Shakespeare September- Day 29: Delusions in Shakespeare

Yesterday, I shared with you one of my earliest essays and analysis of Shakespeare. And rereading it did make me realise just how far I’ve come in a few short years in terms of writing style/themes. And, yes, I may have shed a little tear!

Instead of posting another more recent piece of criticism, today I thought I’d share with you my thought process for essays and how I approach them. I won’t be using the same question from yesterday, but another one which I wrote on in my second year of BA English:

‘Such tricks hath strong imagination’ (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, V. 1. 18).To what uses does Shakespeare put delusion in these plays?

I probably do as most people do to start off with: sit down and dissect the question first, picking out the key elements. ‘Delusion’ and the play the title quotation is taken from are two good starting points, although I personally dismiss the suggested play. My theory is if you’re a lecturer marking 30 odd essays all of which are about A Midsummer Night’s Dream, you’re probably going to enjoy and remember the ones more which aren’t about it! Plus, I don’t like the Comedies.

Which brings us on to delusion. Consider if there are any other obvious candidates for writing about this topic. Macbeth immediately springs to mind for me, with the Witches and Macbeth’s belief that they use tricks against him. After showing him the line of kings none of his issue, Macbeth proclaims, ‘Infected be the air whereon [the Witches] ride;/And damn’d all those that trust them’, something which Banquo warned of earlier, ‘oftentimes, to win us to our harm,/The instruments of darkness tell us truths,/Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s/In deepest consequence’.

Once you’ve got at least one play to work with, go on to OED to find some working definitions. This brings up 1) Physical Delusion or ‘Anything that deceives the mind with false impression’, aka ‘Is this a dagger which I see before me?’ in Macbeth, and 2) Mental Delusion, e.g. ‘delusions of grandeur’, again applicable to the supposedly ‘charmed life’ of Macbeth. Rejecting the first definition as again it’s something a tad obvious for my liking, I pursue the idea of delusional disorders and find not only that you can apply this to Macbeth and Richard III, but that there is actually a delusional disorder inspired by Shakespeare: the Othello Syndrome. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my unique hook, and how I interpret the plays from there on out.

That’s how I go about approaching questions. Well that and a good old spider diagram, although mine normally is less organised and more just lots of words in capital letters!

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