Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




J. Adamson




Narcissism and envy are two primary psychological forces that determine human behaviour. Narcissism affects a person's sense of self; envy affects his relations with others. Shakespeare seems to have anticipated the recent emergence of psychoanalytic theories about how these forces affect the masculine self. This thesis will investigate how the ideas of René Girard and Heinz Kohut coincide with issues raised by Shakespeare, in Troilus and Cressida.

According to Girard, many characters in the play are driven by 'mimetic desires' created by 'mediators'. Troilus's desire for Cressida is mediated by Pandarus; Ajax's desire to fight Hector is mediated by Ulysses. Yet these characters also display aggressive behaviour symptomatic of the 'narcissistic personality disorder', described by Kohut. Many warriors experience their environment and other people narcissistically; that is, they expect total control over these. When their narcissistic expectations are thwarted, they compensate for inward self-doubts with outward aggression and rage. Shakespeare's Trojan War is largely fuelled by man's fear of being cuckolded, "gored with Menelaus' horn" (l,i.108). Men insult, attack and cuckold rivals in 'preventive attacks', to avoid being victimized themselves.

The Trojan War can thus be seen as the culmination of many individuals' mediated envies combined with preventive attacks and narcissistic rage; behaviour symptomatic of insecurity, not moral depravity. Kohut's theory of archaic narcissism provides the deep psychic foundation on which to build Girard's behavioral model of mimetic rivalry, to create a more comprehensive model for the psychoanaiytic criticism of Shakespeare's plays.

McMaster University Library

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