Academic journal article The Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences

The Malvolio Syndrome: A Psychological Inquiry into Human Narcissism

Academic journal article The Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences

The Malvolio Syndrome: A Psychological Inquiry into Human Narcissism

Article excerpt

Abstract

This study focuses on the psychological aspect of Malvolio who suffers from selfgrandiosity and as such projects an internalized self-image on the outer world. On a deeper psychological level this psychic imbalance is not exclusive to the selfconceited steward but inclusive of all humanity. The causes of such psychological pathology can be numerous subject to individual circumstances and mental sensitivity but the effects uniformly remain the same. Essentially we are all narcissists and try to project the best ourselves we can no matter how much unrealistic that image might be. In jeering Malvolio unsympathetically and discourteously, we feel a simmering twitch in our sides with the constant reminder that our laughter, ironically, is self-directed. Malvolio interests us not because he is ridiculous and absurd, but rather in him we see the Malvolio-like aspect of our innate nature that surfaces unconsciously in each of us, on occasions, to the utter embarrassment of our contrived civility and demeanour.

Keywords: Narcissism, Malvolio, Psychoanalysis, Freud, Lacan

Introduction

Malvolio, in the general pattern of Shakespearean characterization, is interesting on numerous levels, depending on the angles of interpretation. My approach to him is from the "narcissistic" standpoint, which has deeper psychological bearings. American Psychiatric Association (1994) defines a narcissist personality as follows:

A narcissist is grandiose (i.e., thinks he or she is better than others or is special), eager for admiration, hypersensitive to criticism, lacking in empathy for others, and exploitative (Campbell, 1999-1254).

On the basis of this definition and as Smith (2011) argues, Malvolio appears to be a prime example of a narcissist personality. Time and again, he proves himself to be hindered by his self-interests (Smith, 2011:69). Campbell (1999) suggests that there are three interrelated elements of narcissistic behaviour: (a) inflated selfconcept, (b) poor interpersonal relationships, and (c) related patterns of selfregulation. As I shall show, Malvolio appears to be a function of all three.

Essentially, we are all narcissists and try to project ourselves the best we can no matter how unrealistic that image might be. In jeering Malvolio unsympathetically and discourteously, we feel a simmering twitch in our sides with the constant reminder that our laughter, ironically, is self-directed. Malvolio interests us not because he is ridiculous and absurd, but rather in him we see the Malvolio-like aspect of our innate nature that surfaces unconsciously in each of us, on occasions, to the utter embarrassment of our contrived civility and demeanour. The psychological dimensions of Malvolio's character are loaded with meaning and rich in significance. A comprehensive approach may lead one into some dark avenues of the mind (psyche) that are characteristic of all human experience; hence reading the general into the particular and vice versa. Since psychology is a general graphic delineation of the human mind (psyche), I see Malvolio and his narcissism reflected in our common humanity. He lurks in every human figure irrespective of race, religion, or geography, which I shall try to illuminate in my inquiry.

Analysis and Discussion

.... He has been yonder i' the sun practicing behavior to his own shadow this half hour. Observe him, for the love of mockery; (II, v, 14-16)1

Shakespeare has been very careful in delineating the character of Malvolio. Derived from the Italian word, malvoglio, it means 'I dislike.' Malvolio, thus, seems to be a double entendre-. Malvolio's scorn for others or others' scorn for him. Further, the prefix 'mal-' means 'bad, wrong, imperfect or defective,' hence, evil or sick (Smith, 2011:71).

To begin with, narcissism is "self-love, self-inflation, self-importance, self-assertion, self-preservation, selfishness, egocentrism, and vanity"2. Self-recognition, although, may lead to self-extension with the aim of enfolding the whole of human race into one totality; but a narcissist's self-centrality viciously enmeshes him into a web of illusions that deprives him of an understanding of the worth and value of the "other" in life. …

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