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Glenn, J. (1974). Twins in Disguise. II. Content, Form and Style in Plays by Anthony and Peter Shaffer. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 1:373-381.

(1974). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 1:373-381

Twins in Disguise. II. Content, Form and Style in Plays by Anthony and Peter Shaffer

Jules Glenn


In 'Twins in Disguise: A Psychoanalytic Essay on Sleuth and The Royal Hunt of the Sun', I established that the protagonists of these plays manifested the characteristics of twins even though they were not represented as such. I attributed this phenomenon to the fact that the authors, Anthony and Peter Shaffer respectively, are fraternal twins. They projected their own characteristics and relationships on to their creations. In the present paper I confirmed these findings through an analysis of Frenzy, whose screenplay was written by Anthony Shaffer. I then extended my thesis to show that the form, style and even the titles of these plays may be influenced by twinning.

The typical characteristics of twins that are described in the analytic literature include: (1) the unconscious fantasy of being half a person and the associated belief that he was deprived of half his body in the womb or in infancy; (2) the desire for revenge toward his mother and sibling for imagined or real deprivations; (3) the wish to make things even; (4) intense rivalry intertwined with intense libidinal attachment; (5) lifelong identification with the other twin and the prominent use of identification as a defence; (6) uncertainty about separation of self-representation and object-representation; (7) through displacement and projection the world will appear to be populated by people who have these characteristics and who are pictured as twins; (8) the twins may complement each other, each one taking on traits opposite to his sibling.

In the film Frenzy two friends, Robert and Richard, who are opposite in some ways, share the traits of impulsiveness and sadism. Robert has murdered several women, but, as twins often do, he places the blame on Richard, who eventually evens things. I demonstrated the ambivalence of the two men, their mutual identification and their twin-like antagonism to mother surrogates.

I also compared Sleuth to the typical detective story and showed that the form of the play, its deviation from the mystery's usual thematic sequence, is due to the dominance of the twinship motif. Whereas the detective story typically emphasizes primal scene and oedipal resonances, in Sleuth the twinship is all-pervasive. The stress is not on 'whodunnit' but on the mutual competition, trickery and affection of the men.

A number of other derivatives of twinning were observed to involve the form and style of the plays and their titles. Peter Shaffer has written several 'twin bills' in which two plays are presented in the same programme, one complementing the other. The titles of these pairs— White Lies and Black Comedy; White Liars and Black Comedy; The Public Eye and The Private Ear —depict interrelated opposites. A particular gimmick (sic) in Black Comedy is the representation of light and darkness by their opposites.

A substantial part of this paper was first presented at the Psychoanalytic Association of New York on 19 March 1973, under the title 'Further Observations on Plays by Twins'. The author is Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry and a faculty member of the Division of Psychoanalytic Education, Downstate Medical Center, State University of New York. Thanks are due to Mrs Albert Sax for her valuable editorial assistance.

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