Play-Death and Individuation
Prophetic behavior employs the dynamics of play-death to displace the self into a glorious future. At the far reaches of imagination, in apocalyptic schemes, all individual identity dissolves into the cosmic father. As Venus and Adonis and Romeo and Juliet illustrate, the wish to merge with a cosmic parent represents an escape from the burdens of individuality—from isolation and guilt and personal vulnerability. Yet the prospect of self-loss may also be self-aggrandizing if the anticipated merger arouses convictions of being chosen or even godlike. The self may have its uniqueness confirmed as it contemplates its dissolution. Given this paradox, Venus and Adonis (or Romeo and Juliet) shares some of the deepest concerns of the apocalyptic histories.
In this chapter I use a psychoanalytic lens to examine the dialectic of individuation and merger in some early and late plays. My aim is to show how play-death dramatizes the formation of identity and a premodern conception of individual growth, and I close the chapter by considering the extent to which Prospero's farewell dramatizes an individual's effort to take responsibility for his own death.
Let me begin on a happier note, with love's promise of immortality through union, as in Titania's pledge to Bottom: "I will purge thy mortal grossness so, / That thou shalt like an aery spirit go" (MND 3.1.160-61). Although it usually escapes audiences, the Fairy Queen personifies everlasting life: "The summer still doth tend upon my state" (155). Put another way, she is a wishful solution to the problem of death. One source of that solution is the neoplatonic commonplace that lovers die for their beloveds, "to be eftsoones reuiued in them" (Monophylo , in Meader, p. 123). Ficino, who devised much of the doctrine, anxiously insisted on love's spirituality. Yet for him love be