THE LOAN OF A LOOKING GLASS: SHAKESPEARE, MYTH, AND PARADIGMATIC STRUCTURES
SPIERS, ZELLA MARDELL
Doctor of Philosophy
Shakespeare's dramatic, poetic narratives combine language functions overlooked when readers think of his texts as "plays" and become absorbed in the "story" as only a sequence of events. This study explores reader response to poetry and narrative, points out the different thought processes followed when encountering the two, and reveals new perspectives on the texts by integrating associative, paradigmatic thought with logical, syntagmatic thought. By treating myth as psychosocial process, this analysis shows how Shakespeare both presents and deconstructs his culture's assumptions in the "play" of words, the "play" of one character's "truths" against another's, and the revealing "play" between language and action. Three categories of myth function become visible: moribund, living, and fictive. Shakespeare often demonstrates the thrust of the living myth by drawing upon aspects of moribund myth in literary conventions, informing allusions, folklore, and source materials; he then provides a counterthrust at cultural assumptions through the language of defamiliarization--often spoken by his fool figures. He explodes the fictive myth--our "willing suspension of disbelief"--by self-reflexive language which upsets our illusionary sense of control over language and human destiny. Reading Cycle Process analysis is part of this study: the dramatist's sources, his written texts, and the reader's response to those texts reveal "hot spots" of language--resonating psychosexual-psychosocial keys to shared human experience seldom directly articulated. Chapter one introduces myth and language acquisition theory involving Lacan's important differentiation between the imaging and symbolic stages of human development, including pertinent concepts of Ferdinand de Saussure, Sigmund Freud, Claude Levi-Strauss, and the Russian Formalists. The remaining five chapters focus upon living myths still viable today: Twelfth Night and the myth of corporeal immortality, Romeo and Juliet and the myth of law and order, Titus Andronicus and the myth of the "white goddess-destructive mother," and King Lear and the myth of the parent-child relationship. Language as a determiner of human realities may appear a modern apprehension, but this study reveals Shakespeare's acute awareness of this phenomenon as he structures his texts to illuminate both destructive and sustaining illusions in Western culture.