UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Jungian archetypes in selected plays of James Reaney Ashdown, Sheena


James Reaney, Canadian playwright and poet, attempted in his early plays for adults to blend Northrop Frye's description of New Comedy with the archetypal theories of Carl Jung. Reaney was interested, as was Jung, in the inner journey of the human soul to maturity, and he wanted to portray this on stage. To this end, he used many of the archeytypes described by Jung. This inward journey is usually the stuff of tragedy, but Reaney did not want to write tragedies. He wanted instead to portray success and a happy resolution. Therefore, he adhered closely to the form of New Comedy, which portrays the successful struggle of a young man to overcome the restrictions placed on him by the older generation as he attempts to marry and become an adult. The archetypes conform to the characters described by Frye as essential to New Comedy and they also allow Reaney to portray in an external and theatrical manner the inner characters of the soul. This thesis describes the archetypes that Reaney has used and how he has used them in three of his plays, The Easter Egg, Listen to the Wind, and Colours in the Dark. These plays have been selected because each play represents a particular way in which Reaney has used the archetypes. In conclusion, a broad analysis of Reaney's progressive use of the archetypes has been attempted as well as an examination of his more recent play The Donnellys. In The Easter Egg the Jungian structure of the soul is presented in nearly perfect form. The anima, shadow and wise old man archetypes can be seen in the characters and Kenneth at the end of the play becomes the child archetype. In Listen to the Wind, the archetypes are less important than they are in The Easter Egg. The characters form the marriage quaternio archetype. In Colours in the Dark the archetypes are only minimally evident in the characters. Instead, the structure of the play itself assumes importance. It is circular and creates the archetype of the sphere. The final archetypes in all the plays symbolize wholeness and the complete soul. There is a progression in Reaney's use of them. In The Easter Egg, the individual character has become the child archetype. In Listen to the Wind, a group of characters has become the marriage quarternio archetype. In Colours in the Dark, the play itself has become the sphere archetype. The archetypes have become progressively larger, less individualized and more encompassing. When Reaney wrote The Donnellys. he was no longer interested in the journey of the soul. These characters cannot be considered the archetypes of the soul; Reaney has become more interested in the characters for their own sakes. This focus makes The Donnellys play not only much more realistic, but also more theatrical. Reaney's least Jungian play is less fantastical but also more stageworthy. He has left behind the inner world of mysterious characters and treads more earthy ground where the people of everyday life are to be found. As a result, his plays have become more accessible to the theatre-going public. Reaney's use of the archetypes allowed him to portray on stage the difficult combination of the inward journey of a soul and the happy resolution of the comedic structure. The task he set himself was difficult and the results may have been flawed, but he ingeniously used the archetypes as an imaginative solution to a perhaps impossible problem.

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