A study of pathological narcissism in Renaissance English tragic drama
AdvisorKiefer, Frederick P.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThe central conviction of this dissertation is that the tenets of the psychiatric medical category, pathological narcissism, explain, in a way other psychological interpretations have not adequately addressed, why the main characters in several important English Renaissance tragic dramas become enmeshed in difficulty and come to ruin. Evidence in the plays themselves invites the use of this particular interpretive category. William Shakespeare's Coriolanus in Coriolanus, Vindice in Cyril Tourneur's The Revenger's Tragedy, Edward in Christopher Marlowe's Edward II, and John Frankford in Thomas Heywood's A Woman Killed with Kindness are representative of tragic characters who suffer from a lack of a psychologically integrated self--the least common denominator of narcissistic disturbance. Pathological narcissism is not a hedonistic orientation toward self-gratification, nor is it self-love, but rather, it refers to an impoverished state of being that is self-misconstrued in a special way. Lacking a stable self-configuration--a mental state that is experienced painfully and fearfully, narcissists engage in patterns of defensive, compensatory behaviors which include grandiose acting out, masochistic and sadistic functioning, aggressive and vengeful conduct, mental splitting, and inappropriate psychological mirroring. The terrible irony of these defensive strategies is that, because they are so offensive and alienating to others, they isolate the narcissist from relational contact and impel him back toward the sense of self-incohesion that he seeks to avoid. In each chapter, I examine how pathological narcissism manifests itself in the four tragic protagonists under consideration. Coriolanus's exaggerated focus on himself renders him a completely unsuitable candidate for the office of consul. Vindice revives himself from mental paralysis through narcissistic defensive activities which cause him self-destructively to collapse back onto himself. Edward II possesses a self that is so narrowly conceived that it cannot survive the rigors of monarchical office. John Frankford lives in the narcissistic psychological prison of perfectionism that will be his undoing. Also in each chapter, I suggest how Ovid's treatment of Narcissus in the Metamorphoses, for whom the psychological condition of pathological narcissism is named, provides a gloss on the disastrous course each protagonist's life takes.
Degree ProgramGraduate College