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Fathers, daughters, and mourning in middle comedies

Sundelson, David (1981) Fathers, daughters, and mourning in middle comedies. Humanities Working Paper, 56. California Institute of Technology , Pasadena, CA.

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This essay, part of a book about Shakespeare's treatment of fathers and father figures, discusses the middle comedies, concentrating on The Merchant of Venice. I argue that mourning for a lost father is the common psychological background of these plays, in which the characteristic fate of fathers has three stages: strength, collapse, and partial recovery. In Twelfth Night, unfinished mourning is a central feature of the plot but is transferred from fathers to brothers; in As You Like It and Much Ado About Nothing, the process has been completed; in The Merchant, the work of mourning dominates the action. Portia lives in the shadow of a dead father and demonstrates the "decomposition of ambivalence" which, according to psychoanalytic theory, is caused by such a loss: she revives a good father, Antonio, and destroys an evil one, Shylock. An additional part of her response is identification; like other heroines in the comedies, Portia embodies her lost father's essential qualities. These strategies do not completely resolve the play's conflicts about attachment, but they anticipate the greater tranquility of the romances.

Item Type:Report or Paper (Working Paper)
Group:Humanities Working Papers
Series Name:Humanities Working Paper
Issue or Number:56
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20090812-140300300
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Official Citation:Sundelson, David. Fathers, daughters, and mourning in middle comedies. Pasadena, CA: California Institute of Technology, 1981. Humanities Working Paper, No. 56.
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:14993
Deposited By: Lindsay Cleary
Deposited On:17 Aug 2009 17:37
Last Modified:03 Oct 2019 00:54

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