Mudcat Café message #3242548 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #87026   Message #3242548
Posted By: Lighter
21-Oct-11 - 12:40 PM
Thread Name: Barbara Allen earliest version?
Subject: RE: Barbara Allen earliest version?
All the quotations say to me is that certain writers could create wonderfully lifelike and individualized characters. The critics are describing what they see, rather analyzing any less-than-obvious psychological motivations of the characters themselves.

The characters the critics refer to, who appear in substantial and extended works, are miles beyond the hastily sketched, one- or two-dimensional ballad characters, as exist in "Barbara Allen."

But if the point is that pre-modern critics indeed conjectured the unconscious psychology of fictional characters in the manner of 20th C. academics like Henry Bradley (to take a pre-Freudian example), I must disagree. Certainly none of the critics you quote attempts to *analyze* the characters they praise. They simply say that their actions and personalities are believable.

Keen observers of human behavior like Shakespeare and Richardson were quite unfamiliar with modern psychological theories. Their interest was in the fascinating things their characters did and said rather than a deep analysis of what made them do it.

Had Hamlet been motivated by a dramatist subscribing to any modern psychological theory, I believe his motives would be so transparent that much of Hamlet criticism would never have been written. His vacillation is based on little more than Shakespeare's idea of how a terribly indecisive and tormented person might be expected to act in a crucial situation.

If Shakepeare held to any secular psychological theory, it could only have been that of the "humors." One might analyze each of his characters according to that theory, and then gauge Shakepeare's accuracy and orthodoxy as a sixteenth- or seventeenth-century psychologist; yet (correct me if I'm wrong) no early critic ever did so, because they were simply not interested in that kind of analysis. As the most sophisticated readers of their day, they were interested chiefly in whether the characters said and did interesting and believable things.

The characters in ballads like "Barbara Allen," like those in Shakespeare, Richardson, Fielding, Homer, etc., say and do such things, regardless of any subtly conjectured psychological back-story that one might attribute to them or to their creator.