that Falstaff's linguistic style exhibits "maternal syntax" or the "semiotic" as described by Julia Kristeva.
22 Two references that specifically link mothers with the excretion of tears are 1HIV, 2.4.388-91, and HV,4.6.29-32.
23 Falstaffs genealogical forebears in stage Devils, Vices, and Iniquity further position him as "grotesque."
24 I am indebted to Stephen Greenblatt for bringing my attention to "churching" ("Martial Law and the Land of Cockaigne," Shakespearean Negotiations, pp. 129-63).
25 Sigmund Freud, Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria, ed. Philip Rieff (New York: Collier Books, 1963), p. 47, and "The Most Prevalent Form of Degradation in Erotic Life," Sexuality and the Psychology of Love, ed. Philip Rieff (New York: Collier Books, 1963), p. 69. See also Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (New York: Vintage Books, 1952).
26 I have learned much from Janet Adelman's analyses of the maternal in Shakespearean drama; see especially "'Born of Woman': Fantasies of Maternal Power in Macbeth" in Cannibals, Witches, and Divorce: Estranging the Renaissance, ed. Marjorie Garber (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1987), pp. 90-121, and "'This Is and Is Not Cressid': The Characterization of Cressida" in The (M)other Tongue, pp. 119-41. I am also indebted to the work of Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born (New York: Norton, 1976), Dorothy Dinnerstein, The Mermaid and the Minotaur (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), and Nancy Chodorow, The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of Gender (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: Univ. of California Press, 1978). My thinking about the ways in which masculinity for Shakespeare's heroes entails a defensive denial of the female has also been influenced by Madelon Gohlke (Sprengnether), "'I wooed thee with my sword': Shakespeare's Tragic Paradigms," in The Woman's Part, eds. Carolyn Ruth Swift Lenz, Gayle Greene, and Carol Thomas Neely (Urbana, Chicago, and London: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1980), pp. 150-70, and Susan Bordo, "The Cartesian Masculinization of Thought," Signs, 11 (1986), 439-56.
27Shakespeare's Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and its Relation to Social Custom (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1959), p. 219.
28The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974).
29 Compare these and the following images of mater-nal destruction to those concerning Richard III in 3 Henry VI (3.3.168-81), and Macduff, Malcolm, and Macbeth in Macbeth. See Adelman, "'Born of woman,'" pp. 92-93, 100, and 107.
30 See Joel Fineman, "Fratricide and Cuckoldry: Shake-speare's Doubles" in Representing Shakespeare, pp. 70-109.
31 The OED defines "tilt" (1511) as "a combat or en-counter (for exercise or sport) between two armed men on horseback, with lances or similar weapons, the aim of each being to throw his opponent from the saddle." Bevington glosses "mammets" as "dolls, or else, breasts."
32 Chodorow, The Reproduction of Mothering, p. 113.
33 The OED defines "prick" as "penis" (1592). Its ear-lier definitions are "pointed weapon, esp. dagger or sword" (1552); and "to select (persons) . . . to appoint, choose, pick out" (1557).
34 Erickson, Patriarchal Structures, p. 60.
35 I am indebted to Lynda Boose for insisting on view-ing Katharine as a subject in her own right. However, I am aware that one can both laugh with Katharine and at her at the same time, depending on inflection and how the scene is played. Thus, as Peter Erickson pointed out to me, Shakespeare seems to have it both ways through the juxtaposition of Henry's Harfleur speech (3.3) and Katharine's tutorial (3.4): he detaches himself from Henry without going over unequivocally to Katharine's side.
36 For an analysis of the homosocial exchange of women in Shakespearean drama, see Karen Newman, "Portia's Ring: Unruly Women and Structures of Exchange in The Merchant of Venice," SQ, 38 (1987), 19-33. See also Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1985), and Gayle Rubin, "The Traffic in Women: Notes on the 'Political Economy' of Sex," Toward an Anthropology of Women, ed. Rayna R. Reiter (New York and London: Monthly Review Press, 1975), pp. 157-210.
37 Women's bodies figure territory in other of Shake-speare's plays; notably, Falstaff's counterpart in The Comedy of Errors, Nell, is imagined as a monstrous globe. "She is spherical, like a globe. I could find out countries in her," Dromio says, proceeding to enumerate the Western European nations embodied in her abundant flesh and foul breath (3.2.114-15). Comic though this treatment is (supposed to be), it was given a more serious precedent in the Ditchley portrait of Queen Elizabeth standing firm atop a map of England. See Roy Strong, Portraits of Queen Elizabeth (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963), pp. 75-76 and plate XV.
38 pp. 21-22.
39 See Romeo and Juliet, 2.3.9-14, and Freud, "The Theme of the Three Caskets" in Vol. 7 of The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. James Strachey.
40 See Valerie Traub, "Jewels, Statues, and Corpses: Containment of Female Erotic Power in Shakespeare's Plays," Shakespeare Studies, XX (1988), 215-38.
41 Although Othello's Bianca is technically a courtesan, she is treated as a "common whore" by the other characters. For an analysis of the courtesan, see Ann Rosalind Jones's essay on Louise Labé, "City Women and Their Audiences: Louise Labé and Veronica Franco," in Rewriting the Renaissance, pp. 299-316. For prostitution in Italy, see Guido Ruggiero, The Boundaries of Eros: Sex Crime and Sexuality in Renaissance Venice (New York and Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1985).
42 "Stabat mater," TheKristeva Reader, ed. Toril Moi (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1986), pp. 160-86, esp. p. 163.
43 See, for instance, Coppélla Kahn, "The Absent Mother in King Lear," and Stephen Orgel, "Prospero's Wife," both in Rewriting the Renaissance, pp. 33-64.
44 Garner, Kahane, and Sprengnether, p. 25. See also In Dora's Case, ed. Charles Bernheimer and Claire Kahane (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1985). In an MLA presentation (San Francisco, 1987) Margaret Homans provocatively suggested that the repudiation of the maternal body is replicated in the repressions of critical theory itself.
45 Sprengnether, "Terminating Mothering: Lady Mac-beth and Other Aliens," Shakespeare Association of America, April, 1989, Austin, TX.
46 For the critics' view of Henry V as Britain's hero, see, for instance, Maynard Mack's Introduction to the Signet Classic edition of 1 Henry IV, where Henry is called "an ideal image of the potentialities of the English character." Dover Wilson says Henry "represents the ideal king, whether leader or governor, in Elizabethan eyes" (p. 62). Moody Prior calls Henry a "near-perfect epic hero" in The Drama of Power: Studies in Shakespeare's History Plays (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern Univ. Press, 1973), p. 272.
47 Chodorow, "Gender, Relation, and Difference in Psychoanalytic Perspective," The Future of Difference, eds. Hester Eisenstein and Alice Jardine (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980), p. 8.
48 I am using "semiotic" here in the Kristevan sense.
49 Ragland-Sullivan, p. 271. I am most indebted to her discussion of transforming the symbolic, pp. 288-305. She suggests that the problem "has to do with a maternal linkage . . . of mother and female infant experience of loss and Castration during the first two years of life" (pp. 280-81). She advocates either changing "the gender of the primary source of nurture and identification . . . or chang[ing] the unconscious Desire of mothers who, by accepting their femininity at all, support a system of phallic values" (pp. 298-99).
50 I explore those differences in "Differential Desires: The Relation Between Gender and Sexuality" and "The Homoerotics of Shakespearean Comedy," both chapters of my dissertation.
51 For a discussion of the cultural response to the prob-lem of Elizabeth's succession, see Leonard Tennenhouse, Power on Display: The politics of Shakespeare's genres (New York and London: Methuen, 1986), pp. 85-86.
52 Prologue to Act 5, 1. 30. I am indebted to Peter Erickson for this insight.
53 "The Elizabethan Subject and the Spenserian Text" in Literary Theory / Renaissance Texts, Patricia Parker and David Quint, eds. (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1986), pp. 303-40, esp. pp. 309-10. For Elizabeth's rhetorical cross-dressing, see "To the Troops at Tilbury, 1588," and for her manipulation of the subject positions of virgin, mother, and wife, see "Second Version of the Speech Concerning the Queen's Marriage, 1558," both in The Speeches of Queen Elizabeth, pp. 96-97 and 117-18. In addition, see Leah S. Marcus, "Shakespeare's Comic Heroines, Elizabeth I, and the Political Uses of Androgyny," Women in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance: Literary and Historical Perspectives, ed. Mary Beth Rose (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse Univ. Press, 1986), pp. 135-53.
54 Montrose, "'Eliza, Queene of shepheardes' and the Pastoral of Power," ELR, 10 (1980), 153-82, esp. p. 159.
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 18658
Rob Wilson (essay date 1987)
SOURCE: "Othello: Jealousy as Mimetic Contagion," in American Imago, Vol. 44, No. 3, Fall, 1987, pp. 213-33.
[In the following essay, Wilson locates Iago as the source of a "contagion of mimetic desire" in Othello.]
As a tragedy on the destructive and self-destructive power of male jealousy, Othello could more aptly be entitled Iago, because it is the latter who serves as centering agent (mediator) of the sexual/social envy which he engenders in his outwitted rivals: Roderigo, Cassio, Brabantio, and above all the noble Moor, Othello. For it is devilishly brilliant Iago, not the more physical Othello, who authors the recursive labyrinth of triangles-within-triangles which parodically informs the world of this play. The structural analysis of mimetic desire proposed by René Girard as the motive at the psychic origin of that male violence which informs western literature, allows us to can see that Shakespeare offers through Othello's Iago and his tragic victims a critical diagnosis of what is a necessarily triangulated desire.1 Indeed as a critique of the causes and conse-quences of male jealousy, Othello is still one of the best available to western consciousness.
Through the consummate mimetic artistry of a wholly amoral will, Iago authors no less than five triangles of male rivalry within the play: (1) most centrally he creates in Othello the fantasmatic image that innocuous Cassio is a rival for the passions of loyal Desdemona; (2) he makes the impotent Roderigo imagine that the black General is a (successful) rival for the hand and bed of Desdemona, even after they are married ("She must change for youth: when she is sated with his body, she will find the error of her choice" [1.3.347-348]; he engenders in Brabantio the irrational sense that Desdemona has betrayed his fatherly affection in Othello's "tupping your white ewe"; (4) Iago himself Actively conjectures that Othello has copulated with his wife, Emilia, based on a groundless rumor he treats as fact ("I hate the Moor; / And it is thought abroad that 'twixt my sheets / H'as done my office" [1.3.380-382]; (5) moreover, this genuine homme de ressentiment broods upon the fact that the "theoric" Cassio has been promoted to Lieutenant by the Moor, leaving Iago in his lowly station as Othello's ancient or (false) ensign.2
In all five of these contagiously mimetic triangles, what motivates Iago's excess of jealousy towards his more successful male rivals is not only sexual (Othello has won the choice Italian woman) but also social (the Moorish outsider has the status to make and break his male rivals both physically and at a bureaucratic whim). Iago, lacking both the honest love of Desdemona and the charitable power of Othello or his retainer Cassio, imagines from the outset that he can destroy both the love object (Desdemona) of Othello and frail Roderigo, and the power object (General Othello) who commands the males of Venice, through vicious acts of resentment and secretive revenge. Like a malevolent author who can indifferently manipulate rhetorical signs of affection into their deadly opposites, Iago's wild imagination succeeds into tragedy: the stage becomes littered with 'innocent' victims, those human scapegoats (pharmakos) who are done in not so much by external agency as by their own unconscious mechanisms of psychosexual desire which it is the burden of this essay to illuminate.
In Shakespeare's image of Iago, we have a representation of jealousy (invidia) in all its projective deadliness, as that male motive which will stop at nothing less than violence, the force of a will to annihilate that other who blocks the desires of the primal, presocialized self.3 In our "Look[ing] on the tragic loading of this bed" (5.2.363), we can see in Othello a cathartic image of male jealousy which allows us, in all pity and terror, to distance the deadly origin and plot of this "green-eyed monster" in the self-duplicitous human breast. If, as Othello recognizes too late, "A horned man's a monster and a beast" (4.1.62), that man who only fantasmatically imagines himself cuckolded ("Who dotes, yet doubts," as Iago puts it) may be even more dangerous both to himself and to his fictive rivals, not to mention to his love object, when he in the false signs of his specular imagination "behold[s] her topped" (3.3.396).
In deriving a conflictual model of mimetic desire from the plays of Shakespeare and Sophocles, the rivalry myths in the Bible, and above all the anti-romantic novelists of triangular desire such as Dostoevski and Flaubert, Girard has forcefully posited "a structuralism avant la lettre" within western literature which can allow us to see, through spectacles of representation, the bloody passage from undifferentiated chaos (the crisis of No Difference) to the arbitrary inaugu ration of social difference (the crisis of Difference):
Desire is mimetic. It always focuses on some object already desired by the model and it necessarily brings disharmony and rivalry. . . . Shakespeare [in works like Troilus and Cressida and Romeo and Juliet] is less concerned with systems than with their destruction, through mimetic rivalry. . . . Hubris and mimetic desire are one, in the sense that whoever appears to lay his hands on Degree [difference] becomes both the model and the rival. ("Levi-Strauss, Frye, Derrida and Shakespeare Criticism" 34)
If culture enforces a system of (arbitrary) differences, literature since Aristotle has been founded in mimesis as the dramatic imitation of conflictual action, because what it essentially imitates is libidinous imitation itself, the furious contagion of desire in the subject and the socially destructive dismantling of that very system which can ensue in the 'purifying' unleasing of fratricidal violence. In this triangular mythos which would claim explanatory 'universality' for itself, the internalized model of desire soon flips over into the externalized rival of desire, hence the result of this (male) doubling of selfhood is almost always bloodshed towards a relatively guiltless victim, which would explain for Girard the cultural fascination with symbolic modes of violence in literature if not in ritualistic scapegoating itself (Violence and the Sacred).
This dissolving of differences through Iago's improvisations of an "opposition bloody"—one critic has gone so far in interpreting the psychic closeness of Iago and Othello as to rename them "Iagothello"—brings about a crisis of power both in the subject and in the state which can only end in tragic bloodshed, the destruction of an illusory rival now rotten with differentiation: "Mimetic competition becomes so acute that social life is endangered and ritual rigidities come back to the fore, differences are reborn from their ashes" (35). Applying this insight to Othello, we can say that fraternal doubles such as Iago and Othello can be appeased or reconciled only through the sacrificial annihilation of their common female victim, Desdemona, that pharmakon of difference who is both guilty (poison) and guiltless (medicine) in arousing their initial desire in a social situation where male jealousy induces the stigmata of contagion itself.4
As Joel Fineman formulates Girard's poststructural psychology, a Doppelgänger plot of male doubling secretly underlies the mechanism of triangulated desire, as rival lovers (usually male) contend for a third person (usually female) who unwittingly or not functions merely to "generate a third, delusive and fantasmatic pole" to arouse the mediated energies of an ideologically invested desire:
Desire, therefore, is always mediated rather than immediate, always a miming of another's desire, rather than a spontaneous relationship between loving subject and beloved object. This gives a kind of paradigmatic but unusual value to the eternal jealousy triangle of romance. The rival is not so much an obstacle to, as, rather, the occasion of desire, its cause, as it were, save for the fact that the rival is too enmeshed in the reciprocities and paradoxes of the mimetic mechanism, so that he can only see his beloved through the eyes of whoever or whatever is his rival . . . through an endlessly recursive labyrinth of mimetic desiring replications. ("Doubles Bind" 14)
What Coleridge called "the motive-hunting of a motive-less malignancy" in Iago is actually deeply motivated by these mimetic dynamics of fratricidal rivalry, his ruthless will to dominate those male others who possess both the love-object (Desdemona) and the power-object (generalship) of sophisticated Venice. As he confides at the outset to love-sick Roderigo, he resents having been beaten by Cassio for the status of Lieutenant: "He [Cassio], in good time, must his lieutenant be, / And I—God bless the mark!—his Moorship's ancient" (1.1.32-33). More importantly, even crucially, he resents the Black Moor both for his supposed prowess in bed with Emilia and with Desdemona (even unjealous Cassio quips of Othello, "That he may bless this bay with his tall ship / Make love's quick pants in Desdemona's arms"); and for that military prowess which has been shown in his defending of Venice against Turk invasions. In short, Iago is a powerless and subordinated male who resents the macho prowess, both sexual and social, of stronger male rivals such as Othello and Cassio, and so maliciously plots their sexual/social undoing in a scheme to destroy all difference between himself and magnanimous Othello until his psychic claim, "I am your own forever" (3.3.481), is literally so. As Iago soliloquizes his scenario of mimic selves at the end of Act I:
Cassio's a proper man. Let me see now: To get his place, and to plume up my will In double knavery—How, how?—Let's see:— After some time, to abuse Othello's ears That he [Cassio] is too familiar with his wife. He hath a person and a smooth dispose
To be suspected—framed to make women false. The Moor is of a free and open nature That thinks men honest that but seem to be so; And will as tenderly be led by th' nose As asses are. I have't! It is engend'red! Hell and night Must bring this monstrous birth to the world's light
The passage reeks of Iago's structurally overdetermined envy—of Cassio for his good breeding and physical attractiveness as lady-killer, and of Othello for his primal innocence and gullibility as general. If his male rivals have the sexual/social virtu he lacks, his hellish plan is to give birth to their spiritual annihilation. In short, his motiveless malignancy is based upon a surplus of motives, both sexual and social, rather than a lack thereof.
Beyond such concrete motivations in the resentful psyche and lowly social standing of Iago, there is of course—as he states earlier in the same soliloquy—a kind of motiveless motive, his sheer delight in the performance of this "monstrous birth" both for private "sport and profit" (1.3.380). That is, his avowed hatred of the Moor will work not only to his self-advantage, the profit putting of money into his purse (his credo), but also to his delight, the selfish sport of undoing the male rivals through the exercise of his superior irony and wit. This is what Kenneth Burke would call a formal or 'pure' motive, Iago's rhetorical delight in the sheer performance and play of evil 'for its own sake.': "For it was in knowing what to look for that Shakespeare knew what to look out for. We might even say that Shakespeare constructed this archdemon [Iago] by making him an ominous caricature of the playwright's own methods, so that he becomes an admonishment not only to us, but to his inventor."5
What Girard has diagnosed as the psychically "contagious"—that is, both externally motivated and socially imitated—nature of mimetic desire manifests itself in the way Iago authors and gives birth, like a daemonic midwife or some malicious Ariel, to separate resentments of male rivals within the impressionable psyches of his opponents. Through Iago's designs, Othello comes to resent loyal Cassio as a treacherous rival, just as Roderigo is manipulated to revenge his unrequited love for Desdemona in plotting against the blameless Moor, who won the woman's hand quite openly and fairly under her father's very eyes. More crucially, Iago's resentment of Othello contagiously authors the (misogynistic) resentment in Othello of betraval by his faithful wife and his equally loyal lieutenant, until the enraged Moor can swear to his 'rival' for Desdemona's body: "Thy bed, lust-stained, shall with lust's blood be spotted" (5.1.36).
If Iago is the central agent in the play, spuriously mediating a deadly brand of jealousy in the minds of his rivals, Othello subsequently becomes the scapegoated victim of his male frustrations, just as "sweetest innocent" Desdemona later becomes the victim of Othello's sadly mediated desire. When Desdemona idealistically claims of her valiant and hot-blooded husband to Emilia,
my noble Moor Is true of mind, and made of no such baseness As jealous creatures are . . . . . . I think the sun where he was born Drew all such humors [of jealousy] from him.
—she naively forgets how vulnerable the male psyche is to the threat of the imagined rival (as in her father's rage at her filial betrayal), an assumption of agonistic jealousy upon which Iago certainly will proceed until Othello swears his "bloody thoughts, with violent pace, / Shall ne'er look back, ne'er ebb to humble love, / Till that a capable and wide revenge / Swallow them up" (3.3.457-460). If difference does exist, the fratricidal rivals will fight to abolish difference as in the parodic union-in death which closes Othello; or, as Fineman formulates a related structural variation, the rivals will fight not to settle difference but to eliminate the prior lack of difference between themselves. In either case, the literary byproduct is sacred bloodshed, what Iago shrewdly names as the "opposition bloody" between drunken Cassio and his victim, Montano (though ironically this phrase could serve as a paradigm for the entire structuring of male relationships):
OTHELLO: Speak. Who began this? On thy love, I charge thee.
IAGO: I do not know. Friends all, but now, even now, / In quarter, and in terms like bride and groom/ Divesting them for bed;/and then, but now—/ As if some planet had outwitted men—/ Swords out, and tilting one at other's breast / In opposition bloody. I cannot speak/Any beginning to these peevish odds . . .
As mimetic origin of the entire "opposition bloody" between male rivals, which the drunken battle between Montano and Cassio was just a crude parody of, Iago must repress his own agency in "beginning" the toxic rivalries of brothers and blame the fictive determinations of the planets rather than the conflictual structurations which he has set into play.
By that 'contagion' of mimetic desire—in which one male desires what another possesses or even apparently desires—the blood-thirsty imagination of Iago affects both the romantic imagination of Othello to doubt his woman and the social imagination of Cassio and Roderigo to do psychic battle against the Moor. Lacking in irony or conscious control over his infected imagination, Othello abruptly becomes the 'innocent' victim of Iago's narrative control and fantasmatic projections which conjure an imaginary 'obstacle' (Cassio, analagously called the "impediment" to the journey of Roderigo's desire) which can threaten the flow of his libidinous desire. The biological metaphor of 'contagion' is an apt one, because it is utilized by Iago himself to explain his parasitic labor of projection and interference:
Trifles light as air Are to the jealous confirmations strong As proofs of holy writ. This [handkerchief] may do something. The Moor already changes with my poison: Dangerous conceits are in their natures poisons' Which at the first are scarce found to distaste, But with a little act upon the blood Burn like the mines of sulphur . . . Look where he [Othello] comes! Not poppy nor mandragora, Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world, Shall ever med'cine thee to that sweet sleep Which thou owedst yesterday.
Of course the only medicine used to poison Othello's "sweet sleep" of unconsciousness is that of symbolic language and the static play of false signs (centrally his placing of Desdemona's "napkin" in possession of Cassio, the rival), which nevertheless succeed in corrupting the male imagination of Othello, until he can make his battle cry be one of "black vengeance" sworn to Iago, the gloating parasite of this cybernetic triangle—"O, blood, blood, blood! (3.3.447-452).6
By imitating the potentially vicious because mimetic nature of romantic desire, Shakespeare's display of dramatic victimage would work to liberate us from any imagination wholly given over to male power as is Iago's. For Iago is Shakespeare's counter-image of a false artist, the mimic of liberating imaging: his images do not free his characters from false desire and vain imaginings, they multiply and intensify these images until they vicariously become interiorized motives for destructive and self-destructive acts. If Prospero can be read as the later self-image of the artist as true imaginer/liberator in The Tempest, Iago remains the image (his name echoes the Renaissance trope imago) of false images, the ensign of false signs.7 As resentful creature of cultural difference and self-absence, the one uncontestable statement Iago makes is his negative avowal of semiotic subversion which inverts the Judeo-Christian norm of moral sincerity, I am that I am:
Were I the Moor, I would not be Iago. In following him, I follow myself; . . . But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve For daws to peck at; I am not what I am.
If Othello can handle the obvious physical destructive ness of males confronted at war, he cannot defend himself against this more psychically invisible and semiotic destructiveness of males in love. As Blake depicts the ruthlessly selfish and 'invisible' workings of phallic desire in the symbolic imagery of "The Sick Rose":
O Rose, thou art sick! The invisible worm That flies in the night, In the howling storm,
Has found out thy bed Of crimson joy, And his dark secret love Does thy life destroy.
Othello, however, is aware of no such phallic 'worm', in himself or in Iago: he represents the regressive image of the naive male imagination, unable to read the illusory symbols and ironies of aggressive Iago, who can make of Desdemona's handkerchief a (false) sign of her marital falseness and maternal betrayal and of a mere handshake an index (sign) of adulterous lust: "Lechery, by this hand [Cassio's]! an index and obscure prologue to the history of lust and foul thoughts" (2.1.252-253). If Othello's "free and open" desire for Desdemona was initially autonomous and self-fashioned from improvisational depths of passion (he seemingly was not motivated to defeat a servile rival like Roderigo), his puritanical desire for revenge against Desdemona and Cassio has been implanted like a reactive disease inside his very ears—Iago's method is "to abuse Othello's ears"—by the mediating Iago, ever-plotting in the dark wings of romantic Venice to destroy his master rival.
In fact, Othello innocently thinks so well of Iago—"A man he is of honesty and trust" (1.3.285)—that he entrusts his newlywed to his ancient's service and safekeeping while he does battle against the Turks, which is like putting Count Dracula in charge of the local bloodbank. Ironically, the Moor's very "free and open" psyche allows for Iago to enter in, to mediate, to infect his unintegrated subconscious with specular imaginings about the infidelity of all women and his own in the presence of rivals, a social stereotype his 'noble' nature should resist. True images of service (Cassio) and fidelity (Desdemona) become victims of Othello, who is ultimately the tragic victim of Iago, who has infiltrated images of infidelity in the undefended psyche of the warrior Othello. Indeed Iago cannot recognize the superb woman he has under his own roof in his eloquent wife, Emilia, whom he constantly abuses as a nagging shrew until she can see him for the "murd'rous coxcomb" he is (5.2.233).8
Iago need not be thought of so much as an external identity ("I am not what I am") but as an internal force, a pre-Nietzschean quantum of the libidinous will given over wholly to assertions of the will to power over others. His evil imagination must become theirs; or, rather, the dark force he represents must become activated in the male psyche of the others through the power of his contagious mediation, until Iago can affirm with good reason of the jealously enraged Othello, "I am your own forever" (3.3.481). If Iago cannot give birth to virtue in himself nor recognition in others, he can give birth via mimetic contagion to psychic darkness in others, as he certainly does in working over into undifferentiated union the now-jealous imagination of Othello.
Of course Iago, as "murd'rous slave" and "inhuman dog" (5.1.63-64), incarnates the agency of 'evil' in the Christian terms of his age, and yet the cloven hoof of the devil (5.2.286) which Othello looks for in the too-late discovered Iago actually can be found on (or inside the psyches of) all the males as that dark potentiality of frustrated desire which Iago brought into the light of tragic action. As the motive force of Iago contagiously becomes the motive force of Othello, the Moor's mature identity as masculine lover and noble warrior slowly breaks down under the pressure of Iago's contagious mediations, until he vulgarly concludes as homicidal motive towards his wife, "Cassio did top her" (5.2.138). As a prior Christian force of good, Desdemona loses her temporary influence over the soul of Othello, who soon succumbs to the blackmagic of Iago's artistry, a darkly mimetic version of how Desdemona had been wooed by the white magic of (black) Othello's brave career and rude eloquence. As Kenneth Burke explains (Grammar of Motives 413-414), the parodic opposition of the Othello-Iago relationship (centered in malevolent hatred) is dialectically played off against the Othello-Desdemona relationship (centered in benevolent love). Hence,
Iago, to arouse Othello, must talk a language that Othello knows as well as he, language implicit in the nature of Othello's love as the idealization of his private property in Desdemona.
Given such devious signs of affection when battling for the libidinous goods, which male in the play could heed the crucial psychic warning which is ironically uttered by Iago, the very agent of jealousy's fratricidal web?—
O, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock The meat it feeds on. That cuckold lives in bliss Who, certain of his fate, loves not his wronger; But O, what damned minutes tells he o'er Who dotes, yet doubts—suspects, yet strongly loves!
Who, then, is ultimately responsible for the death of fair Desdemona, the "maid / That paragons description and wild fame" (2.1.62-63)? Beyond the legally culpable Othello who necessarily (and with good reason from a structural point of view) conceived of her murder as a needful "sacrifice" of the tainted victim (5.2.64-65), we could implicate the conspiring agents Iago and Roderigo, and even Cassio and Emilia as they play unwitting roles in Iago's plot to infect the "green-eyed" imagination of a man his superior in every way, not to mention Desdemona herself whose love for Othello was partly grounded in illusory hero worship images from adventurous romance (1.3.128-170). The contagion of jealousy and revenge is so structurally rampant in the play that its causes and consequences seemingly affect all the agents. Emilia's subjectivist claim to Desdemona that jealousy is "a monster/ Begot upon itself, born on itself (3.4.161-162) blindly fails at this point to take into account the agency of her own Iago, one of those "jealous souls" (159) whose jealousy must spread outward to infect the soul of is diverse male rivals in order to destroy them in the security of their primal self-love and the anaclitic progress of their libido from maternal love to later substitutions. Othello's physical strength is no defense against Iago's psychic projections of jealousy which, despite Desdemona's moral protestations, even "Heaven [cannot] keep that monster from Othello's mind!" (3.4.163).
In his post-Freudian rewriting of the family romance as the oedipal prototype of adult desire, the contagious mediation of the romantic libido is for Girard not so much autonomous in the family subject as textually produced within a culture-specific situation: an early lyric paradigm of mediated love is the medieval triangle of Paolo and Francesca, who fall in love while reading Galehalt's tale of treacherous adultery between Lancelot and Queen Guinevere, which becomes their motivating model (Double Business 1-8). A later, less phallocentric version is Madame Bovary, whose over-reading of romantic novels impells her to the conflicts of endless adultery to enliven her colorless life away from Paris, which ironically begets bovaryism in benighted readers who misinterpret, like future Emmas, Flaubert's cautionary image of mimetic desire. Literary works such as Othello would work both to release and to free us from that very romanticism of self-fashioning which has been engendered through the libidinous images of romance, drama, and novel. The explanatory center for such conflictual rivalries over the complex of love/power is most often located for Girard in a male character (like Quijote or Dostoevski's Underground Man) who acts out the mediated desires which the author was trapped in, as he moves from entrapment in 'degraded' mediations to 'authentic' self-transcendence, which for the conservative Girard finally means that some mythic godhead must replace the woman as libidinous object of male love in order to put an end to the endless chain of structural violence.
Girard's theory admittedly builds on what Lucien Goldmann formulated in Towards a Sociology of the Novel (1964) and The Hidden God (1955) as a 'genetic structuralism' which is centered not so much in reproductive infrastructures as in the mimetic desires of the socially situated romantic individual, whose 'problematic' will can turn outward to destroy rival and victim. Girard's textually coded structurations of desire are also centered not so much in the private unconsciousness as in the structural totality of ideology at any given moment, what Goldmann called the collective consciousness of socialized man. Like Goldmann, Girard would map an erotic homology of mimetic desire based upon the interiorized conflict of real and degraded values in the self, deluded exchanges and corruptions of desire which are caused partly by the formal system of capital itself. All 'original' desire becomes mediated in the hero by a social structure which would reduce even love to a fetish commodity, the worshipping of a false transcendental sign (the woman). For Goldmann, the mediating totality is finally the social situation restricting the "problematic hero," who must act out in history the conflict between 'authentic' and 'degraded' values which his position as social subject engenders. Yet given the mimetic nature of all desire which Girard has assumed, it would be hard to legitimate any desire as prior or authentic, as absolutely worthy of imitation, which of course leaves the antiromantic theorist grasping for some pre-structural (or, in Greenblatt's diachronic depiction, Pre-Renaissance) model of selfhood grounded in some imitatio Christi by which to manage the anarchic force of desire.
For Girard, the "totality" of the desiring subject at any historical moment is a contagiously literary one: romantic desire must enact the degraded value of a competitive mimesis by which one male rival will eventually destroy another for the possession of his love object, or even destroy that object if he cannot have her (as happens in Othello). Literature becomes a moral mechanism which, even better than the science of Freud or Levi-Strauss, can illuminate the conflictual nature of romantic desire, if literature turns lucidly against its own essentially mimetic nature: the novel, for example, develops from Cervantes onward as an antiromantic structure demystifying the romance of desire. For the reactionary Girard, religion must finally subsume literature in its transcendent categories and self-sacrificial imagery, otherwise there will be endless Violence and a surplus victimage unredeemed by any absolute mediations of the Sacred.
By now it should be clear that Iago, as dark and base rival, as parasite and slave infecting the males of Venice, does mediate the desire of noble Othello, his social master. As Lodovico asserts after the murder of Desdemona and Iago's discovery, this once-master of his desire now acts reactively—as in his coverup to Emilia—like his rival slave:
O thou Othello that wert once so good, Fall'n in the practice of a damned slave, What shall be said to thee?
If, as Stephen Greenblatt has vividly argued, "In Othello the characters have always already experienced submission to narrativity" (237), that is, to cultural models of selfhood, they cannot help but mimic in fashioning their own life story, who or what mediates Iago's desire? Is it also textually mediated by the glutinous narrative of some rival, or is it genuinely self-derived and autonomous? We can only suggest, as Stempel has argued in a more Christianized context, Iago's negational will is merely a demonic parody of free will and self-reliant choice, a will whose aim is not active affirmation of freedom but reactive negations of another's freedom. Iago's parodic image enacts a false autonomy, a romantic energy given not to expressing selflove and love of others, but to negating love and its libidinously invested objects, as in the pathetic Roderigo.
Shifting by contrast to Desdemona, we need to ask the same structural question: Is her love for Othello derived from mimetic rivalry with another woman, or from romances like Francesca's, or is her passion self-derived and centered in her own desire? Admirable as it is in its seeming noncompetitiveness with female others, Desdemona's desire is partly based upon an idealized image she forms of an heroic Othello in her mind, by interiorizing his ideal self-image. As she explains to her father, "I saw Othello's visage in his mind, / And to his honors and his valiant parts / Did I my soul and fortunes consecrate" (1.3.252-254). Less directly, Othello's lengthy narrative of his self-invention and their courtship reveals the latent textuality of Desdemona's desire, its mediated quality in romance-like images:
Her father loved me, oft invited me; Still questioned me the story of my life From year to year—the battles, sieges, fortunes
That I have passed. . . . Of hairbreadth scapes i' th' imminent deadly breach; Of being taken by the insolent foe And sold to slavery; of my redemption thence . . . And of the Cannibals that each other eat, The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads Do grow between their shoulders. This to hear Would Desdemona seriously incline; But still the house affairs would draw her thence; Which ever as she could with haste dispatch, She'd come again, and with a greedy ear Devour up my discourse . . . . . . My story being done She gave me for my pains a world of sighs.
This larger-than-life "story" of Othello's travels and adventures in the war, naively told as a redemptive "pilgrimmage" to love, oddly engenders mimetic envy of the narrating male not only in her Italianate father but also in his patriarchally domesticated female: as Othello avows, "She wished she had not heard it; yet she wished / That heaven had made her such a man" (162-163).
If Desdemona's desire is indeed textually mediated and tainted with the male dynamics of rivalry, the ethical question comes down to which 'mediator' Othello will imitate: dark or light, male or female, hater or lover, parasite or host, noise or the heart's eloquence? By considering these counter-dynamics of female desire in the play, we can more adequately see that the play is not only centered in the male will to power (Iago) but also in the female will to submit power to the more self-abnegating mandates of generous love (Emilia). If the play's title is deceptively entitled Othello, when as W. H. Auden contends, most interpretation "must be primarily preoccupied, not with its official hero but with its villain" (246), as a tragedy of romantic desire the play is also 'acentric' or multicentric, so that feminist critics can now rightly forward a counterclaim that Emilia, not Iago, should be considered an alternative center of human agency. We need only recall how the power of Emilia's 'shrewish' tongue finally becomes a positive force when it is turned against her own monstrously destructive husband:
IAGO: . . . Go to, charm your tongue. EMILIA: I will not charm my tongue; I am bound to speak: My mistress here lies murdered in her bed—
Or when she courageously and bluntly stands up to lying Othello:
I care not for thy sword; I'll make thee known, Though I lost twenty lives. Help! help! Ho! help! The Moor hath killed my mistress!
Through Emilia's image and the crucial notion of a maternal mimesis, the play can be re-centered not only in the male dynamics of the jealous will to power but also in the female dynamics of a desire which would curtail oedipal quests for power through the non-reactive force of love. Such bipolar centers of erotic motivation need to be examined and invoked to illuminate more adequately the tragic dynamics of jealous desire portrayed in Othello, as Emila breaks from Iago with the belated liberating vow, "Perchance, Iago, I will ne'er go home" (5.2.199).
In "The Missing Mother: The Oedipal Rivalries of René Girard," Toril Moi has argued (Diacritics, 1978) a much-needed feminist critique of Girard's appropriative mimesis on the grounds that his totalizing theory of mimetic desire "cannot account for feminine desire" and in fact is based upon (1), the patriarchal exclusion of the mother from the Oedipal triangle (21-24) and (2), the repression of female subjects (for example, the focus upon Levin instead of Anna Karenina) from his sexist analysis of the novel. For Girard, since "all desire is mimetic and mediated" (27) and it is the phallocentric rival who alone confers value upon the woman, the Freudian notion of a fundamental desire towards the mother simultaneously coming into conflict with that familial rival of rivals, the father, must be discounted as prior to formative social mediations. For Girard, "Freud does not understand that the mediator's desire [and not the father's] is the essential factor in the desirability of the woman" (Double Business 67).
Eliding any preoedipal stage in the maturation of sexual desire, Girard assumes that the mother is never desired in and for herself, but only as mediated sign of male power, whether the rival is the father (which is unlikely) or a later male (such as the lady-killer, Cassio). The belated desire of the male subject is always 'parasitic' upon an already formed desire circulating in the language of another male (Des choses cachëes 380). However, as Moi concludes, "If Girard's mimetic theory is applied to the preoedipal stage, one is obliged to posit the woman's desire as original, [and] the mother's desire becomes paradigmatic of all desire" (27-28), which would render all males homosexual based upon anaclitic imitation of this prior maternal love. Reaching for some instinctual apparatus of biology to stabilize the mobility of desire in an 'innate' heterosexuality, Girard must anxiously distort and simplify Freud, in Moi's view, because this masterbuilder of the oedipal triangle is Girard's own "haunting rival, daunting double and castrating father" (30) for whom desire must remain parentally mimetic to the end.
If any Shakespearean tragedy can now be read as symbolic enactment of an "acentric structure" of motivation, Derrida's term for that preeminently literary structure whose (absented) center is open to the differentiating play and powerplays of interpretation, it is inevitable that many of the traditional critical debates about Othello would center on whom to center the tragedy as motivating agent: Is it fathomless Iago rather than Othello who functions as libidinous center (though who would now defend the reactive force of Iago, no matter how Nietzschean their perspective of absolute 'transvaluation'), is it Desdemona as innocent model of unselfconscious love, is it Emilia with her liberating virtues lost on male fools, or will fresh hero-worshippers of "romantic Othello" explain away in an updated existential vocabulary his all-too-human flaws?9
As is Shakespeare's (post) structural wont, the play does contain an alternative center to Iago in Emilia, and a feminine subplot (which fails), the attempt of the shrewish wife to reveal and overcome the patriarchal will to power of her husband against the Moor.10 Of course this female voice is for the most part marginalized if not silenced, and the male voice of conflictual desire wins out (there is bloody victimage) and revoices the patriarchal claim to central power: "To you, lord governor, / Remains the censure of this hellish villain,/ The time, the place, the torture" (5.2.367-369). Yet this punitive reassertion of social order and the hierarchy at Venice must be inflicted by a male double of Iago, Cassio, who somehow must serve as redemptive center of social differentiation as does Horatio in fraticidal Hamlet. Once more, as Cassio quipped, "The lieutenant is to be saved before the ancient" (2.3.104-105).
However, how can this 'differential' order that Cassio reasserts last on a historical stage littered with bloodied victims of love/power, whose romantic credo remains Othello's exculpatory lament: "Then must you speak / Of one who loved not wisely, but too well; / Of one not easily jealous, but, being wrought, perplexed in the extreme" (5.2.344-346)? Cassio's last judgment, forgiving the pitiable Othello, "For he was great of heart" (5.2.360), cannot purge the tenuous contagions of jealousy which we have seen Iago evoke: the rest is always semiotic silence, as Shakespeare absents himself from the imagery of the play, leaving behind a monstrous image of history as tragedy. Iago's radical desire for revenge has played itself out on the very cultural order of Venice where he hypocritically claimed as social motive that "Preferment goes by letter and affection, / And not by old gradation" (1.1.36-37); Venice with its entrenched Renaissance hierarchies of king and subject, general and lieutenant, friend and friend, husband and wife, rival and rival. Under the duplicatous sign of Othello, the mimetic ensign finally retreats into a condition of absolute textuality, the utter silencing of his mimetic desire in the annihilation of his (false) signs:
OTHELLO: Why hath he thus ensnared my soul and body?
IAGO: Demand me nothing. What you know, you know. From this time forth I never will speak word.
1 Girard's hypothesis of the mimetic origin of triangu-lated desire was initially worked out in the novelistic models of Mensonge romantique et vérité romanesque (1961), translated as the influential Deceit, Desire, and the Novel (1965). For a pithy review of Girard's work see Joel Fineman, "Doubles Bind," University Publishing, 8 (Fall, 1979): 14-15, and Joel Fineman, "Fratricide and Cuckoldry: Shakespeare's Doubles," (1977): 409-453, rpt. # in Representing Shakespeare: New Psychoanalytic Essays, ed. Murray M. Schwartz and Coppélia Kahn. On the Renaissance coding of the desiring subject and the auricular disciplining of the 'colonial' other in Othello, see Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning, 232-254.
2 References to Othello are to The Pelican Shakespeare:Othello, ed. Gerald Eades Bentley. An analysis of the homme de ressentiment as a sickly force of the reactive will to power is presented in Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy (1983), Chap. 4, "From Ressentiment to the Bad Conscience." Also see Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious, for a far-reaching critique of resentment not as a moral but as an ideological theme ('ideologeme'), motivated primarily in barely repressed structures of class consciousness, 60, 88, 200-205, 267-269.
3 For a historicized treatment of political invidia as Iago's anti-Protestant and Machiavellian motive, see Daniel Stempel, "The Silence of Iago," 252-263.
4 The Platonic reduction of the differential semantics of the pharmakon to a polemical opposition of poison/ medicine is traced in Jacques Derrida, "Plato's Pharmacy," Dissemination (1981), especially 95-133.
5 Kenneth Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form (1973), 164-165. Also see Burke, "Othello: An Essay to Illustrate a Method," (1951): 165-203, and A Grammar of Motives (1969), 413-414. (1956).
6 In terms of a 'cybernetic triangle' of broken communication, Iago can be interpreted as that Third figure of parasitical noise and disruptive static who interrupts the dialogue of Desdemona and Othello: see the suggestive 'fables' of Michel Serres, The Parasite.
7 On ironical inversions between the authorial self-figurings of The Tempest and Othello, see Stanley Edgar Hyman, "Portraits of the Artist: Iago and Prospero," and John Berryman, "Shakespeare's Last Word, "The Freedom of the Poet (1976), 72-87. Iago's runic name, which combines 'image' with some version of Imogen/Iachomo, does seem to play deviously on the semantics of the image as an absented "representation ['imitation'] of a sensuous experience" as catalogued in Rosemond Tuve, Elizabethan and Metaphysical Imagery (1947), 12, and Chap. 13.
8 A feminist rereading of the "shrew" stereotype and its literary transformations is historically outlined in Valerie Wayne, "Refashioning the Shrew," 123-145. For more speculative readings of gender identity, also see Carol Thomas Neely, "Women and Men in Othello" in The Woman 's Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare (1980), ed. Carolyn Ruth Swift Lenz, Gayle Greene, and Carol Thomas Neely, 212-239; Joan M. Byles, "The Winter's Tale, Othello, and Troilus and Cressida: Narcissism and Sexual Betrayal," 80-93; M. D. Faber, "Othello: Symbolic Action, Ritual and Myth," 159-205; and Arthur Kirsch, "The Polarization of Erotic Love in Othello" 721-740.
9 Jacques Derrida, "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences," Writing and Difference (1978), 278-293.
10 The vexed and paradoxical argument that "contem-porary [Post-Structuralist] theory is itself very Shakespearean" (78) and, furthermore, that the sublime literariness of Shakespeare is always-already 'post-structural' in its thematic rehearsals is forwarded in Joel Fineman, "Shakespeare's 'Perjured Eye,'" (1984): 59-86. A deconstructive reading of Shakespeare in terms of the Derridean dynamics of presence/absence is helpfully presented, for example, in Brook Thomas, "Cymbeline and the Perils of Interpretation," 137-145.
Auden, W. H. "The Joker in the Pack." The Dyer's Hand and Other Essays. New York: Vintage Books, 1968.
Berryman, John. "Shakespeare's Last Word." The Freedom of the Poet. New York: Farrar, 1976.
Burke, Kenneth. A Grammar of Motives, Berkeley: California U.P., 1969.
Burke, Kenneth. "Othello: An Essay to Illustrate a Method." Hudson Review 4 (1951): 165-203.
Byles, Joan M. "The Winter's Tale, Othello, and Troilus and Cressida: Narcissism and Sexual Betrayal." American Imago 36 (1979): 80-93.
Deleuze, Gilles. Nietzsche & Philosophy. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson. New York: Columbia UP, l983.
——. and Felix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R, Lane. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1983.
Derrida, Jacques. Dissemination. Trans. Barbara Johnson. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1981.
——. Writing and Difference. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1978.
Faber, M. D. "Othello: Symbolic Action, Ritual and Myth." American Imago 31 (1974): 159-205.
Fineman, Joel. "Shakespeare's 'Perjured Eye,'" Representations 7 (1984): 59-86.
——. "Doubles Bind." University Publishing 8 (1979): 14-15.
——. "Fratricide and Cuckoldry: Shakespeare's Doubles." The Psychoanalytic Review 64 (1977): 409-453.
Girard, René. "Myth and Ritual in Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream." Textual Strategies: Perspectives in Post-Structuralist Criticism. Ed. Josue V. Harari. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell UP, 1979.
——. "To Double Business Bound": Essays on Literature, Mimesis, and Anthropology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1978.
——. Des choses cachées depuis la fondation du monde. Paris: Grasset, 1978.
——. Violence and the Sacred. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1977.
——. Deceit, Desire, and the Novel. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1965.
Greenblatt, Stephen, Renaissance Self Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1980.
Heilman, Robert B. Magic in the Web: Action & Language in Othello. Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 1956.
Hyman, Stanley Edgar. "Portraits of the Artist: Iago and Prospero," Shenandoah 21 (1970): 18-42.
Jameson, Fredric. The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell UP, 1981.
Kirsch, Arthur. "The Polarization of Erotic Love in Othello" Modern Language Review—73 (1978): 721-740.
Moi, Toril. "The Missing Mother: The Oedipal Mothers of Rene Girard." Diacritics 8 (1978): 21-31.
Neely, Carol Thomas. "Women and Men in Othello." The Woman's Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare. Ed. Carolyn Ruth Swift Lenz, Gayle Greene, and Carol Thomas Neely. Urbana, Ill.: U of Illinois P, 1980.
Serres, Michael. The Parasite. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1980.
Thomas, Brook. "Cymbeline and the Perils of Interpretation," New Orleans Review 2 (1984): 137-145.
Tuve, Rosemund. Elizabethan and Metaphysical Imagery: Renaissance Poetic and Twentieth-Century Criticism. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1947.
Wayne, Valerie. "Refashioning the Shrew." Shakespeare Studies 17 (1984): 123-145.
Martha Ronk (essay date 1990)
SOURCE: "Recasting Jealousy: A Reading of The Winter's Tale," in Literature and Psychology, Vol. XXXVI, No. 1 & 2, 1990, pp. 50-77.
[In the following essay, Ronk investigates the psychological transformation of Leontes from a state of intense jealousy to one of penitence in The Winter's Tale.]
In the middle of The Winter's Tale the character Time announces that Leontes disappears for sixteen years, only a piece of an evening in stage time, but symbolically crucial for positing the opportunity for change, for turning tragedy to romance, destructive obsession to grace. As in so many other Shakespeare plays, obliteration—here not just metaphorical but of an actual figure on stage—argues for possibility. Leontes takes on years of penance, following Paulina's prescribed routine, and finally, although she says otherwise here, moves the gods to forgive him:
Therefore betake thee To nothing but despair. A thousand knees, Ten thousand years together, naked, fasting, Upon a barren mountain, and still winter In storm perpetual, could not move the gods To look that way thou wert.
(Ill, ii, 207-212)1
Having created jealousy out of nothing (cf. his repetition of this word at I, ii, 292-296), Leontes must now strip himself back and become "nothing but despair," his voice completely silenced. Like Paulina who vows to say nothing (III, iii, 229-230), he too says nothing at all. This is important not only because of the value of silence in other Shakespearean contexts—a particular type of knowledge associated with the non-verbal—but also because it signals a retreat from the conscious to some unconscious realm prior to language.2
Yet this period in which the major character of the play is absent is one of the most fertile in a play itself filled with images of procreation, pregnancy, and fertility, for it allows Leontes to reimagine the characters and scenes of the tragic opening of the play, giving us in Part II the comic pastoral and the miraculous rebirth of Hermione. Like Hamlet who disappears offstage and is threatened by death before he can imagine the necessary end of his play, Leontes moves off-stage into the house of death, penance, and a kind of psychological winter (this aspect of the play's title) in order to rework himself and his dreams.
What I want to demonstrate here, using Othello as a kind of foil, is that although the two heroes are alike in uncanny ways, the structural maneuver at the center of The Winter's Tale not only allows a generic shift from tragedy to romance,3 but also provides a psycho-logical basis for Leontes' change. Critics have already noted the similarities in Othello and Leontes: both are irrationally jealous of innocent wives; both are unable to accept mature sexuality and the loss of male intimacy; both tend to see the world and its creatures as entirely idealized or debased; once affected, both characters view the world in a paranoid and distorted way—everything becomes suggestive of copulation and cuckoldry; both appear destined for tragedy and death. What happens to each character in relation to a similar situation is, however, quite different, and it is this difference, especially Leontes' crucial time off-stage—a time not available to Othello—that I wish to examine here.
Why might Shakespeare have designed the play in what appears so awkward a fashion, and how can we come to "know" what happens in places we cannot see; what relationship does Time, both as character and as passing years, have to do with penance; what is there about the nature of penance that prevents it from being seen? What is the relationship between what we see on-stage and what we imagine as occurring off-stage; and what is the nature of the relationship between penance and Bohemia?4
Shakespeare might have presented Leontes in some conventional pose as the penitant described by Paulina: kneeling, weeping, flagellating himself, praying—but does not. What is gained then as a result is that Leontes is defined as different from an emblematic figure of Penance; whatever changes are occurring to Leontes are not those which would be visible to the eye, an important fact in a play that has already demonstrated the fallibility of the eye as trustworthy witness; rather the essential changes are within and involve the restructuring of Leontes' psyche and way of being. Although as audience we remain keenly aware of this missing figure, aware of absence and what it means as well, we do not see him, nor could we see the changes which Luther, for example, details as necessary for attaining grace. The sorts of bodily punishments which Leontes vows to undergo would mean nothing without the unseen operation of faith in a man's heart, an operation which his physical absence implies:
Just as faith alone gives us the spirit and the desire for doing works that are plainly good, so unbelief is the sole cause of sin: it exalts the flesh, and gives the desire to do works that are plainly wrong, as happened in the case of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 3:65
Another important aspect of penance, beyond its in-visibility, is that it requires time; although Leontes has destroyed his family and world by a momentary madness, he must spend years atoning for his crime, indeed a lifetime, and it is therefore appropriate that Time should announce his whereabouts and efforts. Moreover, Leontes must manage his penance in silence. Shakespeare removes him from the stage: no action and no words can demonstrate true penance, especially since his actions and words have been in error and quite at odds with what he should have known about the loyalty of his wife and of his friend. Like Lear, who also should have known of Cordelia's love and loyalty through years of demonstrated affection, Leontes ought also to know, although he does not. He accuses and rants and rails, even against the words of the oracle, and now he is appropriately silent.
Also, as we know from overhearing Claudius' prayers for forgiveness, a speech or gesture can seem convincing (and in this instance does to Hamlet) although one's heart is not in it; thus Shakespeare chooses another theatrical convention to represent Leontes' genuine penance. As Greek theater represented crucial dramatic events such as suicide and death as occurring off-stage, so here Leontes loses one sort of life in exchange for another, off-stage. The most significant and mysterious actions cannot be seen; moreover, because we do not see Leontes we are not tempted to judge his efforts as imperfect or inauthentic.
Thus the central character disappears and, although the relationship between on-stage and off-stage events over the course of theatrical history is too large a topic for this paper, in this case, as in others, we learn obliquely about Leontes from the images that appear on-stage. Like Oliver in As You Like It, Leontes is converted off-stage and while we witness other miraculous changes in a timeless pastoral world containing significant gestures of love, generosity, faith: the Duke, for example, offers food to Orlando and Adam, and Perdita offers abundant flowers with her love. Only by withdrawing into silence and into a visual discourse prior to speech can Leontes hope to effect change; Shakespeare removes Leontes and in his place presents Bohemia, a visual representation of regeneration, possibility and growth, an Eden found for the one, as Luther mentions, lost.
In his famous discussion of archetypes, Northrop Frye argues that comic romances provide their characters with a green world, a pastoral world of healing, imagination, and rearrangements so that they may return to court rejuvenated and strong. In The Winter's Tale the mythical sea-coasted Bohemia serves as this green world, and "has analogies, not only to the fertile world of ritual, but to the dream world that we create out of our own desire."6 Interestingly, however, in this play we see a green world that does not include the central character; it is his world, but he is missing from it. He is not present as a participant or as a spectator on a balcony—certainly a possible staging— though Bohemia is surely his in some important way beyond the appearance of his stand-in daughter.
But the notion of a green world is not quite enough to explain how regeneration operates in this particular play, because unlike the more innocent characters of the early comedies, Leontes is not a part of this world; a decidedly fallen and tragic figure, Leontes is outside Bohemia even as it is potentially his. Secondly, the changes that occur in other green worlds happen far more quickly; here sixteen years pass between Leontes' vow of penance and the presentation of a world that contains within it the next (innocent) generation. As chorus Time refers to the metaphor of dreaming that dominates the play and asks that the audience accept the passing of years, "as you had slept between"; and thus in the play's own terms, it is as if Leontes' work of penance is coincident with dreamwork, as if Leontes has slept out the sixteen years in order to dream anew.7 Phenomenologi-cally, what happens on stage is like something taking place in his unconscious; it is dreamlike and illusory, but also profoundly true, literal, and recognizable.
Moreover, the green world is not, as in earlier comedies, a stage to be passed through in order to learn enough to return to the real world, but a Romantic and mythical stage to be re-attained as if innocence could be re-imagined. Like the Romantic heroines in the film comedies of re-marriage, Leontes has lost his sexual innocence—the point is emphasized—but as Stanley Cavell says in Pursuits of Happiness, "if we are to continue to provide ourselves with the pleasure of romantic comedies, with this imagination of happiness, we are going to require narratives that do not depend on the physics of virginity but rather upon the metaphysics of innocence."8
The second half of the play, parallel in so many obvi-ous ways to the first half, reads like wish-fulfillment, Leontes' reworking of unconscious material in order to produce the right dream. Although both of Leontes' dreams are embodiments of similar obsessions, they differ radically. Leontes' original encounter with his own repressed unconscious material results in rage and death. At first his "dream"—that which he imagines is a vision of betrayal—is regressive and destructive, as 9 Leontes sees Hermione's actions not as existing in their own right, out in the world and separate from his own state of mind, but as enactments of his own paranoia. As Hermione says, "You speak a language that I understand not / My life stands in the level of your dreams / Which I'll lay down" (III, ii, 78-79). Leontes' second and overwhelming dream comes, however, as a result of his conscious choice of penance; and in withdrawing to an inner life he creates the wish he expresses when he first glimpses his error: "Apollo, pardon/My great profaneness 'gainst thine oracle. / I'll reconcile me to Polixenes / New woo my queen, recall the good Camillo" (III, ii, 150ff). At this moment in the play, however, Leontes' wish is unearned, for it is the sixteen years when he believes his wife dead and when he is dead to stage life which provide the necessary rearrangements and shifts of material that enable romance to assert itself. There are several ways in which the processes of penance and dreaming overlap here, and several reasons why I see a close relationship between Leontes' penance off-stage and the dreaming which visualizes Bohemia. Both are intense internal activities in which the psyche is freed as a result of the body's removal from daily life by sleep, mortification of the flesh, entombment in darkness and solitude. Both concern what one is behind the facades and theatricalities of life—and also what one was originally, in early childhood or in being born, having one's origins in sin. Penance can be effected by meditation of visual images as Louis L. Martz argues in The Poetry of Meditation,10 and certainly dreams are powerfully visual (preceding the fall into language). Both are generated by a strong desire or wish (in Leontes' case for oneness with the feminine, his family, and the divine), and both demand belief of some sort, at the very least a belief in the reality of the experience itself. In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud describes dreams as wishes visualized:
Here we have the most general and the most striking psychological characteristic of the process of dreaming: a thought, and as a rule a thought of something that is wished, is objectified in the dream, is represented as a scene, or as it seems to us, is experienced.11
Moreover, penance obviously requires a belief in the divine and in powers beyond one's own control; although a person can kneel and pray, it is not solely in his or her power to experience penance without some intervening grace. In Luther's words:
Faith . . . is something that God effects in us . . . Faith puts the old Adam to death and makes us quite different men in heart, in mind, and in all our powers . . . what a living, creative, active powerful thing it is.12
Likewise in dreaming, something unconscious and beyond one's control produces the images encountered. Leontes' dream of Bohemia bears witness to his alteration; for without a change in his psyche he could not have had such a dream. Having lost his faith in his life previously, a loss signaled by his loss of a wife and son, his dream of Bohemia signals a new creative faith. Since what is at stake in this play is also how to interpret what one sees—Leontes having so badly misinterpreted his wife's hospitality towards Polixenes—the particular presentation of Bohemia lets the audience know that Leontes has suffered towards good ends, that he knows finally how to read his dreams.
In this context it is also useful to think of Victor Turner's description of liminal states as states of transition;13 Such a place as Paulina's chapel would be a "betwixt and between" stage of institutionalized transition. Yet since it is a transitional, threshold, between one place and another, it cannot be seen any more than the passage of time can be seen. Such liminal states are, according to Turner, characterized by transition, anonymity, absence of status and its accordant rites and obligations, sexual continence, humility, sacredness, silence, reference to mystical powers, acceptance of pain, and obedience. Leontes partakes of all these, giving up all his public functions in order to unmake himself, as if he had to strip himself (to become nothing) in order to remake himself as a new man. Leontes must lose his ego in order to be capable of the sort of renewal as a result of which Hermione's life indeed stands at the level of his dreams. That is, the profound change which Paulina effects makes possible the awakening of Hermione at the end; she does stand before him as a living statue, but for him—at least to begin with—she seems a dream of his own making. Miraculously, he gets exactly what he has wished for, both a new wife (life) and an emblem of the old: Hermione both unchanged and wrinkled by age.
What I would also argue is that, although the play does not specifically locate Leontes for the time he is off-stage, it is appropriate to imagine him in a chapel which, if not identical to, is one which at least participates in or blurs with the chapel located in Paulina's house. Although Leonates indicates as he arrives to see the statue in Act V that he has not visited the place before, he also has several other contradictory experiences in this scene: his wife is dead and lives; his daughter is not lost but found; sixteen years have passed and none; stone is flesh. Moreover, he has been in a long and extreme state of mourning—a mourning that has stimulated the desire to restore what is lost—and if not entirely rapt and confused, certainly "so far gone" as to be absent from the stage. Does he really know, one might ask, where he has been? Since his efforts in one "place" create the miracle in the other, they are bound to collapse into one another for an audience which sees but one chapel although two are mentioned. Moreover, the residing spirit in each chapel is Paulina who effects the change in Leontes which makes possible the change in Hermione. Paulina herself is a liminal figure (representative of St. Paul) who is maternal, paternal, forgiving, judgmental, old enough for wisdom and a husband and children, and young enough to join the others in (re)marriage at the end of the play. Like other Shakespearean figures such as Falstaff, Rosalind, and Portia, who aid in transforming male character, Paulina functions to embrace opposite aspects of gender and generation, not as dangerously collapsed, but as signalling a Tiresian-like wisdom. More importantly, perhaps, she witnesses (to the extent that it is possible) Leontes' penance; in Luther's schema, one Christian confessing to another effects the peace of mercy.
The "place" where Leontes is located then is representative of the unconscious mind, as Leontes is remembering, withdrawn into himself, out of all action. Thus, as the withdrawal is symbolic of Leontes' withdrawal into himself, we come to understand what occurs to him by what occurs on-stage, each aspect of his internal struggle dramatized by what we do see. In his book, Shakespeare and the Artist, W. M. Merchant argues that Shakespeare's staging is always symbolic, following the medieval principles of simultaneity and symbolic presentation. Since the arts of music, architecture, painting and verse were not separated from one another, he argues, a witty interchange of ideoms and methods was used to transfer significance from one medium to another: "drama adopted the essential qualities of the well-tried simultaneous setting in its most allusive and flexible form and it achieved ease of multiple reference by employing conceit, most obviously in the verse, but equally richly in the music employed and in the relationship of the architectural setting to the witty movement of the plot."14 An im-portant way then of understanding Leontes' motivation and behavior, both early and at this moment in the play, is to examine what does appear in language, metaphors, staging, the embodiment of what cannot be seen and heard by what can be, by looking at his "dream" to understand his mind as Freud suggests: "The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind."15
A. The Consequences of Jealousy: Leontes and Othello
Before examining Leontes' final dream and the ways in which Leontes' escape from the stage allows for the dream of romance and allows the audience to follow his psychological shifts, I want to return to the starting points of The Winter's Tale and Othello to describe the similarities between the two characters in order to understand more completely the radical differences of the endings and the radical introduction in The Winter's Tale of the gap of time. Critics have often noted that both Leontes and Othello suffer from the same sort of projective paranoid jealousy as a defense against homosexual attraction; both are described as losing themselves to the irrational forces of the unconscious. As Murray Schwartz argues in his essay on Leontes, such men suffer a paranoia derived from homosexual desire (thus the formula: I do not love him, she does), and from a deeply ambivalent relationship towards both the maternal and paternal, the sexual and sacred: "In The Winter's Tale, jealousy and the sacred and dialectical terms; each implies the other, as separation implies union or winter spring."16 Schwartz further describes paranoia as a psychic im-prisonment, the sort which traps Othello throughout, but the opposite of the bodily imprisonment which Leontes undergoes as he works to free his psyche:
Paranoia is a form of psychic imprisonment in which the loss of ego boundaries makes the external world nothing but a confluence of symbols, selected according to subjective and ambivalent wishes and fears. For the paranoid, others become what D.W. Winnicott has called "subjective objects," embodiments of psychic realities that exist only in relation to the subject. Others lose their otherness. In this sense, paranoia can be seen as a radical denial of separation, a perversion of the mutuality of the boyhood myth which shares with it a crucial element. In his delusions Leontes identifies with both Hermione and Polixenes and tries desperately to exclude himself from the fantasies he projects on them.17
What occurs in each play as a result of initial paranoia is, however, quite different. What happens to Othello is that his unconscious material becomes, in Freud's words, fixed, even as he is spatially trapped on the stage, not allowed to leave its confines for long enough. In speaking of patients with obsessional neuroses, Freud says that they are "fixed to a particular point in their past that they do not know how to release themselves from, and are consequently alienated from both present and future."18 Othello's experiences with the horrors of his unconscious is thus given no chance for revision. The consummation of his marriage, occurring off-stage and at some indeterminate time, triggers the release of unconscious material which Othello is never allowed time to rework. He is goaded by Iago, rushed by war and sword fights, pressed by his wife. He is kept in a state of permanent madness until he sees no way out of his nightmare but to still the flesh and blood which arouses him.
What most especially fixes Othello and holds him fixated on sexual consummation and its attendant confusion and horror is the overwhelming presence of the absent handkerchief, emblematic of his wedding sheets. The discrepancy between the ideal he has constructed of Desdemona and the real experience of marriage including both blood and passion, is more than he can bear. Moreover, Iago knows how to mirror his anxiety and to establish a male bond more powerful, familiar, and reassuring than the marriage bond; Othello is never permitted to dream again, but is instead kept by Iago ever crazed, ever in a state of frustrated excitation, his sleep and sexual performance interrupted, until finally he enacts such anxiety in a fit, and moves to rid himself of it by murder and suicide. Othello comes undone not only physically, but also, as others have noted, verbally19 as he loses his ability to proceed in a linear, narrative way, a horror for one who relies so heavily upon storytelling to construct his character. The mad Othello catches, repeats, makes "lie" (falsehood) into the "lie" of sexual hysteria, and "zounds" (God's wounds) into the fulsome female wound central to his madness. The divine Desdemona is no longer a pure diety to him, but a woman wounded:
Lie with her? Lie on her?—We say lie on her when they belie her.—Lie with her! Zounds, that's fulsome.—Handkerchief—confessions—handkerchief! (IV, i, 36ff.)
Leontes' fit of jealousy is quite similar. Like Othello's, his jealousy has its origin in a mistaken sense of his wife's behavior and it also surges up seemingly out of nowhere, in part in reaction to an ideal vision, for Leontes of his childhood past as described by Polixenes. It was a past without wives, as he says, without adult sexuality and without children:
We were as twinned lambs, that did frisk i'th'sun, And bleat the one at th'other; what we changed Was innocence for innocence; we knew not The doctrine of ill-doing, nor dreamed That any did; had we pursued that life, And our weak spirits ne'er been higher reared With higher blood, we should have answered heaven Boldly, "not guilty;" the imposition cleared, Hereditary ours.
(I, i, 67ff.)
Out of this "dream" of childhood innocence, Leontes extracts the crazed "dream" of betrayal discussed by Schwartz and others 20 as Leontes converts his sexual tie to Polixenes into a perverse relationship between Polixenes and Hermione.21 One might also argue that as "twins" the two are competing for maternal love (emblemized by the pregnant Hermione) and that Leontes is hence catapulted into an infantile paranoid state in which ego boundaries are completely dissolved and other people become figures without external reality.22 Gazing at the two together, Leontes' aside reveals the crazed state of his mind: "Too hot, too hot! / To mingle friendship far is mingling bloods. / I have tremor cordis on me; my heart dances, / But not for joy, not joy." (I, ii, 109-111) In this diffuse state—"muddy," "unsettled" the mingling of friendship which Leontes has projected onto his wife and friend creates all manner of mingling: of sexes, of characters, of generations.23 Leontes sees himself as merging with Polixenes who has usurped his role; with Mamillus who is like him in his boyishness (his desire to be "boy eternal"), as like him as one egg is to another; and with Hermione as he identifies with the female, envisioning both of them with their "gates" forced open. Although he begins by identifying with the cuckolds,24 and seeing all neighbors as adulterers (as all neighbors blend into a disembodied "smile"), his imagery of ponds and gates becomes both female and ambiguously referential. Moreover, "Sir Smile" is a free floating image that draws attention not only to the neighbor's oily falsity, but to both a slit and an erection (by shape), and to male (Sir)/female (orifice) confusion:
And his pond fished by his next door neighbor, by Sir Smile, his neighbor; nay, there's comfort in't, Whiles other men have gates, and those gates opened, As mine, against their will.
(I, ii, 194-7)
Most obviously, Leontes conflates his wife and his friend, blending their bodies into what for him is a terrifying image of male and female parts overlapping until there is no distinction between cheek and cheek, lip and lip, nose and nose, breath and breath (and as he moves into animal imagery, between "neb" and mouth). He defies Camillo's assertion of their innocence by anatomizing, by reducing each whole being to a small part:
Is whispering nothing? Is leaning cheek to cheek? Is meeting noses? Kissing with inside lip? Stopping the career Of laughter with sigh (a note infallible Of breaking honesty)?
(I, ii, 285-89)
Once boundaries between people are broken in Leontes' mad dream, the boundaries between life and death are also broken and Perdita is sent to die and Mamillius does die.25 In the case of Hermione the boundaries are blurred if not actually broken, since her death remains a seeming truth throughout most of the play. Each loss thus prepares him for the necessary loss of himself to himself and to the audience, and teaches him his tragic error. First, in losing touch with the world around him and specifically with the female in it, he loses both the nurturing and protective female (the pregnant Hermione) and the female as a potential force for courtesy, gracefulness, and grace (Perdita).26 Although he describes Antigonus as dreading his wife, it seems rather as if Leontes has projected such fear onto him. It is Leontes who seems to dread all that is female, for when Paulina lays his child before him, he speaks in an hysterical fashion that merges female as whore and female as infant. He wants both "out":
Out! A mankind witch! Hence with her, out o'door! A most intelligencing bawd!
(III, iii, 65-67)
But it is his other child whom he loses forever. As Richard Wheeler remarks, the loss of Mamillius in the actual world confirms its independent existence and wakes Leontes from his deluded "dream."27 Leontes cannot have his boyhood, mirrored in Mamillius, again. Certainly he can never return to the boyhood Polixenes describes in Act I in which the two were without guilt, sin, or women. They were, as he says, "unfledged," without the plumage symbolic of adult sexuality, and untried. Thus in killing Mamillius, Leontes kills not only his son, but his own boyhood, and the living proof of his adult sexuality. In denying (as he denies the truth of the oracle) the truth of the psychosexual stages he has already passed through, in wanting to be "boy eternal," Leontes must return to an unconscious state and begin again to construct himself.
Leontes also loses Antigonus, a loss which can be understood symbolically both as Antigonus represents both the larger world which is devastated by the king's madness, and as he represents an aspect of Leontes' own sick psyche. His name splits into parts (anti-gonad) indicating yet again male fear of sexuality. His speeches about his wife and daughters are also ugly in the extreme and match Leontes' imagination in their cruelty and male paranoia. Although his daughters are only five, nine, and eleven years old, he offers them up as sacrifices if Hermione proves false. He will keep them "girls eternal" and will castrate himself. Although he appears to be exaggerating only for the rhetorical effect of asserting Hermione's innocence, his language nonetheless reveals his similar obsession with betrayal and fear:
By mine honor, I'll geld 'em all; fourteen they shall not see To bring false generations. They are co-heirs, And I had rather glib myself than they Should not produce fair issue.
(II, i, 146-50)
Murray Schwartz comments that in this passage Antigonus confuses his own potency with masculine honor and duplicates the disease he repudiates: "He becomes, therefore, the surrogate for his master and the carrier of Paulina's curse (II, ii, 76-79), the vehicle for Shakespeare's displaced exorcism of Leontes' jealousy."29 Sent to the seacoast with Leontes' child,Antigonus hears the name "Perdita." Having lost faith in Hermione's innocence, and believing falsely that she is dead, he dreams that Hermione appears before him, telling him to name the lost baby Perdita, but, of course, it is he himself, not the baby, who is lost, whom nature destroys.
Many readers have noted the parallels between the first and second parts of the play;28 for example, in both parts a king has an irrational outburst, someone longs to return home by sea, a woman represents fertility, a pastoral scene is described or appears, gods reveal the truth. Critics have also noted that the romances are in many ways revisions of the tragedies; The Winter's Tale is of particular interest as it demonstrates the revision mid-way in a single play, and as it offers Leontes an experience denied Othello or Macbeth or Lear. Unlike these equally maddened figures, Leontes is allowed to settle and be still. Unlike Lear's frail, deluded dream of being imprisoned with Cordelia, Leontes' dream also growing out of imprisonment and total immersion in the self, proves robust and fruitful. In spite of the powerful conclusion, however, the vision of death is never quite expunged; perhaps indeed it contributes to Leontes' (and our) awe at the preciousness and cost of life returned as those that remain appear on stage together.
The process which culminates in Leontes' time offstage and his new dream begins with his becoming nothing, and we know this as early as the courtroom scene in which Leontes is so certain of his accusations that he defies Apollo. According to Cleomenes' description of his own experience, one that Leontes is soon to replicate, the oracle manifests itself first as overpowering thunder and only then as clear words setting forth Hermione's innocence:
But of all, the burst And the ear-deaf'ning voice o'th'oracle, Kin to Jove's thunder, so surprised my sense, That I was nothing.
(III, i, 8-11)
It is this very experience of "nothing" which Leontes must come to know as Lear does on the heath; he must come to know that his suspicions were as he himself named them, "nothing," and that he created them out of nothing, and must therefore experience complete loss and nothingness. David Willbern in his wonderfully suggestive article on "Shakespeare's Nothing," gives a description of Leontes' destructive abilities; his essay does not explore, but does suggest that the awareness of nothing can be creative as well:
Psychoanalytic theories of the origins and acquisition of language, of perception, or reality testing, of the capacity to symbolize or to interact creatively with an environment, all start from the primary fact of absence, separation, loss. The loss of an immediate, felt relationship: to bring things symbolically to mind when they are not really present, or to make them present through some communicative act (like a cry). Awareness of absence thus results in imagined or reenacted presence: a recollecting or remembering of what was lost (my emphasis).30
The scene in which Antigonus is pursued by a bear and in which the clown describes the tearing of Antigonus to bits (anatomized even as Leontes has anatomized Hermione and Polixenes) has frequently been described as grotesquely comic, a scene in which genres and tones are audaciously mixed. At the threshold of sea and land, sea and sky, as the ship bores the moon with her main mast, this coast presents those at the thresholds of life and death: Perdita, Antigonus, and the seamen. Yet in the midst of the clown's jumbled stories of destruction come the suggestions of miracle, the discovery of the baby and the idea of charity. It is tempting to read the clown's description as a description of the (re)birth of Perdita. Since Leontes cannot look upon the original birth, convinced that his wife is a whore and the child a bastard, we get it, like so much else in Part II of the play, a second time; and the clown's words seem in this context to describe not only the drowning but also intercourse, the yeasty rising of a pregnant belly, and finally crowning, birth, and the mother's cries of pain: "O, the most piteous cry of the poor souls! Sometimes to see 'em, and not to see 'em; now the ship boring the moon with her main mast, and anon swallowed with yeast and froth, as you'd thrust a cork into a hogshead" (III, iii, 89-93). Although the shepherd cannot save the men on board (to do so, as the clown says, would mean being able to walk on water), the two can value and care for the baby—which they do even before they discover that the baby's value is also measured in gold. This wrenching seacoast scene is analogous to Leontes' unconscious, off-stage wrestling with his own past as discordant elements are tossed up together. Many critics have noted the composite and unsettling nature of the seacoast scene, how like a dream it seems. In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud writes:
The possibility of creating composite structures stands foremost among the characteristics which so often lend dreams a fantastic appearance, for it introduces into the concept of dreams elements which could never have been objects of actual perception.31
In this scene from The Winter's Tale, the common element comparable to the common element Freud describes as the organizing principle of a dream is the element of thresholds. Importantly, it is the scene that occurs immediately after Leontes announces that tears shall be his recreation: "Come, and lead me/To these sorrows" (III, ii, 240-41). Although Leontes cannot know it at this point, buried in his words is the hope of re-creation. The OED defines "recreation" as a restoration of vigor and health, and as a new creation, the re-creation necessary to make the old Adam into the new; "As in the creation he could have made all at once, but he would take days for it: so in our recreation by grace, Bp. Hall, 1611." Clearly this is the direction Leontes has been working towards during his time off-stage. The logic of romance almost requires an experience of death (often in association with water leading to new life). Out of his watery tears (presented on stage in images of the sea) comes the miraculous possibility of change, dependent, of course, on the image of Jesus which stands behind the shepherd and the reference to walking on water. Likewise, Hermione's initial tears of sorrow, the spouts of Antigonus' dream, become in her final speech, waters from the gods; both Leontes and Hermione are made anew, re-created out of something dead:
You gods look down And from your sacred vials pour your graces Upon my daughter's head.
(V, iii, 122-24)
The recreation allowed Leontes in The Winter's Tale is not allowed Othello. Like other critics of the play, I read Othello as one who in marrying loses his sense of separate identity as a self-defined soldier and storyteller, one whose past and character do not prepare him for marriage and specifically for sexuality in marriage.321 Oddly, Othello announces his own lack of appetite as he tells the Venetian senators of his modesty; one must wonder why he makes his private affairs so public and what he is defending against, what worries have slipped out in so inappropriate a setting when he says, "the young affects / in me defunct." How different this is from Desdemona's straightforward request to accompany her husband to Cyprus: "that I love the Moor to live with him."33 Although Othello woos Desdemona with story, addresses her in fine language, and wishes to perceive her as alabaster, pure, and chaste, he is drawn not only by Iago, but by his own private vision of her "topped" into a morass of overwhelming feelings and confusions that he cannot sustain. It is Othello who has had the vision which Iago describes as the most horrible and which, were there not a murder, the audience too would be forced to witness in Act V; Iago cries:
Would you, the supervisor, grossly gape on? Behold her topped?
(III, iii, 393-93)
The consequent state of chaos, jealousy and sexual fantasy into which Othello plunges, literally undoes him as he falls to the ground in a trance. Once in this state, Othello, like Leontes, perceives an amorphous world of his own making in which "chaos is come again," and in which his vision of Desdemona merges with a picture of a whore. This double vision of her and his inability to imagine a woman of both delicacy and appetite is revealed throughout in language similar to Leontes' of anatomizing and splitting: "O curse of marriage, / That we can call these delicate creatures ours / And not their appetites" (III, iii, 268-69). It is also important to note here, as other critics have done, that dissolutions affect Othello's sentences as well as his perception and that it is not until the murder of Desdemona is complete that he again stands cloaked in fine phrases, a story of his own making, speeches appropriate to his image of himself as hero. The various ways in which Othello's language fails him or in which he merges with image are both odd and telling. For example, he conflates not Desdemona and Diana, goddess of the moon and chastity, but himself and the virgin Dian: "I think my wife be honest, and think she is not . . . / I'll have some proof. My name, that was as fresh / as Dian's visage, is now begrimed and black / As mine own face" (III, iii, 383-85). It is, as he reveals, the fact that he is black that disturbs him; and I would add that the character Othello is disturbing to the audience precisely because he does not totally break a slanderous stereotype: a black man, he is both sexually obsessed and threatening to the white world, a murderer.
In his farewell speech, Othello also creates an odd substitution which is revealing of how he sees himself. He begins the speech by asserting that he could have stood his situation, even if Desdemona had been tasted by the entire camp of soldiers, if only he had not known. Yet when he comes to list what he must say goodbye to, he moves from the logic of "Farewell the tranquil mind," to a list of farewells that is not, as one might expect, of bliss or contentment or Desdemona, but of troops, wars, steeds, banners, all manner of military items. What he has lost in suspecting Desdemona of adultery, it seems, is war; yet this makes psychological if not logical sense only if Othello has been "unmanned" (weakened like a virginal girl), only if what he has lost by his immersion in his sexual union with Desdemona is his sense of himself as potent soldier.
Unlike Leontes, Othello is unable to escape the state he has created. For one, this play has a villain, an embodiment of Othello's imagination presented in an exterior character who keeps Othello in a state of paranoid delusion and anxiety; each echoing "indeed" or "think" from Iago prevents Othello from recasting his perceptions, from recreating his initial vision: "To be once in doubt / Is to be resolved" (III, iii, 179-80). Moreover, it is Iago who interrupts Othello each time in the play that he is in bed with Desdemona; although it is impossible in the play to discover exactly when sexual consummation takes place (it seems to occur and not to occur throughout) it is possible to note that when Othello and Desdemona move toward an offstage bedroom, what we witness on stage as an emblem for what happens off-stage is a riot of shouting male figures, swords, moneybags, in essence a "nightbrawl." One might therefore assume that Othello finds it difficult to prevent sexuality from becoming violent, that for him sexual battle and battle merge; or that his image for the manly is so allied to soldiering that in trying to cast off the soldier, he finds himself unmanned as well. And yet, if there were a place which might offer the hope of Othello's revising his initial vision of sexual horror, it might very well be this bed, not as a place of impotence, but as a place of fertility, playfulness, the timelessness of sexual pleasure, dream.
Rather what seems to occur in the play is that Othello's initial horror is fixed in place, reified by Iago whose imagination of women, goats, and monkeys replicates his own, and by the emblem of the handkerchief and the image of the "beast with two backs." That is, in the play Othello's vision of a world without differentiation is given emblematic existence by the emblem-maker, ensign Iago who carries the army's flag and who waves this red and white flag of a handkerchief. The bit of cloth dyed in mummy gotten from the hearts of dead maidens is passed from hand to hand, from mother to Othello to Desdemona, to Emilia to Iago to Cassio to Bianca, and it seems in its passage across generations, genders, and classes to indicate a pervasive—albeit unconscious—obsession with the fearful destructiveness of sexuality.34 It is as if the dominating vision is a bed, "lust-stained," spotted with "lust's blood" (V, i, 36). Othello's superstitions seem to touch everyone, even Desdemona who wishes she had never seen the handkerchief with magic in its web, but who also asks Emilia to put the wedding sheets on her bed. Perhaps this request is not exactly superstitious, but it does cause one to wonder what she knows, suspects, or fears, and what exactly she means when she says to Emilia that Othello will return to her at once, "incontinent." This word appears earlier as well when Iago attempts to pacify the eager Roderigo by telling him to "go to bed and sleep." Roderigo replies, "I will incontinently drown myself (I, iii, 300). If Othello has been unable to control his ejaculation and his fears of violence before, Desdemona must suspect she will encounter the same sort of man in her death bed as she did in her marriage bed.
The handkerchief is, moreover, an emblem exactly suggestive of stained marriage sheets,35 and it is there-fore threatening to Othello in any scenario of off-stage action one might try to envision (although it seems to me that it is exactly this effort to envision and the equally forceful avoidance of it that makes the audience anxious even as the central character is anxious). Even in his final speeches Othello speaks in an equivocal and metaphoric way about Desdemona's body, his fear of marring her perfect alabaster skin with blood, his fear of penetration: "When I have plucked the rose,/ I cannot give it vital growth again; It needs must wither" (V. ii, 14-16).
The other image, although one not given concrete realization, that dominates the play is the image of the two-backed beast, thrown up by Iago to Brabantio in Act I, Scene i.36 The image is obviously designed by Iago to incite mischief, and it does. Moreover, reason and evidence to the contrary, it continues to live in memory, so that like the stain on the handkerchief it haunts the play, even if one is uncertain how to place it, how to understand it. The image is a false one. That is, we have no evidence that Desdemona and Othello are in bed together at the outset of the play, and in fact the play presents evidence to the contrary: Othello and Desdemona arrive at the council chamber where Brabantio will accuse them, not together but separately; and it is not until Cyprus that Othello gives a speech in seeming anticipation of their union: "The purchase is made, the fruit's are to ensue, / That profit's yet to come 'tween me and you" (II, ii, 9-10). The image can also be seen as false in its utter fearfulness and in its creation of a composite figure in which male and female, human and beast, front and back are merged into a deformed being with two backs. Yet, of course, it is just such a vision that is appropriate to Othello's crazed imagination, one way of understanding—via Iago—what drives the Moor to slay the woman to whom he is joined, who creates him a "beast" rather than a "perfect soul."
Once caught in this web, Othello is unable to escape, and indeed is kept from a return to the unconscious that might have created a new fate for himself. Rather, he becomes a rigid, almost caricatured version of the noble Moor, speaking his own praise by means of story (cf. V, ii, 334-352); he gets to be what he wants and needs: by killing Desdemona he makes her the rigid, cold, statue-like figure he originally adored, and he makes himself the separate, exotic figure he recognizes and understands.
In The Winter's Tale the wrenching that makes change possible is not easy or pleasant. If one views the seacoast scene as the scene that effects change, one can see that it is painful, discomforting, upsetting, not only for those on stage, but also for Leontes whose psyche is represented by the events as he remains in darkness, and who must acknowledge, as Prospero must, that darkness and all its evils belong to him ("this thing of darkness I acknowledge mine"). In so many of Shakespeare's plays, it seems that the path to revision lies through darkness, and when Freud describes the battle within a patient's unconscious as the patient tries through analysis to effect recovery, or when a Christian describes the battle between the old Adam and the new, they also describe something like the action of romance.
C The New World
The revised world in Part II contains, as many have noted, parallel elements to Part I. It begins, for example, with Camillo, yet again the faithful helper, wanting to return home even as Polixenes wanted to leave court to return home at the outset of the play; his eventual leaving is the first of two sea voyages in Part II paralleling two voyages in Part I. In Part I Camillo speaks of Mamillius, the child who "makes all hearts fresh" (and who now must be, as Polixenes says, "afresh lamented") and in Part II he speaks of Prince Florizel. Instead of the robbing of honor Leontes imagines in Part I, Part II offers the robbery of sheets and Autolycus' robbery of the clown's pockets, closely related, but comic. Like Leontes, Autolycus robs himself although he does it by design, for controlled effect; and even his speech in which he confuses virtue and vice in a courtroom scene, echoes in miniature the earlier confusion in Sicilia's court of justice as Leontes makes Hermione's virtue into vice. Autolycus describes himself as having been whipped out of court for his virtues; the clown's correction is comic here, but reminds us nevertheless of Hermione's treatment in Part I: "His vices, you would say; there's no virtue whipped out of court" (V, iii, 91).
In Part II Polixenes calls his son too base to be acknowledged (IV, iv, 422) as Leontes refuses his daughter in Part I: "This brat is none of mine" (I, iii, 91). Yet of course, Polixenes' refusal is brief and completely transformed by the joyful reunions that dominate the ending of the play. Again, Polixenes breaks into an angry fit at the sheepshearing and threatens to scratch Perdita's face with briers. Although this is like Leontes' fury in Part I, it is here deflected, contained, immediately undone by the opening of the fardel, like the opening of a second oracle speaking truth from some hidden time and place in the written voice of Antigonus, his letters wrapped in Hermione's cloak.
Many of the same elements are presented in Part II, but they have been transmogrified into song and dance; art keeps us at some distance from the sharp experience itself and nothing is finally harmful. In fact, one might argue that Part II, including the revival of Hermione in which art and nature are conjoined, is a demonstration of the necessity of art for the success of romance. Thus the servant can describe Autolycus' songs as filled with that which horrified Leontes and no one is afraid: "He has the prettiest love songs for maids, so with bawdry, which is strange; with such delicate burdens of dildos and fadings; 'Jump her, and thump her'" (IV, iv, 194 ff.). Autolycus picks pockets and sings of "pins and poking sticks of steel; / What maids lack from head to heel" and the world does not come undone. The dance of the satyrs, emblematic of lust, who have "danced before the King," might be seen as a version of King Leontes' own animal rage of projected desire; yet here such raw energy is confined to a ritual for celebration.
The second half of the play is also, like the first part, dominated by the imagery of dreams, but here of course the dreams come true, and as the shepherd says, Perdita will bring Doricles "that which he not dreams of." The second half also refers to important issues of faith, echoing Leontes' loss of faith and parodying his inability to believe in something so obvious as his wife's virtue and his own paternity by presenting Autolycus' song about the woman turned fish "for she would not exchange flesh with one that loved her." "The ballad" Autolycus asserts, "is very pitiful, and as true" (IV, iv, 281 ff.). The ballad also gives a low comic version in its description of woman turned fish of the miraculous high comic change of statue into woman. And both transformations are dependent not only on faith but on the presence of witnesses. According to Autolycus, "Five justices' hands at it, and witnesses more than my pack will hold," and in the chapel many are the "lookers-on," including those the audience, who witness Hermione dead become Hermione living.
The entire pastoral is a wonderful emblem of the "betwixt and between" state of the play that reigns until the final unveiling scene; the sheepshearing occurs between two seasons, "Not yet on summer's death, or on the birth / Of trembling winter," and it offers mixed flowers, mixed costumes, a mixture of classes and stations, a mixture of the high and the low in style and language.38 As a revised projection from Leontes' own psyche, the pastoral is crucially different from the initial pastoral scene in which Leontes and Polixenes romped as twinned lambs, longing to be "boy eternal." This time the eternal aspect of this world is not in fixity, but in process, a process that goes on forever. Florizel praises Perdita by wishing that she would ever speak, sing, buy and sell, give alms, dance:
When you do dance, I wish you A wave o'th'sea, that you might ever do Nothing but that—move still so, And own no other function.
(IV, iv, 140-43)
Most importantly, this time the pastoral world is populated with a boy and a girl instead of two boys, a match which makes union and generation possible as it was not before.
If there is a single character in the midst of this pastoral who represents flexibility, changeability, potential and mirth, it is Autolycus. According to the servant, his songs transform the most mundane of objects into something divine: "why, she sings 'em over, as they were gods or goddesses; you would think a smock were a she-angel." Moreover, there is a way in which Autolycus replaces the absent Leontes and signals his change; while the major character is off-stage, this onstage figure represents and enacts the other. As Freud asserts, every dream treats of oneself, one's ego often hidden behind a strange person.39 Both Autolycus and Leontes see themselves as victims, Autolycus' false pleas as victim literalizing Leontes' false pleas as cuckold, the difference between them being that Autolycus knows he is playing both the parts, whereas Leontes has to learn that he is. Like Leontes Autolycus is turned in on himself, even his name is self-referential, and like Leontes he can pull from his bag all manner of tricks and dreams—some destructive and some recreative, though all in a comic jumble. He is, moreover, that aspect of Leontes which remains "boy eternal." True only to himself, childishly selfish, he is the play's version of his puppet show character, the Prodigal Son, who unlike Leontes never grows up, never marries, but who will try, as he says in his last speech, to become the "tall fellow" the clown describes him as being. Here the clown declares his faith in one he knows to be false, because, one can only assume, of affection and his own essentially good nature, and this simple declaration takes us forward to the end and to Leontes' own declaration of faith and love.40
Autolycus also provides the parody of torture in his story of how the clown will be tortured; although Autolycus' account of what never takes place is not verbally similar to what happens at some off-stage place to Leontes, as he talks we know that Leontes has also been suffering penance and sorrow. Yet again, Part II of The Winter's Tale has removed a painful human experience to a story and has thus presented and also protected us from it, has turned a "tragic" moment to a comic one: "He has a son," says Autolycus to the clownish son, "who shall be flayed alive." Although the death of a son has occurred in Part I, we are now about to enter the changed world not only of Leontes' psyche, but of the conscious world of the court as the character Leontes appears on stage, rather a miracle in and of itself.41
Finally, Autolycus represents the impulse towards and the enactment of change that Leontes has worked long years in isolation to achieve; Autolycus himself is never still, flitting from place to place, changing costume, service, tone, and position. He moves, for example, from the seeming perpetrator of action in urging the clown and shepherd onto the boat bound for Sicilia to the receptive audience who hears from the first gentleman what occurred when the shepherd opened the fardel. Like Leontes he exerts effort, but must await the ultimate fulfilling. His overflowing bag represents the possibilities of the mind, the possiblities which Leontes' immersion in the unconscious bring forth.
In the final act of the play Leontes is taken to the chapel to see a statue of his wife. The paranoic fixity that completely dominates Othello and keeps his mind rigid, his jealousy aroused and frozen in position, has in The Winter's Tale produced several deaths and has turned a warm, living, witty, sexual woman into a statue; even as Othello, unable to endure his wife's sexual nature, turns her by means of imagery and murder into a statue-like figure as well:42
Yet I'll not shed her blood, Not scar that whiter skin of hers than snow, And smooth as monumental alabaster. Yet she must die.
(V, li, 3-6)
Yet The Winter's Tale will move from marble to flesh as we begin to know through the story of Perdita, the child whose flesh bears the imprint of both mother and father. When Perdita hears of her mother's death, she weeps and sighs, and, as the third gentleman reports, "Who was most marble there changed color." As Hermione comes alive, she does so in parts; when Leontes went about to slay her, he did so by anatomizing her. Here in the chapel, first she appears, then she seems to breathe, her veins to bear blood, then she moves, and her hand and Leontes' hand meet, and finally she descends to embrace him in a silence analogous to their sixteen years of mutual silence. Each of the senses is awakened one by one. The parts become whole again. Unlike Othello who wants to cut off the air that gives Desdemona life, who fears her breath as countering the justice of his deed, Leontes longs for it, seems to breathe life into Hermione by wanting breath from her:
Still, methinks, There is an air comes from her. What fine chisel Could ever yet cut breath? Let no man mock me, For I will kiss her.
(V, III, 75FF.)
This is a miracle of many sorts, of the seasons, of faith, of birth, of life itself. It is the celebration of process over fixity, and as Leontes admires what is before him, his words echo those of Florizel gazing at and admiring Perdita, singing, dancing, doing whatever she does (IV, iv, 135.): "What you can make her do, / I am content to look on." (V, iii, 92-93). But it is also a miracle of wish-fulfillment out of which Leontes is shown to produce not just a dream of destruction, but also a dream of memory and rejoining—the entire family brought together as he says, after a wide gap of time, "since first / We were disserved."43 Although Leontes is off-stage for a long period of the play, we in the audience are keenly aware of his absence. He is the central character, the missing figure we remember. His being is kept vivid, as I have argued by parallel figures and speeches on stage during this second half, and by the presence of his daughter, an exact copy of the father: "although the print be little, the whole matter / And copy of the father," a mirroring that can be underscored in a production by careful casting, costumes, gesture, rhythms of speech. The plotting also keeps us in obvious suspense waiting for Leontes' reappearance and reappearance and aware of his absence. As Florizel and Perdita play at king and queen of the festival, we await the royal couple. When Polixenes "discovers himself to Florizel, we anticipate the other king's reappearance. When Florizel argues that his union with Perdita cannot fail "but by / The violation of my faith" (IV, iv, 480-81), we think of the person who is demonstrating, albeit off-stage, his own faith, as it turns out, not only in his sins but also in (re)union. As the play moves with the powerful logic of romance, a quest through ritual death towards a final scene of recognition and life, we remember Leontes and what he is doing as the absent participant. In playing his part in off-stage darkness, he moves to reunite with his old role and his queen; according to Frye:
Translated into dream terms, the quest-romance is the search of the libido or desiring self for a fulfillment that will deliver it from the anxieties of reality but will still contain that reality . . . Translated into ritual terms, the quest-romance is the victory of fertility over the waste land. Fertility means food and drink, bread and wine, body and blood, the union of the male and female.44
Leontes' dream can thus be seen as behind the ending of the play. In taking on a mock-death by his absence, moving to the innermost stage of being, Leontes produces on-stage that which uses elements of the past (Part I of the play) to produce the future. Dreams, says Freud, are derived from the past in every sense:
Nevertheless the ancient belief that dreams foretell the future is not wholly devoid of the truth. By picturing our wishes as fulfilled, dreams are after all leading us into the future. But this future, which the dreamer pictures as the present, has been moulded by his indestructible wish into a perfect likeness of the past.45
Leontes as the hero of romance grafts life onto that which would otherwise be stone. Perdita lives. The earth lives after winter. Hermione lives in a perfect likeness of the past. As his unconscious dreams are realized both in the stage action while he is absent and in the chapel scenes where he is present, he becomes both the creator and the witness—since he is dependent on divine and psychological elements beyond his total control—of that which is more wonderous and powerful than even he could have dreamed possible.
1 All references to the plays are to the Signet Classic Shakespeare edition, The Winter's Tale, ed. Frank Kermode, and Othello, ed. Alvan Kernan (N.Y.: NAL, 1963).
2 David J. Gordon, Literary Art and the Unconscious (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1976), p. xxii: "If, as seems reasonable, we identify consciousness and verbal language, then we must postulate some sort of mental activity or preverbal language anterior to consciousness, and we must think of creation as taking place, to some extent, at the Threshold of Consciousness."
3 Many recent studies focus on the issue of genre in Shakespeare. See, for example, Stephen Orgel, "Shakespeare and the Kinds of Drama," Critical Inquiry (Autumn, 1979), 107-123; Rosalie Colie, The Resources of Kind (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973); Norman Rabkin, Shakespeare and the Problem of Meaning (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981); David Young, The Heart's Forest (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972).
4 Especially here, but throughout, I am grateful for the probing questions and critical insights of Professor Robert Byer.
5 Martin Luther, "Preface to The Epistle of St. Paul to The Romans," Martin Luther Selections, ed. John Dillenberger (Garden City: Doubleday, 1961), p. 22.
6 Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1957), p. 183.
7 Sigmund Freud, "A Dream is the Fulfillment of a Wish," The Interpretation of Dreams, trans. James Strachey (N.Y.: Avon Books, 1965), pp. 155-168.
8 Stanley Cavell, Pursuits of Happiness (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981), p. 54.
9 Freud, Interpretation of Dreams, p. 583.
10 Louis L. Mantz, The Poetry of Meditation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954): "It is this habit of feeling theological issues as a part of a concrete, dramatic scene that the meditative writers . . . stress as all important for the beginning of a meditation."
11 Freud, Interpretation of Dreams, p. 572.
12 Luther, p. 24.
13 Victor Turner, "Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period," The Forest of Symbols (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1967).
14 W.M. Merchant, Shakespeare and the Artist (Lon-don: Oxford University Press, 1959), p. 7.
15 Freud, Dreams, p. 647. Cf. also the insights of Madelon (Gohlke) Springnether, "'I wooed thee with my sword': Shakespeare's Tragic Paradigms," Representing Shakespeare (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1980), p. 171. In the same volume, cf. Murray Schwartz, "Shakespeare Through Contemporary Psychoanalysis," and Meredith Skura, "Interpreting Posthumus' Dream from Above and Below: Families, Psychoanalysts, and Literary Critics."
16 Murray Schwartz, "Leontes' Jealousy in The Winter'sTale" American Imago, XXX (1973), 260.
18 Sigmund Freud, A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis, trans. Joan Riviere (New York: Pocket Books, 1969), p. 284.
19 Many critics have commented on this. See, for ex-ample, Rosalie Colie, Shakespeare's Living Art (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1974) pp. 164-167; and on The Winter's Tale, Carol Thomas Neeley, "The Winter's Tale: The Triumph of Speech, SEL, XV (1975), 321-38.
20 Murray Schwartz, 250-73. J.I.M. Steward, Characterand Motive in Shakespeare (London, 1949), pp. 30-39. C.L. Barber, "'Thou that beget'st him that did thee beget': Transformations in Pericles and The Winter's Tale" Shakespeare Survey, 22 (1969), 59-67. Stephen Reid, "Othello's Jealousy," American Imago, 25 (1968), 274-93.
21 Schwartz, p. 251.
22 Schwartz, p. 262. Schwartz is here using the theo-ries of D.W. Winnicott.
23 Richard Wheeler, Shakespeare's Development andthe Problem Comedies, Turn and Counter-turn (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981). This book influenced my reading especially in its emphasis on the psychological need for autonomy and fear of merger in Shakespeare's plays.
24 For a discussion of male fear of sexuality, cuckoldry, and loss of boundaries in many Shakespeare plays, see Coppélia Kahn, Man's Estate (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981).
25 Joel Fineman, "Fratricide and Cuckoldry: Shake-speare's Doubles," Representing Shakespeare, ed. Kahn and Schwartz (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1980), p. 86. Fineman uses Girard's theory to discuss the horrors of "no difference" between twin-like characters in Shakespeare's plays.
26 Several recent articles and books focus on gender and its misuse in Shakespeare. See Kahn, Fineman, and also essays by Janet Adelman, "Anger's My Meat," Madelon Gohlke, "I wooed thee with my sword," C.L. Barber, "The Family in Shakespeare's Development," all in Representing Shakespeare. See also Marjorie Garber, Coming of Age in Shakespeare (New York: Methuen, 1981)
27 Wheeler, p. 217.
28 Ernest Schanzer, "The Structural Pattern in TheWinter's Tale," REL 5.2 (1964), 72-78. Richard Proudfoot, "Verbal Reminiscence and the Two-Part Structure of The Winter's Tale," Shakespeare Survey, 29 (1976), 67-78.
29 Schwartz, p. 260. I am a bit hesitant to equate char-acters with aspects of the psyche, and indeed in emphasizing the psychological aspects of the play in total exclusion of the religious, for it does seem to me that the play can also be read, as Frye for one reads it, as a Christian play in which Leontes' penance leads to grace. See Northrop Frye, "Recognition in The Winter's Tale" Essays in Shakespearian Criticism, ed. Calderwood and Toliver (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1970). See also Robert Hunter, Shakespeare and The Comedy of Forgiveness (New York: Columbia University Press, 1965); and of the sonnets, Martha Lifson, "The Rhetoric of Consolation," Assays (Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh University Press, 1982).
30 David Wilbern, "Shakespeare's Nothing," Representing Shakespeare, p. 250.
31 Freud, Interpretation of Dreams, p. 359.
32 Stanley Cavell, The Claim of Reason (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), pp. 481-96. Throughout, I am indebted to this fine reading.
33 Carol Neeley, "Women and Men in Othello," Shakespeare Survey, 10 (1977), 138.
34 Schwartz, p. 225.
35 Majorie Garber, Coming of Age in Shakespeare, p. 137. I wrote this during Professor Garber's NEH faculty seminar at Harvard, 1984, and am indebted to her insights and crucial comments on this work.
36 Another powerful image of "no difference" in the play is the image of men eating men, the cannibals whom Othello mentions in his original stories: "And of the Cannibals that each other eat / The Anthropod, and men whose heads / Grew beneath their shoulders" (I, iii, 142-44). I would urge that these powerful images of frightening merger dominate Othello's and hence our imagination during the course of the play.
37 Freud, A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis, p. 445.
38 Peter Lindenbaum, "Time, Sexual Love, and the Uses of Pastoral in The Winter's Tale," MLQ, 33 (1972), 3-23, argues that it is actually June, and that this speech simply explains why Perdita doesn't have certain flowers available to give.
39 Joan Hartwig, "Cloten, Autolycus, and Caliban: Bearers of Parodic Burdens," Shakespeare's Romances Reconsidered, ed. Kay and Jacobs (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978), pp. 98-100; and Freud, The Basic Writings, ed. Brill, p. 349.
40 Lee S. Cox, "The Role of Autolycus in The Winter'sTaler SEL, IX (1969), 283-301, discusses the significance of swearing and saying the play and focuses on this exchange between the clown and Autolycus, and makes similar points to mine.
41 In the movement from Act IV to Act V, it is amus-ing to note that the word "bear" occurs, reminding us of the real bear on the seacoast and again providing the transitional object cluing the shift; proposing to bribe his way out of torture, the clown says, "though authority be a stubborn bear, yet he is oft lead by the nose with gold" (IV, iv, 809-10). Such a detail underscores the care by which the play has been structured; even transitional movements are made parallel.
42 Cavell, The Claim of Reason, pp. 481-96.
43 Recent critics on the family in Shakespeare remain centrally indebted to C.L. Barber's work; see "The Family in Shakespeare's Development: Tragedy and Sacredness," Representing Shakespeare.
44 Frye, Anatomy of Criticism, p. 193.
45 Freud, Interpretation of Dreams, p. 660.
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 21825
Janet Adelman (essay date 1976)
SOURCE: "'Anger's My Meat': Feeding, Dependency, and Aggression in Coriolanus," in Shakespeare: Pattern of Excelling Nature, edited by David Bevington and Jay L. Halio, University of Delaware Press, 1978, pp. 108-24.
[In the following essay, originally presented in 1976, Adelman examines the psychology of Coriolanus in Shakespeare's play of the same name, illuminating his desire for masculine self-sufficiency and dependency on his mother.]
Coriolanus was written during a period of rising corn prices and the accompanying fear of famine: rising prices reached a climax in 1608. In May 1607, "a great number of common persons"—up to five thousand, Stow tells us in his Annals—assembled in various Midlands counties, including Shakespeare's own county of Warwickshire, to protest against the acceleration of enclosures and the resulting food shortages.1 It must have been disturbing to property owners to hear that the rioters were well received by local inhabitants, who brought them food and shovels;2 doubly disturbing if they were aware that this was one of England's first purely popular riots, unlike the riots of the preceding century in that the anger of the common people was not being manipulated by rebellious aristocrats or religious factions.3 The poor rioters were quickly dispersed, but—if Coriolanus is any indication—the fears that they aroused were not. In fact, Shakespeare shapes his material from the start in order to exacerbate these fears in his audience. In Plutarch the people riot because the Senate refuses to control usury; in Shakespeare they riot because they are hungry. Furthermore, the relentlessly vertical imagery of the play reflects the specific threat posed by this contemporary uprising: in a society so hierarchical—that is, so vertical—as theirs, the rioters' threat to level enclosures implied more than the casting down of particular hedges; it seemed to promise a flattening of the whole society.4 Nor is Shakespeare's exacerbation of these fears merely a dramatist's trick to catch the attention of his audience from the start, or a seventeenth-century nod toward political relevance: for the dominant issues of the uprising—the threat of starvation and the consequent attempt to level enclosures—are reflected not only in the political but also in the intrapsychic world of Coriolanus; taken together, they suggest the concerns that shape the play and particularly the progress of its hero.
The uprising of the people at the start of the play points us toward an underlying fantasy in which political and psychological fears come together in a way that can only make each more intense and hence more threatening. For the political leveling promised by the contemporary uprising takes on overtones of sexual threat early in Shakespeare's play:5 the rising of the people becomes suggestively phallic; and the fear of leveling becomes ultimately a fear of losing one's potency in all spheres. In Menenius's belly fable, the people are "th' discontented members, the mutinous parts," and "the mutinous members" (1.1.110,148): an audience for whom the mutiny of the specifically sexual member was traditionally one of the signs of the Fall, and for whom the crowd was traditionally associated with dangerous passion, would be prone to hear in Menenius's characterization of the crowd a reference to a part other than the great toe (1.1.154). In this fantasy the hitherto docile sons suddenly threaten to rise up against their fathers, the Senators (1.1.76); and it is characteristic of Coriolanus that the contested issue in this Oedipal rebellion is food.6 The uprising of the crowd is in fact presented in terms that suggest the transformation of hunger into phallic aggression, a transformation that is, as I shall later argue, central to the character of Coriolanus himself: when the first citizen tells Menenius "They say poor suitors have strong breaths: they shall know we have strong arms too" (1.1.58-60), his image of importunate mouths suddenly armed in rebellion suggests the source of Coriolanus's rebellion no less than his own.
If the specter of a multitude of hungry mouths, ready to rise and demand their own, is the exciting cause of Coriolanus, the image of the mother who has not fed her children enough is at its center. One does not need the help of a psychoanalytic approach to notice that Volumnia is not a nourishing mother. Her attitude toward food is nicely summed up when she rejects Menenius's invitation to a consolatory dinner after Coriolanus's banishment: "Anger's my meat: I sup upon myself/ And so shall starve with feeding" (4.2.50-51). We might suspect her of having been as niggardly in providing food for her son as she is for herself, or rather suspect her of insisting that he too be self-sufficient, that he feed only on his own anger; and indeed, she has apparently fed him only valiantness ("Thy valiantness was mine, thou suck'st it from me" [3.2.129]). He certainly has not been fed the milk of human kindness: when Menenius later tells us that "there is no more mercy in him than there is milk in a male tiger" (5.4.28-29), he seems to associate Coriolanus's lack of humanity not only with the absence of any nurturing female element in him but also with the absence of mother's milk itself.7 Volumnia takes some pride in the creation of her son, and when we first meet her, she tells us exactly how she's done it: by sending him to a cruel war at an age when a mother should not be willing to allow a son out of the protective maternal circle for an hour (1.3.5-15). She elaborates her creation as she imagines herself mother to twelve sons and then kills all but one of them off: "I had rather had eleven die nobly for their country, than one voluptuously surfeit out of action" (1.3.24-25). To be noble is to die; to live is to be ignoble and to eat too much.8 If you are Volumnia's son, the choice is clear.
But the most telling—certainly the most disturbing—revelation of Volumnia's attitude toward feeding comes some twenty lines later, when she is encouraging Virgilia to share her own glee in the thought of Coriolanus's wounds: "The breasts of Hecuba / When she did suckle Hector, look'd not lovelier / Than Hector's forehead when it spit forth blood / At Grecian sword contemning" (1.3.40-43). Blood is more beautiful than milk, the wound than the breast, warfare than peaceful feeding. But this image is more disturbing than these easy comparatives suggest. It does not bode well for Coriolanus that the heroic Hector doesn't stand a chance in Volumnia's imagination: he is transformed immediately from infantile feeding mouth to bleeding wound. For the unspoken mediator between breast and wound is the infant's mouth: in this imagistic transformation, to feed is to be wounded; the mouth becomes the wound, the breast the sword. The metaphoric process suggests the psychological fact that is, I think, at the center of the play: the taking in of food is the primary acknowledgment of one's dependence on the world, and as such, it is the primary token of one's vulnerability.9 But at the same time as Volumnia's image suggests the vulnerability inherent in feeding, it also suggests a way to fend off that vulnerability. In her image, feeding, incorporating, is transformed into spitting out, an aggressive expelling; the wound in turn becomes the mouth that spits "forth blood / At Grecian sword contemning." The wound spitting blood thus becomes not a sign of vulnerability but an instrument of attack.
Volumnia's attitudes toward feeding and dependence are echoed perfectly in her son. Coriolanus persistently regards food as poisonous (1.1.177-78, 3.1.155-56); the only thing he can imagine nourishing is rebellion (3.1.68-69,116). Only Menenius among the patricians is associated with the ordinary consumption of food and wine without an allaying drop of Tiber in it; and his distance from Coriolanus can be measured partly by his pathetic conviction that Coriolanus will be malleable-—that he will have a "suppler" soul (5.1.55)—after he has had a full meal. But for Coriolanus, as for his mother, nobility consists precisely in not eating: he twice imagines himself starving himself honorably to death before asking for food, or anything else, from the plebeians (2.3.112-13; 3.3.89-91).10 And the transformations in mode implicit in Volumnia's image—from feeding to warfare, from vulnerability to aggressive attack, from incorporation to spitting out—are at the center of Coriolanus's character and of our responses to him: for the whole of his masculine identity depends on his transformation of his vulnerability into an instrument of attack, as Menenius suggests when he tells us that each of Coriolanus's wounds "was an enemy's grave" (2.1.154-55). Cominius reports that Coriolanus entered his first battle a sexually indefinite thing, a boy or Amazon (2.2.91), and found his manhood there: "When he might act the woman in the scene, / He prov'd best man i'th' field" (2.2.96-97). The rigid masculinity that Coriolanus finds in war becomes a defense against acknowledgment of his neediness; he attempts to transform himself from a vulnerable human creature into a grotesquely invulnerable and isolated thing. His body becomes his armor (1.3.35, 1.4.24); he himself becomes a weapon "who sensibly outdares his senseless sword, / And when it bows, stand'st up" (1.4.53-54), or he becomes the sword itself: "O me alone! Make you a sword of me!" (1.6.76). And his whole life becomes a kind of phallic exhibitionism, devoted to disproving the possibility that he is vulnerable.11 Anger becomes his meat as well as his mother's: Volumnia's phrase suggests his mode of defending himself against vulnerability, and at the same time reveals the source of his anger in the deprivation imposed by his mother. We see the quality of his hunger and its transformation when, after his expulsion from Rome, he reminds Aufidius that he has "drawn tuns of blood out of thy country's breast" (4.5.100). Fighting here, as elsewhere in the play, is a poorly concealed substitute for feeding (see, for example, 1.9.10-11; 4.5.191-94, 222-24); and the unsatisfied ravenous attack of the infant on the breast provides the motive force for warfare. The image allows us to understand the ease with which Coriolanus turns his rage toward his own feeding mother, Rome.12
Thrust prematurely from dependence on his mother, forced to feed himself on his own anger, Coriolanus refuses to acknowledge any neediness or dependency: for his entire sense of himself depends on his being able to see himself as a self-sufficient creature. The desperation behind his claim to self-sufficiency is revealed by his horror of praise, even the praise of his general: 13 the dependence of his masculinity on war-fare in fact makes praise (or flattery, as he calls it) particularly threatening to him on the battlefield; susceptibility to flattery there, in the place of the triumph of his independence, would imply that the soldier's steel has grown "soft as the parasite's silk" (1.9.45). The juxtaposition of soldier's steel and parasite's soft silk suggests both Coriolanus's dilemma and his solution to it: in order to avoid being the soft, dependent, feeding parasite, he has to maintain his rigidity as soldier's steel. And the same complex of ideas determines the rigidity that makes him so disastrous as a political figure. The language in which he imagines his alternatives as he contemptuously asks the people for their voices and later as he gives up his attempt to pacify them reveals the extent to which his unwillingness to ask for the people's approval, like his abhorrence of praise, depends on his attitude toward food: "Better it is to die, better to starve, / Than crave the hire which first we do deserve" (2.3.112-13); "Pent to linger / But with a grain a day, I would not buy / Their mercy at the price of one fair word" (3.3.89-91). Asking, craving, flattering with fair words are here not only preconditions but also equivalents of eating: to refuse to ask is to starve, but starvation is preferable to asking because asking, like eating, is an acknowledgment of one's weakness, one's dependence on the outside world. "The price is, to ask it kindly" (2.3.75): but that is the one price Coriolanus cannot pay. When he must face the prospect of revealing his dependence on the populace by asking for their favor, his whole delicately constructed masculine identity threatens to crumble: in order to ask, a harlot's spirit must possess him; his voice must become as small as the eunuch's or the virgin's minding babies; a beggar's tongue must make motion through his lips (3.2.111-18). Asking, then, would undo the process by which he was transformed from boy or woman to man on the battlefield. That he imagines this undoing as a kind of reverse voice change, from man to boy, suggests the extent to which his phallic aggressive pose is a defense against collapse into a dependent oral mode, when he had the voice of a small boy. And in fact, Coriolanus's own use of language constantly reiterates this defense. Flattery and asking are the linguistic equivalents of feeding (1.9.51-52): they are incorporative modes that acknowledge one's dependence. But Coriolanus spits out words, using them as weapons. His invective is in the mode of Hector's wound, aggressively spitting forth blood: it is an attempt to deny vulnerability by making the very area of vulnerability into the means of attack.14
Coriolanus's abhorrence of praise and flattery, his horror lest the people think that he got his wounds to please them (2.2.147-50), his insistence that he be given the consulship in sign of what he is, not as a reward (1.9.26), his refusal to ask—all are attempts to claim that he is sui generis. His attitude finds its logical conclusion in his desperate cry as he sees his mother approaching him at the end:
I'll never Be such a gosling to obey instinct, but stand As if a man were author of himself And knew no other kin.
The gosling obeys instinct and acknowledges his kinship with mankind; but Coriolanus will attempt to stand alone. (Since Coriolanus's manhood depends exactly on this phallic standing alone, he is particularly susceptible to Aufidius's taunt of "boy" when he has been such a gosling as to obey instinct.) The relationship between Coriolanus's aggressive pose and his attempts to claim that he is sui generis are most dramatically realized in the conquest of Corioli; it is here that Coriolanus most nearly realizes his fantasy of standing as if a man were author of himself. For the scene at Corioli represents a glorious transformation of oral nightmare ("to th' pot" [1.4.47] one of his soldiers says as he is swallowed up by the gates) into a phallic adventure that both assures and demonstrates his independence. The dramatic action itself presents the conquest of Corioli as an image of triumphant rebirth: after Coriolanus enters the gates of the city, he is proclaimed dead; one of his comrades delivers a eulogy firmly in the past tense ("Thou wast a soldier / Even to Cato's wish" [1.4.55-56]); then Coriolanus miraculously reemerges, covered with blood (1.6.22), and is given a new name. Furthermore, Coriolanus's own battlecry as he storms the gates sexualizes the scene: "Come on; / If you'll stand fast, we'll beat them to their wives" (1,4.40-41). For the assault on Corioli is both a rape and a rebirth: the underlying fantasy is that intercourse is a literal return to the womb, from which one is reborn, one's own author.15 The fantasy of self-authorship is complete when Coriolanus is given his new name, earned by his own actions.16
But despite the boast implicit in his conquest of Corioli, Coriolanus has not in fact succeeded in separating himself from his mother;17 even the very role through which he claims independence was designed by her—as she never tires of pointing out ("My praises made thee first a soldier" [3.2.108]; "Thou art my warrior: / I holp to frame thee" [5.3.62-63]). In fact, Shakespeare underlines Volumnia's point by the placing of two central scenes. In 1.3, before we have seen Coriolanus himself as a soldier, we see Volumnia first describe her image of her son on the battlefield and then enact his role: "Methinks I see him stamp thus, and call thus: / 'Come on you cowards, you were got in fear / Though you were born in Rome'" (1.3.32-34). This marvelous moment not only suggests the ways in which Volumnia herself lives through her son; it also suggests the extent to which his role is her creation. For when we see him in the next scene, acting exactly as his mother had predicted, we are left with the impression that he is merely enacting her enactment of his role. That he is acting under her direction even in the role designed to insure his independence of her helps to explain both his bafflement when she suddenly starts to disapprove of the role that she has created ("I muse my mother / Does not approve me further" [3.2.7-8]), and his eventual capitulation to her demand that he shift roles, here and at the end of the play. When he finally agrees to take on the role of humble supplicant, he is sure that he will act badly (3.2.105-6) and that he will lose his manhood in the process (3.2.111-23). For his manhood is secure only when he can play the role that she has designed, and play it with her approval.18 He asks her, "Why did you wish me milder? Would you have me / False to my nature? Rather say I play / The man I am" (3.2.14-16). But "I play the man I am" cuts both ways: in his bafflement. Coriolanus would like to suggest that there is no distance between role and self, but in fact suggests that he plays at being himself. Given that Volumnia has created this dilemma, her answer is unnecessarily cruel—but telling: "You might have been enough the man you are, / With striving less to be so" (3.2.19-20). Volumnia is right: it is the intensity and rigidity of Coriolanus's commitment to his masculine role that makes us suspect the intensity of the fears that this role is designed to hide, especially from himself.
The fragility of the entire structure by which Coriolanus maintains his claim to self-sufficient manhood helps to account for the violence of his hatred of the plebeians. Coriolanus uses the crowd to bolster his own identity: he accuses them of being exactly what he wishes not to be.19 He does his best to distinguish himself from them by emphasizing his aloneness and their multitudinousness as the very grounds of their being. 20 Throughout, he associates his manhood with his isolation, so that "Alone I did it" becomes a sufficient answer to Aufidius's charge that he is a boy; hence the very status of the plebeians as crowd reassures him that they are not men but dependent and unmanly things, merely children—a point of view that Menenius seems to confirm when he tells the tribunes, "Your abilities are too infant-like for doing much alone" (2.1.36-37). His most potent image of the crowd is as a common mouth (3.1.22,155) disgustingly willing to exhibit its neediness. He enters the play identified by the plebeians as the person who is keeping them from eating (1.1.9-10); and indeed, one of his main complaints about the plebeians is that they say they are hungry (1.1.204-7).21 Coriolanus himself has been deprived of food, and he seems to find it outrageous that others should not be. His position here is like that of the older brother who has fought his way into manhood and who is now confronted by an apparently endless group of siblings—"my sworn brother the people" (2.3.95), he calls them—who still insist on being fed by mother Rome,22 and whose insistence on their dependency threatens the pose of self-sufficiency by which his equilibrium is perilously maintained. Indeed, the intensity of his portrayal of the crowd as a multitudinous mouth suggests not only the neediness that underlies his pose, but also the tenuousness of the pose itself: his insistent portrayal of the plebeians as an unmanly mouth, as feminine where they should be masculine, in effect as castrated, suggests that his hatred of the crowd conceals not only his own hunger but also his fears for his own masculinity.23 It is char-acteristic of Coriolanus's transformation of hunger into phallic aggression that the feared castration is imagined predominantly in oral terms: to be castrated here is to be a mouth, naked in one's dependency, perpetually hungry, perpetually demanding.24
Coriolanus's absolute horror at the prospect of show-ing his wounds to win the consulship depends partly, I think, on the complex of ideas that stands behind his characterization of the crowd. In Plutarch, Coriolanus shows his wounds; in Shakespeare, the thought is intolerable to him and, despite many promises that he will, he never does. For his wounds would then become begging mouths (as they do in Julius Caesar[3.2.225-26]), and their display would reveal his kinship with the plebeians in several ways: by revealing that he has worked for hire as they have (that is, that he and his deeds are not sui generis after all); by revealing that he is vulnerable, as they are; and by revealing, through the persistent identification of wound and mouth, that he too has a mouth, that he is a feminized and dependent creature. Moreover, the exhibition of his wounds to the crowd is impossible for him partly because his identity is sustained by exhibitionism of another sort. The phallic exhibitionism of his life as a soldier has been designed to deny the possibility of just this kinship with the crowd; it has served to reassure him of his potency and his aggressive independence, and therefore to sustain him against fears of the collapse into the dependent mode of infancy. To exhibit the fruits of his soldiership not as the emblems of his self-sufficiency but as the emblems of his vulnerability and dependence, and to exhibit them precisely to those whose kinship with him he would most like to deny, would transform his chief means of defense into a proclamation of his weakness: it would threaten to undo the very structure by which he lives.25
Behind Coriolanus's rage at the plebeians, then, stands the specter of his own hunger and his own fear of dependence. But this rage is properly directed toward his mother: and though it is deflected from her and toward the plebeians and Volscians for much of the play, it finally returns to its source after he has been exiled from Rome. For Rome and his mother are finally one:26 although in his loving farewell his family and friends are wholly distinguished from the beast with many heads, by the time he has returned to Rome they are no more than a poor grain or two that must be consumed in the general fire (5.1.27). (Even in his loving farewell we hear a note of resentment when he consoles his mother by telling her, "My hazards still have been your solace" [4.1.28].) And as he approaches Rome, we know that the destruction of his mother will not be merely incidental to the destruction of his city. For in exiling him, Rome reenacts the role of the mother who cast him out; the exile is a reliving of the crisis of dependency that Coriolanus has already undergone. Coriolanus initially meets this crisis with the claim that he himself is in control of the independence thrust upon him, a claim akin to the infant's fantasy of omnipotent control over the forces that in fact control him: "I banish you!" (3.3.123). He then attempts to insure himself of the reality of his omnipotence by wishing on his enemies exactly what he already knows to be true of them ("Let every feeble rumour shake your hearts! / . . . Have the power still / To banish your defenders" [3.3.125-28]): few curses have ever been so sure of instantaneous fulfillment. Having thus exercised his rage and assured himself of the magical power of his invective, Coriolanus finally makes his claim to true independence: "There is a world elsewhere!" (3.3.135). But he cannot sustain this independence, cannot simply separate himself from the world of Rome; the intensity of his identification with Rome and with his mother forces him to come back to destroy both, to make his claim to omnipotent independence a reality by destroying the home to which he is still attached, so that he can truly stand as if a man were author of himself. The return to Rome is an act of retaliation against the mother on whom he has been dependent, the mother who has cast him out; but it is at the same time an acting out of the child's fantasy of reversing the roles of parent and child, so that the life of the parent is in the hands of the omnipotent child. For Coriolanus can become author of himself only by first becoming author of his mother, as he attempts to do here: by becoming in effect a god, dispensing life and death (5.4.24-25), so that he can finally stand alone.
But Coriolanus can sustain neither his fantasy of self-authorship nor his attempt to realize a godlike omnipotent power. And the failure of both leaves him so unprotected, so utterly devoid of a sense of self that, for the first time in the play, he feels himself surrounded by dangers: for the capitulation of his independent selfhood before his mother's onslaught seems to him to require his death. Indeed, as he cries out to his mother, he embraces his intuition of his own death with a passivity thoroughly uncharacteristic of him:
O my mother, mother! O! You have won a happy victory to Rome; But for your son, believe it, O, believe it, Most dangerously you have with him prevail'd, If not most mortal to him. But let it come.
His attempt to ward off danger by pleading with Aufidius is strikingly half-hearted; and when he says, "Though I cannot make true wars, / I'll frame convenient peace" (5.3.190-91), we hear the tragic collapse of his personality. We of course know by this time that the self-sufficient and aggressive pose by which Coriolanus maintains his selfhood is as dangerous to him as its collapse, that Aufidius plans to kill him no matter what he does (4.7.24-26, 56-57). It is a mark of the extent to which external dangers are for Coriolanus merely a reflection of internal ones that he feels himself in no danger until the collapse of his defensive system. But Volumnia achieves this collapse partly because she makes the dangers inherent in his defensive system as terrifying as those which it is designed to keep at bay: her last confrontation with her son is so appallingly effective because she invalidates his defenses by threatening to enact his most central defensive fantasies, thereby making their consequences inescapable to him.
The very appearance of his mother, coming to beg him for the life of her city and hence for her own life, is an enactment of his attempt to become the author of his mother, his desire to have power over her. He has before found her begging intolerable (3.2.124-34); when she kneels to him here, making the role reversal of mother and child explicit (5.3.56), he reacts with an hysteria that suggests that the acting out of this forbidden wish threatens to dissolve the very structures by which he orders his life:
What's this? Your knees to me? to your corrected son? Then let the pebbles on the hungry beach Fillip the stars. Then let the mutinous winds Strike the proud cedars 'gainst the fiery sun, Murd'ring impossibility, to make What cannot be, slight work!
At first sight, this speech seems simply to register Coriolanus's horror at the threat to hierarchy implied by the kneeling of parent to child. But if Coriolanus were responding only—or even mainly—to this threat, we would expect the threatened chaos to be imaged as high bowing to low; and this is in fact the image that we are given when Volumnia first bows to her son as if—as Coriolanus says—"Olympus to a molehill should / In supplication nod" (5.3.30-31). But Coriolanus does not respond to his mother's kneeling with an image of high bowing to low; instead, he responds with two images of low mutinously striking at high. The chaos imaged here is not so much a derivative of his mother's kneeling as of the potential mutiny that her kneeling seems to imply: for her kneeling releases the possibility of his mutiny against her, a mutiny that he has been suppressing all along by his exaggerated deference to her. His response here reveals another of the bases for his hatred of the mutinous and leveling populace: the violence of his images suggests that his mother's kneeling has forced him to acknowledge his return to Rome as a rising up of the hungry and mutinous forces in himself. With her usual acumen, Volumnia recognizes the disarming of potential mutiny in Coriolanus's response and chooses exactly this moment to assert, once again, his dependence on her: "Thou art my warrior" (5.3.62).
The living out of Coriolanus's forbidden wish to have power over his mother had seemed to Coriolanus impossible; but now that protective impossibility itself seems murdered, and he is forced to confront the fact that his wish has become a reality. Nor are the hungry and mutinous forces within himself content to murder only an abstract "impossibility": the murderousness of the image is directed ultimately at his mother. And once again, Volumnia makes Coriolanus uncomfortably clear to himself: after she has enacted his terrifying fantasy by kneeling, she makes it impossible for him to believe that her death would be merely an incidental consequence of his plan to burn Rome.27 For she reveals exactly the extent to which he has identified mother and Rome, the extent to which his assault is on both. Her long speech builds to its revelation with magnificent force and logic. She first forces him to see his attack on his country as an attack on a living body by accusing him of coming to tear "his country's bowels out" (5.3.103). Next, she identifies that body as their common mother ("the country, our dear nurse" [5.3.110]). Finally, as she announces her intention to commit suicide, she makes absolute the identification of the country with herself; after she has imagined him treading on his country's ruin (5.3.116), she warns him:
thou shalt no sooner March to assault thy country than to tread— Trust to't, thou shalt not—on thy mother's womb That brought thee to this world.
The ruin on which Coriolanus will tread will be his mother's womb—a warning accompanied by yet another assertion of his dependence on her as she recalls to him the image of himself as a fetus within that womb.
If Coriolanus's mutinous fantasies are no longer an impossibility, if his mother will indeed die as a result of his actions, then Coriolanus will have realized his fantasy of living omnipotently without kin, without dependency. In fact this fantasy, his defense throughout, is articulated only here, as he catches sight of his mother (5.3.34-37); and its expression is the last stand of his claim to independence. Throughout this scene, Volumnia has simultaneously asserted his dependence on her and made the dangers inherent in his defense against that dependence horrifyingly clear; and in the end it is the combination of her insistence on his dependency and her threat to disown him, to literalize his fantasy of standing alone, that causes him to capitulate. Finally, he cannot "stand / As if a man were author of himself / And knew no other kin"; he must become a child again, a gosling, and admit his neediness. The presence of his own child, holding Volumnia's hand, strengthens her power over him: for Coriolanus seems to think of his child less as his son than as the embodiment of his own childhood and the child that remains within him; even when we are first told about the son, he seems more of a comment on Coriolanus's childhood than on his fatherhood. The identification of father and child is suggested by Coriolanus's response as he sees wife, mother, and child approaching: "My wife comes foremost; then the honour'd mould / Wherein this trunk was fram'd, and in her hand / The grandchild to her blood" (5.3.22-24). Here Coriolanus does not acknowledge the child as his and his wife's: he first imagines himself in his mother's womb, and then imagines his child as an extension of his mother. Even Coriolanus's language to Menenius as he earlier denies his family reveals the same fusion of father and son: "Wife, mother, child, I know not" (5.2.80) he says, in a phrase that suggests that his own mother is the mother of the child, and the child he attempts to deny is himself. Volumnia had once before brought Coriolanus to submission by reminding him of himself as a suckling child (3.2.129); now virtually her last words enforce his identification with the child that she holds by the hand: "This fellow had a Volscian to his mother; / His wife is in Corioles, and his child / Like him by chance" (5.3.178-80). But at the same time as she reminds him of his dependency, she disowns him by disclaiming her parenthood; she exacerbates his sense of himself as a child, and then threatens to leave him—as he thought he wished—alone. And as his fantasy of self-sufficiency threatens to become a reality, it becomes too frightening to sustain; just as his child entered the scene holding Volumnia's hand, so Coriolanus again becomes a child, holding his mother's hand.
The ending of this play leaves us with a sense of pain and anxiety; we are not even allowed the feelings of unremitting grief and satiation that console us in most of the other tragedies. The very nature of its hero insists that we keep our distance. Coriolanus is as isolated from us as he is from everyone else; we almost never know what he is thinking, and—even more intolerably—he does not seem to care what we are thinking. Unlike an Othello or an Antony, whose last moments are spent endearingly trying to insure our good opinion, Coriolanus makes virtually no attempt to affect our judgment of him: he dies as he has tried to live, heroically mantled in his self-sufficiency, alone. Nor is it only our democratic sympathies that put us uncomfortably in the position of the common people throughout much of the play: Coriolanus seems to find our love as irrelevant, as positively demeaning, as theirs; and in refusing to show the people his wounds, he is at the same time refusing to show them to us. In refusing to show himself to us, in considering us a many-headed multitude to whose applause he is wholly indifferent, Coriolanus denies us our proper role as spectators to his tragedy. The only spectators that Coriolanus allows himself to notice are the gods who look down on this unnatural scene and laugh, who are so far removed from men that they find this human tragedy a comedy. And as spectators we are in danger of becoming as distant from human concerns as the gods: for Coriolanus's isolation infects the whole play and ultimately infects us. There are very few moments of relaxation; there is no one here to love. We are made as rigid and cold as the hero by the lack of anything that absolutely commands our human sympathies, that demonstrates to us that we are dependent creatures, part of a community. Even the language does not open out toward us, nor does it create the sense of the merging of meanings, the melting together, that gives us a measure of release in King Lear or Antony and Cleopatra, where a world of linguistic fusion suggests the dependence of all parts. Instead, the language works to define and separate, to limit possibilities, almost as rigidly as Coriolanus himself does.28 And finally, the nature of our involvement in the fan-tasies embodied in this distant and rigid hero does not permit any resolution: it also separates and limits. For Coriolanus has throughout given free expression to our desire to be independent, and we delight in his claim. But when he turns on his mother in Rome, the consequences of his claim to self-sufficiency suddenly become intolerably threatening to us. We want him to acknowledge dependence, to become one of us; but at the same time we do not want to see him give in, because to do so is to force us to give up our own fantasy of omnipotence and independence. Hence at the final confrontation we are divided against ourselves and no solution is tolerable: neither the burning of Rome nor the capitulation and death of our claims to independence. Nor is the vision of human dependency that the play allows any compensation for the brutal failure of our desire to be self-sustaining. In Lear and Antony and Cleopatra, dependency is finally shown to be what makes us fully human: however much the characters have tried to deny it, it finally becomes their salvation, and ours, as we reach out to them. But dependency here brings no rewards, no love, no sharing with the audience; it brings only the total collapse of the self, the awful triumph of Volumnia, and Coriolanus's terribly painful cry: "O mother, mother! / What have you done?"
1 John Stow, Annales (London, 1631), p. 890. See Sidney Shanker, "Some Clues for Coriolanus," Shakespeare Association Bulletin 24 (1949): 209-13); E. C. Pettet, "Coriolanus and the Midlands Insurrection of 1607," Shakespeare Survey 3 (1950): 34-42; and Brents Stirling, The Populace in Shakespeare (New York, 1965), pp. 126-28, for discussions of the uprising and its political consequences in the play.
2 Stow, Annales, p. 890.
3 See Edwin F. Gay, "The Midland Revolt and The Inquisitions of Depopulation of 1607," Transactionsof the Royal Historical Society, n.s., 18 (1904); 195-244, for valuable contemporary commentary on the uprising and an analysis of it in comparison with earlier riots of the sixteenth century. See also Pettet, "Coriolanus and the Midlands Insurrection," p. 35.
4 The participants in the uprising were commonly called "levelers" and their activity "leveling," in startling anticipation of the 1640s. The common use of this term suggests the extent to which their fight against enclosures seemed to threaten hierarchy itself (See, for example, Stow, Annales, p. 890, and Gay, "The Midland Revolt," pp. 213 n. 2, 214 n. 1, 216 n. 3, and 242.) The vertical imagery is so prominent in the play that it scarcely needs to be pointed out; at its center is Cominius's warning that the stirring up of the people is "the way to lay the city flat, / To bring the roof to the foundation, / And bury all which yet distinctly ranges / In heaps and piles of ruin" (3.1.201-5). The threat of the people to rise and cast Coriolanus down from the Tarpeian rock, Coriolanus's horror of kneeling to the people or of his mother's kneeling to him, and ultimately the image of the prone Coriolanus with Aufidius standing on him—all take their force partly from the repetition and intensity of the vertical imagery throughout.
5 Shakespeare had in fact just used the word level to suggest a sexual leveling at the end of Antony and Cleopatra, when Cleopatra laments: "The soldier's pole is fall'n: young boys and girls / Are level now with men" (4.15.65-66).
6 Coriolanus himself occupies an odd position in the psychological myth at the start of the play: though he is a father, we almost always think of him as a son; though the populace considers him prime among the forbidding fathers, he himself seems to regard the patricians as his fathers. His position midway between father and sons suggests the position of an older sibling who has made a protective alliance with the father and now fears the unruliness of his younger brothers. Instead of fighting to take possession of the undernourishing mother, he will deny that he has any need for food.
7 Menenius's words point to the rigid and ferocious maleness so prized by Rome. The ideal Roman woman is in fact one who denies her womanhood, as we see not only in Volumnia but in Coriolanus's chilling and beautiful description of Valeria (5.3.65-67). (Indeed, Valeria seems to have little place in the intimate family gathering of 5.3; she seems to exist there largely to give Coriolanus an excuse for speaking these lines.) The extent to which womanhood is shrunken in Roman values is apparent in the relative unimportance of Coriolanus's wife, Virgilia; in her the female values of kindly nurturing have become little more than a penchant for staying at home, keeping silent, and weeping. (Given the extreme restrictions of Virgilia's role, one may begin to understand some of the pressures that force a woman to become a Volumnia and live through the creation of her exaggeratedly masculine son. Gordon Ross Smith ["Authoritarian Patterns in Shakespeare's Coriolanus," Literature and Psychology 9 (1959): 49] comments perceptively that, in an authoritarian society, women will either be passive and subservient or will attempt to live out their thwarted ambition via their men.) At the end, Rome sees the consequences of its denial of female values as Coriolanus prepares to deny nature in himself and destroy his homeland. When Volumnia triumphs over his rigid maleness, there is a hint of restitution in the Roman celebration of her as "our patroness, the life of Rome" (5.5.1). But like nearly everything else at the end of this play, the promise of restitution is deeply ironic: for Volumnia herself has shown no touch of nature as she willingly sacrifices her son; and the cries of "welcome, ladies, welcome!" (5.5.6) suggest an acknowledgment of female values at the moment in which the appearance of these values not in Volumnia but in her son can only mean his death. Phyllis Rackin, in an unpublished paper entitled "Coriolanus: Shakespeare's Anatomy of Virtus" and delivered to the special session on feminist criticism of Shakespeare at the 1976 meeting of the Modern Language Association, discusses the denial of female values as a consequence of the Roman overvaluation of valor as the chiefest virtue. Her analysis of the ways in which the traditionally female images of food, harvesting, and love are turned to destructive purposes throughout the play is particularly revealing.
8 The association of nobility with abstinence from food, and of the ignoble lower classes with excessive appetite for food in connection with their traditional role as embodiments of appetite, was first demonstrated to me by Maurice Charney's impressive catalogue of the food images in the play ("The Imagery of Food and Eating in Coriolanus," Essays in Literary History, ed. Rudolf Kirk and C. F. Main [New Brunswick, N.J., 1960], pp. 37-54).
9 Hence the persistent identification of mouth and wound throughout the play (most striking in the passage discussed here, and in 2.3.7); hence also the regularity with which images of feeding are transposed into images of cannibalism and reveal a talion fear of being eaten (1.1.187, 257; 2.1.9; 4.5.194). At the center of these images of vulnerability in feeding is Menenius's comparison of Rome to an "unnatural dam" who threatens to eat up her own children (3.1.290-91).
10 In fact, Coriolanus frequently imagines his death with a kind of glee, as the final triumph of his noble self-sufficiency; see, for example, 3.2.1-5, 103-4; 5.6.111-12.
11 The extent to which Coriolanus becomes identified with his phallus is suggested by the language in which both Menenius and Aufidius portray his death; for both, it represents a kind of castration ("He's a limb that has but a disease: / Mortal, to cut it off; to cure it, easy" [3.1.293-94]; "You'll rejoice / That he is thus cut of f [5.6.137-38]. For discussions of Coriolanus's phallic identification and its consequences, see Robert J. Stoller, "Shakespearean Tragedy: Coriolanus" Psychoanalytic Quarterly 35 (1966): 263-74, and Emmett Wilson, Jr., "Coriolanus: The Anxious Bridegroom," American Imago 25 (1968): 224-41. Charles K. Hofling ("An Interpretation of Shakespeare's Coriolanus" American Imago 14 (1957): 407-35) sees Coriolanus as a virtual embodiment of Reich's phallic-narcissistic character. Each of these analysts finds Coriolanus's phallic stance to some extent a defense against passivity (Stoller, pp. 267, 269-70; Wilson, passim; Hofling, pp. 421, 424).
12 David B. Barron sees Coriolanus's oral frustration and his consequent rage as central to his character ("Coriolanus: Portrait of the Artist As Infant," American Imago 19 (1962): 171-93); his essay anticipates mine in some of its conclusions and many of its details of interpretation.
13 Most critics find Coriolanus's abhorrence of praise a symptom of his pride and his desire to consider himself as self-defined and self-sufficient, hence free from the definitions that society would confer on him. See, for example, A. C. Bradley, "Coriolanus," reprinted in Studies in Shakespeare, ed. Peter Alexander (London, 1964), p. 229; G. Wilson Knight, The Imperial Theme (London, 1965), p. 169; Irving Ribner, Patterns in Shakespearean Tragedy (London, 1960), p. 190; Norman Rabkin, Shakespeare and the Common Understanding (New York, 1967), p. 131; and James L. Calderwood, "Coriolanus: Wordless Meanings and Meaningless Words," Studies in English Literature 6 (1966): 218-19. There are dissenters, however. Brian Vickers, for example, finds a concern with political image-making at the center of the play: in his view, the patricians' praise of Coriolanus as a war machine serves their own propagandistc class interests and should be rejected by the audience as a false image of him; Coriolanus's rejection of this praise is therefore perfectly justified, not an indication of his pride (Shakespeare: "Coriolanus" [London, 1976], pp. 23-25).
14 In his discussion of Coriolanus's cathartic vitupera-tion, Kenneth Burke suggests that invective is rooted in the helpless rage of the infant ("Coriolanus—and the Delights of Faction," Hudson Review 19 : 200).
15 To see Corioli as the mother's womb here may seem grotesque; the idea becomes less grotesque if we remember Volumnia's own identification of country with mother's womb just as Coriolanus is about to attack another city (see above, pp. 117-18). Wilson ("Coriolanus: The Anxious Bridgroom," pp. 228-29) suggests that Corioli represents defloration; specifically, that it expresses the equation of coitus with damaging assault and the resultant dread of a retaliatory castration.
16 The force of this new name is partly corroborated by Volumnia, who delights in reminding her son of his dependence on her: she has trouble learning his new name from the start (2.1.173), and eventually associates it with the pride that keeps him from pity for his family (5.3.170-71). But several critics have argued convincingly that the self-sufficiency implicit in Coriolanus's acquisition of his new name is ironically undercut from the beginning by the fact that naming of any kind is a social act, so that Coriolanus's acceptance of the name conferred on him by Cominius reveals his dependence on external definition just at the moment when he seems most independent. See, for example, Rabkin, Shakespeare and the Common Understanding, pp. 130-32; Lawrence Danson, Tragic Alphabet: Shakespeare's Drama of Language (New Haven, Conn., 1974), pp. 150-51; Calderwood, "Coriolanus: Wordless Meanings and Meaningless Words," pp. 219-23.
17 The father's role in the process of individuation and the consequent significance of Coriolanus's fatherlessness have been pointed out to me by Dr. Malcolm Pines: the father must exist from the start in the potential space between child and mother in order for separation from the mother and hence individuation to take place; the absence of Coriolanus's father thus becomes an essential factor in his failure to separate from his mother.
18 Volumnia's place in the creation of her son's role,and the catastrophic results of her disavowal of it here, have been nearly universally recognized. For a particularly perceptive discussion of the consequences for Coriolanus of his mother's shift in attitude, see Derek Traversi, Shakespeare: The Roman Plays (Stanford, Calif, 1963), pp. 247-54. In an interesting essay, D. W. Harding suggests Shakespeare's preoccupation during this period with the disastrous effects on men of their living out of women's fantasies of manhood ("Women's Fantasy of Manhood: A Shakespearean Theme," Shakespeare Quarterly 20 : 252-53). Psychoanalytically oriented critics see Coriolanus as the embodiment of his mother's masculine strivings, or, more specifically, as her longed-for penis: see, for example, Ralph Berry, "Sexual Imagery in Coriolanus," Studies in English Literature 13 (1973): 302; Hofling, "An Interpretation of Shakespeare's Coriolanus," pp. 415-16; Stoller, "Shakespearean Tragedy: Coriolanus," pp. 266-67, 271; and Wilson, "Coriolanus: The Anxious Bridegroom," p. 239. Several critics have noticed the importance of acting and the theatrical metaphor in the play: see, for example, William Rosen, Shakespeare and the Craft of Tragedy (Cambridge, Mass., 1960), pp. 171-73, and Kenneth Muir, Shakespeare's Tragic Sequence (London, 1972), pp. 184-85. Harold C. Goddard in The Meaning of Shakespeare, Vol. 2 (Chicago, 1951) discusses acting specifically in relation to the role that Volumnia has cast for her son (pp. 216-17); Berry ("Sexual Imagery in Coriolanus" pp. 303-6) points to the acting metaphors as a measure of Coriolanus's inner uncertainty and his fear of losing his manhood if he shifts roles. In an interesting psychoanalytic essay, Otto Fenichel discusses the derivation of acting from exhibitionism; like all such derivatives, it is ultimately designed to protect against the fear of castration. This argument and his discussion of the actor's relationship to his audience and of shame as the characteristic emotion of an actor at the failure of his role seem to me to have important implications for Coriolanus, especially given both Coriolanus's fear that a change of role here would make him womanish and the shame that he feels later when his role begins to fail (5.3.40-42); see Fenichel, "On Acting," Psychoanalytic Quarterly 15 (1946): 144-60.
19 It is telling that Coriolanus tries unsuccessfully to assert that the people are not in fact Roman, hence are no kin to him ("I would they were barbarians—as they are, / . . . not Romans—as they are not" [3.1.236-37]): he insists on their non-Romanness as simultaneously a condition contrary to fact and a fact; and his unusual incoherence suggests the tension between his fear that he and the crowd may be alike and his claim that there is no resemblance between them. Goddard (The Meaning of Shakespeare, p. 238), Hofling ("An Interpretation of Shakespeare's Coriolanus," p. 420), and Smith ("Authoritarian Patterns in Shakespeare's Coriolanus," p. 46), among others, discuss Coriolanus's characterization of the crowd as a projection of elements in himself that he wishes to deny, though they do not agree on the precise nature of these elements.
20 And so does Shakespeare. In Plutarch, Coriolanus is accompanied by a few men both when he enters the gates of Corioli and when he is exiled from Rome; Shakespeare emphasizes his isolation by giving him no companions on either occasion. Eugene Waith, in The Herculean Hero (New York, 1962), p. 124, and Danson, Tragic Alphabet, p. 146, emphasize Coriolanus's position as a whole man among fragments.
21 Barron ("Coriolanus: Portrait of the Artist As In-fant," pp. 174, 180) associates Coriolanus's hatred of the people's undisciplined hunger with his need to subdue his own impulses; here as elsewhere, his argument is very close to my own.
22 See n. 6 above. The likeness of the crowd to younger siblings who threaten Coriolanus's food supply was first suggested to me by David Sundelson in conversation.
23 Given the importance of Coriolanus's phallic self-sufficiency as a defensive measure, it is not surprising that he should show signs of a fear of castration. This fear may help to account for the enthusiasm with which he characterizes Valeria, in strikingly phallic terms, as the icicle on Dian's temple (5.3.65-67): the phallic woman may ultimately be less frightening to him than the woman who demonstrates the possibility of castration by her lack of a penis. The same repudiation of the female and hence of the possibility of castration may also lie behind his turning away from Rome and his mother and toward a relationship with Aufidius presented in decidedly homosexual terms (4.5.107-19, 199-202). Shakespeare takes pains to emphasize the distance between the Aufidius we see and the Aufidius of Coriolanus's imagination: the Aufidius invented by Coriolanus seems designed to reassure Coriolanus of the reality of his own male grandeur by giving him the image of himself; his need to create a man who is his equal is in fact one of the most poignant elements in the play and helps to account for his tragic blindness to his rival's true nature as opportunist and schemer.
24 The fusion of oral and phallic issues in the portrayal of the crowd, and throughout the play, is confirmed by the image of the Hydra. The beast with many heads was of course a conventional analogue for the populace, but the extent to which Shakespeare intensifies and sexualizes this conventional image can be suggested by the grotesqueness of the context in which it first appears overtly in the play, a context of monstrous members and tongues in wounds (2.3.5-17). The beast with many heads becomes in this play a beast with many mouths; at one point it is even a multiple bosom, digesting (3.1.130). The phallic threat of the crowd, felt in its power to level, is thus mitigated by the insistence on a multiply castrated beast; but the tenuousness of this mitigation is suggested by the insistence on tongues in each mouth (3.1.155).
25 Stoller ("Shakespearean Tragedy: Coriolanus," p.268) and Wilson ("Coriolanus: The Anxious Bridegroom," p. 230) associate Coriolanus's wounds with castration; for Barron ("Coriolanus: Portrait of the Artist As Infant," p. 177) his wounds are a mark of his dependence on his mother. Coriolanus's unwillingness to show his wounds may derive partly from a fear that in standing "naked" (2.2.137) and revealing himself to the people as feminized, he might be inviting a kind of homosexual rape—a fear amply justified by the Third Citizen's remark that, "If he show us his wounds and tell us his deeds, we are to put our tongues into those wounds and speak for them" (2.3.5-8; see also Barron, p. 178). Dr. Anne Hayman has suggested to me that Coriolanus's fear of his unconscious homosexual desires, particularly of a passive feminine kind, is essential to his character; she sees his fear of the wish for passive femininity as part of his identification with his mother, who shares the same fear. I am endebted to Dr. Hayman for her careful reading of this paper and her many helpful comments.
26 Donald A. Stauffer, in Shakespeare's World of Images (New York, 1949), points out that Rome is less patria than matria in this play; he discusses Volumnia as a projection of Rome, particularly in 5.3 (p. 252). Virtually all psychoanalytic critics comment on the identification of Volumnia with Rome; Barron ("Coriolanus: Portrait of the Artist as Infant," p. 175) comments specifically that Coriolanus turns the rage of his frustration in nursing toward his own country at the end of the play.
27 Rufus Putney, in "Coriolanus and His Mother,"Psychoanalytic Quarterly 31 (1962), finds Coriolanus's inability to deal with his matricidal impulses central to his character; whenever Volumnia threatens him with her death, he capitulates at once (pp. 368-69, 372).
28 G. Wilson Knight discusses the hard metallic quality of the language at length; he associates it with the self-containment of the hostile walled cities and distinguishes it from the fusions characteristic οf Antony and Cleopatra (The Imperial Theme, p. 156). In a particularly interesting discussion, Danson associates the rigidity and distinctness of the language with the play's characteristic use of metonymy and synecdoche, which serve to limit and define, in place of metaphor, which serves to fuse diverse worlds (Tragic Alphabet, pp. 155-59).
Bernard J. Paris (essay date 1981)
SOURCE: "The Inner Conflicts of Measure for Measure: A Psychological Approach," in The Centennial Review, Vol. XXV, No. 3, Summer, 1981, pp. 266-76.
[In the following essay, Paris applies the psychological theories of Karen Horney to Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, seeing in the character of the Duke and in the work's "implied author" a conflict of perfectionism and self-effacement.]
Measure for Measure is a play of which I cannot make sense thematically. It begins by stressing the corruption in Vienna and the need for a stricter enforcement of the law, but it ends by celebrating mercy and forgiveness and perpetuating the conditions which have led to license in the first place. The demands of justice and of mercy are not reconciled; for everyone is pardoned, including the unregenerate murderer, Barnardine. Though the play is thematically puzzling, we can make sense of it, I believe, if we see it as the manifestation of a system of psychological conflicts, such as is described in the theories of Karen Horney, in which contradictory attitudes are generated by different trends within the personality. Such conflicts occur in Duke Vincentio and account for his inconsistent behavior; and they are built into the structure of the play as a whole and are an expression of the warring impulses within the implied author, that is, the personality which can be inferred from the text. Although Measure for Measure does not have a coherent thematic structure, it does have a psychological structure in terms of which its contradictions become intelligible.
One of the Duke's motives for "leaving" Vienna is to have Angelo enforce the laws which he has "for this fourteen years . . . let sleep" (I. iii). He has been like a "fond father" who sticks "the threat'ning twigs of birch / . . . in [his] children's sight / For terror, not to use" and finds that "the rod" has become "more mock'd than fear'd." As a result of his indulgence, "liberty plucks justice by the nose; / The baby beats the nurse, and quite athwart / Goes all decorum" (I, iii). Others share, and reinforce, this perception of the Duke's. Angelo says that if we do not enforce the law, we shall make "a scarecrow" of it, which "birds of prey" will become accustomed to and make "their perch, and not their terror" (II, ii.). Lucio recognizes that the object of Angelo's harshness is "to give fear to use and liberty, / Which have for long run by the hideous law, / As mice by lions" (I, iv). Even Escalus, who is opposed to Angelo's severity toward Claudio, acknowledges that "Mercy is not itself that oft looks so. / Pardon is still the nurse of second woe" (II, i).
It seems clear then, that, a major concern of the Duke, and a major theme of the play, is the corruption which is fostered when the laws are not enforced, when the person in authority is too permissive. The major thrust of the play, however, is to present a case against the strict enforcement of the law; and when the Duke reassumes his authority at the end, he gives no indication that he will behave in such a way as to curb the license in Vienna. The play cannot be said to favor license, but it seems to draw back from the firm judgment and exercise of authority which are necessary to control it. The case against strictness is developed along three lines: (1) the laws are too harsh, (2) no one is so pure that he is fit to be the judge of another, and (3) we should show mercy to our fellows, as God has shown mercy to us.
There is much in the play which suggests that the laws governing sexual behavior, and especially the one which condemns Claudio, demand an impossible perfection of human beings and should not be enforced. They are the irrational laws, so common in comedy, the bondage of which must be removed if a good society is to emerge at the end. These laws run counter to the course of nature. They cannot be enforced without drastic measures (gelding and splaying all the youth, chopping off a great many heads) which would be far more destructive than the evil which they are attempting to cure. The punishments, moreover, do not fit the crimes and are too severe. Claudio is betrothed to Juliet and intends to marry her. As the Provost observes, "He hath but as offended in a dream! / All sects, all ages smack of this vice—and he / To die for't!" (II, ii). There are similar statements from Lucio; but this from the Provost carries great weight, since he is a character who is consistently presented in a favorable light.
The play's exploration of the relative claims of justice and of mercy is confused by the fact that the laws themselves are too harsh, leaving those in authority with a choice between irrational severity and a leniency which leads to license. It should be noted, moreover, that the Duke seems to endorse the harsh laws which he has not enforced. He tells Friar Thomas that Vienna's "strict statutes and most biting laws" are "the needful bits and curbs to headstrong steeds" (I, iii). When he tranfers his authority to Angelo, the Duke tells him, "your scope is as mine own, / So to enforce or qualify the laws / As to your soul seems good" (I, i, my italics). The Duke is not in the position of a magistrate who is obliged to enforce the law, whether he agrees with it or not, since he could have changed it if he had wished to do so. The same thing is true of Angelo, of course, who also has this option.
The condemnation of Claudio is presented as unfair not only because the law is too strict, the punishment is too harsh, and Claudio is too nice a fellow, but also because Angelo, his judge, is guilty of the same crime. The Duke insists to Escalus and to the Provost that if Angelo's "own life answer the straitness of his proceeding" (III, ii), "he's just" (IV, ii). If it does not, however, he is "tyrannous" (IV, ii): "Shame to him whose cruel striking / Kills for faults of his own liking!" (III, ii). Escalus and Isabella both urge Angelo to be lenient toward Claudio if he has done, or wanted to do, the same thing, if his heart confesses "a natural guiltiness such as is his" (II, ii). Angelo thinks he is free of Claudio's fault when he condemns him, but he learns that blood is blood and that he has the same desires as everyone else. He then feels that he has no right to condemn Claudio:
O, let her brother live! Thieves for their robbery have authority When judges steal themselves.
He does not act upon this conclusion, of course; but he feels terrible guilt henceforth about his treatment of Claudio.
The "strict statutes and most biting laws" of Vienna demand that men be morally perfect and condemn them to death if they are not. Angelo has a right to enforce the law as long as he lives up to its dictates; but once it is shown that he is only a man, and not an angel, he loses his moral authority. Since all men have "a natural guiltiness," no one has the right to enforce the law. G. Wilson Knight argues that the Duke has been lenient "because meditation and self-analysis, together with profound study of human nature, have shown him that all passions and sins of other men have reflected images in his own soul."1 He knows already what Angelo must learn. The problem with this is that it leads to the moral anarchy from which Vienna is suffering at the outset and for which the play provides no remedy. Lechery, the Duke tells Lucio, "is too general a vice, and severity must cure it" (III, ii); but severity is condemned by the play, and the Duke is incapable of it.
The argument for mercy resembles the argument against judging, and it leads to similar consequences. Under the terms of the divine law, "all the souls that were were forfeit once"; but God, who might justly have been punitive, "found out the remedy" (II, ii). In his mercy, he provided sinful man with a means of salvation. "How would you be," Isabella asks Angelo,
If he which is the top of judgment should But judge you as you are? O, think on that! And mercy then will breathe within your lips Like man new made.
Mercy is preached in the play by Isabella and practiced by the Duke, who upon his return extends a complete pardon to everyone, with the exception of Lucio. Angelo feels that he deserves death and is ready to accept it, but the Duke gives him his blessing after subjecting him to a brief period of psychological torment. Angelo may not deserve death, but his crimes are grievous, and his punishment seems disproportionately light. It might be argued that the Duke is a Christ figure who stands between man and the Old Testament law which condemns him to death for the sinfulness which is inherent in his nature. This may have been Shakespeare's intention; but even within this framework it is difficult to understand the pardoning of Barnardine, who, unlike the others, shows no signs of spiritual growth or repentance. Near the end of the play, moreover, the Duke seems as disturbed about the moral anarchy in Vienna as he was at the beginning. Speaking as the Friar, he says that he has been a
looker-on here in Vienna, Where I have seen corruption boil and bubble Till it o'errun the stew; laws for all faults, But faults so countenanc'd that the strong statutes Stand like the forfeits in a barber's shop, As much in mock as mark.
Soon after this, he pardons all faults, except that of Lucio, who has offended him personally; and he looses upon society the incorrigible Barnardine. Neither the Duke nor the play, it seems to me, makes any effort to reconcile the case for mercy with the need for law and order.
The thematic confusion οf Measure for Measure is the result, I believe, of the inner conflicts of the Duke, who acts as a moral norm, and of the implied author, whose psyche is expressed by the play as a whole. The theories of Karen Horney can help us to understand these inner conflicts.
When a person fails to receive all of the things which he requires for healthy growth, he develops, according to Horney, three basic strategies of defense: he moves toward people and adopts a self-effacing or compliant solution; he moves against people and adopts one of the aggressive or expansive solutions (narcissistic, perfectionistic, or arrogant-vindictive); or he moves away from people and becomes resigned or detached. Each of these solutions carries with it certain needs, qualities, inhibitions, anxieties, character traits, and values. Each solution involves also a view of human nature, a sense of the world order, and a bargain with fate in which certain qualities, attitudes, and behaviors are supposed to be rewarded.
In the course of his development, the individual will come to make several of these defensive moves compulsively; and since they involve incompatible character structures and values, he will be torn by inner conflicts. In order to gain some sense of wholeness, he will emphasize one solution more than the others, but the subordinate trends will continue to exist. When they are for some reason brought closer to the surface, he will experience severe inner turmoil and, in some cases, psychological paralysis. When his predominant solution fails, he may embrace one of the repressed attitudes.
The individual develops not only interpersonal, but also intra-psychic strategies of defense. To compensate for his feelings of self-hate, worthlessness, and inadequacy, he creates an idealized image of himself and embarks upon a search for glory. The creation of the idealized image produces a whole structure of defensive strategies which Horney calls "the pride system." The individual takes an intense pride in the attributes of his idealized self, and on the basis of these attributes, he makes "neurotic claims" upon others. He imposes stringent demands and taboos upon himself, which Horney calls "the tyranny of the should." The function of the shoulds is "to make oneself ove into one's idealized self."2 Since the idealized image is for the most part a glorification of the self-effacing, expansive, and detached solutions, the individual's shoulds are determined largely by the character traits and values associated with his predominant defense. His subordinate trends are also represented in the idealized image, however; and, as a result, he is often caught in a "crossfire of conflicting shoulds" as he tries to obey conflicting inner dictates. Because they are incompatible with each other and because they are unrealistic, the shoulds are impossible to live up to and expose the individual to increased self-hate.
In Horney's terms, the Duke's basic conflict is between his perfectionistic and his self-effacing trends. The perfectionistic person has extremely high standards, moral and intellectual, on the basis of which he looks down upon others. He takes great pride in his rectitude and aims for a "flawless excellence [in] the whole conduct of life" (NHG, p. 196). As "confirmation of his opinion of himself, he needs respect from others rather than glowing admiration (which he tends to scorn)" (NHG, pp. 196-97). His claims are based "on a 'deal' he has secretly made with life. Because he is fair, just, dutiful, he is entitled to fair treatment by others and by life in general" (NHG, p. 197). The Duke has many perfectionistic traits. The "strict statutes and most biting laws" of Vienna are an expression of his unrealistically high standards. His condemnation of vice is in part an attempt to reinforce his own repressions, which must be strictly maintained if he is to avoid self-hate. He does not relish "the loud applause and ave's vehement" of the multitude, nor does he "think the man of safe discretion / That does affect it" (I, i); but he does want respect from others, especially for his wisdom and his moral character. The one person whom he cannot forgive is Lucio, who denies his moral perfection. The unfairness of Lucio's attack calls his secret "deal" into question; one of his darkest moments occurs when he realizes that "Back-wounding calumny / The whitest virtue strikes" (III, ii). Immediately following the scene with Lucio, he seeks recognition of his virtues from Escalus as a way of reassuring himself that his perfectionistic solution works.
Along with his perfectionistic trends, the Duke has a number of self-effacing traits. The self-effacing person needs love and approval, which he pursues by being helpful, non-threatening, and affectionate. His values "lie in the direction of goodness, sympathy, love, generosity, unselfishness, humility"3 ; and he has powerful taboos against "all that is presumptuous, selfish, and aggressive" (NHG, p. 219). He is afraid of anyone's being "hostile toward him, and prefers to give in, to 'understand' and forgive . . . He cannot stand up for his dislike of a person, an idea, a cause. . . . vindictive drives remain unconscious and can only be expressed indirectly and in a disguised form" (NHG, p. 219). He tends to take the blame on himself when things go wrong and has great difficulty in being openly critical of others. He is insecure about his lovableness and worth and needs constant reassurance. The Duke believes in the strict laws of Vienna, but his self-effacing tendencies prevent him from enforcing them. He has succeeded in living up to his own standards so far, but he is insecure about his virtue and is afraid of judging others. His refusal to judge is in part a defense against the self-hate he would feel if he should go astray, and it is in part the product of his desire to retain the affection of his people. Like the fond father in his analogy, he does not punish because he wants to be loved. He blames himself for his leniency, however, and holds himself responsible for the current depravity of Vienna.
Conflict between expansive and self-effacing trends often produces detachment, as the individual tries to immobilize his contradictory trends by moving away from himself and from others. The Duke has many traits which are characteristic of the detached person. He is shy, withdrawn, an observer of himself and others (III, ii). He avoids the spotlight, reminds Friar Thomas that he has "ever lov'd the life removed," and boasts of his imperviousness to "the dribbling dart of love" (I, iii). He seems so far to have avoided close relationships, especially with women. Because of a fear of forbidden or conflicting feelings, he engages in vicarious living. Escalus describes him as "rather rejoicing to see another merry than merry at anything which profess'd to make him rejoice" (III, ii). He is caught in a crossfire of perfectionistic and self-effacing shoulds which leaves him paralyzed as a ruler, unable to exercise either moral or legal authority. He can neither "qualify" the laws nor enforce them. This state of affairs has lasted, it seems, for fourteen years.
As the play opens, the Duke has hit upon a plan which will allow him to satisfy all of his conflicting needs. He will turn over his authority to Angelo, a perfectionist who does not have insecurities and inner conflicts; and Angelo will enforce the harsh laws which he has let sleep. This will satisfy his need to judge others by his perfectionistic standards. It will also relieve his feelings of guilt for encouraging vice: "For we bid this be done / When evil deeds have their permissive pass / And not the punishment" (I, iii). It would be "tyranny" in him to punish the people for what he "bid them do"; but Angelo carries no such burden. Angelo will act out the Duke's perfectionistic impulses without making him feel hypocritical and without causing him to lose the love of the people, since their resentment will be directed toward Angelo and not toward him. Indeed, Angelo's harshness will increase the popularity of the Duke and make the people long for his return. Since the Duke is not actually leaving, he will be able to protect his people from the extreme consequences of Angelo's severity, thus satisfying his need to be merciful and forgiving. The Duke accomplishes all this in a way which is compatible with his need for detachment. His strategy is, literally, to move away, to remain in the background as a secret observer.
The final reason which the Duke gives Friar Thomas for his plan is that it will provide a test for Angelo:
Lord Angelo is precise, Stands at a guard with envy, scarce confesses That his blood flows or that his appetite Is more to bread than stone; hence we shall see, If power change purpose, what our seemers be.
The Duke wants Angelo to enforce the laws without harming his own relationship to the people; but, even more than this, he wants Angelo to fail morally. Because of his inner conflicts and his anxieties about his own vulnerability, the Duke has not been able to enforce his perfectionistic standards. As a result, he is full of guilt and self-hate, and he feels that he has failed as a ruler. If Angelo succeeds in enforcing the law, it will increase the Duke's sense of failure by showing him that his perfectionistic goals were actually possible to achieve. If Angelo succumbs to temptation, however, thus losing his right to judge others, the Duke's self-hate will be assuaged; for then it will be evident that no one could have done any better.
The action of the play is like a wish-fulfillment fantasy of the Duke's. Angelo fails, and the Duke emerges as a Christ-like intercessor between sinful man and the harshness of the law. He pulls down and punishes Angelo, by whose self-righteousness he has felt threatened; but he does so in such a way that he seems extremely merciful. The failure of Angelo puts an end to the effort at strictness and justifies the Duke's earlier conduct of office. His marriage with Isabella is part of the wish fulfillment pattern. Apparently the Duke is a sexually vital man (unlike the formerly frigid Angelo) who takes great pride in his purity and who has been struggling with himself to remain continent. Hence his obsession with sexual license. Marriage will permit him to satisfy his needs and to retain his virtue. Isabella is a predominantly perfectionistic person who meets the Duke's high standards and who will reinforce his sense of rectitude. She has a compliant side, however, which will enable her to sympathize with his softness toward others. They are well-matched because they have similar inner conflicts.
The only thing which is left unresolved for the Duke is that corruption is still boiling and bubbling in Vienna, and he has found no remedy for it. The claims of justice and mercy have not been reconciled. He felt that it was his "fault to give the people scope" (I, iii), but his behavior at the end is even more permissive than it was at the beginning. The laws are still too strict, but there is no indication that he will modify them. The Duke's inner conflicts have not been resolved, but they are less intense now because Angelo's failure has justified his self-effacing trends and made him more comfortable with his compulsive leniency.
What the play accomplishes for the Duke it seems also to accomplish for the implied author. The central conflict in the play as a whole is between perfectionistic and self-effacing attitudes. The conflict is not resolved, but it is diminished by a critique of perfectionism and a glorification of self-effacing values. Perfectionistic standards are shown to be too high for human nature; it is impossible to enforce them without an absurd amount of "heading and hanging" (II, i). As a successful perfectionist, Angelo is an unappealingly self-righteous and punitive figure. His fall reinforces the notion that even saints are subject to temptation, that no one is an angel. Who, then, has the right to demand perfection of his fellows? The implied author, like the Duke, offers us nothing between over-strictness and an abandonment of moral authority. Isabella, likewise, goes from one extreme to the other. She is least attractive when she is most perfectionistic, when she decides that "More than our brother is our chastity" (II, iv) and when she turns on Claudio so viciously after he appeals to her to save him. Isabella can do nothing which would violate her idealized image; her self-hate would be unbearable. But, like the Duke, she also has a compliant side; and, with a little prodding, she makes eloquent pleas for the forgiveness of others. Her speech on mercy provides the rationale for the Duke's behavior in the final act, a rationale in terms of which it seems impossible for anyone to inflict the penalties of the law upon another. The Duke's indulgent behavior was identified at the beginning of the play as being the reason why "quite athwart / Goes all decorum" (I, iii); but at the end it is glorified as God-like.
Like the Duke, the implied author seems to be trying to work through his inner conflicts; and, like the Duke, he succeeds not in resolving but in muting them. The failures of perfectionism in the play reinforce and justify the self-effacing solution. The governing fantasy of the play is one in which self-effacing attitudes and values are vindicated and failure to live up to perfectionistic standards is excused. At the same time, Isabella and the Duke are admired for their moral purity, the laws are not modified, and the consequences of being overly permissive are clearly indicated. The play is not thematically integrated because of a lack of integration in the personality of the implied author. It is a remarkably vivid expression, however, of his inner conflicts.
1 "Measure for Measure and the Gospels," from TheWheel of Fire (London, 1930), reprinted in Twentieth Century Interpretations of Measure for Measure, ed. George Geckle (Englewood Cliffs, 1970), p. 32.
2 Karen Horney, Neurosis and Human Growth (New York, 1950), p. 68. Hereafter referred to as NHG.
3 Karen Horney, Our Inner Conflicts (New York, 1945),p. 54.
Madelon Sprengnether (essay date 1982)
SOURCE: "Annihilating Intimacy in Coriolanus," in Women in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance: Literary and Historical Perspectives, edited by Mary Beth Rose, Syracuse University Press, 1986, pp. 89-110.
[In the following essay, originally presented in 1982, Sprengnether employs pre-Oedipal psychoanalytic theory in her discussion of Coriolanus, arguing that the drama represents the culmination of the dominant gender-related themes in Shakespeare's tragedies.]
Whatever else they are about, Shakespeare's tragedies demonstrate, with a terrible consistency, the ways in which love kills. My argument here concerns the structures of homoerotic and heteroerotic bonding that constitute the primary forms of relationship in the tragedies, the assumptions regarding femininity they entail, and the manner in which they combine, with particular deadliness, in the late tragedy Coriolanus. In this play, which reveals a deep fantasy of maternal destructiveness, one can see elements of a preoedipal plot that underlies the other plays, though less explicitly articulated in them. In this plot, the hero both desires and fears the annihilation of his identity that intimacy with a woman either threatens or requires. This is, in effect, a matriarchal plot, in which union with the body of a mother/lover is fatal to the hero. In order to demonstrate the relevance of this argument to Coriolanus I will first discuss preoedipal object-relations theory as it illuminates the gender structures of patriarchal culture; next I will review the patterns that gender relationships assume in Shakespearean tragedy, emphasizing the unique ways in which these patterns combine in Coriolanus; and I will conclude by considering some implications of these structures for both psychoanalytic and Shakespearean discourse.
Object-relations theory, on which several recent studies of Shakespeare rely, proposes a modern psychoanalytic myth: that the infant must undergo a process of separation and individuation from its mother with whom its first experience is one of union.1 Robert Stoller articulates most clearly the assumptions concerning the development of masculinity contained in the idea of mother-infant symbiosis. He states that in
the whole process of becoming masculine in the little boy from the day of birth on, his still-to-be-created masculinity is endangered by the primary, profound, primeval oneness with mother, a blissful experience that serves, buried but active in the core of one's identity, as a focus which, throughout life, can attract one to regress back to that primitive oneness. That is the threat lying latent in masculinity, and I suggest that the need to fight it off is what energizes some of what we are familiar with when we call a piece of behavior "masculine." So—something I never quite articulated before—in one sense, the process of the development of core gender identity is not the same in males as in females. There is a conflict that females are spared; core gender identity in males is not, as I have mistakenly said, quite so immutable. It carries in it the urge to regress to an original oneness with mother.2
This hypothesis seems at once to undermine and to revise classical oedipal theory, with its focus on male rivalry and female castration. Femininity, from the point of view of Stoller (and object-relations theory generally) is primary, while masculine identity is something achieved rather than given and always at risk of becoming lost or diffused back into the original feminine matrix.3 On another level, one could say that preoedipal theory supplements oedipal theory, making explicit the competing set of assumptions concerning the representatives of masculinity (the father) and femininity (the mother) that inform and motivate patriarchal culture. In this view, the structure of patriarchal control manifest in Freud's description of the son's accession to the position of the father (through successful negotiation of the oedipal and castration complexes) is continually threatened with subversion by an equally powerful matriarchal influence. Looked at this way, as aspects of one another, which, taken together, provide a working description of the psychological underpinnings of patriarchal culture, oedipal and preoedipal theory may be seen to illuminate the gender conflicts typical of such a social structure. More specifically, these two theories, locked in tension with one another, pose rival claims of authority embodied respectively in the figures of father and mother. It is Shakespeare's engagement with this latter figure, and with the undertow of femininity she represents that I propose to explore in Coriolanus.4 First, however, I want to summarize some of the developments in Shakespeare's other tragedies that cast light on the particular horror of Coriolanus' death. In my conclusion, I shall return to the questions raised in this study concerning the figure of the mother as she is represented in oedipal/preoedipal theory.
Femininity in Shakespeare's tragedies, as I have argued elsewhere, provides the ground against which the tragic action is dramatized.5 Ambivalence on the part of the hero towards that which he considers feminine (whether in the context of homoerotic or heterosexual bonding) structures his relationships, just as it necessitates his death. The manner of the hero's death varies, however, according to his desire either for merger with a woman, as Richard Wheeler describes it, or for a form of homoerotic bonding that occurs in the context of a pursuit of heroic masculinity.6 While the former finds its characteristic expression in the love-death of the romantic tragedies, the latter focuses on the exaggerated violence of relationships among men based on the exclusion of femininity. The desire for merger with a woman, which predominates in Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Antony and Cleopatra, and in variant form in King Lear, can only be accomplished through the destruction of both partners.7 The flight from women, on the other hand, and the pursuit of heroic masculinity in the form of erotically charged male rivalries, which structure the history plays as well as the tragedies Julius Caesar, Hamlet, and Macbeth, lead to the spectacle of male competitors locked in fatal combat.
The tragic hero oscillates between heterosexual and homoerotic impulses, as does his counterpart in the comedies, with the difference that the violence so often threatened or symbolically enacted in the plays culminating in heterosexual marriage erupts in the tragedies in the context of both heterosexual and homoerotic embrace. In both instances the position feared by the hero is that which he considers to be feminine, and the tragic irony proceeds from the fact that it is this position that opens to him the full range of his own emotions and commands his ultimate surrender.
The heroes of Romeo and Juliet, Othello, and Antony and Cleopatra retreat from their initial gestures towards heterosexual union to a world of masculine loyalties embodied in a companion who disdains or avoids the love of women and who bases his identity on his definition of himself as a fighter or a soldier. Mercutio challenges Romeo's allegiance to Juliet by seducing him into the feud, thereby spoiling the potentially comic movement of the play. With Mercutio's taunt of "vile submission" in his ears, Romeo chooses to set aside his love for Juliet in order to avenge the death of his friend. At this crucial moment, he perceives heterosexual love as dangerously effeminate, corroborating the estimation of Mercutio, who understands Romeo's passion as a defection. Ironically, Romeo's choice of the "manly" role of avenger leads to the ruin of his love, placing him more securely in the position of victim of passion that he seeks momentarily to avoid. An act of violence not only precedes the moment of sexual consummation in this play, but it also becomes its prevailing metaphor, as the rhetoric of death as love and love as death indicates. Romeo's fears regarding heterosexual encounter are finally realized literally in the double suicide with which the play concludes.
Othello provides a more complex instance of this pattern. Here, the hero's swerve away from the pursuit of heterosexual love takes place through the intervention of Iago, a character who disparages women and whose ruinous designs seem motivated in part by his anger at having been displaced in the affections of his master. This play presents two patterns of erotic destructiveness neatly intertwined, one involving the relationship between Iago and Othello, the other between Othello and Desdemona. As I have argued elsewhere, the form taken by Iago's disappointed love for Othello binds him to his master, as witnessed in the exchange of vows in the middle of the play, at the same time that it relentlessly destroys Othello.8 This structure exhib-its some of the features of erotically charged male rivalry that appear with varying degrees of intensity in other plays. In particular, it reveals the hierarchical ordering characteristic of these relationships, the fundamental assumption that in each pair one must dominate, the other submit, and in extreme cases that one at least must die.
For Othello, in whom heterosexual passion has awakened a terrifying sense of dependence ("and when I love thee not / Chaos is come again" III. iii. 91-92), the retreat from union with Desdemona into the world of doubt and suspicion created by Iago offers a paradoxical security in the midst of his anguish.9 Unable to accept the position of emotional risk in which he has placed himself by his marriage to Desdemona, he falls prey to the misogynist inventions of Iago, whose honesty he steadfastly upholds over that of his wife. In attempting to defend himself against a fantasied betrayal, Othello reveals the extent to which he fears and mistrusts Desdemona and perhaps women in general.10 Othello's ambivalence regarding heterosexual passion, while more intricately portrayed than that of Romeo, similarly engenders a tragic conclusion. The fusion of love and violence that characterizes both the action and the rhetoric of the end of the play serves as an apt expression of Othello's divided impulses.
In Antony and Cleopatra, the hero's movement away from Cleopatra and toward Octavius and the world of male alliance in the beginning of the play, though justified by external events, is also fueled by his ambivalence. Antony's alternating views of Cleopatra as vile seductress and enchanting queen reflect his alternating impulses of fear and desire. The specific danger felt by Antony in Egypt—the danger expressed in the Roman censure of Antony's relationship with Cleopatra, hinted at in the playful exchange of garments described by Cleopatra, and explicitly detailed by Enobarbus in his disapproval of Cleopatra's participation in battle—is loss of military identity, which he equates with feminization.
In the beginning of the play, Antony leaves Egypt altogether in order to recover his masculine sense of himself. Later, having returned to Egypt and lost his first battle with Octavius, he attempts to recover his identity through repeated military encounters. This strategy fails when, in his moment of deepest despair, he, like the poet of the sonnets, believes himself to have been doubly betrayed by a dark lady and a boy in one another's arms: "Triple-turn'd whore! 'tis thou / Hast sold me to this novice, and my heart / Makes only wars on thee" (IV. xii. 13-15). In the end, the anxiety and rage occasioned in him by Cleopatra's behavior give way, as they do for Othello, to a desire for union with his lover in death. Antony's suicide enacts both aspects of his relation to Cleopatra: his wish to submit to her and his conviction that she will destroy him.
King Lear, which ends in another kind of love-death, reveals a variation on this pattern. While the romantic tragedies focus specifically on the heterosexual love relationship, King Lear, in which the hero's passionate love for his daughter Cordelia engenders a desire for a role reversal in which he would take the position of a son toward a nurturing mother, touches another and perhaps stronger chord. Lear's rage and pain at being denied protection suggest the helplessness of an infant in relation to an all-powerful mother. For Lear to acknowledge his feelings, moreover, in the beginning of the play, threatens his sense of manhood. Anger, curses, and threats of banishment serve Lear as a means of repressing the grief, hysteria and eventual madness that he associates with a feminine loss of control. In these early strategies of denial he more nearly resembles the inflexible Coriolanus than the heroes of the romantic tragedies. In the manner of his breakdown, however, he resembles Romeo, Othello, and Antony, all of whom undergo an emotional transformation through their experience of vulnerability in relation to a woman. For Lear this transformation involves first a recognition of his dependence on his non-nurturing daughters, which leads to his misogynist vision of all women as centaurs, then to a submission to his helpless love for his one nurturing daughter. This submission, like that of Romeo, Othello, and Antony, effectively requires his death. Realizing that he is indirectly responsible for the death of Cordelia, he cannot then bear to be separate from her. Here, as in the romantic tragedies, love kills: through his fear and resistance, the hero ironically engages the very forces that bring about his destruction.
The assumption shared by the plays Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Antony and Cleopatra, and Lear may be stated in the following way: the hero experiences intense feeling for a woman as feminizing, an awareness that he attempts to escape or repress, and that in turn creates the condition of union in destruction that comprises both the conclusion of the play and the actualization of a basic fantasy about heterosexual relations. In these plays, a literal loss of self is the price the hero pays for his union with a woman.
In the other significant group of plays, including Hamlet, Julius Caesar, and Macbeth, the hero's recoil from heterosexual passion and his corresponding repudiation of femininity engage him in a pursuit of heroic masculinity through the defeat of one or more male rivals. In this structure of encounter (homoerotic rather than heterosexually oriented), it is the submissive or feminine posture that the hero seeks to avoid but ultimately embraces, as does his counterpart in the romantic tragedies.
For Hamlet, the confirmation of manhood involves the killing of a rival, a condition imposed by his father. The task of avenging his father's death, however, sets him directly in opposition to his mother, and by extension, to Ophelia. Hamlet's rage against what he considers the deceptiveness of women resembles that of Othello, Antony, and Lear in their moments of greatest anxiety about betrayal. His impulses, however, more evenly divided than theirs between the desire for feminine protection and for the refuge of masculine solidarity, more effectively paralyze him for most of the play. Finally, laboring under his father's injunction, he will choose the honesty of Horatio over that of Ophelia, displacing his passion for her into an intimate rivalry with her brother, which kills them both.
While Hamlet oscillates between conflicting allegiances to women and to men, tipping the balance finally on the side of paternal authority, Brutus and Macbeth pursue a more rigidly defined ideal of masculinity in which male rivalries predominate. These plays, structured by the assumption that masculine identity consists primarily in inflicting wounds on one's rival, inevitably turn the sword, in a castrating or self-castrating gesture, against the hero himself. Julius Caesar and Macbeth, like Coriolanus, exhibit a terrible logic in which the roles of wounder and wounded and their corresponding relations of dominance and submission are reversed.
In Julius Caesar it is a woman who, oddly enough, articulates the fundamental masculine ethic of the play by voluntarily wounding herself to demonstrate her capacity for stoic endurance and to win her husband's confidence. In a play obsessed with wounds—with the spectacle of Caesar's hacked and bleeding body and the ritually self-inflicted wounds of the conspirators Cassius and Brutus—Portia's gesture is far from gratuitous. In her zeal to prove her masculine trustworthiness, she reveals the underlying paradox of the play, which equates manliness with injury, so that the sign of masculinity becomes the wound.
There is, moreover, an inverse relationship in Julius Caesar, as in Macbeth and Coriolanus, between the degree of anxiety concerning femininity and the amount of surface violence. Caesar's death results, in an immediate sense, from his fear of appearing foolish or womanly by attending seriously to Calpurnia's dream. Similarly, Brutus' splitting of consciousness in his rational consideration of murder blinds him to its emotional consequences, causing him, like Macbeth, to fall victim to hallucinations where he more nearly confronts the truth of his experience. In denying or suppressing the kind of nonrational awareness expressed in superstition, dream, or simply in tender consideration, the protagonists initiate a cycle of violence, extraordinary in its emphasis on physical mutilation, which ultimately consumes them.
Both Brutus and Cassius, who choose a manner of death consistent with their sense of honor and masculinity, die in the arms of friends in a parody of erotic embrace, turning the sword used against Caesar against themselves. While Cassius instructs Pindarus "with this good sword / That ran through Caesar's bowels, search this bosom" (V. iii. 41-42), Brutus in his own death invokes the spirit of the man he both loved and murdered: "Caesar, now be still, / I kill'd not thee with half so good a will" (V. v. 50-51). The relationships among men in Julius Caesar, based in part on a repudiation of femininity, reveal a pattern of erotic destructiveness.11 The attempt to construct an ideal mas-culinity, to demonstrate absolute sexual difference, collapses into an odd parody of femininity in which it is men, not women, who bleed.
In Macbeth, the flight from femininity is at once more obvious and more gruesome in its particular manifestations and conclusion. As many readers have observed, the idea proposed by Lady Macbeth and embraced by her husband in his relentless eradication of his enemies is based on the exclusion of reactions and emotions considered feminine and hence weak. Not to be all male in this distorted formulation is to become vulnerable, even disturbingly female, as Lady Macbeth implies in her attempts to shake Macbeth from his distraction at the banquet: "Are you a man?" (III. iv. 57); "What? quite unmann'd in folly?" (III. iv. 73); "O, these flaws and starts / (Impostors to a true fear) would well become / A woman's story at a winter's fire" (III. iv. 62-65). The dissociation of sensibility necessitated by Macbeth's course of action, one which requires a divorce between eye and hand, between consciousness and deed, is both more severe than that of Brutus and more deadening. It feeds, moreover, on a fantasy of total invulnerability, of a condition of perfect maleness, in which only a man similarly uncontaminated by femininity—"not of woman born"—can harm the hero.
Macbeth's fantasy of invulnerability coincides with an actual diminishment of stature and an increasing subjection to feminine powers, which appear in the guise of the witches. This terrible femininity, the nightmare counterpart of Macbeth's rapacious masculinity, ultimately claims him, though true to his violent course he dies at the hands of a male rival. In a final humiliation, moreover, he is beheaded, an act of physical mutilation (read psychoanalytically as castration) that emphasizes the vulnerability he has desperately sought to deny.
Both structures of action I have so briefly outlined portray the tragic consequences of the hero's ambivalences regarding femininity. If heterosexual passion does not actually feminize him, it makes him vulnerable to the woman's power to abandon or betray him, a position in which he loses mastery. On the other hand, seeking confirmation of his masculinity in more or less exclusive relationships with men, the hero finds only an illusion of selfhood that easily fragments in the high-pressured sphere of male competition. Both strategies of relationship place him in the posture of submission that he resists and fears. Both incite him to violence, and both implicate or unite him in death with the object of his violence.
Coriolanus, as a late tragedy, not only repeats the major preoccupations of the preceding plays, it also combines the two competing structures of relationship I have described in a particularly excruciating way. While Coriolanus, like Hamlet, Brutus, and Macbeth, dies as a soldier, the manner of his death, like that of Romeo, Othello, and Antony, involves submission to a woman. The conjunction of these two structures, as in a deadlock or stalemate, seems to deprive each of its distinctive gratification. Coriolanus dies with neither the dignity of a warrior nor with the luxury of the illusion of union in death. Instead he is mutilated by his enemy Aufidius and survived by his mother, the woman who has most compelled his love. This play portrays the futility of both tragic structures at the same time that it exposes the inexorable logic behind them. The hero's flight from femininity, the undertow of which he feels most critically in relation to his mother, implicates him in cycles of eroticized violence that shatter his body as well as his identity. In the deep fantasy of this play, femininity, as represented by the figure of the mother, is both powerful and primary, and hence (as in Stoller's view) subversive of masculine identity.12 More disturbingly, Shakespeare explores in this play a fantasy that underlies the other tragedies though less clearly articulated in them—a fantasy of maternal omnipotence in which a mother seeks the death of her son.13 What Coriolanus demon-strates, I believe, is that the barriers to intimacy in Shakespeare's tragedies stem from the hero's anxieties regarding the figure of a mother/lover who threatens the annihilation of his identity, a condition he both desires and fears.
Volumnia, who maintains, like Portia, the paradoxical equation of wounds with masculinity, seems to thrust her son towards death. Claiming that "blood becomes a man," she states:
The breasts of Hecuba, When she did suckle Hector, look'd not lovelier Than Hector's forehead when it spit forth blood At Grecian sword, [contemning].
(I. iii. 40-43)
On hearing of her son's exploits at Corioli, she exclaims, "O, he is wounded, I thank the gods for't," (II. i. 121). She later delights in dwelling on his wounds. When asked by Menenius how he has been hurt, she replies:
I' th' shoulder and i' th' left arm. There will be large cicatrices to show the people, when he shall stand for his place. He receiv'd in the repulse of Tarquín seven hurts i' th' body. (II. i. 147-50)
In another complex and revealing statement, Volumnia explains to Virgilia why men should make war not love:
If my son were my husband, I should freelier rejoice in that absence wherein he won honor than in the embracements of his bed where he would show most love. When yet he was but tender-bodied and the only son of my womb; when youth with comeliness pluck'd all gaze his way; when for a day of kings' entreaties a mother should not sell him an hour from her beholding; I, considering how honor would become such a person, that it was no better than picture-like to hang by th'wall, if renown made it not stir, was pleas'd to let him seek danger where he was like to find fame. To a cruel war I sent him, from whence he return'd, his brows bound with oak. I tell thee, daughter, I sprang not more in joy at first hearing he was a man-child than now in first seeing he had prov'd himself a man. (I. iii. 2-17)
Love and war are so intertwined in Volumnia's imagination that eroticized violence becomes the mark of her relationship with her son. To be a man and to love his mother, Coriolanus must be wounded, a condition he more than fulfills in the course of the play, until his mutilated body becomes the visible emblem of his destiny.
Coriolanus himself eroticizes violence, though this is most evident in his relationship with Aufidius, which seems initially to confirm rather than to undermine his manliness. Like other Shakespearean heroes, Coriolanus associates fighting and the kind of male bonding offered in battle with manhood, so that he fully endorses the equation of wounds with masculinity offered by his mother. The appeal of the battlefield, as Cominius describes it, seems to reside in its function as a place of ritual disidentification from femininity.14 Cominius suggests, in the following passage, that until he proved himself a man Coriolanus was more like a girl, or, like the young man of the sonnets, "for a woman first created":
Our then dictator, Whom with all praise I point at, saw him fight, When with his Amazonian [chin] he drove The bristled lips before him. . . . In that day's feats, When he might act the woman in the scene, He prov'd best man i' th' field, and for his meed Was brow-bound with the oak. His pupil age Man-ent'red thus, he waxed like a sea, And in the brunt of seventeen battles since He lurch'd all swords of the garland.
(II. ii. 89-101)
In battle, Coriolanus defines himself as separate from his powerful mother—as not female.
Displaying a notable lack of interest in his marriage and the affairs of women, Coriolanus pursues instead a male rival whom he can love on the battlefield. Only in this context, which provides a superficial support for his masculine self-definition, can he express vulnerability. Exhausted and bleeding from his conquest of Corioli, for instance, he insists on revealing himself to Aufidius:
The blood I drop is rather physical Than dangerous to me. To Aufidius thus I will appear, and fight.
(I. v. 18-20)
The intensity of Coriolanus' attachment to his rival expresses itself through opposition:
Were half to half the world by th' ears, and he Upon my party, I'd revolt, to make Only my wars with him. He is a lion That I am proud to hunt.
(I. i. 233-35)
That Coriolanus reserves his language of tenderness for situations of mortal danger involving men is indicated by the following passage addressed to Cominius:
O! let me clip ye In my arms as sound as when I woo'd, in heart As merry as when our nuptial day was done And tapers burnt to bedward!
(I. vi. 29-32)
This passage, of course, anticipates Aufidius' greeting of Coriolanus late in the play:
Know thou first, I lov'd the maid I married; never man Sigh'd truer breath; but that I see thee here, Thou noble thing, more dances my rapt heart Than when I first my wedded mistress saw Bestride my threshold.
(IV. v. 113-18)
Both men use the rhetoric of heterosexual passion to express intensity of feeling for another man. Because Coriolanus, in the beginning of the play, assumes mastery on the battlefield, whether in relation to Cominius or Aufidius, such a rhetoric does not threaten his masculinity. By the time he joins forces with Aufidius, however, his situation has become significantly more complex.
While Coriolanus can accept his mother's demand that he be wounded on the battlefield, he cannot accept her request that he reveal his wounds in public. While the former supports his fragile self-definition, the latter subverts it by revealing the contradiction at its heart. For Coriolanus to show his wounds is to expose his incompleteness, his implicitly castrated condition. Hoping to avoid this humiliation, he first pleads,
Let me o'erleap that custom; for I cannot Put on the gown, stand naked, and entreat them For my wounds' sake to give their suffrage.
(II. ii. 136-38)
When he actually appears before the people, he only alludes to his wounds, promising to show them in private. He takes refuge from the indignity of his position, moreover, in his rigid concept of verbal integrity.15 Words, for Coriolanus, appear to be as subver-sive as wounds. Like Othello, who prides himself on his rudeness of speech as confirmation of his honesty, Coriolanus claims, "When blows have made me stay, I fled from words" (II. ii. 72). Menenius, not without criticism, later describes the basis of Coriolanus' relationship to language.
He would not flatter Neptune for his trident, Or Jove for's power to thunder. His heart's his mouth; What his breast forges, that his tongue must vent, And, being angry, does forget that ever He heard the name of death.
(III. i. 255-59)
Anything less than an absolute correspondence between words and feelings (in this case any emotion other than anger) undermines Coriolanus' sense of himself. Specifically, he cannot tolerate any evidence of a split between seeming and being. Sensing his mother's disapproval of his contemptuous dismissal of the demands of the plebeians, he justifies himself saying, "Would you have me / False to my nature? Rather say, I play / The man I am" (III. ii. 14-16). When, on the contrary, Volumnia urges him to dissemble, Coriolanus responds,
Must I With my base tongue give to my noble heart A lie that it must bear? Well, I will do't; Yet, were there but this single plot to lose, This mould of Martius, they to dust should grind it And throw't against the wind. To th' market-place! You have put me now to such a part which never I shall discharge to th' life.
(III. ii. 99-106)
Here Coriolanus imagines total physical disintegration as preferable to acting, the threat of which he characterizes more explicitly in the following passage:
Away, my disposition, and possess me Some harlot's spirit! My throat of war be turn'd, Which quier'd with my drum, into a pipe Small as an eunuch, or the virgin voice That babies lulls asleep! The smiles of knaves Tent in my cheeks, and schoolboys' tears take up The glasses of my sight!
(III. ii. 111-17)
The ultimate humiliation for Coriolanus, and the one from which he flees into the arms of Aufidius, is to be female. What is most interesting about this passage, however, is the way it reverberates throughout Shakespeare's plays, touching as it does on the sensitive issue of language in relation to acting. Coriolanus' association of acting with harlots, eunuchs, virgins, and schoolboys evokes a complex figure that appears throughout Shakespeare's plays and is central to his art—that of the boy actor, the vehicle of an extraordinary range of verbal ingenuity and at the same time a figure of ambiguous sexual identity.
Generally speaking, the characters in Shakespeare's plays with the most complex kinds of awareness are the ones who are most at home with the possibilities of multiple meaning generated by lies, puns, riddles, and the condition of disguise.16 What these features of language and identity share is a kind of split between appearance and reality which itself resembles the art of acting. The discrepancy between appearance and reality is made explicit in the figure of the boy actor who plays the part of a woman, and becomes self-consciously artful when the heroine he is portraying in turn disguises herself as a boy. While the comedies playfully exploit the possibilities of this convention, the tragedies on the whole, in their references to acting, reveal a more anxious relation to it. The heroes of the tragedies who associate deception and betrayal with women also regard verbal facility as dangerously feminine. The more they distrust language, the more rigid they become in their self-awareness and the more brittle in their masculine identity. Coriolanus' professed inability to play a part is directly related to his anxieties concerning his maleness; the inflexibility of his language is a reaction against the image of blurred sexual identity represented by the figure of the boy actor in a woman's role.17
Rejecting the ambiguous sexual identity of the boy actor who would "act the woman in the scene," Coriolanus becomes instead a "thing of blood." Turning towards Aufidius, after his banishment, he attempts to recover himself through his earlier strategy of making war on the object of his affections—this time Rome. "My birthplace [hate] I, and my love's upon / This enemy town" (IV. iv. 23-24). Whereas making war in the beginning of the play provides Coriolanus with a gratifying form of self-definition, here he merely situates himself precariously between two enemies, between his old rival Aufidius and his new rival Rome, the two forces that combine to destroy him. Coriolanus' awareness of the danger of his position in relation to Aufidius appears in the casual reference to his death which accompanies his decision ("If he slay me, / He does fair justice" [IV. iv. 24-25]) and in the suicidal challenge he offers to his enemy:
I also am Longer to live most weary, and present My throat to thee and to thy ancient malice; Which not to cut would show thee but a fool, Since I have ever followed thee with hate, Drawn tuns of blood out of thy country's breast, And cannot live but to thy shame, unless It be to do thee service.
(IV. v. 94-101)
Even though war in this instance deprives Coriolanus of the position of dominance so necessary to his self-esteem, he finds it preferable to the kind of exposure (and threat of feminization) recommended by his mother for political gain. By offering to serve Aufidius, moreover, Coriolanus achieves another end—that of severing himself from his mother, "as if a man were author of himself—at the same time that he turns in matricidal fury against her:
Making the mother, wife, and child to see The son, the husband, and the father tearing His country's bowels out.
(V. iii. 101-3)
The futility of Coriolanus' situation manifests itself long before the end of the play. If Rome doesn't kill him, Aufidius will. Movement in either direction for Coriolanus is deadly. By embodying so explicitly the structures of eroticized violence in homoerotic and heterosexual bonding that alternately predominate in the other tragedies, and by locating himself at the intersection of these two structures, Coriolanus reveals the tragic paradox that animates them both. In his anxieties about femininity (either in relations with women where he fears a loss of masculinity, or in relations with men where he wounds himself to prove his manhood) the hero can seek only his own destruction.
The play in one sense concludes with Coriolanus' realization that he "cannot make true wars," that both his mother's injuctions (that he be wounded and that he expose his wounds) involve him in contradictions that undermine the simple military identity he has sought and prized. He dies the unhappy victim of this truth. Having yielded to the "woman's tenderness" he has discovered within himself, he nevertheless becomes so enraged by Aufidius' taunt, "thou boy of tears," that, in defiance, he invites his own dismemberment:18 "Cut me to pieces, Volsces, men and lads, / Stain all your edges on me" (V. vi. 111-12). At the end, Coriolanus is metaphorically unmanned and literally mutilated, making his death singularly brutal and devoid of emotional gratification.19
Though Volumnia's role in Coriolanus' downfall has generated much negative commentary, the lessons to be drawn from it do not concern bad mothering per se.20 Volumnia and Coriolanus are complementary partners in a fantasy structure that circulates, in less explicit form, through Shakespeare's tragedies. What is unusual about Coriolanus is the specific asymmetry of its conclusion: the two characters most responsible for the hero's death outlive him. This play is unique among the tragedies, moreover, in allowing a central female figure to survive. While Gertrude, Desdemona, Emilia, Goneril, Regan, Cordelia, and even Lady Macbeth all die within moments of the hero, Volumnia does not. Even Juliet and Cleopatra choose to join their lovers in death. If the image of a mother mourning the death of her son recalls that of the Pietà (in a Christian context), it also evokes that of the mother goddesses of the older fertility cults.21 In the pagan rituals and myths the lover of the goddess is also sometimes regarded as a son. What characterizes all of these stories is the primacy of the mother and the inevitable death of her son/lover.22 For Coriolanus, the moment of his submission to his mother signals his death.
O my mother, mother! O! You have won a happy victory to Rome; But, for your son, believe it—O, believe it— Most dangerously you have with him prevail'd, If not most mortal to him. But let it come.
(V. iii. 185-89)
In the deep fantasy of this play, a son is sacrificed to his mother in a perverse fertility rite that benefits no one.23 At the same time, there is no escape in the logic of Shakespeare's tragedies from such a conclusion. Union with a woman throughout this sequence of plays is dangerous, if not fatal, while those who flee women to pursue a counter-fantasy of ideal masculinity succumb to the contradiction inherent in the attempt to author oneself. The best death is reserved for the hero who accepts what Freud describes in Beyond the Pleasure Principle as the impulse ultimately to return to an undifferentiated (maternal) source.24
The reading I have just offered poses some theoretical questions I want to discuss (if not to resolve) that transcend the study of Shakespeare's plays. Most critics who read Shakespeare through the medium of psychoanalytic theory regard the theory itself (whether oedipal or preoedipal) as a fairly accurate model of human psychology. Volumnia, in such a reading, must appear as a terrible mother, a perversion of an implicit maternal norm of care and protectiveness. If, however, as I suspect, the figure of the mother as she is represented in preoedipal theory is a product of the oedipally organized patriarchal imagination, then other possibilities of interpretation emerge.
Freud's emphasis on the boy's oedipal struggle toward maturity, accompanied by his insistence on female castration, desubjectifies the mother (as the object of the boy's desire) at the same time that it confers on her the power and the fascination of an undifferentiated subjectivity—the power of Nature as opposed to Culture traditionally ascribed to women. Preoedipal theory, which entails a shift of focus from the father to the mother, in other ways supplements this view. The mother, still portrayed from the child's perspective as lacking subjectivity, appears as the matrix out of which his or her individuality is formed. In the ideal version of such a process, the mother, or her body, offers a paradisal state of oneness or plenitude from which the child suffers a gentle, though inevitable, Fall. This figure finds expression in countless variations on the theme of the Virgin Mother. Such an image of maternity, however, ideally nurturant and nonsexual, engenders its own dark twin. The sexual mother (sometimes termed "phallic") is as threatening in aspect as her counterpart is benign. She appears as a witch or whore. The inseparability of the two figures (good mother/bad mother) becomes apparent, however, if one considers the full implications of the concept of mother/infant symbiosis. In this concept the mother's body becomes the locus of fantasies of both union and separation, the mother herself the representative of both plenitude and loss. Stated thus, preoedipal theory constitutes the most recent attempt to locate the origins of human consciousness and history with the agency of a woman and her transgression—Eve.
If, as I am suggesting, preoedipal theory in its construction of the figure of mother complements oedipal theory by offering a rival, though suppressed claim to authority, it also reveals the ambivalences encoded in patriarchal culture towards the figure who embodies this authority. That she should appear then in the guise of Volumnia is not surprising. That the shape of Shakespeare's tragedies should be defined by the male hero's responses to such a figure and the subversion of his masculinity that she represents is occasion for pity as well as terror.
This essay was presented, in earlier drafts, at the Humanities Institute, Stanford University, 1982, the annual meeting of the Shakespeare Association of America, 1983, and at The Newberry Library conference on Changing Perspectives on Women in the Renaissance, 1983.
1 See Coppélla Kahn, Man 's Estate (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), and Richard Wheeler, Shakespeare's Development and the Problem Comedies (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981). Many of the essays in Representing Shakespeare: New Psychoanalytic Essays, eds. Murray M. Schwartz and Coppélla Kahn (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1980) are also informed by this point of view. See in particular Janet Adelman's brilliant essay "'Anger's My Meat': Feeding, Dependency, and Aggression in Coriolanus," pp. 129-49. My own reading of femininity in Shakespeare, though different in important respects from the views of these critics, owes much to their work.
2 Robert Stoller, "Facts and Fancies: An Examination of Freud's Concept of Bisexuality," in Women and Analysis, ed. Jean Strouse (New York: Grossman Publishers, 1974), p. 358.
3 For Robert Stroller, there is no question that femi-ninity (for both boys and girls), based on the infant's first identification with its mother, is primary. See "The Sense of Femaleness," and "The 'Bedrock' of Masculinity and Femininity: Bisexuality" in Psychoanalysis and Women, ed. Jean Baker Miller (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1973), pp. 260-72 and 273-84. In his article "Facts and Fancies: An Examination of Freud's Concept of Bisexuality," Stoller also refers to biological evidence that "human tissue starts as female in fetal life, regardless of the chromosomal sex," so that "contrary to what Freud found psychologically and then extrapolated as if it were a biological fact, a clitoris is not a little penis; rather, anatomically, a penis is an androgenized clitoris," Women and Analysis, p. 345. Leaving the question of fetal development aside, the assumption of an original mother-infant symbiosis would seem logically to support the notion of a primary femininity. Nancy Chodorow, in The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of Gender (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978) explores in detail the implications of mother-infant symbiosis for masculine and feminine development.
4 Of all the readings of Coriolanus I have encoun-tered, Janet Adelman's is surely the most compelling. She sees "the image of the mother who has not fed her children enough" at the center of the play, interpreting Coriolanus' rigid masculinity as a "defense against acknowledgement of his neediness." See Representing Shakespeare, pp. 129-49, pp. 130, 132.
5 See "'I wooed thee with my sword:' Shakespeare's Tragic Paradigms," in Representing Shakespeare, pp. 170-87; "'All that is spoke is marred:' Language and Consciousness in Othello," in Women's Studies, eds. Gayle Greene and Carolyn Ruth Swift 9 (1982): 157-76; and "'And when I love thee not:' Women and the Psychic Integrity of the Tragic Hero," Hebrew University Studies in Literature (Spring 1980): 44-65. These articles were published under the name Madelon Gohlke.
6 Richard Wheeler divides the tragedies into two groups, each of which exhibits a characteristic movement: towards trust/merger or towards autonomy/isolation. In the first group he includes Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Antony and Cleopatra, while the second consists of Troilus and Cressida, Macbeth, Timon of Athens, and Coriolanus. While these polar categories are instructive in describing the dominant movements of the plays, they obscure to some extent the shared ground in the hero's anxious relation to femininity and the extent to which homoerotic bonding appears both as an alternative to the more obvious danger of heterosexual passion and as an affirmation of the hero's heroic masculinity. See "'Since first we were dissevered:' Trust and Autonomy in Shakespearean Tragedy and Romance," in Representing Shakespeare, pp. 150-69.
7 Charles Forker points out that "stories of disastrous love could explore the ambivalent relations between attraction and repulsion, commitment and doubt, freedom and bondage, elation and despair; they could address the contradictory needs for intimacy and separateness, for self-discovery and self-annihilation," "The Love-Death Nexus in Elizabethan Renaissance Tragedy," Shakespeare Studies 8 (1975): 211-30.
8 See "'All that is spoke is marred': Language and Consciousness in Othello," Women's studies 9: 157-76
9Othello, III., iii., 91-92, The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974). References to Shakespeare's plays throughout this essay are to this edition.
10 Edgar Snow analyzes with particular acuteness the sexual pathology of the patriarchal order as manifest in Othello in "Sexual Anxiety and the Male Order of Things in Othello," English Literary Renaissance 10 (Autumn 1980): 384-412.
11 Hélène Cixous, who emphasizes the ritualistic and sacrificial aspects of the play comments: "César aimait Brutus, et Brutus César. Et Brutus a tué César au moment même où il l'aimait le plus. Il a tué César par double et ironique amour," Les Langues Modernes 61 (1967): 53-55.
12 Joel Fineman argues that in Shakespeare's universe, sex differences are supported by violence. His understanding of the Shakespearean hero's difficulty establishing his masculinity is based on a concept of primary femininity: "For if the male's first sense of self is implicated in femininity, his masculinity is then conditional upon establishing a self distanced from its first sense of self. Women, on the other hand, because their gender is founded on a bedrock identification with maternality, have a kind of immediate gender reference to which they can refer their sense of self. In contrast to Freud, then, alienation from the object of desire is the preliminary condition both for male self-consciousness and for masculine desire." See "Fratricide and Cuckoldry: Shakespeare's Doubles," in Representing Shakespeare, pp. 70-109, especially p. 103.
13 Various critics have seen Volumnia's power over her son as darkly destructive. Janet Adelman states that "the cannibalistic mother who denies food and yet feeds on the victories of her sweet son stands at the darkest center of the play, where Coriolanus' oral vulnerability is fully defined." See "Anger's My Meat," p. 140. Richard Wheeler refers to the "deep maternal antagonism toward the son who becomes the man such a mother longs to be herself," in "Since first we were dissevered," p. 159. Robert Stoller is more explicit in his portrayal of Volumnia as demanding the death of her son: "He knows his master's voice, and for the last time obeys, as always, her command, this time that he be killed." See "Shakespearean Tragedy: Coriolanus," Psychoanalytic Quarterly 35 (1966): 263-74, esp. p. 273. Finally, D. W. Harding, in "Women's Fantasy of Manhood: A Shakespearean Theme," states: "the proud Roman matron passes on triumphantly while the son, having performed his last act to the greater glory of his mother, goes to the death which she herself has made inevitable" Shakespeare Quarterly 20 (1969): 253.
14 I am taking the phrase "disidentification" from Ralph Greenson, who, like Robert Stoller, assumes an original symbiotic relationship between mother and infant, necessitating on the part of the boy a "disidentification" from the mother in order to achieve a sense of maleness. See "Dis-Identifying from Mother: Its Special Importance for the Boy," International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 49 (1968): 370-73.
15 Coriolanus' uneasy relationship to rhetoric has drawn much commentary. Leonard Tennenhouse sees "his abhorrence of public speech and his distrust of words" as "functions of his obsessive quest for personal integrity which can only be correctly realized in physical action," quoted from "Coriolanus: History and the Crisis of Semantic Order," Comparative Drama 10 (1976): 334. James Calderwood, in "Cariolanus: Wordless Meanings and Meaningless Words," sees the inflexibility of Coriolanus' speech as an index of "a general insensitivity of feeling and a lack of discrimination in matters of human worth," Studies in English Literature 6 (1966): 216. In Stanley Fish's speech-act analysis, Coriolanus is "always doing things (with words) to set himself apart," "Speech-Act Theory, Literary Criticism and Coriolanus," Centrum 3 (1975): 107. For Lawrence Danson, "Coriolanus is not only the least eloquent of Shakespeare's tragic figures but one who (as we shall see) specifically rejects that humanizing speech sought by Titus or Hamlet." See Tragic Alphabet: Shakespeare's Drama of Language (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), p. 142. For all of these critics, Coriolanus' distrust of words diminishes him in stature.
16 I have argued this point more extensively in "'All that is spoke is marred:' Language and Consciousness in Othello" My understanding is that complex speech, as manifest in the use of lies, riddles, puns, and the condition of disguise, is largely attributed to women in the comedies. As the issue of feminine betrayal becomes more prominent in the tragedies, ambiguous or complex speech also becomes more suspect. Like; Othello who says that he is rude in speech, or Macbeth, who tries to subvert speech altogether by collapsing thoughts into actions, the hero in his attempt to establish his "honest" masculinity also expresses uneasiness about the instability of language.
17 One of the chief objections to the stage expressed in the anti-theatrical tracts of Shakespeare's time concerns the practice of cross-dressing, which is seen as dangerously effeminate, subversive of both heterosexuality and male dominance. See in particular Stephen Gosson, The School of Abuse (London: for Thomas Woodcocke, 1579); William Prynne, Histrio-Mastix (London: E. A. and W. J. for Michael Sparke, 1633); John Rainoldes, The Overthrow of Stage-Playes (Middleburg: R. Schilders, 1599); and Philip Stubbes, Anatomy of Abuses in England (1593), ed. Frederick J. Furnivall, New Shakespeare Society (London: N. Trubner and Co., 1877). For a discussion of Elizabethan reactions to transvestism on the stage see J. W. Binns "Women as Transvestites on the Elizabethan Stage?: An Oxford Controversy," Sixteenth Century Journal 5 (1974): 95-120. For commentary on Stephen Gosson's objections to the stage, in particular his assumption of the prurient appeal of plays see Stephen Hilliard, "Stephen Gosson and the Elizabethan Distrust of the Effects of Drama," English Literary Renaissance 9 (1979): 225-39. For a comprehensive discussion of the anti-theatrical tracts see Jonas Barish, The Antitheatrical Prejudice (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981). Though not strictly contemporary, William Prynne's association between the practise of cross-dressing (for men) and the pagan worship of Venus is suggestive. Transvestism, in his words, "is not only an imitation of effeminate idolatrous Priests and Pagans, who arrayed themselves in woman's appareil when they sacrificed to their idols, and their Venus, and celebrated Playes unto them . . . but a manifest approbation and renewall of this their idolatrous practice." See Histrio-Mastix, p. 207. Recently, Lisa Jardine has argued for the specifically homoerotic appeal of Shakespeare's use of boy actors. See Still Harping on Daughters (Totowa, New Jersey: Barnes and Nobles Books, 1983).
18 Charles Hofling and Ralph Berry both comment on the connotations of effeminacy contained in the word "boy." See Hofling's, "An Interpretation of Shakespeare's Coriolanus," American Imago 14 (1957): 407-35, and Berry's "Sexual Imagery in Coriolanus," Studies in English Literature 13 (1973): 301-16.
19 Janet Adelman says succinctly "there is no one here to love." See "Anger's My Meat," p. 144.
20 It is easy to dislike Volumnia, who draws severe criticism from many readers of the play. Charles Hofling, for instance, sees her as "an extremely unfeminine, non-maternal person" ("An Interpretation of Shakespeare's Coriolanus," p. 415). For D. W. Harding, she "provides Shakespeare's most blood-chilling study of the destructive consequences of a woman's living out at someone else's expense her fantasy of what manhood should be" ("Woman's Fantasy of Manhood," p. 252). In Rufus Putney's words she is "a most repulsive mother" ("Coriolanus and his Mother," Psychoanalytic Quarterly 31 (1962): 364-81, 377).
21 C. L. Barber sees in the image of Lear with the dead Cordelia in his arms a "pieta with the roles reversed, not Holy Mother with her dead Son, but father with his dead daughter." See "The Family in Shakespeare's Development: Tragedy and Sacredness," Representing Shakespeare, p. 200.
22 For an overview of the archeological evidence con-cerning the prevalence of goddess worship in prehistoric and early historic periods see Merlin Stone When God Was A Woman (New York: Dial Press, 1976). Stone summarizes the work of writers such as J. J. Bachofen, Sir James Frazer, Robert Graves, and others concerning myths of goddess worship and relates it to the contemporary scholarship that grounds such speculation in archeological investigation.
23 Stanley Cavel, in an extremely interesting reading of this play, argues that Coriolanus fails to achieve the condition of tragedy because its hero fails to attain the status of the kind of sacrificial victim (like Christ) who could renew his society. "'Who does the wolf love?' Reading Coriolanus, Representations 3 (1983): 1-20. In focussing on the drama of Christian ritual, however, Cavel misses the intimations of pre-Christian ritual in the image of a mother mourning the death of her son. Part of the disturbing power of this image, I believe, derives from its seeming subversion of patriarchal order.
24The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, trans. James Strachey, vol. 18 (London: Hogarth Press, 1955). The death instinct, for Freud, represents "the most universal endeavor of all living substance—namely to return to the quiescence of the inorganic world" p. 62.
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Berger, Harry, Jr. "Psychoanalyzing the Shakespeare Text: The First Three Scenes of the Henriad" In Shakespeare and the Question of the Theory, edited by Patricia Parker and Geoffrey Hartman, pp. 210-29. New York: Methuen, 1985.
Offers a psychoanalytic study of father/son conflicts and the disordering process of "genealogical mimesis" in Shakespeare's Henriad.
——. "Impertinent Trifling: Desdemona's Handkerchief." Shakespeare Quarterly 47, No. 3 (Fall 1996): 235-50.
Suggests Desdemona's psychological complicity with Othello's actions and in the tragic conclusion of Othello.
Blechner, Mark J. "King Lear, King Leir, and Incest Wishes." American Imago 45, No. 3 (Fall 1988): 309-25.
Sees the psychological motivation of King Lear in its title character's "lifelong, unconscious, incestuous passion."
Bloom, Harold. "Freud: A Shakespearean Reading." The Yale Review 82, No. 3 (July 1994): 1-23.
Discusses the influence of Shakespeare's tragedies on Sigmund Freud's theories of psychoanalysis.
Brown, Carolyn E. "Measure for Measure: Duke Vincentio's 'Crabbed' Desires." Literature and Psychology XXXV, Nos. 1 & 2 (1989): 66-88.
Proposes that Duke Vincentio in Measure for Measure is a "psychologically complex and even a dark character" who is largely unaware of his more perverse desires.
Cluck, Nancy A. "Shakespearean Studies in Shame." Shakespeare Quarterly 36, No. 2 (Summer 1985): 141-51.
Studies the emotions of shamelessness and shame exemplified in the figures of Richard and Antony of Richard III and Antony and Cleopatra, respectively.
Cook, Carol. "'The Sign and Semblance of Her Honor': Reading Gender and Difference in Much Ado About Nothing." PMLA 101, No. 2 (March 1986): 186-202.
Contends that Much Ado About Nothing evokes the symptoms of masculine anxiety and, in its comic resolution, "masks, as well as exposes, the mechanisms of masculine power."
Cox, Marjorie Kolb. "Adolescent Processes in Romeo and Juliet." The Psychoanalytic Review 63, No. 3 (Fall 1976): 379-92.
Maintains that the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is more the result of misapprehended adolescent development than of the feuding of two rival families.
Faber, M. D. Introduction to The Design Within: Psychoanalytic Approaches to Shakespeare, pp. 1-12. New York: Science House, 1970.
Studies the history, types, and limitations of psychological criticism relating to Shakespeare's works.
——. "On Jacques: Psychoanalytic Remarks." The University Review XXXVI, No. 1 (Autumn/October 1969): 89-96.
Examines the psychological sources of Jacques's bitter sarcasm in As You Like It.
——. "On Jacques: Psychoanalytic Remarks II." The University Review XXXVI, No 3 (Spring/March 1970): 179-82.
Continuation of the previous essay. Faber remarks on Jacques's fear of involvement and melancholy and his "ambivalence toward the human community."
Goldstein, Melvin. "Identity Crises in a Midsummer Nightmare: Comedy as Terror in Disguise." The Psychoanalytic Review 60, No. 2 (Summer 1973): 169-204.
Explores the movement of A Midsummer Night's Dream as one of painfully stripping away unconscious disguises and defenses.
Hooks, Roberta M. "Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra: Power and Submission." American Imago 44, No. 1 (Spring 1987): 37-49.
Remarks on the conflicting drives for personal autonomy and erotic union dramatized in Antony and Cleopatra.
Krims, Marvin B. "Hotspur's Antifeminine Prejudice in Shakespeare's I Henry IV." Literature and Psychology XXXX, Nos. 1 & 2 (1994): 118-32.
Considers Hotspur's anxiety and aggression toward women as they disclose the underlying, paradoxical qualities of phallocentric attitudes.
Lake, James H. "Othello and the Comforts of Love." American Imago 45, No. 3 (Fall 1988): 327-35.
Observes the Freudian paths to love (classified as narcissistic or anaclitic) followed by Othello and manipulated by Iago in Shakespeare's Othello.
Mahony, Patrick. "Shakespeare's Sonnet Number 20: Its Symbolic Gestalt." American Imago 36, No. 1 (Spring 1979): 69-79.
Close investigation of psychoanalytic motifs and lexical structures in Shakespeare's sonnet beginning: "A woman's face with nature's own hand painted . . . ."
Morse, Ruth. "Two Gentlemen and the Cult of Friendship." Neuphilologische Mitteilungen LXXXIV, No. 1 (1983): 214-24.
Focuses on the thematic and psychological tensions of male friendship in The Two Gentlemen of Verona.
Schwartz, Murray M. "Leontes' Jealousy in The Winter's Tale." American Imago 30, No. 3 (Fall 1973): 250-73.
Traces the pathological sources of Leontes's jealousy and observes his process of recovery and reconstruction.
Stephens, Lyn. "'A Wilderness of Monkeys': A Psychodynamic Study of The Merchant of Venice." In The Undiscover'd Country: New Essays on Psychoanalysis and Shakespeare, edited by B. J. Sokol, pp. 91-129. London: Free Association Books, 1993.
In-depth psychological analysis of the major characters in The Merchant of Venice that endeavors to expose disturbing and unresolved tensions in the play.
Sundelson, David. "So Rare a Wonder'd Father: Prospero's Tempest." In Representing Shakespeare: New Psychoanalytic Essays, edited by Murray M. Schwartz and Coppélla Kahn, pp. 33-53. Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980.
Examines the paternal dominance of Prospero in The Tempest.
Westlund, Joseph. Shakespeare's Reparative Comedies: A Psychoanalytic View of the Middle Plays. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984, 190 p.
Contains essays of psychoanalytic criticism on six middle comedies and problem plays, from The Merchant of Venice to Measure for Measure.
Wheeler, Richard P. "Marriage and Manhood in All's Well that Ends Well." Bucknell Review XXI, No. 1 (Spring 1973): 103-24.
Psychoanalysis of the complex figure of Bertram in All's Well that Ends Well