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Amazement and the Experience of Transformation in the Romances of Cervantes and Shakespeare

  • Author(s): Weiner, Jeffrey Neil
  • Advisor(s): Cascardi, Anthony J
  • et al.

This dissertation explores the use of amazement as a transformative experience capable of reframing traumatic memory in the romances of Cervantes and Shakespeare. Romance offers a structure to moblilize emotion and fantasy to deal with traumatic events. Focusing on the experience of amazement and its effect on literary content and form allows the critic to see the connections between romance and tragedy, and specifically between Renaissance romance and ancient tragedy, comedy, and romance. The three parts of this project provide a reading of amazement that is historically grounded in the period between 1550 and 1640. Although modern psychoanalytic theory and trauma studies are engaged in a limited way, the methodology of the thesis is to use the explicit, detailed, and ancient traditions available to Cervantes and Shakespeare as interpretive tools. Renaissance literary theory, popular romance models, and early modern psychology all focus on the dynamic between the fantasy and emotions to demonstrate how amazement responds to trauma.

Part I begins by analyzing ancient tragedy and romance to show how genre limits or makes possible the management of painful events, and how amazement is the central experience marking these limits and possibilities. Then it synthesizes Renaissance literary theory of the Aristotelian and the Neoplatonic schools, and the other strains of thinking those schools subsume. This synthesis focuses on the various treatments of the role of amazement in the process of transformation. Neo-Platonism offers the possibility for transformation from a debased state in an imperfect world to an exalted position in a world remade. Apuleius’ The Golden Ass, a bestseller in England and Spain during the Renaissance with clear influences on both Shakespeare and Cervantes, builds on Neo-Platonist, but also tragic, ideas about amazement. These structure his interpolated tale, “Cupid and Psyche, and build a model for romance. Part I concludes by showing how early modern psychoanalysis, which also draws on literary tragedy and romance for its conclusions, presents a model of amazement as breaking down the psyche and causing depression and anxiety through its effects on the fantasy. Conversely, amazement can work on the fantasy to restore it to wholeness. Ancient tragedy and romance, Renaissance literary theory and its classical models, and early modern psychology all help to elaborate a model of amazement as both the cause of trauma and the means to solving the ruptures it creates cognitively and emotionally.

Part II examines Cervantes’ use of different kinds of amazement to turn around the tragic experience of slavery into a story of hope in El trato de Argel, Los baños de Argel, and “The Captive’s Tale” in Don Quixote Part I. Cervantes portrays the impossibility of completely erasing trauma and the limited, but still significant, success of romance in containing it. This section hinges on the idea of the trato, a form of torture in Algeria a punishment in which the hands were tied behind the back, the body lifted up into the air, and then allowed to fall to the ground, so that the bones were dislocated from the shoulders. The word also meant double-dealing and referred to any kind of commercial bargaining. Thus, the first play, El trato, depicts a typical Renaissance chaos of love in which lovers long for those who spurn them, but the plot of deliverance literally cashes in on the love of a Moorish couple for their Spanish slaves. There are two strands to this play: stories of martyrdom, torture, and butchery balanced by a comical love plot. The perversity of the Moorish masters is trumped by the greed of an Ottoman king who returns the beautiful Christian slaves to their homeland on the condition that they will send back their ransom money. The experience of amazement as terror is kept apart from the transcendent experience of amazement by the dual structure of the play. One part of the play ends on a tragic note, the other on a comic note, and suspended between these are moments of amazed transcendence. From the experience that will not fit in either genre comes an amazement that Cervantes will later capture in a romance version of this story.

Cervantes reworks much of the same material in the story of Zoraida and Ruy Pérez from Don Quixote Part I, but instead of the trato as an explicit torture of Christians, the story focuses on trato in its other meanings as double-dealing, betrayal, and commercial transactions. On an economic level, this makes sense since the first story fashioned from this material is resolved by a Muslim king’s trust in the integrity of two Spanish slaves to pay him back for their freedom. In “The Captive’s Tale” Cervantes places the inner world of emotions into a context of commerce, as if bargaining, purchasing, and stealing were all perfect metaphors for an emotional and psychological process. The story portrays the purchase of happiness, which exchanges terror for wonder. The love story bears the burden of the explicit torture it cuts out by displacing martyr stories and torture onto the love triangle of father-daughter-lover. The figure of the idealized woman, Zoraida, represents the possibility of escape from slavery by redeeming, or literally buying, the freedom of the captive Spaniards. Symbolically, she serves as a psychological escape from trauma into fantasy. After they escape from Algiers, terror restages itself, showing the limitations of the fantasy of the feminine ideal to eradicate terror through the wonder, or admiración, which she inspires. In Los baños, which was Cervantes’ last attempt to refashion the same material, the author once again unyokes the love plot from violence and betrayal. The structural change to the tale renders the relationship to the feminine less complicated and instead focuses the experience of wonder on a transcendent ideal.

Part III demonstrates how the feminine becomes the focal point for the emotional oscillation between amazement as terror and amazement as wonder. Pericles, Cymbeline, and The Winter’s Tale manipulate three feminine archetypes: the evil queen, the sacrificed maiden, and the redeemer to forge a pathway for redemption. The sacrificed maiden Polyxena from Seneca’s The Trojan Women, which the chapter proves was a direct influence on Shakespeare, is the central character in this pattern of redemption. This chapter also demonstrates the classical influences of Apuleius and Heliodorus on Shakespeare’s treatment of the various kinds of amazement, his employment of legal themes, and his use of feminine archetypes to dramatize how the male protagonists’ amazement as terror can be transformed into amazement as wonder.

In Pericles, Cymbeline, and The Winter’s Tale, the principle male protagonists succumb to their fears of the feminine other. In order to justify the fantasy, to make it credible to the reason, even though it is not rational or equitable, the male interpreters subject the sacrificed women to a trial in which they come out guilty. When the sacrificed daughter returns as a redeemer at the end of The Æthiopica, Pericles, The Winter’s Tale, and Cymbeline, a form of trial is resurrected as well. Now, the fantasy of the woman as redeemer overcomes the laws that almost sacrifice her again. As an object of “admiration,” the redeemer allows the male spectator to approach the terror and desire that the feminine inspire in him by providing him with an escape into fantasy. The triumph of the redeemer becomes legible in the power of this new idealized archetype to allow the male judge to break his own laws. In the dream-like resurrection that Paulina orchestrates at the end of The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare shatters the Polyxena Pattern altogether. Instead of a polarized archetype of femininity, Hermione appears on the stage as an imperfect woman who belongs to an imperfect world. When the cycle of demonization and idealization is broken, we move out of a closed circuit of emotions that begins with terror as astonishment, changing into aggression and then the fear and erotic fantasy embodied in “admiration.” The wonder that characterizes the end of The Winter’s Tale is of a paradigm of binaries torn up and remade through a fantasy of femininity born from a woman.

This dissertation contributes to the body of work on early modern amazement by including the full range of emotions from terror to wonder that constitute amazement. The range of literary texts allows for a concrete connection between romance and tragedy, centered on affect. Because amazement is cognitive and emotional, aesthetic and psychological, so the study of it must necessarily be interdisciplinary. The intent of the project is to study romance as a mode, rather than as a grab bag of motifs and dramatic devices on which we can impose a theological or philosophical pattern. Rather, the affective aim of these stories is directly related to the limitations and possibilities of literary form. What comes across as episodic or meandering is actually the attempt to provide a structure for the rapprochement of the subject and the dreams and nightmares caused by trauma. The argument demonstrates the interplay between literary form and psychological healing.

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