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The Romantic Double













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My final paper for my Romantic Lit. class.
















 The double appears in many places in the literature of the romantic era.  There appear at first to be various different types of the double.  However, all these different forms serve the same function and achieve the same end.  Each creates a state of tension which must be resolved by the original half of the double, through one set of means or another.  The different types of the double, whether it be the doubled world, doubled perspective, doubled character, or a second character serving as a double, all provide an inner tension which must be resolved as the story progresses, and often the solution to the story ends the story itself.

            The first type of the double is the doubled world.  This is usually fairly easy to see and recognize.  One example of this in its clearest form appears in Heinrich von Kleists The Prince of Homburg.  In the beginning scene of this play, the prince is lost in a dreamlike state.  He is apparently dreaming of victory and of receiving the fruits of victory from the Elector.  He also seems to dream of winning the hand and love of Natalia.  All of this takes place in the first scene of the play.  For the rest of the play the Prince thinks back to the dream he has had, but finally seems to have given up on it.  In the last scene of the play, however, the audience is treated to the fulfillment of the play.  The Elector give the Prince his laurel wreath entwined with a gold chain, and Natalia greets him.  The dream world, the double of the more physical, everyday world, has intruded and become a part of the physical world.  The double that causes the Prince so much trouble throughout the play through influencing his actions and thoughts has become a part of everyday existence.  This alternate existence that appears solely in the Princes mind creates trouble for the prince, leading him down paths towards glory, which creates the tension, and story, of the play.  It is not until the two realities are reconciled into one world that the tension is released. 

            Another example of this doubled world is found in Keats Ode to a Nightingale. In this poem the transition between worlds stands out much more clearly than do the worlds themselves.  In the beginning the speaker is obviously in the physical, drab, every-day world.  Through the draught of the second stanza, he can leave for the realm of the romantic in the fourth stanza.  And once more we can see him return to the normal reality in stanza eight, right at the end of the poem.  This is an occasion when the doubles are not necessarily reconciled into one, but rather provide a relief against which the other may be seen.  In this poem it is possible to travel between realities, but the two may not exist in unity.  The double is necessary for the existence of the other.  To do away with one is to lose both.

            The second type of the double is the double perspective, as appears in William Blakes Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.  It is easy to see that the two perspectives, Innocence and Experience, are different, but the double itself is less easy to see.  There are several poems that do bring this out, though.  One easy set of poems to find the double in are the Holy Thursday poems.  In Innocence the occasion is one of happiness and supreme faith in God.  All that matters in this occasion is that the poor children are given an occasion to worship God, and what more joyous occasion could happen than that?  The speaker sees this occasion as one that bolsters the faith, not an occasion to cause questioning or concern.  Everything is taken at face value, with not deeper analysis or inferences made.  In Experience, however, the speaker questions the faith of men.  He does not question God, but whether this occasion is as truly wonderful as it seems at first.  At the very beginning he asks, Is this a holy thing to seeBabes reducd to misery.  The speakers views this one occasion as being inherently un-beautiful, since the only reason that these poor children are allowed to come and be heralded on this one day is because many has made them poor to begin with.  There are clearly two very different viewpoints here.  On the one side there is the superficial, surface reading of the occasion.  The other side, Experience, views the same occasion with cynicism.  It is the same occasion, the same events are happening during the occasion, and the only thing that changes is how one looks at what is happening.  Thus it creates a dual nature, a double nature, of the occasion through differing perspectives.  Opposing interpretations of the same occurance creates the double.  If the occasion were not the same or if the perspectives were not perfectly opposed to each other, then there would be no double created.

            A third type of double is created through a doubled character.  This type of double appears in Mary Shellys novel Frankenstein.  A perfect occasion of this happens when the monster focuses on his reflection in a pool of water. Here he sees the double in its entirety.  The double is made up of his perceived view of himself and others and the reality of his appearance.  When reality suddenly intrudes via a watery reflection, the double exerts itself.

            But not only is this a case of the double, but also of Sigmund Freuds notion of the Uncanny.  The Uncanny being a double that shocks and horrifies and has relation to what was before.  The monster had believed he knew what he was, what he looked like, and what race/species he belonged to.  Suddenly he is faced with a double, real and shocking.  He is almost nothing like those he had imagined himself to be like.  His prior feelings of community or similarity are brought to a crashing halt and he begins to realize how different he is.

            If he had only seen a reflection of himself that differed from how he imagined himself, it would not be Uncanny.  If it had been a frightening reflection, it would not have necessarily been Uncanny.  But because the frightening double completely negates his prior view and self, because it so completely intrudes upon his prior image of things, it becomes Uncanny.  This reflection of reality that wipes away the monsters beliefs to completely is almost the very definition of Uncanny.  This double is so closely tied with the other side of the double that it becomes a horrifying, terrible experience for the monster.  The Uncanny cannot be forgotten or fled from.  It cannot be ignored, but intrudes on the past as well as the present and future.  This is what separates it from simply being a frightening double. 

            The bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification on page 98 of Frankenstein does not begin here.  Instead it becomes retroactive, and begins to change his past.  This double so affects his life that it becomes the hinge point of the monsters existence.  And there can be no doubt that the reflection was horrifying!   Thus, the Uncanny is realized in Frankensteins monster.  Often, but not always, the doubled self becomes the Uncanny in romantic literature.  The two are linked together by the many times they happen together.

            The fourth type of double is the double that is created through having two opposed characters.  Or, for that matter, two characters which are closely tied together in any way.  This happens in Frankenstein between Victor and the monster, as well as between Victor and captain Walton.  But it is also clearly seen in von Schillers play Mary Stuart in the characters of Elizabeth and Mary Stuart.  These two characters are tied together in several ways.  First, they are related.  Close relations, such as being half-sisters, often serve as doubles for each other in some way.  This double is more clearly created by the fact that they so obviously oppose each other in so many ways.  Elizabeth is a Protestant, Mary a Catholic.  Both are regal, royal, and bold in their stance.  They have fought over the kingdom between the two of them, and they continue to haunt each others steps.  The focus for each is on the other, each blames the other for many, if not all the ills, she herself suffers.  This type of double is probably one of the most difficult to see, for a very simple reason.  Since not all characters serve as doubles for another character, it is difficult to spot these doubles through the camouflage in many cases.  One must also be careful not to see doubles where there are no doubles.  But when does occur, it has a similar effect which the internal double has.  It is similar to the monsters pool of water by showing a different side of the character.

            Doubles are all a reflection of each other. The different worlds reflect each other, as does the double that occurs through separate characters.  Each set of the double spins around a central focus point.  The double serves to illustrate the point of conflict which the two circle endlessly around, often without ever giving voice to the issue that serves as the focus of the plot.  Frankenstein and his monster circle endlessly around the subjects of creation and responsibility.  This is achieved by having one the creator, the other created.  One should be responsible for the other, but refuses to take up the duty towards the second.  The central issue is there, while the double provides the two sides of it so that all aspects can be seen.  Likewise, as in the Holy Thursday poem of Blake, the same occasion serves as the focal point.  By having two very different perspectives, the entirety of the occasion can be seen and looked at.  Without this, a biased view is inescapable.  To simply have one character who is without a double look at an issue creates a heavily biased situation as well as provide for a rather boring story.

These doubles all serve the same purpose in the story lines.  They all provide the focus of the tension and conflict in the plot.   Without the double, the story does not exist.  It is also interesting to note that although there are outward tensions seen and felt because of the tension, the main thrust of the conflict is internal.  When one is confronted with the double, it is necessary for a character to first struggle with the double internally.  The monster must come to recognize himself before he can deal with the external fallout of his duality with Victor.  The Prince of Homburg must come to grips with the chasm separating his dream world from his current reality before the split can be healed and the two become one.  The focus of the double is always internal, and is only accompanies by signs of this internal struggle.