Sexual politics in Shakespeare''s King John

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1975

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King John has long suffered from a reputation of inferiority, which critics generally have attributed to a lack of structural and thematic unity. However, the dramatic element which contributes most to its unity—the psychological relationship between the male and female characters--has never been adequately treated. In my thesis I attempt to show that Shakespeare was dramatizing a complex relationship between the political and historical world of the play and the psychological behavior of the play's characters. In particular, the play demonstrates, perhaps more clearly than any other of Shakespeare, the relationship between sexual politics—that is, political behavior which is determined by sexuality—and state politics. This relationship contributes to the unity of King John and to its theme—the reconciliation of opposites. The final chapter of this thesis examines the theme of the reconciliation of opposites primarily in light of the psychological theory of C. G. Jung, who has stated that his psychology of individuation was expressed in earlier alchemical thought. Therefore, since the explication of King John relates Shakespeare's theme to Jungian and alchemical psychology, the first chapter, which follows a critical statement and an introduction, discusses these two psychological approaches, both of which relate wholeness to a masculine-feminine reconciliation. In addition, an appendix to this chapter investigates Shakespeare's access to such psychological and alchemical thought. Since Shakespeare's play is historical, the second, chapter examines the historical personages who appear in King John, as well as previous portrayals of these personages, and relates them, to sexual politics and reconciliation. This discussion shows how they lent themselves to Shakespeare's theme. In addition, this chapter illustrates the availability of suclr historical knowledge to Shakespeare. The final chapter comprises an explication of the play in. light of the information brought out in the first two chapters.

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