A Midsummer Nights Dream The Mythological of the Play Essay
Read the criticism in this module [below], entitled, “Astronomy, Alchemy, and Archetypes” and share your ideas about the criticism in a discussion post (you MUST quote the passage). The post is meant to be a response specifically to THIS CRITICISM. So write at least three full paragraphs [or more if you wish] on this criticism [in relation to the play] for the full 20 points.
Click on the rubric to see how the discussion will be graded.
Astronomy, Alchemy, and Archetypes: An Integrated View of Shakespeare’s
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
by Katherine Bartol Perrault
Chapter 3: The Mythology Of The Play: Archetypes Revealed
Myth: The Fundamental Essence of the Archetype
C. Kerenyi, in his “Prolegomena” to Essays on a Science of Mythology: The Myth of the Divine Child and The Mysteries of Eleusis asks the question “What is mythology?” (Jung & Kerenyi, 2). The word myth means, “to put together,” Kerenyi states, and is “the movement of [. . .] tales already well known but not unamenable to further reshaping [. . .] something solid, and yet mobile, substantial and yet not static, capable of transformation” (2). The images of myth are not merely linguistic, but primarily pictorial, stemming from man’s unconscious. Both Jung and Kerenyi assert that myths are primordial images of primitive human phenomena, revealing the nature of man’s soul. They arise through the poetry of mythology, and do not only possess meaning but also assign meaning through the function of an archetype, which is a “‘representation of a motif’ [that] ‘constellates’ a dream or mythical symbol” (Doty 151). Most myths contain recurring archetypes of gods, supernatural beings who represent projections of psychic phenomena, and primordial timeeternal time in which the archetypal image transcends time as well as place.
We have seen through the astronomy of Midsummer and its numeric configurations how the play is intrinsically unified through a complex symbol system whose myths manifest archetypes. Jung states that “All the mythologized processes of nature, such as summer and winter, the phases of the moon, the rainy seasons, and so forth, are in no sense allegories of these objective occurrences; rather they are symbolic expressions of the inner, unconscious drama of the psyche” (Archetypes 6). We have seen how the natural processes of astronomy, the progression of time, and the seasons are an elemental part of the structure of Midsummer. As expressions of the unconscious, these natural archetypes are numinous, and mystical, and should be regarded symbolically, inherent with multiple meanings, rather than literally.
Archetypes revealed in the artist’s poetry give us insight into the psychology of the human condition. While archetypes appear in a given individual or community, in a given culture, at a given moment in time, they also transcend that particular time or culture by virtue of their trans-historical resonance as symbol within the psyche. The significance in analyzing the mythic images or archetypes in poetic literature is expressed by James P. Driscoll in Identity in Shakespearean Drama, as he comments on Jung’s conceptions about how archetypes motivate the artist/poet to shape characters. He states:
The essential artist, [Jung] insists, is an unwitting mouthpiece for the psychic secrets of his time, and often remains as unconscious as a sleepwalker. Since he lives closer to both the archetypal realm and the zeitgeist than do ordinary men who, circumscribed by their social functions, are confined to life’s surface, the artist can directly apprehend the true nature of the cultural and psychic forces he encounters and translate his vision into art form. Thus the poetical character makes archetypal visions accessible to all men. [. . .] Because the artist can speak the language of dreams directly through image and symbol, he enjoys a peculiar power to create myths and identities that possess an archetypal import and fascination that philosophical reasoning cannot equal.(10, 11)
Archetypes, often described as universals, bridge time and culture as they continually resurface in the collective unconscious, which, according to Jung,
has contents and modes of behavior that are more or less the same everywhere and in all individuals. It is, in other words, identical in all men, and thus constitutes a common psychic substrate of a supra-personal nature which is present in every one of us. (Archetypes 4)
Through the collective unconscious, “the repository of man’s experience” (Analytical Psychology, 93), the archetypes constellate similar meanings for everyone. Harold Bloom asserts that Shakespeare’s “universal canon” transcends time and cultures in just this way, showing Elizabethans as well as postmodernists what it means to be human (Human, Bloom 17). Sitansu Maitra contends that through the analysis of archetypes as symbol in poetry, Jung has provided a way for us to understand Shakespeare’s creative genius beyond “the [Freudian] sterility of personal complexes of the creative artist into the wide open of the collective unconscious where the human race meets” (64, 73).
From Jung’s perspective, contrary to general post-modern thought, the artist is connected by her/his very nature to the psychic pulse of humanity, and functions as mythmaker and storyteller within a culture through her/his work. Through the collective unconscious, the artist is able to access common ideas and iconswhat Shakespeare might refer to as the “airy nothing[s]” (V.i.16)of imagination, and gives them a “local habitation and a name” (V.i.17) in the form of the artwork.
For Jung, the visionary poet is a
mythological ‘fundamentalist’ who, by immersion in the self, dives down to his own foundations, founds his world. He builds it up for himself on a foundation where everything is an out-flowing, a sprouting and springing up’original’ in the fullest sense of the word [“origin” comes from the Latin, origi, “to rise”], and consequently divine. (Kerenyi, Mythology 9)
In Midsummer, Shakespeare’s blending of pagan mythos and Christian rites formulates an original tale or myth that is circumscribed in the marriage ritual. According to Kerenyi, “Ceremonial is the translation of a mythological value into an act” (10). The mythological drama, as such, constitutes a symbolic journey from psychic origins to wholeness via ritual, mediated through the symbolic functioning of the archetypes.
When mythic archetypes appear in a ritual application (as in the rites of passage in Midsummer), they function to compensate for “deficient and distorted conscious attitudes in the traditions and dogmas that compose a ‘cultural canon,'[heralding] momentous shifts in [the] culture’s consciousness” (Lewisberg 11). The work of the archetypes in this way results in some form of cultural transformation. For example, Keith Sagar asserts in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” that Midsummer constituted Shakespeare’s attack on the Puritans’ anathema to the “wholeness of nature” (42), which signaled the dis-integration of the Neo-Platonic, Ptolemaic worldview. As such, Sagar contends that Shakespeare appropriates archetypes that perform sacred functions, restoring harmony, not necessarily according to religious law, but according to natural law.
The compensatory function of the Midsummer‘s mythic archetypes in this instance results in the alchemical reconciliation of opposites (the coniunctio), in which what is considered base in nature and human relations is transformed through the restoration of nature to an equitable balance. This occurs not in spite of the oppositions present in the play, but because of them. In accord with McAlindon’s ideas concerning “the discordant concord of a natural order whose governing forces are Love and Strife, Mars and Venus” (10), Jung states, “Submission to the fundamental contrariety of human nature amounts to an acceptance of the fact that the psyche is at cross purposes with itself” (Transference 143). The paradox of discordant concord is also seen at work in the archetypal symbolism of alchemy. The opus of esoteric alchemy is not only derived from nature, but is also a work of nature. Through symbol, the opus magnum embodies the essence of reconnecting one’s psyche with the world, and ultimately, with the birth of the self, “the container and organizer of all opposites” (Jung, Transference 157).
Jung contends that the alchemical image of the coniunctio is archetypal, an “a priori image that occupies a prominent place in the history of man’s mental development,” and has its sources in both pagan and Christian alchemy (Transference 5).
An examination of the mythological archetypes of Midsummer will reveal Shakespeare’s poetic use of medieval alchemy. This examination will also unveil alchemy’s bridge to the present day through Jung’s appropriation of alchemical archetypes in the analysis of the personality, in which “we are confronted with
pre-conscious processes which, in the form of more or less well-formed fantasies, gradually pass over into the conscious mind, or become conscious as dreams, or, lastly, are made conscious through the method of active imagination” (Jung & Kerenyi, Mythology 78).
The Archetypal Mythology of the Play
The setting of Midsummer is in itself mythic: in legendary Athens, Greece. Yet, because the play’s archetypes display typologically cultural themes, theoretically Athens itself could be any city, and the wood could be any wood. Through a mythological reading of Midsummer, we establish a formal unity of time, place, and action; time which could be ‘dream time’or no time, a place which could be anyplace, and actionwhich functions transformatively, as primordial time, in relationship to the play’s archetypes.