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Madhouse Optics: The C h an gelin g Joseph M. Duffy “That the eye is a traitor, and ought ever to be mistrusted: that form is deceitful. . . .”1 Here addressing her seducer, Love­ lace, Clarissa defines the heuristic value and moral issues of her lugubrious experience with reality. These words might be fixed as emblematic device to the history of this deceived and selfdeceived young woman, for they spell out the tragic consequences of her innocent failure of vision. They might apply as well to another, earlier heroine who also—but more dreadfully and guiltily—becomes like Clarissa “a suffering person” as she myopically pursues the objects desired by her vagrant ego. At first Beatrice-Joanna in The Changeling perceives her future as an expanding universe of possibilities. Initially untried and superbly confident of her ability to control her destiny, she gradually becomes an experienced and moral woman who is compelled to face the consequences of her faulty sight and to acknowledge the isolating and inconsolable quality of her guilt.2 Because The Changeling is a visual work of dramatic art and a tragedy-—Eliot calls it one “which more than any play except those of Shakespeare has a profound and permanent moral value and horror . . .”3—restraint must be exercised in the admission of parallels from a novel, even from a novel of such tragic dimen­ sion as Clarissa. For there is a great artistic distance between the thickly circumstanced social and psychological environment of Richardson’s fiction and the austerely balanced dramatic staging of Middleton and Rowley’s tragedy. Since, for example, he is discussing a protagonist in a tragic play and not a heroine in a novel, it seems irrelevant of N. W. Bawcutt to characterize Bea­ trice as in many ways “a distinctly unamiable” young woman.4 She is certainly that, but if we consider the range of tragic females from Hecuba and Antigone through Cleopatra, Vittoria Corombona , and Phaedra to Mary Tyrone and Mother Courage, we recognize the limits of amiability in a tragic world where the pas184 Joseph M. Duffy 185 sionate egoism of the victim blasts softer human qualities. Even when it is admirable, the heroic mode of thought and action is awesome rather than amiable. This effect of awe over friendly solicitude is true, indeed, of our reaction to visionary figures in life as well as in art. We are respectful before the pre­ sumption of Keats when at twenty-three he declares in a letter that the “use” of the world is that it is “the vale of Soul-making.” We cherish the élan which projects vast designs upon life, and yet a similar élan—so beautiful and potentially so creative—■ often precedes the insolence of tragic figures in their ruthless gestures of self assertion.5 In tragedy these visions of accomplish­ ment may lead to such an obsessively egotistical way of looking at the world that the imagings become like madness in the per­ sonal behavior they induce and worse than madness in the gen­ eral human commotion they precipitate. Beatrice’s career in The Changeling is the record of descent into that havoc. At the opening of the play some details of Beatrice’s situa­ tion are given and others may be inferred. The girl is like a figure in romance: well-born, careless, prized by a most indulgent father, lately betrothed, she can and does survey the world as a place for her accommodation. But she is not alone in simplicity of outlook. Alsemero, the young visitor to her father’s court, is even more naive when in the first lines he compares the church where he first saw Beatrice to Eden and immediately envisions marriage with her as a recapitulation of that first state of innocence: ’Twas in the temple where I first beheld her, And now again the same; what omen yet Follows of that? None but imaginary; The place is holy, so is my intent; I love her beauties to the holy purpose, And that, methinks, admits comparison With man’s first creation, the place blest, And is his right home back, if he achieves it. The Church hath first begun our interview, And that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 184-198
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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