Shakespeare Tennessee Williams and Sophocles Use of Illusion Essay

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Sophocles, Shakespeare, And Walt Williams

Many great writers -- including these three, Sophocles, Shakespeare, and Tennessee Williams -- use illusion in their narratives. This paper will present some instances and passages in which these writers employ illusion in their work.

Sophocles' and Illusion

Interestingly, author Joe Park Poe notes in his book (Heroism and Divine Justice in Sophocles' Philoctetes) that in the plays Antigone and Philoctetes, "The common quality…might be inadequately described as a lack of illusion" (Poe, 1974, p. 6). Instead of illusion as a device, Poe sees "pessimism" and "suffering" in those plays rather than attempts at illusion. The way Sophocles treats his heroes in these two plays is "…variously pathetic, ironic, brutally realistic and perhaps a dozen other adjectives" (Poe, p. 6).

Meanwhile author Mark Ringer disputes Poe's assertions in Ringer's book, Electra and the Empty Urn: Metatheater and Role Playing in Sophocles. According to Ringer, Sophocles' Theban Plays are "flickering 'in and out' of illusion" and the playwright understands that drama "deals in illusion, in the creative tension of one person or object" that represents something other than what is apparent (Ringer, 1998, p. 67).

After all, the "fundamental" issues presented in Sophocles' tragedies are "appearance vs. reality," and Sophocles has the "keenest appreciation" for that gap between perception and reality (Ringer, 68). The "illusion-versus-reality" motif in Antigone is a hugely important part of that play; the reality is shown through what Ringer calls the "brutal, corporal world" of Creon and the illusion is the "invisible world of the dead," which Antigone seems to revere.

An example of illusion vs. reality (one of many in Antigone) is the way Sophocles presents Creon -- who launches into these very righteous and noble-sounding speeches and sentiments (an attempt at reality) -- but who is actually saying very little of substance (an illusion of reality). Ringer calls Creon's speeches as "hollow" as the rhetoric of an "egocentric actor" (69).

In Oedipus Rex, Sophocles creates Oedipus as a great person who has inner strength and the willingness to stick to what he believes is true. But Oedipus is not a great person in terms of his worldly position; rather, his "worldly position in an illusion, which will vanish like a dream" (Bloom, 2009). Moreover, Bloom writes that if "…every man could tear away the last veils of illusion" -- meaning, that is what Oedipus should have done -- and if every man in the world could view human life and time realistically, generations of people might have turned out differently (Bloom, 27-28).

Athena was the "embodiment" of "divine wisdom," according to Bloom. And what Odysseus said in response to Ajax' situation, deals effectively with illusion vs. reality: "I recognize my own: I perceive that all men living are but appearance or unsubstantial shadow" (Bloom, 28). Again the specter of illusion: what a person wants to be viewed as, contrasted with what he actually is -- which might be nothing more than an "unsubstantial shadow."

Shakespeare and Illusion

There probably isn't a writer or playwright that uses illusion more frequently than William Shakespeare. In Othello, for example, Othello constantly tells Desdemona that he loves her but does he really? Does a character love a person that he is plotting to kill? Othello needs to keep up the illusion that he loves her.

Likewise Iago, who gives the illusion of being honest and truthful, but the reality is Iago never really says what he is thinking deep down inside. He is the classic example of a two-faced character, and the brilliant writing of Shakespeare lets the audience in on that little secret deception. Roderigo does a good job of pointing out Iago's fakery: "Faith I have heard too much: for you words and performances are no kin together" (Othello). Meantime Othello seems to believe that Iago is his friend, but that is the illusion; the reality is that he "hates the Moor." Frankly, Iago specialized in illusion because he makes things seem what they clearly are not.

In A Midsummer Night's Dream supernatural phenomena become hard to tell apart from the real world of experience. Indeed the entire play -- while it is on the one hand a great comedy -- is totally wrapped up in illusion. The…[continue]

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