The Topography of Death
"Going" to sleep or "falling" in love, we construe mental life in spatial terms. By extension, an imaginative world onstage in the theater is implicitly a mental space. A Midsummer Night's Dream, for instance, associates consciousness with a city whose laws and walls define conventional reality. Outside Athens lies a magical wood that mirrors the city yet remains associated with the unconscious. Over and over in Shakespeare, as in myths of the archetypal hero, consciousness is similarly bounded. Often the plays discover that the authority enshrined in a city or court has become moribund or perverse. Their plots are a death-defined venture outward and back, into an enchanted wood, the sea, or "great creating nature," a movement that revitalizes the city. The city dwellers—and theater audience—come to sense the crushing immensity of the world but also transcendent meanings ("something of great constancy") that support their lives. In this section I want to examine the margins of experience where such symbolic resurrections may take place.
The ancients buried their dead outside the city—out "there" and not "here" in conventional reality. Early medieval Christians brought the tomb into the church, yet souls continued to depart to an underworld or the heavenly city. Later imaginations including Dante devised intricately circumstantial maps of the afterlife. While it symbolized the infinite and ineffable, eschatological topography was highly particular. 1 Although superintended by angels and monsters, the old religion's heaven and hell mirrored society and the family: the "court" of heaven was an ideal patriarchy as in "Abraham's bosom," whereas hell was a regime of terror. The earthly city had a heavenly counterpart. Life and death were destinations in a closed system.
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Publication information: Book title: Play, Death, and Heroism in Shakespeare. Contributors: Kirby Farrell - Author. Publisher: University of North Carolina Press. Place of publication: Chapel Hill, NC. Publication year: 1989. Page number: 90.
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