Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Disabling Power of Being Self-conscious

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I have recently been very fascinated by the notion that there are many times that we choose not to do or say something based on our fear of what people might think of us. I am planning to do further study about this in the field of psychology, but I never thought I would find this manifest in one of Shakespeare's plays. However, after reading the first act of "Much Ado About Nothing," this very theme came up in a Slack discussion. 

As we were brainstorming themes, my partner on Slack, Sarah Bennet, said, "There seems to be a theme of hiding yourself/ being true to yourself." We started talking about how there were multiple characters with this problem. Beatrice and Benedick are never truthful about how they are really feeling. They hide how they feel from those around them and sometimes they even hide how they feel from themselves. Even Claudio who is open about his feelings to those around him, isn't able to fully come forward to the one he loves, and another character goes to "scout out" how Hero feels about Claudio. I had noticed the strange expressions of emotions, but it wasn’t until Sarah mentioned the theme of hiding that I made the connection to their actions being based in their being self-conscience of what others were thinking about them.

I began asking myself questions to try to explain their actions. Benedick for example, “I will not do them the wrong to mistrust any, I will do myself the right to trust none; and the fine is, for the which I may go the finer, I will live a bachelor” (1.1.239-242). Why wouldn’t Benedick want anyone to know he could be in love? Is showing love a form of weakness? Why won’t he let himself fall in love? If he or others around him do see love as a form of weakness, then the obvious answer to the first and last questions would be that he is worried about what other people would think of him if he did fall in love.

While Claudio has a different problem, his problem has the same roots. He is afraid of what Hero thinks of him. If he were to openly profess his love for her and she reject him, then he would be crushed and emotionally scarred. He has become so reliant on what others, specifically Hero, think about him, that he is willing to risk not expressing his true feelings to Hero. Luckily, Claudio has a good friend who is willing to take the risk for him.

I would like to look into these situations and what psychologists have said about this disabling phenomena. Do the characters base all their actions on their fear of what others “might” think? Are there certain opinions that have a greater power to disable? Are any of the characters able to overcome this problem? If so, then how?


  1. In "Twelfth Night" there is a character, Orsino, who seems to have the opposite problem—he won't stop trying to woo Olivia, who isn't interested. I wonder if hiding or not being willing to open up comes not just from a fear of rejection, like you mentioned, but also a fear of being "too interested" and pushing someone away. I know that in today's times, sometimes people are worried about coming on to strong and play some sort of game where they wait before responding to texts and things like that. That doesn't seem to different to me in some ways. Just my initial thoughts here, but I think there is a lot you could do with these ideas.

  2. I absolutely love the idea of studying more into this! I went and looked to see if I could find more information regarding this (I know Professor Burton found something), and I found an article that talks about how fame increases a person's sense of self-consciousness. ( In the study they looked at celebrities uses of the "I" or "me" pronouns before and after moments of change in their celebrity status. It might be interesting to connect that to how different characters act in Shakespeare's plays. (e.g. the nobility might be more self-conscious because they know they are seen by more people).

  3. For an example of Orsino's passion, he sends Viola to Olivia with the command: "Be not denied access. . . . Till thou have audience. . . . Be clamorous and leap all civil bounds rather than make unprofited return." (1.4.17-24) Not everyone would be willing to be this bold.

  4. I know you said you'd want to do some psychological research concerning why "we choose not to do or say something based on our fear of what people might think of us," and this suggestion might not be super great for an academic paper, but your blog post reminded me of this talk by President Monson ( Here, he exhorts us to "have the courage to defy the consensus, the courage to stand for principle." If you ever give a talk and want to bring Shakespeare into it, this talk and "Much Ado About Nothing" could potentially work.

  5. I noticed Garrett alluded to Twelfth Night as a comparative measure and I think Romeo and Juliet would function in the same way. Romeo and Juliet do everything they do despite public/popular opinion. Granted, they do so in a very extreme fashion. For example, when Juliet is supposed to accompany Friar John back to her family she responds with "O, bid me leap, rather than marry Paris / from off the battlements of any tower" (4.1.78-79). And then she kills herself. But, per Garrett's suggestion, it might help with a deeper analysis if you can compare various Shakespeare characters. Good luck!

  6. Your psychological angle can work well, and this is some good preliminary character analysis to get you on your way. I hope you do look at that book that I found for you (mentioned in the assignment prompt). Just be careful that you do not forget analysis of the text while analyzing character. It will enrich your points about psychology if you can ground this in how the characters communicate.