Responses to the Jungian archetypal feminine in King Lear, Hamlet, Othello, and Romeo and Juliet.
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Tubbs, Lucy Loraine.
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What are the origins of the literary ritual of tragedy; what is the purpose of tragic catharsis? Jungian theory provides partial answers; the struggle of all protagonists is, at a profound level, the battle of egocentric consciousness against the forces of chaotic unconsciousness. Jung's disciple Erich Neumann, in The Origins and History of Consciousness, condenses this grand narrative of the individual and collective psyche: "The relation of the ego to the unconscious and of the personal to the transpersonal decides the fate not only of the individual, but of humanity. The theater of this encounter is the human mind"(xxiv). Jungian archetypal theory is a valuable mode of criticism precisely because it elucidates important conscious and unconscious processes at work within the Western literary mind. This approach is of particular value in explicating one of these (sub)conscious processes, perhaps the overarching narrative of Western consciousness: the attempted heroic subjugation of the unconscious, and thus of the archetypal feminine. A Jungian archetypal explication of King Lear, Hamlet, Othello, and Romeo and Juliet with reference to Neumann proves particularly valuable. Each tragedy illustrates the subversive interactions of the archetypal feminine with "masculine" consciousness; each exemplifies the effort of Shakespeare's protagonists to subjugate, to demonize, to exorcise, or in some way to integrate the feminine. Moreover, these tragedies demonstrate an evolution of consciousness paralleling that traced by Neumann. In King Lear, Lear's psychic inflation presages his fall into Neumann's uroboric state; the Terrible Mother personified by Goneril and Regan is subjugated at horrific cost. Hamlet as hero of consciousness embarks upon a metaphorical battle with Neumann's uroboric First Parents; the apocalyptic purgation of (archetypally feminine) evil from Denmark perhaps temporarily succeeds, again with tragic consequences. The protagonists of Othello and Romeo and Juliet attempt to integrate the archetypal feminine; the lesser coniunctio formed by Othello and Desdemona at Cyprus disintegrates into uroboric chaos. The hope of a greater coniunctio embodied by "Juliet and her Romeo" (Romeo and Juliet 5.3.310) provides the greatest hope for the integration of the archetypal feminine, of Jungian individuation, of Neumann's centroversion within the human psyche and within literature.