Jung William

Shakespeare and the Ocular Proof
August 4, 1995

Freud is usually held to be the master psychoanalyst for Shakespearean interpretation. And indeed one cannot comment adequately on Measure for Measure without Freud at one's elbow. Jung has been less valued in part because he wrote nothing of a sustained nature on Shakespeare. Yet his work on the archetypes of the collective unconscious has profound significance for Shakespeare studies.

Alex Aronson is a Jungian, and his monograph focuses on some areas of archetypal importance. He is fascinated by visual evidence of truth: "The archetype of evil Shakespeare is concerned with in his tragedies is, indeed, lack of insight and imaginative apprehension." Painting, which for Shakespeare was largely a realistic imitation of nature, leads Aronson to a meditation on Rembrandt. He cites Benesh's term for Rembrandt's portraits, "monologue figures", "evidently thinking of Shakespeare's use of soliloquy as a means of revealing a character's inner life and of taking the spectator into his confidence". The 100 self-portraits that Rembrandt painted are complex metaphors for the progress of the soul, the fusion of external appearance and the inner life of the subject.

Jung's ideal of psychotherapeutic treatment is like the relationship established between sufferer and healer in a Shakespeare play, in which they "share" the same psyche. Aronson's main instances are Camillo-Leontes, and the Doctors in Macbeth. He is convinced that Shakespeare became progressively more sceptical of conventional medical treatment. Helena's success in curing the King of France is "sympathetic magic", attributable to her "innocence". She is an anima-figure who performs (offstage) a fertility rite, leading to the king's restoration.

Here, I think Aronson leans too hard on the archetypal side of the equation. Helena is professionally competent, as the "good receipt" of her physician father attests. There is always something specific and local that grips the situation; it is not enough to be an archetype. In the same way, Aronson can see only the "moral evil" of Gloucester's adultery: he has no eyes for the appalling upbringing of the bastard son (neither properly acknowledged nor cast off) which is the true source of Gloucester's tragedy.

Aronson's final meditation links Keats's idea of the "chameleon" nature of the poet - "it has no Self - it is everything and nothing" - with Mozart. Mozart's music leaves us, as with Shakespeare, vainly looking for his "self". It is useless then to pursue Shakespeare in Hamlet, Prospero, and the rest. Essentially true, perhaps; but E. A. J. Honigmann recently found in Shakespeare's Will a dramatic monologue disturbingly suggestive of Prospero. I applaud Aronson for his openness to archetypes, but the case-histories are still individual.

Ralph Berry is the author of Shakespeare in Performance: Castings and Metamorphoses.

Shakespeare and the Ocular Proof

Author - Alex Aronson
ISBN - 0 533 11146 3
Publisher - Vantage Press
Price - $14.95
Pages - 124

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