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Byles, J.M. (1979). The Winter's Tale, Othello and Troilus and Cressida: Narcissism and Sexual Betrayal. Am. Imago, 36(1):80-93.

(1979). American Imago, 36(1):80-93

The Winter's Tale, Othello and Troilus and Cressida: Narcissism and Sexual Betrayal

Joan M. Byles, Ph.D.

The conflict in Troilus and Cressida and Othello has much in common with the themes of betrayal and sexual jealousy in The Winter's Tale, but the resolution in The Winter's Tale is different from that in the two earlier tragedies. The difference relates to the relative power and scope of the narcissism and idealism of the heroes. Troilus is an idealistic lover, Othello is both an idealistic and a narcissistic lover, whereas Leontes is a wholly narcissistic lover. In these three plays, love is always threatened by its opposite and the heroes cannot brook frustration in their love attachments. The relationship between narcissistic dependency or fixation and superego aggression provides the dynamics for the intense disillusion in love that Troilus and Othello have to endure. Leontes' suffering is not as intense because he has no ideal view of love. When Leontes thinks himself betrayed, his narcissism sustains him.

The superego is the psychic agency that produces the sense of the ideal, of the way things ought to be, not the way they are. Troilus' idealizing love invests Cressida with moral excellence. Othello's love for Desdemona has as its major component his own high ideal of her. To idealize a love object can also entail a formalized defense against inferiority feelings especially if the lover gets an idealized sense of his own self through the love object. For example, up to the temptation scene, Othello's love for Desdemona fills him with valor and power, obscures the insecurity he feels about Desdemona's choosing him.

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