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  • Preface
  • Peter L. Rudnytsky

The leitmotif of this issue of American Imago is imagination. That Steven Groarke's study of Charles Rycroft takes its epigraph from A Midsummer Night's Dream naturally prompted me to juxtapose it with Thomas R. Frosch's dazzling essay on Shakespeare's play. In "Rycroft and the Romantic Imagination," Groarke, a scholar and psychotherapist undertaking clinical training at the British Psychoanalytical Society, shows how Rycroft, both implicitly and explicitly, drew on Wordsworth and Coleridge to articulate a vision of psychoanalysis that differed sharply from Freud's in key respects: in its valuing of illusion and "the creative imperative," and in its conceptualizing of the primary and secondary processes not as manifestations of an "irreducible heterogeneity" in "our mental attitude towards reality," but as "coeval, complementary, and continuous" modes of thinking and being in the world. Rycroft's reorientation of psychoanalysis has much in common with other luminaries of the British Independent tradition, such as Winnicott and Marion Milner, but Groarke highlights the intellectual rigor with which Rycroft propounds his essentially Romantic belief in the possibility of an "aboriginal mutuality" in the mother-child relationship, as a consequence of which the infant—and later the adult—"feels at home in a world that makes sense."

A Midsummer Night's Dream is a play that I thought I knew very well, but from Thomas Frosch's disquisition on the theme of the "missing child" I learned many things that had eluded me before. It was eye-opening, for instance, to be reminded that Egeus—the name given by Shakespeare to Hermia's oppressive father, whose authority is curbed by Theseus—is in Greek mythology also the name of Theseus's own father, whose death (as Ovid tells it) Theseus inadvertently causes "when he forgets to signal his safe return to port and his father in grief jumps to his death into a sea thereafter called the Aegean." Similarly, I had not previously encountered any of the controversy surrounding [End Page 451] the fact that the offspring of the marriage between Theseus and Hippolyta, to which the entire play has been inexorably tending, was none other than Hippolytus, who—after Theseus reverted to his faithless ways by discarding Hippolyta and taking Phaedra as his second wife—died as a result of his father's curse after he had spurned his stepmother's advances and she falsely accused him of having raped her.

These points, though I have lingered over them here, are in actuality no more than minor threads in the tapestry of Frosch's reading of Shakespeare's comedy. Synthesizing insights from Freud, Hartmann, Winnicott, and Jung, Frosch singles out the Indian boy over whom Titania and Oberon, the king and queen of fairies, quarrel as the most important of several characters who never appear on stage. This leads him to delineate how the play as a whole enacts a psychological movement "from an idealized voyage back to childhood to a return to a reconstituted adulthood and then . . . to a new and different idealization of childhood." Or, as Frosch also puts it, "this is a play in which problems are solved in a way that raises new problems that then need to be solved." Just as, according to Groarke, Rycroft holds that one can make "a realistic use of the imagination," so, too, for Frosch we find in A Midsummer Night's Dream "the mature ego not inhibiting desire but helping it to fulfillment." The changes he rings on the concept of the missing child extend from the character of the Indian boy to the unborn child blessed by the fairies at the end of the play who (notwithstanding the perils obliquely avowed by Shakespeare's mythological allusions and the jeremiads of postmodern critics) remains a hopeful "symbol of potentiality" to, finally, the buried child and the childlike capacities for play and wonder that await resuscitation within the adult psyches of every reader or spectator. All these are, indeed, "the forms of things unknown" that the critic allows us to descry anew in the bottomless dream of Shakespeare's art.

Nothing could be further from the life-affirming plenitude celebrated by Rycroft as well as by Shakespeare...


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pp. 451-455
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