Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Trickster Archetype in Hamlet and PEOTUS

Henry Miller "Large Reclining Figure (1984)
via Wiki images labeled for reuse.
When I think about the archetypal Trickster, Native American literature typically pops into my mind, but Shakespeare also incorporated the Trickster into his dramas, and we see the Trickster at work in our political structures. 

Trickster Characteristics

Karl Kerenyl describes the function of the Trickster as contributing "disorder to order" to "make a whole, to render possible, within the fixed bounds of what is permitted, an experience of what is not permitted." Carl Jung describes the Trickster: "Although he is not really evil, he does the most atrocious things from sheer unconsciousness and unrelatedness." 

In his "8-Function Model of Archetypes," John Beebe depicts the Trickster as "amoral, mischievous, disruptive." This model builds on Jungian psychology's conscious and unconscious self. The Trickster operates on the 7th level of Bebee's model to "create double-binds" that "circumvent obstacles." 

The Trickster in Hamlet and in Presidential Politics: 

Hamlet: Prince of Denmark is full of Trickster-type characters, but Hamlet reigns supreme in his ability to "disrupt" a political structure he sees as "disorderly": "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark." Hamlet's father tasks the younger Hamlet with the duty to "make a whole" of the monarchy by exposing Claudius, his uncle, as the murderer of his father. In this context, Hamlet must operate "within the fixed bounds of what is permitted, an experience of what is not permitted." 

Certainly, Hamlet operates in a subversive manner. He's mischievous. He's disruptive. Arguably, he's amoral, or at least he acts in ways that theater-goers might judge amoral. 

In 2011 an article in Personality Types in Depth posed a question about the role of political Tricksters that is relevant as we begin a new year: "Was Shakespeare ultimately cautioning us about the potentially disastrous effects of unbridling the Trickster in psyche or society?"

In 17 days our Trickster-elect will take the Oath of Office. Yet we must recognize that the PEOTUS elect functions as a "hero" in some cultural circles and that there is little evidence that he reflects and searches his soul to examine his beliefs and morals. 

However, sans self-examination, PEOTUS operates in a questioning paradigm that rejects established political norms

  • Will he release his tax returns? No
  • Will he put his businesses in a blind trust? No
  • Will he accept intelligence briefings and findings? No
  • Will he appoint cabinet members with relevant credentials for their respective positions? No
The list of ways PEOTUS challenges political order to create disorder knows no bounds. 

When PEOTUS takes to Twitter to wish his "enemies," the Americans who voted for his opponent, a Happy New Year, when he tweets about the election outcome two months after the election, when he describes the media in derogatory terms, when he attacks businesses on Twitter, we get glimpses of his insecurities. I've come to see tRUMP as an insecure man-child who knows he has no credibility and will do whatever he can to divert attention away from this reality. 

Like Hamlet, our PEOTUS revels in self-doubt. Some see him as a hero, but many see him as a tragic character on a collision course with history. 

Throughout the campaign and transition, PEOTUS has equivocated on the political stage and in his commitment to democratic principles. He's obsessed with whether or not people like him. Like Hamlet, "his equivocating interpretations of the events shape our understanding, at the same time that his actions and inaction serve as a pivotal force in shaping the events themselves," writes Steve Whiteford about Hamlet, but the characterization also rings true of PEOTUS.

Hamlet meets his tragic end through a failure to understand the Ghost's origin. Thus, he equivocates. Hamlet sees the Ghost as an evil Trickster. He knows his Uncle Claudius, now the King, is an evil Trickster. He eventually recognizes his childhood friends Rosencrantz and Giuldenstern as unwitting Tricksters. He even questions Ophelia's love and loyalty. Could she, too, be a Trickster?

Before he can function or act within social and political structures, Hamlet, needs more proof that Claudius killed his father, so he devises an elaborate scheme: "The play's the thing wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King." Similarly, Trump's inability to trust the democratic institutions that have kept our republic functioning more that 200 years stands on shaky pillars as PEOTUS's distrust in the system he will "lead" has led many to see him as a fool, as mad (mentally ill), as morally and ethically depraved. His "enemies" take to Twitter to chide and bait him and do so without relenting. 

At the end of his Trickster analysis of Hamlet, Whiteford says Hamlet "fails miserably--unable to see and transcend his own inferior and unconscious motives." Ultimately, Hamlet dies a tragic death, the fate of the fallen Shakespearean hero. 

We've yet to see the final denouement for the PEOTUS, but Monday Andrew Smith wrote a FB post reminding PEOTUS of his 2.9 million vote deficit and suggested in the comment section that PEOTUS is "headed for a breakdown." He's not the first to offer this prediction. What tRUMP and his supporters in the Republican party have done and by all indications will continue doing is deconstructing the foundation on which our system stands. 

Today marks the end of the independent ethics committee that functions as a check on congressional members. This is a ploy of the Trickster-elect. Indeed, "Something is rotten in the state" our our United States. Will we allow the Trickster among us to disrupt and create disorder? Will we resist? 
Each Tuesday the team of teachers at Two Writing Teachers sponsors the
Slice of Life story challenge. I'm grateful to these ladies for their
unwavering dedication to living the writer's life. Head over to the TWT
blog for more slices of life.