The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0502 Monday, 6 August 2007
Date: Friday, 3 Aug 2007 16:23:23 -0600
Subject: 18.0496 Just My Imagination
Comment: RE: SHK 18.0496 Just My Imagination
First, in response to Chris Whatmore, I think Mike Shapiro is looking
for characters whose (dramatically represented) imaginations get away
from them rather than characters who demonstrate Shakespeare's
imagination getting away from him.
Besides Macbeth (already mentioned), I think Shakespeare's jealous
characters are among the best examples of those afflicted with
"horrible" and excessive "imaginings." There's Othello, of course. I'm
sure some telling passages could be located. There are a couple of
characters in Cymbeline: Posthumus, but also Jachimo. Imogen doesn't
suffer from jealousy but falsely imagines Cloten's body to be
Postumus's. But maybe simple mistakes shouldn't count here.
Another prime example is Leontes, accused by Paulina of "weak-hing'd
fancy" and "Fancies too weak for boys, too green and idle / For girls of
nine" (Winter's Tale 2.3.119 & 3.2.181-82). Note that Shakespeare is
about as likely to use the words "fancy" and "fancies" as
"imaginations/imaginings," etc., in referring to this phenomenon. One
reason I think Leontes a great example of unconstrained imagination is
that he is betrayed by his own words, especially two speeches in which
the word "nothing" reveals the power of imagination to build its
structure on a completely insubstantial foundation. The speeches are
located at 1.2.138-46 ("Affection!" etc.) and 1.2.284-96 ("Is whispering
And then Leontes suddenly realizes what he's been doing: "I have too
much believ'd mine own suspicion" (3.2.151). Fitting nicely with the
idea of unconstrained imagination, he refers to himself as having been
"transported by my jealousies" (3.2.158). I just did a word search and
discovered that, along with the words "jealous," "jealousy,"
"jealousies," "fancy," and "fancies," Leontes's problem is several times
referred to as "suspicion" (1.2.460, 2.1.160, 3.2.151, 5.3.149)--all
different ways of talking about an imagination that is poisoned (and
poisonous) and out of control.
The plays doubtless include similar examples I haven't mentioned as well
as more innocent examples of imagination gone wild.
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