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Some Variations of Kindermord as Dramatic Archetype Charles R. Lyons The study of Kindermord as archetypal act builds upon the basic critical assumption that the child as dramatic image frequently exists as an extension of the self of the protagonist. The “ radical identity of hero and child” is the crucial premise of James Kerans’ telling analysis of Kindermord in the plays of Henrik Ibsen. 1 The present essay tests the extension of this notion of the identification of parent and child in a broad analysis of the event of Kindermord in many plays of several types and periods in order to explore, in general, the quality of that typicality. Kindermord is, perhaps, too specific and technical a term to use for the action we are describing— an action which is an event within the consciousness of the protagonist and which may or may not have a literal counterpart in the actual plot of the drama. However, the appropriateness of using the term Kindermord to define a paradigm becomes clear, I think, in its application to the particular plays this essay discusses. Frequently in plays there occurs an image which provides a focal point for the specific impulses or desires of the protagonist. That image may be ambiguous, containing both hope and fear. As the image of desire realized, however, it is often seen by the protagonist as an extension of his own will. Recurrently that focal point is an actual child in the structure of characters or another person who assumes the role of child or it can be some object given the value of child meta­ phorically. For example, with Cordelia in King Lear there is an actual child in a realistic structure of persons; in Endgame there is a persistent but oblique sense of a father-son relationship between Hamm and Clov; in Hedda Gahler Lovburg’s manuscript is given metaphorical value as the child of Lovburg’s relationship with Thea Elvsted. It is possible for the child to exist only as metaphor in the imagination of the parent. The specific image of Kindermord which occurs in Lady Macbeth’s “ I have given suck . . .” speech illustrates a single use of an imaginary Kindermord used rhetorically (although as we discuss later, that single use relates to a kind of child murder which is used throughout the poetry of Macbeth). Also, the child as fantasy can direct the whole structure of a drama as does the illusory child in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The death of the child, as well, may be actual as in the hanging of Cordelia in King Lear; or it may be an alienation or isolation from the parent as in Strindberg’s The Father; or once more, Endgame; or it may be the destruction of the object which serves as child as in 56 the burning of the manuscript in Hedda Gabler. In Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? that death is the destruction of the mutual illusion shared by George and Martha in their “game” of parenthood. The death of the child is either willed by the protagonist or occurs as the direct or indirect consequence of his action. In King Lear, Lear is not immediately responsible for the death of Cordelia; but he is ultimately responsible since Cordelia’s hanging is the consequence of a chain of events which he initiated in the division of his kingdom and her exclusion from his protective care. T o frame the typical action we are exploring in its simplest and, unfortunately, most reductive terms we could describe it in this manner: the image of the child— child either as person, object, or metaphor— is used dramatically to clarify or reveal some aspect of the consciousness of the protagonist; and the death of the child, usually willed by him, signals an important event in his consciousness— frequently the purging or destruction of that aspect of his psyche. Recurrently that event is the consequence of a conflict between a strong male and a strong female will. As a psychic event, the Kindermord usually has a high erotic content. The dead children of Thyestes, caught as they are in Cassandra’s vision in the Oresteia, are explicit...


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pp. 56-71
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