Shakespeare and Psychoanalysis: Miraculous Daughters in Shakespeare's Late Romances

by Dianne M. Hunter

August 25, 2005


All's Well That Ends Well stages a pivot between the impasse of the oedipal genealogical conflict and daughterly division within patriarchy staged by Shakespeare's early histories and tragedies, and the father-daughter continuity of his late romances, which turn on daughterly fertility as inspiration reviving aging father-figures and bringing Shakespeare's work back from the nadir of despair marked by descents into psychoses in Macbeth and King Lear, in which life appears to signify nothing. Helena, heroine of All's Well, integrates motifs of medicinal power, music, eloquence, wit and daughterly sexuality and grace that are dispersed in earlier plays and which merge with explicit father-daughter incest and its transformations into mutually begetting as Marina cures her father's depression in Pericles.


"By law of nature thou are bound to breed,
That thine may live, when thou thyself are dead;
And so in spite of death thou dost survive,
In that thy likeness still is left alive. …

    And were I not immortal, life is done…."—Venus,
    "Venus and Adonis" (170-174, 197)

What images return/ O my daughter—T.S. Eliot, "Marina"

Simply the thing I am/
Shall make me live. . . .
There’s place and means for every man alive.
--Parolles, All’s Well (IV.iii.333-349)

      All's Well That Ends Well stages a pivot between the impasse of the oedipal genealogical conflict and daughterly division within patriarchy staged by Shakespeare's early histories and tragedies, and the father-daughter continuity of his late romances, which turn on daughterly fertility as inspiration reviving aging father-figures and bringing Shakespeare's work back from the nadir of despair marked by descents into psychoses in Macbeth and King Lear, in which life appears to signify nothing. Helena, heroine of All's Well, integrates motifs of medicinal power, music, eloquence, wit and daughterly sexuality and grace that are dispersed in earlier plays and which merge with explicit father-daughter incest and its transformations into mutually begetting as Marina cures her father's depression in Pericles.

     In 1969-70, to justify his choice of "top quality" passages for a Faber anthology of selections from Shakespeare (31 January 1970 letter to Leonard Baskin), Ted Hughes as editor formulated his view of Shakespeare’s single myth and its historical genesis. Hughes articulates Shakespeare’s central fable as a cycle of four elements or poles of psychic energy, announced in the titles of the two narrative poems written in 1592, during the plague which closed London theatres: "Venus and Adonis" and "The Rape of Lucrece." In Hughes’s reading, Adonis’s refusal of Love is a crime against Nature that causes his destruction by a boar and transformation into a bloody flower. This destructiveness gets dramatized in Shakespeare’s representations of the Wars of the Roses in his Henry VI tetralogy and in his tragedies of monarchy and subversive tyranny. The boar for Hughes is an image of the tyrant, as, for example, Richard III, whose heraldic emblem is a rampant boar. The murderous tyrant, a Tarquin figure, rapes innocence, which for Hughes comprises not only the virgin daughter but also the divinely appointed king. Thus Macbeth goes toward Duncan’s bedchamber "With Tarquin’s ravishing strides" (II.i.55). Following Yeats’s idea that each person has a central daemon or myth, Hughes articulates the following version of Shakespeare’s story: "Venus confronts Adonis, whereupon Adonis dies through some form of destroying tempest and is reborn, through a flower death, as Tarquin, whereupon Tarquin destroys Lucrece (and himself and all order)."

     Hughes sees Shakespeare’s plays rearranging these "four poles in all manner of combinations in what looks like Shakespeare’s attempt to reverse the decision—pronounced so emphatically in the two long poems and in each subsequent play up to Timon—against Adonis and Lucrece." Each play, writes Hughes, "represents an increasingly desperate effort to lift an increasingly ideal spirit of Lucrece from an increasingly infernal cauldron of sexual evil." Though Hughes excludes the romances from what he thinks is Shakespeare’s essentially tragic equation, we may remember here Marina in Pericles converting to chastity her lustful clientele, including her future husband, who meets her in a brothel; she is "able," says the Pander, "to freeze the god Priapus, and undo a whole generation" (IV.iv.3-4). Hughes sees running parallel to the lifting of the spirit of Lucrece Shakespeare’s "steady effort to save Adonis, somehow or other, from the boar. It is interesting to watch—after King Lear and its equally horrible afterbirth Timon—Shakespeare suddenly steps back and relaxes the pressure. Coriolanus is the first play where the Tarquinized Adonis finally refuses to go through with it. From that point, Shakespeare begins to cheat, and we begin to call what he then writes ‘romances.’ In these plays the young women, murdered by madmen or tempest, do not actually die—they reappear to make everybody happy" (1971: 194-5).

     A fatalist, Hughes does not allow for Shakespeare to have had a new idea. But in the beginning of the seventeenth century, Shakespeare apparently did come to a new thematic emphasis on continuity through the daughter (Hunter 2002). Since Shakespeare’s four late romances, Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest, turn on daughterly survival rather than the death of innocence, Shakespeare must have been cheating, claims Hughes, when he developed his stories of continuity per se as the crown of life. But just as Hughes himself in middle age sought to revive his creativity through his daughter Frieda and through responding to the works of his dead first wife, Sylvia Plath, Shakespeare in his forties, then a grandfather, revived and transformed in his work creative forces embodied by daughter-figures whose names suggest the inspirational power of loss and re-finding— Perdita (the lost one, peril, Persephone or Proserpina); Marina (gift from the sea); Imogen (imagination, imagery); Miranda (miraculous, mirror).

     Robert M. Polhemus (2005) argues that Shakespeare’s late romances comprise a chapter in cultural history working out a Lot complex in which daughters gain positions of authority by obtaining the seed of their fathers, thus ensuring a future for the human race. Whereas Shakespeare’s early histories and his tragedies stage the price of patriarchy by showing children sacrificed in violent oedipal dynamics, the late plays, including the celebration of the birth of the princess Elizabeth to King Henry VIII in Shakespeare’s final work, look to daughters as guardians of heritage. Moreover, they inspire paternal creativity, as, for example, does Miranda, whose coming of age as a woman motivates Prospero to cast the storm that brings her a groom, puts his enemies within his power to forgive, and occasions his masque of blessings for fertility. In The Winter’s Tale, argues Lynn Enterline, "Shakespeare tries to replace the animating power of the maternal body with the language and visual spectacle of the theater" (86). The playwright’s spectacular art, in this view, takes its model from what the play calls "great creating Nature" (IV.iv.87).

     Genealogy and heritage preoccupy Shakespeare throughout his career; but until his turn toward romance plots, the carrier of power into the future is always a male figure, who, however, sometimes takes up his position thanks to the default of a rival male line, as Malcolm succeeds the childless Macbeth, and Fortinbras supplants the line of Hamlet in Denmark. In Henry V (1599), for example, the English King’s claim to France is made in defiance of Salic law, which barred women from transmitting royal titles: "No woman shall succeed in Salic land." The Archbishop of Canterbury recites a lineal litany justifying Henry’s claim "from the female":

    …King Lewis the Tenth,
    Who was sole heir to the usurper Capet,
    Could not keep quiet in his conscience,
    Wearing the crown of France, till satisfied
    That fair Queen Isabel, his grandmother,
    Was lineal of the Lady Ermengard,
    Daughter to Charles the foresaid Duke of Lorraine;
    By the which marriage the line of Charles the Great
    Was reunited to the crown of France.
    So that, as clear as is the summer’s sun,
    King Pepin’s title and Hugh Capet’s claim,
    King Lewis his satisfaction, all appear
    To hold in right and title of the female;
    So do the kings of France unto this day,
    Howbeit they would hold up this Salic law
    To bar your Highness claiming from the female,
    And rather choose to hide them in a net
    Than amply to imbar their crooked titles
    Usurped from you and your progenitors (I.ii. 38, 77-95;
    my italics; Pepin was Charlemain’s father).


In this play, the heroic Henry vindicates female ancestral power, but, as in all of Shakespeare’s plays of the sixteenth-century, the carrier of heritage is male—a son is the agent of transmission of power into the future. The conquering son becomes the phallic agent of his progenitors’ legacies.

     In Shakespeare’s personal ancestry, prestigious roots belonged to his mother’s side of the family, the Ardens having been inscribed in the Domesday Book made by order of William the Conqueror in the late-eleventh century. Stratford’s John Shakespeare had married up in the world when he joined the family of Robert Arden of Wilmcote (Greenblatt, 42-43). Born six years into the reign of the "Virgin Queen," William Shakespeare came into the world as his parent’s eldest son following the death of their second daughter, Margaret, who was buried April 30, 1563, less than a year before William’s birth. Shakespeare, as had his model Ovid, ventriloquized female voices. Speaking as a woman and by means of women characters seem related to the playwright’s having inherited a powerful maternal lineage and having himself replaced a girl child who had died. From Mary Arden Shakespeare’s point of view, baby William could have been seen as a lost daughter reborn as a son, a reversal of the fantasy later dramatized in Twelfth Night in which a lost son (Sebastian) reappears after having apparently been embodied by his twin sister Viola dressed as Cesario, a fantasy that seems to fulfill the playwright’s wish for the return of his own lost son Hamnet, twin of Judith Shakespeare (Hunter 2002). Into this personal configuration one must figure as well the historical circumstances of Shakespeare’s having grown up in an emerging nation ruled politically by an androgynous Queen without a King. When King James succeeded Elizabeth I, his Queen, Anna of Denmark, patronized masques at court, a factor contributing to the emphasis on music, dance and formal pageantry that marks Shakespeare’s Jacobean dramas.

     Female survival power in the form of matrilineage and father-daughter heritage was actually more effective than patriarchal primogeniture in the politics of Tudor continuity. The English Reformation turned on the question of Henry VIII’s ability to father a son. Before fathering his only male heir, Henry VIII had fathered two daughters. Queen Elizabeth I came to power as Tudor continuity passed from Henry VIII to the boy king Edward VI, briefly to Edward’s Protestant cousin Jane Grey, granddaughter of Henry VIII’s youngest sister Mary, and then to Edward’s half-sisters Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I, the sole royal surviving child. Elizabeth I emphasized her identity as her father’s daughter, daughter of a King; she added with canny ambiguity, "and a King of England too." Elizabeth’s successor, her Scottish cousin James Stuart, claimed British royalty through his matrilineal connection to Henry VIII’s sister Margaret.

     1607, four years after the transfer of the English crown from Elizabeth I to James I, whose claim came through the maternal royal line, was the year of the marriage of Shakespeare elder daughter Susanna to Doctor John Hall and of the death of Shakespeare’s brother Edmund (‘a player’). The following year, 1608, Shakespeare wrote Coriolanus, where, observes Hughes, the boar-tyrant for the first time holds back. This was the year of the birth of Shakespeare’s granddaughter Elizabeth Hall, daughter of a physician, in February, and the death of Shakespeare’s mother, Mary, in September. Shakespeare’s male line having ended in the death of his 11 year old son Hamnet, in 1596, and the death of Shakespeare’s father John, in 1601, around the time of the composition of Hamlet, one can imagine how the birth of Elizabeth Hall in 1607, early in the same year Shakespeare’s mother died, would have given the playwright the idea of survival through the daughter and why his use of the motif of the doctor transformed.

     Of Shakespeare’s late romances, Robert Adams writes, "In all four of the plays a major feature of the action is a royal child lost in infancy, deprived of rightful status, and after trials and dangers restored. Three of these lost children (heroines of Pericles, Winter’s Tale, and Tempest) are girls with strikingly similar names: Marina, Perdita, Miranda. Through the recovery of these girls (and the analogous reuniting of Imogen with her husband, while her two lost brothers are also recovered) the kingdom of their parents is restored to prosperity, unity, or spiritual health" (1989: 4-5). In All’s Well That Ends Well, the reappearance of the supposedly dead, clever healer Helena, pregnant with her husband’s child, anticipates the Shakespearean romance motif of the restored daughter, as does Viola in Twelfth Night, the female twin of a brother lost at sea with whom she reunites at the end of the play (see Hunter 2002).

     In a poem published with variants titled "King of Hearts" and "A Full House" (1987, 1998), Ted Hughes sums up the playwright’s plot for a play about his three heirs, all female:

     Shakespeare, drafting his will in 1605, plots an autobiographical play for 1606

My Will shall be
As I have planned:
My treasure, my land,
Split into three,

One third I pay
To help Anne’s age
Put her youth’s rage
And hate away.

To Judith one
Else who would marry
Memento Mori
Of my son?

And for Sue
The final part
Includes my heart
That is pierced through

By my own lance
In young Edmund’s
Bastard Edmund’s
Lineal hands (CP, 1193-4).

     Accompanying the September 6, 1998 publication of this poem in the Sunday Times appeared this note:

     Shakespeare is imagined dividing his estate into three, like King Lear. One third goes to his wife Anne, 52 in 1606, and another to his daughter Judith, the twin of Hamnet who had died in 1596 aged 11. Hamnet would have been 21 in 1606. The third part goes to his eldest child Susanna, born in 1583. Both Susanna and Judith married: Susanna in 1607 (she bore Shakespeare his only grandchild, Elizabeth, in 1608), and Judith in 1616, two months before Shakespeare’s death. The coat of arms mentioned in the last stanza was granted to Shakespeare’s father in 1596. In 1606, the only heir to it was Edmund (or Edward), the illegitimate son of Shakespeare’s youngest brother, Edmund—who dies just before his father in 1607 (CP, 1303).

     This note on Shakespeare’s legacy, written when Hughes’s daughter Frieda was in her late 30s and Hughes himself was a death’s door, implies a different tale about Shakespeare than Hughes’s 1969-1971 formulations and it recognizes that Shakespeare’s future was female.

     Analyzing the "incest-fertility opposition" in Pericles, W. B. Thorne observes, "The late comedies…participate in a view of life that assumes the principle of fertility and sexuality to be the controlling principle of the universe, and the battle which it wages yearly with the antagonistic principle to be crucial to the continued operation of Nature herself" (1971: 54). Thorne adds, "The young are apparently regarded as the old reborn, and the continuity of life becomes one of the central interests in the late plays" (56).

     Around the time of the Tudor-Stuart transition of 1603, Shakespeare began to dramatize the idea of continuity through the daughter. In his late romances, miraculous daughters provide alternative means of survival to father-son relationships ending in a nadir of despair and solve the problem of how a daughter can be true to both a husband and a father. These miraculous daughters of the late plays have a (1602-3) prototype in All’s Well’s protagonist Helena, female heir of a famed physician, Gerard de Narbon. Helena is herself a healer whose fertility, both physical and mental, proves key to Roussillion familial continuity. Helena’s virtuous and virginal character brings together disparate motifs--daughters, music, doctors--running through the corpus of Shakespeare’s work and climaxing in the scene in Pericles where the chaste Marina, with the help of music and her own eloquence, raises Pericles from penance and melancholy, giving him access to a vision of female divinity and ultimately, to his wife Thaisa (whose name means "the feminine bond"). Thaisa, lost at sea after childbirth, washed ashore in Ephesus and revivified by the physician Cerimon, joined the temple of the goddess Diana to become a priestess. Having escaped an attempt on her life and an abduction by pirates, Thaisa’s daughter Marina (whose name means "gift from the sea") is sold into sexual slavery in Mytilene, where her depressed father comes to port and revives upon hearing Marina’s song and recognizing in her his lost wife’s features, voice and eyes. When he hears her name and story, and she says her mother’s name, Pericles hears the "music of the spheres" and dreams of the silvery goddess Diana, who advises him to retell his tribulations publicly in her temple or to live in woe. As in The Winter’s Tale (1611), the king in middle age is given a second chance to live in the happy land where things turn out right. Pericles is restored to both his wife and daughter, who are restored to one another. The now happy king returns with his wife to her royal home at Pentapolis, giving his own kingdom to Marina and her betrothed Prince Lysimachus, Governor of Mytilene, who has given up his former life as a brothel visitor.

     Daughters and Doctors

     Two doctor-figures appear in Romeo and Juliet (1595-6), the apothecary who sells Romeo poison, and the Franciscan Friar Lawrence, who not only concocts Juliet’s sleeping potion and the disastrous plan to put her in the Capulet tomb but who also philosophizes: "Within the infant rind of this weak flower/ Poison hath residence and medicine power"; "The earth that’s nature’s mother is her tomb;/ What is her burying grave, that is her womb" (II.ii. 23-24; 9-10). Though he speaks a truth about how opposites cancel each other in this play (light and darkness, poison and medicine, young love and old hate), the Friar’s recipes prove as fatal as the potion Romeo gets from the impoverished apothecary. Death, not medicine cures the feud that is a plague on the two houses dividing the young lovers. The apparent death of the daughter-figure, Juliet, brings on Romeo’s suicide, which in turn causes the end of Juliet, leaving both Capulet and Montague without an heir. The daughter and the doctor-figure come together to no avail in this play without issue. The son’s doctor of sorts is a poisoner.

     Two doctors appear in Macbeth (1603): a Scots Doctor and an English Doctor. The English Doctor serves to announce the sacred power of the English King to heal by touch:

Doctor. There are a crew of wretched souls
That say his cure. Their malady convinces
The great assay of art; but at his touch,
Such sanctity hath heaven given his hand,
They presently amend (IV.iii.141-144).

     Malcolm, the legitimized heir to his father Duncan’s usurped throne, comments on how the "miraculous work" of the English King is legendarily hereditary: "To the succeeding royalty he leaves/ The healing benediction" (IV.iii.155-6; my italics). The Scottish Doctor in this play, servant to the assassin and usurper King Macbeth of "barren scepter" be taken "with an unlineal hand," "no son" of his "succeeding" him on the throne (III.i.61-63; my italics), proves helpless in the face of the teeming grief, guilt, and madness overtaking Scotland: "the patient/ Must minister to himself" (V.iii.45-6). Macbeth declares, "Throw physic to the dogs" (V.iii.47). The Doctor scurries to the exit with the words "Were I from Dunsinane away and clear, / Profit again should hardly draw me here" (V.iii.61-2).

     A more favorable and effective physician appears in King Lear (1605), along with motifs of music and a loving daughter. A doctor presides over the Act IV reunion between the maddened Lear and his loyal daughter Cordelia, a figure of forgiveness and redemption. As the Doctor causes music to be played, Cordelia says, "O my dear father, / restoration hang/ Thy medicine on my lips, and let this kiss/ Repair those violent harms that my two sisters/ Have in thy reverence made" (IV.viii.25-29). The Doctor having dressed Lear in new garments during the patient’s long and heavy sleep, Cordelia restores her father’s kingly dignity through her capacity for unconditional love and her treatment of him with the respect and reverence she remembers as belonging to him. She addresses him as though he were still the king: "Will’t please your Highness walk?" "You must bear with me," replies the recovered Lear, "Pray you now forget, and forgive; I am old and foolish" (IV.vii.81-83). He speaks of himself taken "out o’ th’ grave"

     (IV.vii.44). When father and daughter are prisoners of their enemies, Lear imagines taking consolation in the holiness of her sacrifice and their unending union: "Upon such sacrifices, my Cordelia, / The gods themselves throw incense…/He that parts us shall bring a brand from heaven" (V.iii.2—23). He who has dreamt of laying his head on Cordelia’s kind nursery invites her to think of their imprisonment as a chance to live happily ever after together, singing like birds in a cage (albeit in a cage). Cordelia serves here, with assistance from the attending physician, as a short-lived revivifier and restorer of her father, dying for her loyalty to him.

     In The Merchant of Venice (1596-7), the redeeming daughter figure Portia, "a living daughter curb’d by the will of a dead father" (I.ii.24-5), uses music, rhyming words, and her wit to fulfill her father’s will and still be rewarded to the groom she desires. Disguised as a learned doctor, she rescues Antonio from the peril of Shylock. Her music-filled household accommodates multiple marriages and appears to be an endless source of wealth. While the play doesn’t call her a physician, she bestows grace on Bassanio and intercedes with mercy in the trial scene in an allegory that casts her as a version of the Virgin Mother who intercedes for souls come to judgement.

     In All’s Well That Ends Well (1602-1603), Helena, having learned magic arts from her father, regenerates the King of France as he languishes at death’s door. Cordelia and Lear’s restorative kiss has a prototype in Helena’s revival of the French King, a father figure in All’s Well. Helena is in the simultaneous roles of healer ("Doctor She"), subject, miracle-worker ("admiration"), daughter-figure, "herb of grace" (IV.v.17), and aspiring wife. Lafeu brings Helena to the King’s bedside as if he were a pander, explicitly comparing himself to Cressida’s uncle and imagining the cure as phallic revival:


     I have seen a medicine
That's able to breathe life into a stone,
Quicken a rock, and make you dance canary
With spritely fire and motion; whose simple touch,
Is powerful to araise King Pepin, nay,
To give great Charlemain a pen in's hand,
And write to her a love-line (my italics).

The revival scene is an exchange of powers, "deed" for "deed," between healer and king (II.i.72-210). The father’s daughter revives the king and sets herself on a path to motherhood.

     In the 1980s BBC production of this play, directed by Elijah Moshinsky, the king takes Helena’s face in his hands and the scene builds to a kiss that suggests enactment of droit du seigneur as she appears to be getting into his sickbed. Angela Down in the part of Helena delicately touches the King’s brow as music is heard in the background. "This kind of therapy," writes J.L. Styan, "then began to work immediately." Donald Sinden as the ailing king "dwelt lasciviously on Helena’s youth, beauty, wisdom, courage, and as she touched him, he caressed her face and neck before pointing his line ‘Unquestion’d welcome and undoubted blest’ with an erotic kiss" (1984: 53).

     In this same BBC production, in the scene preceding, in which the ailing King sends the young French lords to Florence with warnings to be sure they serve before being taking captive by Italian women ("Those girls of Italy, take heed of them. / They say our French lack language to deny/ If they demand. Beware of being captives/ Before you serve" [II.i.19-22]), Sinden as the bed-ridden king appears to be trying to masturbate under his sheet and vicariously to participate in the Italian scenes he is imagining. His attempts appear not to be going well. After Helena’s miraculous love cure, the king dances nimbly with her before the rest of the court, setting the scene for her to choose a husband from among his assembled bachelors. His restored vitality, a function of her love-cure, links to her marriage and ultimately, to her pregnancy.

     A youthful maiden who is virtuous and virginal revitalizes the Winter King in The Winter’s Tale (1610-1611). Perdita survives her brother’s death and her father’s infanticidal rage to return Persephone-like in time for the restoration of her mother Hermione and the redemption of her father, the formerly mad King Leontes. Leontes feels himself restored to youth when he sees Perdita approach him looking much as her mother had when Leontes first loved her, presumably thus reactivating the feelings of his young manhood. Florizel, the young prince betrothed to Leontes’s unrecognized daughter Perdita, says to the King, "Remember since you ow’d no more to time/Than I do now," to which the King replies, "I’ld beg your precious mistress." Paulina intercedes into this incestuous prospect with "Sir, my liege, /Your eye hath too much youth in’t" (V.i.219, 223-225).

     In Pericles (1609), Marina, an eloquent speaker and healer, restores vitality to her father, who sees the goddess Diana in a vision that ultimately reunites him with his wife, a reconstruction of the family that appears to undo consequences of father-daughter incest that had tainted the young Pericles when he risked his life trying to win the hand of the daughter and lover of Antiochus. In this play, the protagonist undergoes a journey of self-discovery in which he is repeatedly challenged to follow the right path until, thanks to miraculous fortune and amazing accidents, his life-long goals of wisdom and love get actualized by a daughter who survives a series of adventures that seem to comprise a father’s nightmare. Her foster mother orders her murdered; pirates abduct her; she is sold into a brothel. She miraculously survives every danger; and through all this, she remains chaste and virtuous, a vessel of noble talents and good intentions, an honor to her ancestors, and ultimately heir to her father’s kingdom of Tyre, guardian therefore of paternal phallic authority.

Incest and the Love Cure

     Pericles and King Lear are notably marked by riddles and riddling speech. Riddles and incest often appear together in works of literature, as for example, in Oedipus Rex.

     Pericles, Shakespeare’s revision of a play written by another author who was updating medieval John Gower’s version of the story, remains stiff on the page until Marina’s character is introduced, at which point the play seems to come to life as recognizably Shakespearean, a formal expression of the daughter figure as an animating principle revivifying old Gower, who serves as a Chorus and a figure of father time, whose daughter is truth, as Cordelia, the truth-teller, is the only true daughter of the aged Lear, a figure of time. The incestuous daughter of Antiochus who appears in the opening of Pericles remains nameless and barely speaks. Her riddle goes:

I am no viper, yet I feed
On mother’s flesh which did me breed.
I sought a husband, in which labor
I found that kindness in a father.
He’s father, son, and husband mild;
I mother, wife—and yet his child.
How they may be, and yet in two,
As you will live, resolve it you (I.i.64-71).

This incestuous two-in-one receives a counterpart in Pericles’s reunion with his lost daughter:

     O, come hither,
Thou that beget’st him that did thee beget (V.i. 194-5).

     The lines of this newly begotten Pericles echo Dante’s riddle of the Christian miracle: "Virgin mother, daughter of your Son" (Paradiso, Canto XXIII: 1). In some versions of Pericles, the father-daughter reunion occurs in the brothel where she is held captive, reinforcing the idea that Pericles and Marina are transformed versions of the incestuous Antiochus and his daughter who set Pericles on his penitent flight from his home in Tyre.

     In the daughter-healer-music-restoration-of-the-father motif in this play, Marina as a character revises earlier Shakespearean configurations of daughters. In All’s Well, Helena undertakes her attempt to cure the king and attain Bertram as a husband with the blessings of the Countess of Roussillion, an alteration Shakespeare’s play makes to the tale he inherited from Boccaccio. Helena’s healing arts seem to be a combination of paternal legacy and female vitality. Permission to pursue Bertram comes from the Countess, Helena’s adoptive mother, though it is the king who has the power to give Helena a dowry and command Bertram to marry her. Helena’s dilemma is that Bertram doesn’t want to marry a doctor’s daughter, which she cleverly solves by tricking him into impregnating her. All’s Well’s clown says, "I shall never have the blessing of God till I have issue a’ my body; for they say barnes [children] are blessings" (I.iii.24-26). Helena attains her blessing by putting Bertram in the role of an elite feudal bride, for he marries a person he did not choose with his own eyes. Having proven himself a liar, a seducer and a fool, however brave in fighting the Florentine war, Bertram as a husband seems to have little beyond his estate to recommend him to the clever, persistent, virtuous Helena, who, for her part, gains a wonderful mother-in-law whose title she stands to inherit. This romance seems thus to be a romance of property as well as of miraculous love cure.

Filia and Fidelity

     Lear and Cordelia’s tragedy takes root in a dilemma at the heart of patriarchy: how can a daughter be true to both her father and her husband? When Lear in grandiose fashion asks for declarations of love from his daughters, Regan outdoes her older sister Goneril by saying, "She comes too short…I profess/Myself enemy to all other joys/ Which the most precious square of senses possesses, /And find I am alone felicitate/ In your dear Highness’ love" (I.i.71-75). Cordelia, the only unmarried sister, and the one who has suitors waiting about the court, asks, "Why have my sisters husbands, if they say/ They love you all? Happily, when I shall wed, /That lord whose hand must take my plight shall carry/ Half my love with him, half my care and duty. / Sure I shall never marry like my sisters, / To love my father all" (I.i.99-103).

     Cordelia’s observations here echo Desdemona’s declaration before the Venetian Senate. Her father, Brabantio asks, "Do you perceive in all this noble company/Where most you own obedience?" She replies, "I do perceive here a divided duty: …so much duty as my mother show’d/To you, preferring you before her father, /So much I challenge that I may profess/Due to the Moor" (I.iii. 179-189).

     In a comic-romantic version of this daughterly duty, Helena is a father’s daughter, a guardian of the phallus, heir of her father’s therapeutic knowledge and skills and able to apply them with specific timing "such a day, an hour," arguably in alignment with her cycles of fertility. She is a virgin and virtuous, and could be said to be virile in her pursuit of her object of desire ("vir" means "man" in Latin; for Machiavelli, virtu connotes human power or ingenuity, as well as the motive power of a machine [Hadfield, 2005: 23]). This latter meaning may connect her to the mechanism of time as a transformer and healer, in keeping with the genre of romance as a tragedy turned into a comedy through the intervention of grace after an interval of time.

     Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream says, "the story shall be chang’d:/ Apollo flies, and Daphne holds the chase…. We should be woo’d, and were not made to woo" (II.i.231-2, 242). Both Helenas change the story: they woo and ultimately win the men they desire, aided it would appear by supernatural intercessors. Though the connotations of droit du seigneur in All’s Well’s scene raising the king to potency from his sickbed suggest an erotic encounter between Helena and the stand-in father, for both bereaved children, Bertram and Helena, all "ends well," we are given to believe, because of Helena’s pregnancy. The bedtrick manner in which Helena secures Bertram as her husband and Bertram’s idea that pregnancy is what makes a marriage indicate that continuity at this turning point in Shakespeare’s work comes down to questions of basic survival, a theme emphasized by the unmasking of Parolles (whose name means "words"). Having been humiliated and stripped of his pretensions, Parolles says, "Simply the thing I am/ Shall make me live. . . ./There’s place and means for every man alive" (All’s Well, IV.iii.333-349).

     In sum, whereas Shakespeare’s early histories obsess over genealogies and stage slaughters over struggles as to whose title to be King has the greater legitimacy, by the time his works reach their form as romances, survival itself seems the point. All’s Well appears to be a pivotal play in this regard.


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To cite this article, use this bibliographical entry: Dianne M. Hunter "Shakespeare and Psychoanalysis: Miraculous Daughters in Shakespeare's Late Romances". PSYART: A Hyperlink Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts. Available June 18, 2024 [or whatever date you accessed the article].
Received: January 1, 2005, Published: August 25, 2005. Copyright © 2005 Dianne M. Hunter