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Shakespearean subjectivity : scenes of desire, scenes of writing Lewis, Alan


The dissertation explores Shakespearean representations of subjectivity. I investigate how Shakespeare's text anticipates contemporary discourses of the divided subject, divided in terms of gender and sexuality, a subject "cut off" from himself by the forms of castration and by the unconscious. My first two chapters look at specific plays, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Romeo and Juliet", investigating how these dramas stage desire via the subject's shaping phantasies of the other, also considering the poetic subject's implication in this "other" at scenes of identification. My title also speaks to the idea that the Shakespearean text is a precursor to Freudian and Lacanian theories of the divided subject, providing an important field of reference in which psychoanalysis will recognize and elaborate itself as theory. The use of psychoanalytic theory as a method for reading Shakespeare's text is complicated, then, by my claim that this Renaissance dramatist invents a type of literary subjectivity we can call "Shakespearean." One result is a deprivileging of psychoanalysis as a master discourse. Read from the position of Shakespearean drama, this discourse is implicated in its critical object by its shaping phantasies of gender puissance and its participation, willy nilly, in a punitive gender ideology. With Harold Bloom, Joel Fineman, and Marjorie Garber as among my critical precursors here, my argument fleshes out their contention that psychoanalysis, rather than being an ahistorical or anachronistic methodology for studying Renaissance texts, is a repetition and elaboration of the Shakespearean vision, a Shakespeare that "writes" Freud. Working from the Shakespearean text outwards, this study of "Shakespearean subjectivity" investigates intersubjective relations between the dramatic characters, between the characters and audience, between the text and critic, and in the third chapter, imaginary relations between the author and his literary rival at a scene of writing, and between the phantasied author and the critic. I find in the Shakespearean text an exemplary theoretical understanding of desire and misrecognition operating in these relations, arguing that Shakespeare's text presents us with meditations on specular or theatrical, ideological and sacrificial misprision. By locating my critical methodology in the Shakespearean text (for example, when I look at desire or the spectator's misprision), meshing my object of inquiry with my methodology, I grant the inquiry a certain integrity while also negotiating for a "Shakespearean" authorization of my arguments. In the first part of the dissertation, the Introduction and the first two chapters, I examine Shakespeare's allegories of desire in "Dream" and "Romeo and Juliet", allegories involving Cupid's originary wounding of the lover and desire's consequent attachment to an imaginary castration and lack. The allegories are presented by Oberon and the drama's staging and language of desire in "Dream", and by Mercutio in the mercurial poetic language of the "name of the rose" in "Romeo and Juliet". I observe how these "psychoanalytic" allegories of desire are presented in translations of the religious language of the subject's union with the "other," focusing on how misrecognition of the other and violence subtend identity and the sacred respectively. I also investigate the specular - and speculative - constitution of gender, the role of phantasy in maintaining gender identity, and how the playwright's staging of masculinity revolves around the imaginary threat of castration in proto-psychoanalytic terms. The research makes original interpretations of individual plays while contributing to an assessment of Shakespeare's place in a literary history of imagining subjectivity. The third chapter makes an investigation of Shakespeare's negotiation of the literary influence of Christopher Marlowe at a "scene of writing," or how this has been theorized. The chapter initially engages Harold Bloom's work on the anxiety of influence and Shakespeare's exemplary invention of the human, reading Bloom for his investments - as inflected by gender ideology - in authorial puissance. I examine Bloom's work with that of some of his contemporaries to suggest that a transference to paternalist authority is at work in our idealizing versions of "Shakespeare." I show how Bloom participates in and speculates on this dynamic. I ask why the critics cast the playwright into a homoerotic scene negotiating the castration of influence, and how this scene might work rhetorically as a seduction within the contradictory logic of fetishism. In presenting my own uncannily repeating, Shakespearean scenes of writing, I make a contribution to the critical tradition of casting Marlovian influence into a metadramatic, originary scene, making the poet's writing an apotropaic defence and a cryptic testament of spiritual-sexual autobiography. However, I complicate the Bloomian narrative lines by playfully multiplying the sources of influence and the nature of authorial lack sustaining the scene of writing. I end by showing how Oscar Wilde's novella, "The Portrait of Mr W.H," theorizes through its titular portrait the type of interpretative misprision elaborated by Bloom in his theory of influence, oddly anticipating and "framing" Bloom's quasi-religious participation in Shakespeare's ideal authority.

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