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Handelman, S. (1979). Timon of Athens: The Rage of Disillusion. Am. Imago, 36(1):45-68.

(1979). American Imago, 36(1):45-68

Timon of Athens: The Rage of Disillusion

Susan Handelman

In the final analysis, every object is a substitute, and in the strict psychoanalytic sense a symbol, for all the abundance of unconscious meaning, inexpressible in itself, associated with it. From the point of view of the libido, no object cathexis possesses any reality beyond this symbolic one.

…the profoundly racking illness—the primal hurt of all of us…the uncomprehending self-absement of becoming an individual….

—Lou-Andreas Salomé

For Shakespeare, the dreams and diseases of the narcissistic ego were of particular fascination. His stage is peopled with characters who represent in both comic and tragic modes the manifold forms which these dreams and disorders may assume. Malvolio and Lear, for example, are so different and yet so similar, for the cornerstone of their characters is an infantile narcissism which abruptly conflicts with a reality which negates their dreams of omnipotence, confines the boundaries of their egos, and denies them the objects of their desires. And Shakespeare gives them both very harsh therapy.

And as Freud also revealed, on his own stage, narcissism is indeed something very primary, and one of the cornerstones of everyone's ego: “The development of the ego consists in a departure from the primary narcissism and results in a vigorous attempt to recover it.” To summarize this concept in brief: this “dual orientation” of narcissism basically involves the conflict between the drive to recapture the primal feeling of undifferentiated unity with the original object, and the opposing drive to assert one's own separate ego.

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