Shakespeare’s plays as passional cycles
Revealing the unconscious in chiastic symmetry
in Renaissance psychologies
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Shakespearean dramaturgy highlights apprehending a wondrous other: intense epiphanic encounters are fulcrums of passional cycles. Each play forms a chiastic symmetry, beginning with a two-act cycle (act 2 reversing/completing act 1) and ending with a two-act cycle (act 5 reversing/completing act 4); between them an intense one-act cycle (with no known source). These encounters recall biblical epiphanies: nativity, baptism, transfiguration, resurrection, crucifixion. Meaningful epiphany evolves gradually: in early plays it is sensational farce or horror; in mature plays the epiphanies systematically illuminate the soul’s powers. Macbeth’s chiastic sequence neatly divides into three murders – progressively blinding anti-epiphanies: killing a king centers the opening two-act cycle, killing a best friend centers act 3, killing a mother and children centers the final two-act cycle. The three murders suggest a Freudian ‘repetition compulsion’, but the regicide is not just Oedipal, nor the only important slaying. The murders are psychically conjoined, diminishing the Macbeths by travestying each psychic cathexis – sublimation, projection, introjection – annihilating all bonding. King Lear’s complementary sequence of three shamings again forms a chiastic 2-1-2 cycle of acts, but Lear’s strippings paradoxically bring psychic recovery through his epiphanal encounters with Goneril, Poor Tom, and Cordelia at the center of each cycle.

Renaissance psychologies

Spenser and Shakespeare


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